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President Notes Progress in Iraq's Schools During Weekly Radio Address

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2003 – President Bush used his weekly radio address to the nation today to speak of progress in Iraqi schools and to characterize the oppression the country suffered under Saddam Hussein's misrule.

"All Iraqis suffered, including children," the president said. "While Saddam built palaces and monuments to himself, Iraqi schools crumbled."

The president said that while Saddam supported a massive war machine, "Iraqi schoolchildren went without textbooks, and sometimes teachers went unpaid. Saddam used schools for his own purposes: to indoctrinate the youth of Iraq and to teach hatred."

The president noted that under Saddam, adult illiteracy was 61 percent. For women, the number was a staggering 77 percent, he said. "Iraq is a nation with a proud tradition of learning, and that tradition was betrayed by Saddam Hussein," he added.

Despite the travesty of Hussein's rule, the president said the United States and its coalition partners are succeeding in their effort to build a "stable and secure" Iraq. And he used much of his speech to point out progress being made to restore the education and school facilities there.

"We are working to rebuild Iraq's schools, to get the teachers back to work, and to make sure Iraqi children have the supplies they need," the president said.

The president noted that six months ago, "nearly all" of Iraq's schools were closed. He said many primary schools lacked electrical wiring, plumbing and windows. But today, he said, "all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools in the country."

Emphasizing the success in rebuilding schools in Iraq, the president said the United States had hoped to rehabilitate 1,000 schools by the time school started. However, this month, just days before the first day of class, he said, "our coalition and our Iraqi partners had refurbished over 1,500 schools."

Procuring books for Iraqi schoolchildren is part of the U.S. effort as well, the president said. "Under Saddam, textbooks were so rare, six students had to share each one. So we're working with UNESCO to print 5 million revised and modern textbooks free of Baathist pro da, and to distribute them to Iraqi students. By the end of the school year, there will be enough textbooks for each Iraqi student. And, for the first time in years, they will get to read the work of great Iraqi writers and poets -- much of it banned by Saddam's regime.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The president said the United States has assembled more than a million school supply kits -- including pencils, calculators and note pads -- for Iraqi schoolchildren. and the United States and its coalition allies also have distributed thousands of student desks and teacher chairs and chalkboards, he said. "And to assure the health of students, we have delivered over 22 million vaccinations for Iraqi children," Bush added.

The president said that in many cases, "American soldiers have intervened personally to make sure Iraqi schools get the supplies they need."

In one instance, Army 1st Lt. Kyle Barden of Charlotte, N.C., wanted supplies for the 11 schools in Laylan, Iraq. In response to his request for help, North Carolina school children, doctors, businesses and others have donated thousands of dollars to buy notebooks, pencils and colored pens, the president said.

On another occasion, Army Maj. Gregg Softy of the 1st Armored Division sent an e-mail to friends about Iraqi schools. "The response was overwhelming; hundreds of packages were shipped, and a Web site was established to encourage other Americans to contribute," the president said.

"All of our efforts to improve Iraqi education ultimately served the cause of security and peace. We want young Iraqis to learn skills and to grow and hope, instead of being fed a steady diet of pro da and hatred. We're making progress, but there is still much work to do."

The president said the supplemental funding request of $87 billion that Congress is likely to approve includes money for Iraqi reconstruction, and additional funds for health and training projects. On Oct. 17, Japan pledged $1 billion to aid U.S. rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

The president ended his radio address saying U.S. and coalition efforts will help Iraq reclaim its proud heritage of learning, and bring it into "the family of nations."

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