Bush: Success in Tal Afar Shows Evidence Iraqi Strategy Working
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 20, 2006 President Bush today pointed to the dramatic turnaround in Tal Afar, Iraq -- a city once gripped by terrorist oppression that's now undergoing a vibrant revitalization -- as concrete evidence that the national strategy for victory in Iraq is working.
Speaking at the City Club of Cleveland, a free speech forum, the president said developments in Tal Afar show clear progress on the political, security and economic fronts and proof that the Iraqi people want to live in freedom.
Calling the northern Iraqi city with its diverse population "a microcosm of Iraq," the president said its example "gives me confidence in our strategy."
Tal Afar's 200,000 residents lived under the intimidation of insurgents who were using the city as a base to organize, train and equip terror cells.
U.S. and Iraqi forces drove out the insurgents in "Operation Restore Rights," in fall 2005. Government forces are now rebuilding housing, schools and other facilities.
Iraqi forces took the lead in securing neighborhoods and, during two weeks of intense activity, killed 150 terrorists and captured another 850, the president said. In addition to ridding the city of terrorists who'd established a hotbed there, the effort won the citizen's confidence and encouraged them to participate in their country's new democracy, he said.
"In this city, we see the outlines of the Iraq that we and the Iraqi people have been fighting for," Bush said. "A free and secure people are getting back on their feet ... (and) participating in government and civic life."
The story of Tal Afar also shows that with a basic level of safety and security, Iraqis can live together peacefully, he said.
Bush said the strategy for victory is working, and "we know it because the people of Tal Afar are showing their gratitude." He cited a letter from Najim Abdullah Abid Al-Jibouri, the city's mayor, praising "the courageous men and women of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tal Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life."
The mayor called these soldiers "avenging angels sent by the god himself to fight the evil of terrorism."
Bush said it's understandable how U.S. citizens who see horrific news images from Iraq but never hear of successes like the one in Tal Afar might question the U.S. mission there. "I understand how Americans have had their confidence shaken," he said.
The war in Iraq has "tested our resolve" as a nation, the president said. "The fighting has been tough. The enemy has proved to be brutal."
In the face of this adversary, the United States has adapted to reflect realities on the ground. Bush described how the situation in Tal Afar gave rise to the new "clear, hold and build" approach that's being used throughout Iraq. That strategy builds on cooperation between coalition and Iraqi forces and new capabilities within Iraq's forces, he said.
"Under this new approach, Iraqi and coalition forces would clear a city of the terrorists, leave well-trained Iraqi units behind to hold the city, and work with local leaders to build the economic and political infrastructure Iraqis need to live in freedom," the president said.
Turning Tal Afar and other Iraqi cities over to Iraqi control enables U.S. forces to move on to other areas to hunt for "high-value targets" like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Bush said. But he noted that it also accomplishes another, even more important objective. "By turning control of these cities over to capable Iraqi troops and police, we give Iraqis confidence that they can determine their own destiny," he said.
Today, Tal Afar represents a shining example of democracy taking hold in Iraq, the president noted. And that's the United States' and coalition's ultimate goal for Iraq, he said. The decision to enter Iraq three years ago was difficult, Bush acknowledged, but he insisted, "The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision."
Bush called Iraq the central front in the war on terror, noting that if the United States wasn't fighting terrorists there, the extremists wouldn't be idle. Rather, they'd be busy planning more attacks against the United States, he said.
Staying the course in Iraq and seeing the U.S. strategy through to victory will help prevent that from happening, he said. "We will settle for nothing less than victory," Bush said. "The United States will never abandon Iraq. We will not leave that country to the terrorists who attacked America and want to attack us again."