Bush Tells Iraqi-Americans They Are Proof Iraq Can Be Free
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 28, 2003 The days of repression of the Iraqi people are over, President Bush told a crowd of Iraqi expatriates in Dearborn, Mich., today. "Iraq will be democratic," he added.
In a short speech interrupted many times by applause and shouts of support from the crowd, Bush told the group they are living proof that the Iraqi people love freedom and can flourish in democracy.
"People who live in Iraq deserve the same freedom that you and I enjoy here in America," he said. "And after years of tyranny and torture, that freedom has finally arrived."
Still, he cautioned, rebuilding Iraq will take time. "That nation's recovering not just from weeks of conflict but from decades of totalitarian rule," the president said.
Bush laid out a litany of injustices Saddam Hussein's regime brought to bear on the Iraqi people.
The dictator "treated himself to palaces with gold faucets and grand fountains" in a country in which 40 percent of the people don't have access to clean drinking water, Bush said.
Iraq defied United Nations sanctions and exported milk, dates, corn and grain for profit while "more than half a million Iraqi children were malnourished."
Hussein let more than $200 million worth of medicines and medical supplies "sit in warehouses," while one in eight Iraqi children died before the age of 5, the president said.
"And while the dictator spent billions on weapons, including gold- covered AK-47s, nearly a quarter of Iraqi children were born underweight," he added.
Other sobering statistics: Today, Iraq has half as many hospitals as it did in 1990, and 70 percent of the country's schools are rundown and overcrowded. One quarter of Iraqi children don't attend school at all, Bush said.
"These problems plagued Iraq long before the recent conflict," he added.
The president shared several anecdotes about Iraqis cooperating with Americans. The most publicized is the Iraqi lawyer who risked his life several times to lead American Marines to U.S. prisoner of war Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Other Iraqis led Marines to the seven other American POWs several days later.
"Iraqis have warned our troops about land mines and enemy hideouts and military arsenals," Bush said.
He quoted an Iraqi man who received medical care aboard the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort: "They treat us like family. There are babies in Iraq who are not cared for by their mothers as well as the nurses have cared for us."
Comments about unity and democracy garnered the longest and loudest applause and cheers. "Whether you're Sunni or Shia or Kurd or Chaldean or Assyrian or Turkoman or Christian or Jew or Muslim," Bush said, shouting to be heard above the roar of the crowd. "No matter what your faith, freedom is God's gift to every person in every nation!"
He assured them "America has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture."
"Yet we will ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government and all citizens have their rights protected," Bush added.
The president expressed his confidence that a free Iraq can "be an example of peace and prosperity and freedom to the entire Middle East."
"It'll be a hard journey," he said. "But at every step of the way, Iraq will have a steady friend in the American people."