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President cites strategies for ‘freedom’s victory’ in Iraq

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (BP)–The United States has “an unwavering commitment to the mission — and a clear strategy for victory” for democracy in Iraq, President Bush said in an address at the Naval Academy Nov. 30.

“Our strategy in Iraq has three elements,” the president told an audience that ranged from the academy’s midshipmen to members of Congress.

“On the political side,” Bush said, “we know that free societies are peaceful societies, so we’re helping the Iraqis build a free society with inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all Iraqis….

“On the security side, coalition and Iraqi security forces are on the offensive against the enemy, cleaning out areas controlled by the terrorists and Saddam loyalists, leaving Iraqi forces to hold territory taken from the enemy, and following up with targeted reconstruction to help Iraqis rebuild their lives….

“And on the economic side, we’re helping the Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure, reform their economy and build the prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq.”

The president said the threefold strategy is set forth in a 38-page document, “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” posted on the White House website Nov. 30. “This is an unclassified version of the strategy we’ve been pursuing in Iraq,” he said. “… I urge all Americans to read it.”

In the threefold strategy, Bush said, “… we have involved the United Nations, other international organizations, our coalition partners and supportive regional states in helping Iraqis build their future.”

The president told the Annapolis audience that his address Nov. 30 would focus on the training of Iraqi security forces, with other facets of U.S. strategy to be the topic of addresses he will deliver in the days ahead.

The United States is “working to build capable and effective Iraqi security forces,” the president said, “so they can take the lead in the fight — and eventually take responsibility for the safety and security of their citizens without major foreign assistance.”

It is “an enormous task, and it always hasn’t gone smoothly,” the president acknowledged. “We all remember the reports of some Iraqi security forces running from the fight more than a year ago. Yet in the past year, Iraqi forces have made real progress. At this time last year, there were only a handful of Iraqi battalions ready for combat. Now, there are over 120 Iraqi army and police combat battalions in the fight against the terrorists — typically comprised of between 350 and 800 Iraqi forces.”

About 40 of the battalions, including one operating without any coalition support, “are taking the lead in the fight … controlling their own battle space and conducting their own operations against the terrorists with some coalition support — and they’re helping to turn the tide of this struggle in freedom’s favor,” Bush said. About 80 Iraqi battalions, meanwhile, are “fighting side-by-side with coalition forces,” he said.

The recent anti-terrorist operation in Tal Afar, for example, was led by 11 Iraqi battalions, backed by five coalition battalions, the president said, compared to the Fallujah operation last year that was led by nine coalition battalions, backed by six Iraqi battalions.

Among other facets of the training of Iraqi forces cited by the president:

— The quality of Iraqi recruits has improved. “Even though the terrorists are targeting Iraqi police and army recruits, there is no shortage of Iraqis who are willing to risk their lives to secure the future of a free Iraq,” the president said. He noted that, “More than 60 influential Sunni clerics issued a fatwa calling on young Sunnis to join the Iraqi security forces, ‘for the sake of preserving the souls, property and honor’ of the Iraqi people. These religious leaders are helping to make the Iraqi security forces a truly national institution — one that is able to serve, protect and defend all the Iraqi people.”

— All Iraqi army recruits now receive “about the same length of basic training as new recruits in the U.S. Army — a five-week core course, followed by an additional three-to-seven weeks of specialized training,” the president said. He added, “With coalition help, Iraqis have established schools for the Iraqi military services, an Iraqi military academy, a non-commissioned officer academy, a military police school, a bomb disposal school — and NATO has established an Iraqi Joint Staff College.”

In the training of police officers, Bush said, “Iraq has now six basic police academies, and one in Jordan, that together produce over 3,500 new police officers every 10 weeks.”

— More than a dozen bases in Iraq “have been handed over to the Iraqi government — including Saddam Hussein’s former palace in Tikrit, which has served as the coalition headquarters in one of Iraq’s most dangerous regions,” Bush said. And, he said, “… a national depot has been established north of Baghdad that is responsible for supplying the logistical needs of the 10 divisions of the Iraqi army.”

Those who advocate a timetable or deadline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq are “sincere,” the president said, “but I believe they’re sincerely wrong.”

“Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a message across the world that America is a weak and an unreliable ally,” he said. It would “send a signal to our enemies — that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends. And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorists’ tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder — and invite new attacks on America.

“To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your Commander-in-Chief,” the president said.

“Before our mission in Iraq is accomplished, there will be tough days ahead,” Bush said. “A time of war is a time of sacrifice, and we’ve lost some very fine men and women in this war on terror.” The president quoted the words one Marine corporal, Jeff Starr, had written on his laptop computer before he was killed in fighting terrorists in Ramadi earlier this year: “[I]f you’re reading this, then I’ve died in Iraq. I don’t regret going. Everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it’s not to me. I’m here helping these people, so they can live the way we live. Not [to] have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.”

“We will take the fight to the terrorists,” described by the president as “an enemy without conscience.”

“We will help the Iraqi people lay the foundations of a strong democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself,” Bush said.

“Freedom’s victory in that country will inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, and spread hope across a troubled region, and lift a terrible threat from the lives of our citizens…. [B]y laying the foundations of freedom in Iraq, we will lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.”