President Bush Cites Hopeful Signs in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2007 The surge of coalition and Iraqi operations in Baghdad has produced hopeful signs, President Bush said today at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. (Video)
Bush said the coalition and the Iraqi government are making progress in Anbar province, and this is spreading to Baghdad. He also spoke about the Iraqi government’s need to pass legislation, and the need for Americans to display patience.
The Sunni-dominated Anbar province was the seat of al Qaeda in Iraq six months ago. Bush said critics cited the province as the example of American failure in Iraq.
“About the same time some folks were writing off Anbar, our people are methodically cleaning Anbar's capital city of Ramadi of terrorists and winning the trust of the local population,” he said. “In parallel with these efforts, a group of tribal sheikhs launched a movement called ‘The Awakening’ and began cooperating with American and Iraqi forces.” The confluence of coalition forces and Iraqi sheikhs worked against al Qaeda.
“To capitalize on the opportunity, I sent more Marines into Anbar, and gradually they've been helping the locals take back their province from al Qaeda,” Bush said. “These operations are showing good results. Our forces are going into parts of Anbar where they couldn't operate before. With the help of Iraqi and coalition forces, local Sunni tribes have driven al Qaeda from most of Ramadi, and attacks there are now down to a two-year low.”
Anbar is still a dangerous place, Bush said, but a province that had been written off as hopeless “now enjoys a level of peace and stability that was unimaginable only a few months ago.”
The president said coalition leaders want to replicate the success in Anbar in Baghdad.
“In the months since I announced our new strategy, … we've been moving reinforcements into key Baghdad neighborhoods and the areas around the capital to help secure the population,” he said. Coalition and Iraqi forces are in the midst of Operation Phantom Thunder – which is focused on defeating al Qaeda terrorists, the insurgents and militias, and on denying extremists safe havens.
In January, about 80 percent of Iraq's sectarian violence was within 30 miles of Baghdad, Bush said. If coalition forces can clear the belt around the capital of al Qaeda and death squads, “we can improve life for the citizens of the areas and inhibit the enemy's ability to strike,” the president said.
Bush said Americans must get used to hearing the names of places like Adhamiya, Rashid and Mansour.
“These areas are important because they represent so-called sectarian faultlines, locations where Shiia extremists and al Qaeda terrorists are attempting to reignite sectarian violence through murder and kidnappings and other violent activities,” he said. “Until these areas and others like them are secured, the people of Baghdad can't be protected. They can't go about their lives.”
The coalition and Iraqi forces are at the beginning of the offensive, the president emphasized.
“We finally got the troops there. Americans have got to understand, it takes a while to mobilize additional troops and move them from the United States to Iraq,” he said. “And we got them there, and now we're beginning to move.”
The plan in place is a good one, Bush said. The forces are the best in the world and are carrying out that plan. “We owe them the time and we owe them the support they need to succeed,” the president said.
But the fight in Iraq involves more than just the military. “The Iraqis have got to be making tough decisions towards reconciliation, and that's why we'll keep the pressure on Iraqi leaders to meet political benchmarks they laid out for themselves,” he said.
The United States will keep up pressure for the Iraqis to pass important legislation regarding sharing oil revenues, hold provincial elections and reconciliation.
“I speak to the prime minister and I speak to the Presidency Council quite often, and I remind them we expect the government to function and to pass law,” Bush said.
He said that many Americans are frustrated by the slow pace of legislation. But Iraq is a democracy, and democracies are often slow, he said.
“The Iraqi parliament is composed of members representing many different religions and ethnicities – Sunnis, Shiia, Turkamen, Kurds and others,” he said. “Even in a long-established democracy, it's not easy to pass important pieces of legislation in a short period of time. We're asking the Iraqis to accomplish all these things at a time when their country's being attacked.
“I make no excuses,” he said. “We will continue to keep the pressure up. We expect there to be reconciliation; we expect them to pass law.”
The United States is involved in a broader war against ideological killers, Bush said, calling success in Iraq and Afghanistan important to the people of the greater Middle East and Central Asia.
“The stakes are high in the beginning stages of this global war against ideologues that stand for the exact opposite of what America stands for,” the president said. “What makes the war even more significant is that what happens overseas matters to the security in the United States of America, as we learned on September the 11th, when killers were able to use a failed state to plot the deadly attack.
“If we withdraw before the Iraqi government can defend itself,” he continued, “we would yield the future of Iraq to terrorists like al Qaeda, and we would give a green light to extremists all throughout a troubled region.”
The president said the consequences of such a withdrawal would be disastrous, as sectarian violence would overwhelm Iraq and fighting could spread well beyond Iraq and engulf the entire Persian Gulf region.
“We would soon face a Middle East dominated by Islamic extremists who would pursue nuclear weapons, who would use their control of oil for economic blackmail and who would be in a position to launch new attacks on the United States of America,” Bush said.
The United States must stay involved in the region, the president said.
“The United States must stand with millions of moms and dads throughout the Middle East who want a future of dignity and peace, and we must help them defeat a common enemy,” he said.