CARLISLE, Pa. (BP)–President Bush outlined a five-step process for achieving democracy and freedom in Iraq when he addressed the nation from the Army War College May 24, saying coalition efforts are “focused and unrelenting, and no power of the enemy will stop Iraq’s progress.”
Bush acknowledged the recent surge in violence in Iraq, including the murder of the president of the Iraqi Governing Council and the videotaped decapitation of a young American civilian. Drawing a contrast between the goals of terrorists and the goals of the coalition, Bush said Americans must understand Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.
“The return of tyranny to Iraq would be an unprecedented terrorist victory and a cause for killers to rejoice,” the president said in his prime-time address from Carlisle, Pa. “It would also embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world.
“The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the nation,” Bush continued. “This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world.”
The first of five steps to a free and self-governing Iraq is the June 30 transfer of full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for national elections, the president said. On that date, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist and the occupation will end. The United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is consulting with a broad spectrum of Iraqis to determine the composition of the interim government consisting of a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and 26 Iraqi ministers to oversee government departments.
Bush said the June 30 transfer of sovereignty is an essential commitment of America’s strategy.
“Iraqis are proud people who resent foreign control of their affairs, just as we would. After decades under the tyrant, they are also reluctant to trust authority,” he said. “By keeping our promise on June 30, the coalition will demonstrate that we have no interest in occupation. And full sovereignty will give Iraqis a direct interest in the success of their own government. Iraqis will know that when they build a school or repair a bridge, they’re not working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, they are working for themselves. And when they patrol the streets of Baghdad, or engage radical militias, they will be fighting for their own country.”
The second step to democracy is to establish the stability and security required by such a government. Bush said America and other coalition nations would work together as allies of the new Iraq to defend the country and defeat terrorists. Given the recent increase in violence, the president said America will maintain its current troop level of 138,000 “as long as necessary.” He acknowledged this means the extended deployment of 20,000 troops who were scheduled to return home in April, but he said America is grateful for their service.
“The mission of our forces in Iraq is demanding and dangerous,” he said. “Our troops are showing exceptional skill and courage. I thank them for their sacrifices and their duty.”
Bush said a plan is in place to train more Iraqi troops to defend their nation, building on the success already achieved. He noted some of the ways Iraqis have started taking responsibility for restoring order.
“Yesterday, an elite Iraqi unit cleared out a weapons cache from a large mosque in Kufa,” he said. “Respected Shia leaders have called on the militia to withdraw from these towns. Ordinary Iraqis have marched in protest against the militants.”
In an effort to train an Iraqi army of 35,000 soldiers in 27 battalions, Bush said a new team of senior U.S. military officers is now assessing every unit in Iraq’s security forces. He has asked the team to oversee the training of a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and other security personnel. Five Iraqi army battalions are now in place, with another eight battalions to join them by July 1.
The president said after June 30, American military forces in Iraq would operate under American command as a part of a multinational force authorized by the United Nations.
The third step to a free and stable Iraq is to continue rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure so that Iraq may gain economic independence. Bush said the coalition already has helped rebuild schools and refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair bridges, upgrade the electrical grid and modernize the communications system. A new currency has been introduced and a growing private economy is taking shape, he said. Oil production is up to more than 2 million barrels per day, and many of Iraq’s largest creditors have pledged to forgive or substantially reduce Iraqi debt incurred by the former regime.
Bush said the fourth step is to enlist additional international support for Iraq’s transition. He mentioned the new resolution the United States and Great Britain presented to the U.N. Security Council May 24 to help Iraq move toward self-government.
The fifth and most important step, Bush said, is a free, national election to be held no later than January 2005. An independent election commission to oversee the process is now being formed, and the election will allow the Iraqi people to choose a transitional national assembly, “the first freely elected, truly representative national governing body in Iraq’s history.” The assembly will draft a new constitution, and under the constitution Iraq will elect a permanent government by the end of next year, Bush said.
“Completing the five steps to Iraqi elected self-government will not be easy,” the president said. “There’s likely to be more violence before the transfer of sovereignty and after the transfer of sovereignty. The terrorists and Saddam loyalists would rather see many Iraqis die than have any live in freedom. But terrorists will not determine the future of Iraq.”
Bush said America did not seek this war on terror, but “this is the world as we find it.” The coalition must keep its focus and do its duty because history is moving, and it will tend toward hope or toward tragedy, the president said.
“We believe that when all Middle Eastern peoples are finally allowed to live and think and work and worship as free men and women, they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage,” Bush said. “And when that day comes, the bitterness and burning hatreds that feed terrorism will fade and die away….
“My fellow Americans, we will not fail,” the president said. “We will persevere and defeat this enemy and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SECURING A FREE IRAQ.