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Coalition Buoyed by Iraqi Peoples Courage, Bush Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2005 – President Bush issued assurances today during a news conference here that the coalition in Iraq is not crumbling.

"Quite the contrary," he said, "I think the coalition has been buoyed by the courage of the Iraqi people."

Bush's statement came on the heels of reports that Italy would start withdrawing some of its forces by September. He said Italian President Silvio Berlusconi flatly denied this during a phone conversation.

The president said Berlusconi told him there had been no change in his policy and any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies. And then they would be dependent upon the Iraqis' ability to defend themselves.

Bush said countries will be willing or anxious to get out when Iraqis have the capacity to defend themselves. "And that's the position of the United States," he added. "Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself. And that's generally what I find to be the case ... when I've talked to other allies on this issue."

Bush noted that he talks to Army Gen. George Casey, the senior U.S. military commander on the ground in Iraq, about progress in the country. Iraqis are working on standing up chains of command, and there are positive signs in the development of Iraqi security forces, the president pointed out.

He called the meeting of Iraq's Transitional National Assembly today a "bright moment" and a positive step in the process of writing and ratifying a constitution and holding elections.

"I want to congratulate the Iraqis for their assembly," Bush said. "We've always said this is a process, and today was a step in that process. And it's a hopeful moment, I thought."

And though democracy seems to be flickering throughout the broader Middle East, it's the Iraqi people who deserve the credit, Bush said of those who defied the threats against them and their loved ones to head to the polls Jan. 30.

"It was a powerful moment in the history of freedom," he said. "People in the world got to see what it meant ... for a group of people who have been downtrodden to rise up and say, 'I want to be free.'"

There is still more to be done, Bush acknowledged. But the process of forming a government and developing a constitution is proceeding and being done in a transparent way.

The president also said he sees Iraq and Afghanistan serving as role models for the rest of the Middle East and expressed optimism that a Palestinian state would be established ands Syria would withdraw its forces and intelligence assets from Lebanon. "I believe those examples will serve as examples for others over time and that will lead to more peace," he said. "And that's what we want."

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