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Bush, Blair Reaffirm Iraq Commitment

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2006 – President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last night defended the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power and emphasized that the stakes are worth the sacrifices made and those yet to come.

At a White House news conference, the two leaders said the road has been rough, and they admitted mistakes in the handling of the war and said much remains to be done. But both indicated their countries stand firmly committed to helping Iraq's new unity government succeed.

Blair said he knows people in Great Britain and the United States are wondering whether the war is worth fighting, but that opponents of democracy have no such doubts. "It is worth it to those engaged in this violence and terrorism to try to stop us, and we should have the same faith and confidence in our determination to succeed as they have in their determination to make us fail," he said.

"And I think that is an issue for the whole of the international community, because I've got no doubt at all that if we do succeed, as I believe that we will, in Iraq, difficult though it will be, and we succeed in Afghanistan, then the whole of this global terrorism will suffer a defeat," the prime minister continued. "And that's why I think we need an international community that's capable of recognizing these problems and acting on them."

Bush defended the decision to go to war in Iraq.

"The decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power was controversial. We did not find the weapons of mass destruction that we all believed were there, and that's raised questions about whether the sacrifice in Iraq has been worth it," the president said. "Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing. Saddam Hussein was a menace to his people. He was a state sponsor of terror. He invaded his neighbors."

Blair, who traveled to Baghdad earlier this week to meet with Iraq's new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, said he came away from the visit "thinking that the challenge is still immense, but I also came away more certain than ever that we should rise to it."

"And though it is at times daunting," he continued, "it is also utterly inspiring to see people from all the different parts of the community in Iraq -- the Sunni, the Shiia, the Kurds -- sitting down together, all of them democratic leaders, democratically elected by their people, elected for a four-year term, elected and choosing to come together as a government of national unity, and completely determined to run their country in a different way for the future."

Bush acknowledged the high cost in death and suffering incurred so far and the continuing violence in Iraq, but said the will of the Iraqi people is clear.

"The United States and Great Britain have lost some of our finest men and women in combat," he said. "The car bombings and suicide attacks and other terrorist acts have also inflicted great suffering on the Iraqi people, and Iraqis have increasingly become the principal victims of terror and sectarian and sectarian reprisal.

"Yet in the face of this ongoing violence, each time the Iraqi people voiced their opinion, they chose freedom," Bush continued. "In three different elections, millions of Iraqis turned out to the polls and cast their ballots. Because of their courage, the Iraqis now have a government of their choosing, elected under the most modern and democratic constitution in the Arab world."

Blair said the continuing violence in Iraq should not be viewed as failure, but rather as all the more reason to see the mission through. He said the coalition should view terrorist acts "as a renewed urgency for us to rise to the challenge of defeating these people who are committing this carnage."

"Over these past three years, at every stage, the reason (the terrorists) have been fighting is not, as we can see, because Iraqi people don't believe in democracy, Iraqi people don't want liberty," Blair said. "It is precisely because they fear Iraqi people do want democracy, Iraqi people do want liberty.

"And if the idea became implanted in the minds of people in the Arab and Muslim world that democracy was as much their right as our right, where do these terrorists go, what do they do, how do they recruit?" he asked. "How do they say America is the evil Satan? How do they say the purpose of the West is to despoil your lands, wreck your religion, take your wealth? How can they say that? They can't say that. So these people who are fighting us there know what is at stake. The question is, do we?"

Bush said the al Qaeda terror organization has made no secret of its intentions in Iraq.

"And they've made it clear that it's just a matter of time for countries like Great Britain and the United States to leave," he said. "In other words, if they make life miserable enough, we'll leave. And they want us to leave, because they want a safe haven from which to launch attacks, not only us, but on moderate Muslim governments as well.

The president called the terrorists "totalitarians" and "Islamic fascists."

"They have a point of view. They have a philosophy," Bush said. "And they want to impose that philosophy on the rest of the world. And Iraq just happens to be one of the battles in the war on terror."

Bush repeated his assertion that as Iraqi forces become more capable, the U.S. military presence in Iraq can draw down in size. But he would not apply a timetable to any significant troop reductions.

"The American people need to know that we'll keep the force level there necessary to win," he said. "And it's important for the American people to know that politics isn't going to make the decision as to the size of our force level."

He said that once Iraq's vacant defense minister position is filled, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the coalition's commander in Iraq, will meet with Iraqi leaders to discuss the force levels necessary for victory.

Blair said the Iraqi government wants the coalition to continue its mission until the Iraqi security forces are ready. "They want us there in support until they've got the capability," he said, "and then they want us to leave, and then to take full charge of their country. And I believe that can happen."

Bush pledged continued cooperation with Blair and reaffirmed their mutual support for the Iraqi government.

"I look forward for continued in depth discussions with Tony Blair so we can develop the best approach in helping the new Iraqi government achieve its objectives," he said. "The new government of Iraq will have the full support of our two countries and our coalition, and we will work to engage other nations around the world to ensure that constitutional democracy in Iraq succeeds and the terrorists are defeated."

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