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President Lauds Iraqi Spirit, Cites Encouraging Signs

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2005 – President Bush today cited "encouraging signs" in Iraq and expressed confidence in the country's future.

In remarks at the White House's Rose Garden after meeting with a group of Iraqis who voted in the Jan. 30 elections, the president noted the success so far of the country's fledgling political process.

"We have seen many encouraging signs in Iraq." he said. "The world has watched Iraqi women vote in enormous numbers. The world has seen more than 80 women take their seats as elected representatives in the new assembly. We've also seen the beginnings of a new national dialogue, as leaders who did well in the last election have reached out to Sunnis who did not participate."

Bush praised the Iraqi people's courage in turning out to vote Jan. 30 despite a relentless intimidation campaign waged by enemies of a free Iraq.

"I commend the more than 8 million Iraqis who defied the car bombers and assassins to vote that day," he said. "I appreciate the determination of the Iraqi electoral workers who withstood threats and intimidation to make a transparent election possible. I salute the courageous Iraqi security forces who risked their lives to protect voters."

The president called Iraq's election of a 275-member transitional national assembly "another bold step toward self-government."

"Today," he said, "Iraqis took another step on the road to a free society when the assembly held its second meeting. We expect a new government will be chosen soon and that the assembly will vote to confirm it. We look forward to working with the government that emerges from this process. We're confident that this new government will be inclusive, will respect human rights, and will uphold fundamental freedoms for all Iraqis."

Bush praised the Iraqi people's spirit in overcoming oppression to embark on the road to self-government. "In forming their new government, the Iraqis have shown that the spirit of compromise has survived more than three decades of dictatorship," the president said. "They will need that spirit in the weeks and months ahead, as they continue the hard work of building their democracy." He noted that the transitional assembly will choose leaders and draft a constitution the country will vote on in October, and later Iraqis will return to the polls to select a permanent government under that constitution.

Even as Iraq moves closer to democracy, its security forces are stepping up to the task before them, Bush said.

"This democracy will need defending," he pointed out, "and Iraqi security forces are taking on greater responsibility in the fight against the insurgents and terrorists. Today, more than 145,000 Iraqis have been trained and are serving courageously across Iraq. In recent weeks, they've taken the lead in offensive operations in places like Baghdad and Samarra and Mosul."

Bush said the United States would continue to help Iraq's security forces become self-sufficient. "We will continue to train Iraqis so they can take responsibility for the security of their country," he said, "and then our forces will come home with the honor they've earned."

Elections alone, though, won't carry Iraq all the way to true democracy, the president noted.

"A free society requires more than free elections; it also requires free institutions, a vibrant civil society, rule of law, anti-corruption, and the habits of liberty built over generations," Bush said. "By claiming their own freedom, the Iraqis are transforming the region, and they're doing it by example and inspiration, rather than by conquest and domination. The free people of Iraq are now doing what Saddam Hussein never could -- making Iraq a positive example for the entire Middle East.

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