BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) – Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed a star-spangled Fourth of July in Baghdad, where he celebrated American patriotism and mocked the ubiquitous ghost of Saddam Hussein.
He presided at a naturalization ceremony, where over 237 U.S. service members were sworn in to become American citizens. The loquacious vice president later playfully swore at the memory of the former Iraqi dictator, toppled by the U.S. military in 2003.
Noting that the naturalization event that took place in the Al-Faw Palace - one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, Biden joked to U.S. troops over the significance of holding such an event at this fallen gaudy symbol of the former dictator's iron-fisted regime.
"We did it in Saddam's palace and I can think of nothing better," he told troops later, after the swearing-in event. "That S.O.B. is rolling over in his grave right now."
Standing in the shadow of a 50-foot American flag, the 237 service members recited the Oath of Allegiance in the rotunda of the palace, part of the Camp Victory complex, and the Pledge of Allegiance.
In what U.S. military officials called the largest naturalization ceremony ever conducted in Iraq, Biden extolled America's "remarkable remarkable diversity" and its destination as a refuge for immigrants, saying newcomers are the "lifeblood" of the country and that "there's always room for more."
"As corny as it sounds, damn I'm proud to be an American," he said. "Thanks for choosing us, you are the reason why America is strong."
Thanking the troops from their military service, Biden told the service members "you are the source of our freedom, you and all who came before you." He also noted their sacrifices - missing "birthdays and birth, first steps and first communions."
"What a sight you are today. What a powerful symbol for the rest of the world you are," he said.
Mentioning America's founding fathers, Biden told the new Americans from across the world that "as of today they're your founding fathers. So get used to it guys, they're your founding fathers."
Visiting Iraq days after U.S. combat troops formally left Iraq's urban centers and handed security duties over to local security forces, Biden said the United States honored that commitment and will make good on others leading to a drawdown of U.S. troops from a country long upended by war.
"Next summer our combat troops will leave Iraq itself and we will be on track to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011," he said, speaking in the confines of the palace, a contrast to the searingly hot, grindingly dusty and always dangerous Iraqi streets.
A roadside bomb on Saturday underscored Iraq's instability. It exploded in an outdoor market in the Yusifiya area south of Baghdad city, killing a civilian and wounding 15 people.
After Biden's remarks, the soldiers' names were read aloud and they were called to the podium to receive neatly folded American flags, shake the vice president's hand and pose for photographs.
Biden later met with troops from his home state of Delaware, including his son, Beau, and he visited the mess hall where a Fourth of July feast was served.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, also lauded the new American troops, saying the Fourth of July in Iraq were the appropriate time and places for a naturalization ceremony.
Invoking the words "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" from the Emma Lazarus "New Colossus" poem inscribed at the Statue of Liberty, Odierno said, "to be honest I'm not so sure that its legendary inscription is applicable to this group here today, because when I look at the men and women sitting out in front of me here, I'm having a hard time because I don't see them in terms of tired, poor or huddled."
He said if he had to write an inscription he would say "give me your best your brightest and your bravest. Give me your warriors, your heroes who will enhance our great nation and strive to keep her free."
Many of the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were from places like Mexico, the Philippines, and Haiti. Some were from Iraq.
In a news release about the ceremony, the military quoted Spc. Ammar Al Khalidi, an Iraqi native and interpreter for the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
"It is an honor and a privilege to be invited to a ceremony for citizenship and to receive a letter from President Obama, the first African-American president," Al Khalidi is quoted as saying.
"I'm making history and when I have kids, I plan to show the letter to them with pride."