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Bush: Al Qaeda Cannot Gain Safe Haven in Iraq

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2007 – The decision America faces in Iraq is not whether to take sides in a sectarian civil war, but whether to continue the fight against al Qaeda, the organization that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and is now threatening stability in Iraq and the entire Middle East, President Bush said here today.

“I fully recognize what happens in Iraq matters here at home,” Bush said at a meeting of the Associated General Contractors of America. “The recent attacks are not the revenge killings that some have called a civil war; they are a systematic assault on the entire nation. Al Qaeda is public enemy No. 1 in Iraq, and all people of that society ought to come together and recognize the threat, unite against the threat, and reconcile their differences.”

U.S. forces have a new strategy to fight al Qaeda in Iraq, and the early stages of that strategy are encouraging, but the terrorists are bound to fight back, Bush said. In the past few weeks, al Qaeda has stepped up its campaign of high-profile suicide-bomb attacks, which are designed to reignite sectarian violence, discourage Iraqi citizens, and break U.S. support for the war, he said.

“The terrorists will continue to fight back. In other words, they understand what they're doing,” Bush said. “And casualties are likely to stay high. Yet, day by day, block by block, we are steadfast in helping Iraqi leaders counter the terrorists, protect their people, and reclaim the capital. And if I didn't think it was necessary for the security of the country, I wouldn't put our kids in harm's way.”

As the Baghdad security plan unfolds, U.S. forces will not be able to prevent every terrorist attack, Bush cautioned. However, he said, the plan is designed to shrink the areas where al Qaeda can operate, gather more intelligence about their presence, and allow American and Iraqi forces to dismantle their network.

The new security plan is still in its early stages, Bush noted, as Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, hasn’t received all the reinforcements he asked for. Last night, Bush vetoed an emergency war-funding bill that included deadlines for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and today he reiterated his calls to Congress to give Petraeus more time to implement the new plan and gauge its success.

“This issue of Iraq and this war on terror deserves a serious discussion across the United States,” Bush said. “We don't agree on every issue, but one of the things I have heard here in Washington is that people understand the consequences of failure in Iraq. If we were to leave Iraq before the government can defend itself, there would be a security vacuum.”

A security vacuum in Iraq would allow extremists to move in and take control, using the country’s significant natural resources to fund their objectives, Bush said. Al Qaeda terrorists would not be content simply to see U.S. forces leave Iraq, he said, but would see withdrawal as a sign of weakness and would attack America on its own soil.

“There would be no benefit in allowing chaos to spill out of Iraq and into the broader Middle East. There would be no benefit in emboldening Iran and endangering our allies in the region. And there would be no benefit in allowing the same terrorist network that attacked America on 9/11 to gain a safe haven from which to attack us again,” Bush said. “Even if you think it was a mistake to go into Iraq, it would be a far greater mistake to pull out now.”

Success in the war on terror is going to be difficult and will require sacrifice, but Americans must not forget the potential positive outcomes of success, Bush said. He pointed to Japan, which was once a sworn enemy of the United States and is now a close ally, as an example of “the possibilities of liberty to change history.”

“We fully understand that the long-term way to protect America is to defeat an ideology of hate with an ideology of hope,” he said. “I learned firsthand the power of liberty to transform an enemy into an ally.”

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