Bush: United States Will Leave, 'But Not Retreat' From Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2006  - The United States will leave Iraq, "but we will not retreat from Iraq," President Bush said today during a speech at Freedom House here.

The president stressed that freedom is for all nations, not just a few fortunate ones, and that the march of freedom is the best guarantor of peace.

He said freedom is on the march in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan and Liberia, and that "the courageous people of Iraq have gone to the polls not once, not twice, but three times, choosing a transitional government, a democratic constitution, and a new government under that constitution." Bush acknowledged that each country faces problems, but with the help of the international community, they can surmount them.

Bush said liberty is advancing in the midst of war. "At a moment when a global movement of great brutality and ambition is fighting freedom's progress with all the hateful violence they can muster, in this new century the advance of freedom is a vital element of our strategy to protect the American people and to secure the peace for generations to come," he said.

Bush defended his policy of preemption. He said the United States is fighting terrorists around the world before they can launch more attacks on the homeland. "On September the 11th, 2001, we saw the violence and the hatred of a vicious enemy and the future that they intend for us," he said. "That day I made a decision: America will not wait to be attacked again. We will confront this mortal danger. We will stay on the offensive. America will defend our freedom."

He said confronting the terrorists in Iraq is the central front of the war on terror today. Bush said the stakes in Iraq are high, and the United States must help Iraqis overcome divisions to form one nation that respects the rights of all.

Bush directly confronted questions about the situation in Iraq. "In the wake of recent violence in Iraq, many Americans are asking legitimate questions: Why are Iraqis so divided? And did America cause the instability by removing Saddam Hussein from power?"

"They ask: After free elections, why are the Iraqi people having such a hard time coming together? And can a country with so many divisions ever build a stable democracy? They ask why we can't bring our troops home now and let the Iraqis sort out their differences on their own."

He said that much of the violence Americans see in Iraq is a legacy of Saddam Hussein's rule. "He was a tyrant who exacerbated sectarian divisions to keep himself in power," the president said.

Before Saddam Hussein, Iraqis of all ethnic, tribal and sectarian affiliations lived together peacefully. "To prevent these different groups from coming together to challenge his regime, Saddam Hussein undertook a deliberate strategy of maintaining control by dividing the Iraqi people," Bush said. "He stayed on top by brutally repressing different Iraqi communities and pitting them one against the other. He forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of their homes, using expulsion as a weapon to subdue and punish any group that resisted his rule. By displacing Iraqi communities and dividing the Iraqi people, he sought to establish himself as the only force that could hold the country together."

Saddam used poison gas on the Kurds in the north and military force to drive out Shiia Arabs in the south. He drained the swamps of the Shatt al-Arab, destroying the lives and history of the March Arabs.

But the Iraqi dictator also oppressed his fellow Sunni Arabs. "One of the great misperceptions about Iraq is that every Sunni enjoyed a privileged status under Saddam's regime," Bush said. "In the mid-1990s, Saddam rounded up scores of prominent Sunni economists and lawyers and retired army officers and former government officials. Many were never heard from again."

Iraq is physically and emotionally scarred by three decades of Saddam's tyranny, the president said, and these wounds will take time to heal.

He challenged assertions that Iraq was stable under Saddam and that stability is now endangered. "While liberation has brought its own set of challenges, Saddam Hussein's removal from power was the necessary first step in restoring stability and freedom to the people of Iraq," he said.

The enemies of freedom are using Saddam's tactics to exploit the wounds the dictator made on the nation's psyche. "For the Saddamists, provoking sectarian strife is business as usual," he said. And this fits right in with terror groups' aims for the nation. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, wants a civil war in Iraq.

"The terrorists and Saddamists have been brutal in the pursuit of this strategy," the president said. "They target innocent civilians. They blow up police officers. They attack mosques. And they commit other acts of horrific violence for the cameras. Their objective is to stop Iraq's democratic progress."

Now these same forces are trying to stop the formation of an Iraqi unity government. "They've learned they cannot succeed by facing coalition and Iraqi forces on the battlefield, so they've taken their violence to a new level by attacking one of Shiia Islam's holiest sites," Bush said. By blowing up the Golden Mosque in Samarra, they hoped the act would provoke Shiia Arabs into civil war.

"Yet despite massive provocations, Iraq has not descended into civil war," he said. "Most Iraqis have not turned to violence. The Iraqi security forces have not broken up into sectarian groups waging war against each other. Instead, Sunni, Shiia and Kurdish soldiers stood together to protect religious sites, enforce a curfew and restore civil order."

Bush said the Iraqi government must confront armed militia groups that engage in kidnappings, executions and other acts of violence. In some cases, local police turned a blind eye to the outrages. "There's no place in a free and democratic Iraq for armed groups operating outside the law," he said. "It's vital to the security of a free Iraq that the police are free of militia influence. And so we're working with Iraqi leaders to find and remove leaders from the national police who show evidence of loyalties to militias."

American units are partnering with Iraqi national police to teach them about the role of a professional police force in a democratic society. "We're making clear to Iraqi leaders that reining in the illegal militias must be a top priority of Iraq's new government when it takes office," he said.

Democracy is the only way forward to peace in Iraq and the greater Middle East, the president said. "Democracy is the only form of government where every person has a say in the governance of a country," he said. "So Iraqis are working to overcome past divisions and build a free society that protects the rights of all its citizens."

The president commented on calls by some Americans to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq now. "I know the work in Iraq is really difficult," he said. "But I strongly feel it's vital to the security of our country. The terrorists are killing and maiming and fighting desperately to stop the formation of a unity government, because they understand what a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East means for them and their ideology. They know that when freedom sets root in Iraq, it will be a mortal blow to their aspirations to dominate the region and advance their hateful vision. So they're determined to stop the advance of a free Iraq, and we must be equally determined to stop them."

If the coalition leaves before the job in Iraq is finished, then terrorist will fill the void and turn Iraq into a haven where they can plan and train and rest with impunity, the president said. "I know some in our country disagree with my decision to liberate Iraq," he said. "Whatever one thought about the decision to remove Saddam from power, I hope we should all agree that pulling our troops out prematurely would be a disaster.

"If we were to let the terrorists drive us out of Iraq, we would signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word," he continued. "We would undermine the morale of our troops by betraying the cause for which they have sacrificed. We would cause the tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our failed resolve and tighten their repressive grip. The global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever. For the security of our citizens and the peace of the world, we will not turn the future of Iraq over to the followers of a failed dictator or to evil men like (Osama) bin Laden and Zarqawi."

Related Site:

Transcript of President Bush's Remarks at Freedom House []

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