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Bush: Iraqis Will Overcome Divisions to Achieve Democracy

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2006 – President Bush expressed optimism today that the Iraqi people will move beyond sectarian divisions fueled by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Sunni Muslim mosque to continue their path toward democracy.

Bush, speaking at the annual American Legion Convention here, said violence between Iraq's sects, set off by the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, presents what he called "a moment of choosing for the Iraqi people." The attacks sparked widespread protests, attacks on Sunni mosques and killings.

Bush praised Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Iraqi leaders for urging restraint following the bombing, which destroyed the mosque, one of the holiest for Shiite Muslims.

The days ahead will be intense, said the president, who acknowledged that Iraq remains in a serious situation. Terrorists working to divide the country "are going to continue their campaign of violence and destruction," he predicted.

"But I'm optimistic, because the Iraqi people have spoken and ... made their intentions clear," Bush said. He said heavy turnout during Iraq's successful national elections demonstrated the country's commitment to democracy.

Iraq is making steady progress in forming its new democracy. Bush pointed to numerous developments, including the country's democratic constitution, its democratically elected government, and strides in forming an independent judiciary system, building economic institutions, and training the country's military and police forces. These successes demonstrate that the U.S. strategy for victory in Iraq is working and have far-reaching implications on security in the region and in the United States, he said.

America's long-term security depends on the advance of liberty in other nations, the president said. Societies not built on the foundations of democracy risk backsliding into tyranny, he said. Free societies don't take root overnight, especially in countries that have suffered decades of tyranny and repression, Bush said. "No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without setbacks and false starts," he said, citing the United States' early days.

Bush urged patience as the process takes shape and vowed that the United States will keep its course as it promotes freedom and democracy and fights terror.

"We will stay on the offense. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists wherever they hide," he said. "We'll continue to stand with the people of the Middle East as they step forward to claim their freedom."

Shifting to other troubling parts of the region, the president expressed concern about developments in the Palestinian territories and Iran. Just as Iraq is making choices, so too must leaders of Hamas, who recently took power in the Palestinian territories, Bush said. He urged Hamas to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist.

"The international community must continue to make clear to Hamas that democratically elected leaders cannot have one foot in the camp of democracy and one foot in the camp of terror," he said.

The president also expressed hope of promoting democratic change in Iran, announcing that he will request $75 million in emergency funds to support the effort. This represents a four-fold increase over current funding levels, he noted. "By supporting democratic change in Iran, we will hasten the day when the people of Iran can determine their own future and be free to choose their own leaders," he said. "Freedom in the Middle East requires freedom for the Iranian people, and America looks forward to the day when our nation can be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

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Full transcript of President Bush's remarks

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