Despite 'Tough' Period, U.S. Won't Waver in Iraq, Bush Says
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 14, 2004 The United States will continue in its commitment to an independent, free and secure Iraq, and the United States "must not waver" despite "a tough, tough period," President Bush said at an April 13 news conference.
The president stood before reporters in the East Room of the White House to make his administration's case for standing firm in Iraq, even with sporadic violence continuing and the June 30 transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government two months away.
Despite the recent increase in violence and casualties, Bush said the United States will not retreat from its mission.
"Weeks such as we've had in Iraq make some doubt whether or not we're making progress," the president said, "but we are making progress. Bush offered military members assurances of the nation's commitment, and he emphasized the importance of the mission in remarks aimed at their families. "We'll stay the course and complete the job, and you'll have what you need," he said to forces in Iraq. "And my message to the loved ones who are worried about their sons, daughters, husbands and wives is your loved one is performing a noble service for the cause of freedom and peace."
The president placed blame for violence in Iraq on three groups: remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, Islamic militants, and terrorists from other countries.
He said that although these instigators of violence come from different factions, they share common goals. "They want to run us out of Iraq and destroy the democratic hopes of the Iraqi people," he said.
Calling the violence in Iraq a "power grab" by extreme and ruthless elements, Bush sought to dispel the notion that the recent violence reflects the will of the Iraqi people. "It's not a civil war. It's not a popular uprising," he explained. "Most of Iraq is relatively stable. Most Iraqis by far reject violence and oppose dictatorship."
Bush specifically cited radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as one of those responsible for inciting riots and attacks against coalition forces. Sadr has assembled supporters into an illegal militia and publicly supported the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, the president said. He also accused Sadr of violence and intimidation against Iraqi Shiia. Iraqi authorities have indicted the cleric for the murder of a prominent Shiia cleric, Bush noted.
"Iraq will either be a peaceful, democratic country or it will again be a source of violence, a haven for (terrorists), and a threat to America and to the world."
The president noted the violence in Iraq has a familiar ideology.
"The terrorist who takes hostages or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid, and murders children on buses in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali, and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew," the president said.
"We've seen the same ideology of murder in the killing of 241 Marines in Beirut," he continued, "the first attack on the World Trade Center, and the destruction of two embassies in Africa; in the attack on the USS Cole, and in the merciless horror inflicted upon thousands of innocent men and women and children on Sept. 11, 2001."
Though terrorist acts often have religious reasons as the professed motive of the perpetrators, Bush said that's not really the case. "None of these acts is the work of a religion," he said. "All are the work of a fanatical political ideology."
Meanwhile, Bush said his administration is reviewing the needs of troops on the ground, and he promised to send military commanders all the troops and resources they say they need.
Bush said Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, is "clearly indicating" that he may want more troops. "It's coming up through the chain of command, and if that's what he wants, that's what he gets," the president said.
Some 135,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, Bush said, and he said the U.S. military presence there will continue "as long as necessary, and not one day more."
The president the nation's commitment to the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, and said a delay would send the wrong message to the Iraqi people and to the world about the value of an American promise. "We have set a deadline of June 30. It is important that we meet that deadline," he said. "Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation, and neither does America." But sovereignty involves more than a "date and a ceremony," Bush added. "It requires Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own future."
The president said according to a schedule already approved by the Iraqi Governing Council, Iraq will hold elections for a national assembly no later than next January. That assembly will then draft a new permanent constitution, which will be presented to the Iraqi people in a national referendum held in October of next year.
Iraqis then elect a permanent government by Dec. 15, 2005. That vote, he said, will mark the completion of Iraq's transition from "dictatorship to freedom."
In the meantime, he said, other nations and international institutions are stepping up to their responsibilities in building a free and secure Iraq. The coalition is working closely with United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and with Iraqis to determine the exact form of the government that will take charge of the country June 30.
A United Nations election assistance team headed by Carina Perelli is in Iraq developing plans for next January's election, Bush noted. NATO is supporting the Polish-led multinational division, and 17 of the alliance's 26 member nations have forces in Iraq.
The president listed several reasons why he believes success in Iraq is vital to the United States.
He pointed out that a free Iraq will give 25 million Iraqis the to right to live in freedom and will stand as an example to reformers across the Middle East. He also said that a free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims who wish to live in peace.
But just as important, he said, a free Iraq will confirm to the world "America's word, once given, can be relied upon even in the toughest times."
Victory on the Iraqi front is key to further victories in the global war on terror and therefore to U.S. security, the president said. "Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere, and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people," he said. "Now is the time and Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waver."
On Easter Sunday, the president said, he visited wounded soldiers hospitalized at Fort Hood, Texas, presenting the Purple Heart to some of them, and thanking them on behalf of all Americans. Other men and women, he added, have paid an even greater cost. The nation honors those killed and prays their families will find "God's comfort in the midst of their grief," the president said.
He promised the families of those who have died in Iraq that "we will finish the work of the fallen. This government will do all that is necessary to assure success of their historic mission."