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Secretary of Defense Message to the Armed Forces on the Iraqi Elections

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2005 – On January 30th in Iraq, the world witnessed an important moment in the global struggle against tyranny, a moment that historians might one day call a major turning point. America's men and women in uniform, who were instrumental in the liberation of Iraq, were there to witness this moment as well.

During the struggle to bring freedom to Iraq, many of you have faced difficult times far from home. I suspect there have been moments along the way when some of you may have wondered whether or not the effort would be worth the cost, or whether, even, the people you were trying to help truly stood with you.

Last Sunday, the Iraqi people answered those understandable questions in a resounding way, just as voters had in Afghanistan last October. The world is experiencing a global struggle between freedom and fear -- and you are on the side of freedom. That's the side to be on. And the people of Afghanistan, and now the people of Iraq, have chosen to stand with you.

Consider the courage it took for the Iraqi people to go to the polls when they had been warned that the act of voting could cost them and their family members their lives. Think of the determination they must have possessed to risk becoming targets for bombings or beheadings.

And yet the Iraqis voted -- millions of them.

Voters arrived on crutches and donkey carts, passing by graffiti warnings on the walls that said: "You vote, you die"; Iraqis came to a polling station to vote even after a rocket attack had killed three people several hours earlier; children waved Iraqi flags as they witnessed the birth of their new, free system; elderly women with tears in their eyes held up their voting cards; and voters displayed their ink-stained fingers as badges of honor in the fight against extremism.

Iraq's security forces also deserve recognition for their bravery and their willingness, despite the threats, to wear their country's uniforms and to provide security on Sunday for both the millions of voters and the thousands of election workers.

These are times of consequence. In the past few months, 50 million free people in Afghanistan and Iraq have begun to build new futures. They have rejected the extremism that fuels attacks on civilized people. And you have made that possible. Have no doubt: the courage and sacrifices of U.S. forces have helped to create the environment in which Afghans and Iraqis are developing the ability to take hold of their countries.

Now these free people continue to seek your help in building free, democratic and peaceful nations in some of the world's most violent regions. No one treasures peace more than you who have endured the horrors of war.

So to all of you who are serving on freedom's front lines, and to your families, I offer my deepest appreciation and respect. To those who have lost friends or loved ones during this conflict or who have been injured in defense of our freedom, find comfort in knowing that your sacrifices have historic meaning. And know that one day, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan will find a way to thank you, as I do, from the bottom of my heart.

May God bless you and may God bless the United States.

Donald H. Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense

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