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Troops in Iraq Talk With President Bush

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2005 – President Bush said today he's looking forward to coming back to Iraq to visit with U.S. troops and to thank "those brave Iraqis who are standing strong in the face of these foreign fighters and radicals that are trying to stop the march of freedom."

Click photo for screen-resolution image
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference linking him in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington with Task Force Liberty soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, Oct. 13. Photo by Paul Morse

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

The president spoke with a group of soldiers from Task Force Liberty gathered during a video teleconference between Tikrit, Iraq, and the White House.

He thanked U.S. servicemembers serving worldwide for their courage and "for stepping up when the United States of America needed you." And "you got to know," Bush told the troops, "the American people are standing strong with you."

The president thanked the Task Force Liberty soldiers for their contributions and asked them about security preparations to support the Oct. 15 voting referendum on the new Iraqi constitution.

Capt. Stephen Pratt, of the 116th Brigade Combat Team, said U.S., coalition and Iraqi Army and police forces have conducted many security exercises. Pratt said he was impressed with the cooperation exhibited between the U.S. and Iraqi security forces and predicted "a very successful and effective referendum vote."

Voter registration is up 17 percent in north central Iraq, Capt. David Williams, of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, told Bush. This constitutes about 400,000 new voters, Williams said, noting that his sources say the Iraqi people are eager to vote in the referendum.

Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo, of 42nd Infantry Division headquarters, said she remembered being in New York when the president visited New York City on Nov. 11, 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.

Now deployed in Iraq, Lombardo said she has witnessed "a tremendous increase in the capabilities" of the Iraqi security forces over the past 10 months. The Iraqi soldiers and police "continue to develop and grow into sustainable forces," she said. And next month "we anticipate seeing at least one-third of those Iraqi forces conducting independent operations."

Afterward, Sgt. Ackhel, an Iraqi army noncommissioned officer sitting among the group of Americans thanked the U.S. commander in chief, and added, "I like you."

"I appreciate that," Bush responded.

1st Lt. Gregg Murphy, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, said he appreciated talking with the president about the Iraqi security forces' role in the upcoming referendum.

Murphy said Iraqi army and police forces are "ready" and "committed" to make the referendum a success. American and coalition forces performed most of the security duty during the Jan. 30 elections, he recalled.

In contrast, today the Iraqis "are doing everything" to plan and prepare security for the Oct. 15 referendum, Murphy said, noting U.S. forces will participate in a backup role.

"We can't wait to share in their success with them on Sunday," Murphy said.

Bush reminded the soldiers that U.S. operations in Iraq are part of the global war on terror and defeat of the insurgents there would dash their plans for the Middle East.

Terrorists operating in Iraq and elsewhere, he said, possess a narrow worldview that doesn't believe in freedom, religious diversity or women's rights.

"The enemy understands that a free Iraq would be a blow to their vision and their strategy of spreading dominance throughout the broader Middle East," Bush said.

Continued insurgent-instigated bombings and killings of innocent Iraqis as well as U.S. and coalition troops and Iraqi anti-terror forces are designed "to shake our will," the president explained, to cause America to pull its troops out of Iraq.

Bush was adamant there'd be no U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq until the insurgents were beaten.

"As so long as I'm the president," Bush vowed, "we're never going to back down, we're never going to give in, we'll never accept anything less than total victory" in Iraq.

He told the soldiers it was important for them, as well as the enemy, to know and understand the U.S. policy on Iraq.

The U.S. has a clear strategy in Iraq that has military and political components, Bush said. First, American and coalition forces in Iraq are hunting down terrorists and bringing them to justice, he said, while Iraqi soldiers and police are trained "to join us in that effort."

The policy's political piece, the president explained, is based on the knowledge that "you defeat a backward, dark philosophy with one that is hopeful" and "based on universal freedom."

Bush said he was cheered by Iraqi government efforts to craft a new constitution that reflects the input and views of the country's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish ethnic elements.

Task Force Liberty is headed by the New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division, which took over command of Multinational Division North Central from the 1st Infantry Division on Feb. 14. The first Guard division to deploy to a combat zone since the Korean War, the 42nd is responsible for security in Iraq's north central region, an area that includes Tikrit, Balad, Kirkuk and Samarra.

Task Force Liberty's area of operations, about the size of West Virginia, includes four provinces north of Baghdad -- Kirkuk, Sulimaniyah, Diyala and Salahuddin -- with more than 6 million Iraqi citizens.

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