Bush: 'Day of Reckoning Nears' for Iraq's 'Band of War Criminals'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 26, 2003 Dictator Saddam Hussein's regime is "evil at its heart," President Bush declared today, as he pointed to several alleged instances of Iraqi disregard for internationally recognized rules of war.
"In the ranks of that regime are men whose idea of courage is to brutalize unarmed prisoners," Bush emphasized to U.S. Central Command troops during a visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
The Pentagon is now investigating reports that Iraqi forces may have executed several American troops taken prisoner last Sunday, as well as other alleged violations of the Geneva Convention.
Bush also accused the Iraqis of sending soldiers disguised as civilians to attack U.S. and coalition troops and using real civilians as human shields to protect military assets from attack.
Additionally, some reports noted Iraqi forces have feigned surrender to U.S. troops and "then fire on those who show them mercy," the commander-in-chief pointed out.
"This band of war criminals has been put on notice," Bush said to the quietly respectful audience, which began cheering when he declared, "The day of Iraq's liberation will also be a day of justice."
Regardless of possible lawless conduct by Iraqi forces, the U.S. and coalition troops "continue treating Iraqi prisoners of war according to the highest standards of law and decency," Bush pointed out, noting that American troops and their allied partners are "making good progress" in Iraq.
"And every day has brought us closer to our objective," he emphasized.
The conflict in Iraq, the president acknowledged, is "far from over." But, he pointed out, U.S. troops are nearing Baghdad, having penetrated more than 200 miles northward in the past three days.
U.S. troops near Baghdad are now hitting hard at Hussein's crack Republican Guard units, which Bush characterized as "the most desperate elements of a doomed regime."
Praising the efforts of CENTCOM chief Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who is directing Operation Iraqi Freedom from his command post in Qatar, Bush noted, "Our military is focused and unwavering. We have an effective plan of battle and the flexibility to meet every challenge."
In recent days Bush noted the world "has witnessed the skill and honor and resolve of our military in the course of battle" in Iraq. He praised the efforts of U.S. Special Forces and other special operations troops who helped secure Iraqi airfields, bridges and oil fields and cleared the way for follow- on forces.
He also praised U.S. pilots and the effectiveness of cruise missiles "that have struck vital (enemy) military targets with lethal precision." Additionally, the president remarked on the destruction of a terrorist base in northern Iraq "that sought to attack America and Europe with deadly poisons."
Bush praised the military contributions of Great Britain, Australia, Poland and Denmark. He noted Czech, Slovak and Romanian troops, to be joined by Ukrainian and Bulgarian forces, would provide their weapons of mass destruction expertise in the event of an Iraqi WMD attack on U.S.-coalition forces. And, he said Spain is providing important logistical and humanitarian support.
He assured America, and beleaguered Iraqis living under Hussein's heel, that "there will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime, and that day is drawing near." Hussein "is losing his grip" on power in Iraq, Bush emphasized. "Day by day, the Iraqi people are closer to freedom."
America and its coalition partners "are taking every action we can to prevent the Iraqi regime from using its hidden weapons of mass destruction," Bush pointed out, noting "every victory every sacrifice" of the campaign serves to defend innocent lives from Hussein's weapons of mass terror.
Instead of waiting for Hussein -- or terrorist proxies -- to one day deploy such weapons against America and its allies, "we are meeting the danger today with our Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines," the president declared to the cheers of gathered service members and their families.
People across America, the president said, are praying for the families and loved ones of the service members killed in Iraq.
"We pray that God will bless and receive each of the fallen," Bush concluded. "And we thank God that liberty found such brave defenders."