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Rice: Leaving Iraq Early Would Be Missed Opportunity

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2006 – Democracy in Iraq could secure the beginnings of a new Middle East, the nation's top diplomat said yesterday in a radio interview.

On "The Sean Hannity Show," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that leaving Iraq would be to leave the country to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his ilk.

"I would just ask the American people to think about the alternative," Rice said. "The alternative is to leave prematurely from Iraq and leave that country to the likes of Zarqawi and al Qaeda and to miss the chance, to miss the opportunity to have a stable and democratic Iraq as an anchor in a different kind of Middle East."

Rice acknowledged that change in Iraq is difficult right now, but "any big historical change is always tough and violent," she noted. During her most recent trip to the region earlier this month, she said she noticed substantial progress between then and when she was last in Iraq in November.

"When I'm there, I find so encouraging what the Iraqis are doing in terms of their political system and its development, in terms of maturity of their security forces, in terms of their ability to work together on difficult problems," the secretary said.

She also said she recognizes that questioning America's continuing presence in Iraq is something people are bound to do. "I can understand how the American people, looking every day at the television pictures of bombings and violence in Iraq, can wonder what is really going on here and are we going to be successful," she said.

Questions about whether to remove Saddam Hussein from power have been asked from the beginning, she said. Countries like France, Russia and Germany may have believed Saddam should stay in power during the buildup to war in 2003 because it was clear the only way to remove him would be by military force, and doing nothing was preferable to war in their opinion, she said.

But what the United States did was correct, she said. "The president took a different track, and the right track, which was to finally rid the international community of this dictator who had threatened his neighbors, used chemical weapons," Rice said. "It was the time to get rid of him."

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Condoleezza Rice

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