Forces for Freedom Will Prevail in Iraq, Bush
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 24, 2004
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON IRAQ AND THE WAR ON TERROR
United States Arm you War College
8:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you and good evening. I'm honored to
visit the Army War College. Generations of officers have come here to study the
strategies and history of warfare. I've come here tonight to report to all
Americans, and to the Iraqi people, on the
strategy our nation is pursuing in Iraq, and the specific steps were taking to
achieve our goals.
The actions of our enemies over the last few weeks have been brutal,
calculating, and instructive. We've seen a car bombing take the life of a
61-year-old Iraqi named Izzedin Saleem, who was serving as President of the
Governing Council. This crime shows our enemy's intention to prevent Iraqi
self-government, even if that means killing a lifelong Iraqi patriot and a
faithful Muslim. Mr. Saleem was assassinated by terrorists seeking the return
of tyranny and the death of democracy.
We've also seen images of a young American facing decapitation. This vile
display shows a contempt for all the rules of warfare, and all the bounds of
civilized behavior. It reveals a fanaticism that was not caused by any action
of ours, and would not be appeased by any concession. We suspect that the man
with the knife was an al Qaeda associate named
Zarqawi. He and other terrorists know that Iraq is now the central front in the
war on terror. And we must understand that, as well. The return of tyranny to
Iraq would be an unprecedented terrorist victory, and a cause for killers to
rejoice. 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 region. 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.
Our work in Iraq has been hard. Our coalition has faced changing conditions of
war, and that has required perseverance, sacrifice, and an ability to adapt.
The swift removal of Saddam Hussein's regime last spring had an unintended
effect: Instead of being killed or captured on the battlefield, some of
Saddam's elite guards shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian
population. These elements of Saddam's repressive regime and secret police have
reorganized, rearmed, and adopted sophisticated terrorist tactics. They've
linked up with foreign fighters and terrorists.
In a few cities, extremists have tried to sow chaos and seize regional power for
themselves. These groups and individuals have conflicting ambitions, but they
share a goal: They hope to wear out the patience of Americans, our coalition,
and Iraqis before the arrival of effective self-government, and before Iraqis
have the capability to defend their freedom.
Iraq now faces a critical moment. As the Iraqi people move closer to governing
themselves, the terrorists are likely to become more active and more brutal.
There are difficult days ahead, and the way forward may sometimes appear
chaotic. Yet our coalition is strong, our efforts are focused and unrelenting,
and no power of the enemy will stop Iraq's progress. (Applause.)
Helping construct a stable democracy after decades of dictatorship is a massive
undertaking. Yet we have a great advantage. Whenever people are given a choice
in the matter, they prefer lives of freedom to lives of fear. Our enemies in
Iraq are good at filling hospitals, but they do not build any. They can incite
men to murder and suicide, but they cannot inspire men to live, and hope, and
add to the progress of their country. The terrorists' only influence is
violence, and their only agenda is death.
Our agenda, in contrast, is freedom and independence, security and prosperity
for the Iraqi people. And by removing a source of terrorist violence and
instability in the Middle East, we also make our own country more secure.
Our coalition has a clear goal, understood by all -- to see the Iraqi people in
charge of Iraq for the first time in generations. America's task in Iraq is not
only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend - a free,
representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf.
And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done.
There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom. We
will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish
security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more
international support, and move toward a national election that will bring
forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people.
The first of these steps will occur next month, when our coalition will transfer
full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for
national elections. On June 30th, the Coalition Provisional Authority will
cease to exist, and will not be replaced. The occupation will end, and Iraqis
will govern their own affairs. America's ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte,
will present his credentials to the new president of Iraq. Our embassy in
Baghdad will have the same purpose as any other American embassy, to assure good
relations with a sovereign nation. America and other countries will continue to
provide technical experts to help Iraq's ministries of government, but these
ministries will report to Iraq's new prime minister.
The United Nations Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is now consulting with a
broad spectrum of Iraqis to determine the composition of this interim
government. The special envoy intends to put forward the names of interim
government officials this week. In addition to a president, two vice
presidents, and a prime minister, 26 Iraqi ministers will oversee government
departments, from health to justice to defense. This new government will be
advised by a national council, which will be chosen in July by Iraqis
representing their country's diversity. This interim government will exercise
full sovereignty until national elections are held. America fully supports Mr.
Brahimi's efforts, and I have instructed the Coalition Provisional Authority to
assist him in every way possible.
In preparation for sovereignty, many functions of government have already been
transferred. Twelve government ministries are currently under the direct
control of Iraqis. The Ministry of Education, for example, is out of the
propaganda business, and is now concerned with educating Iraqi children. Under
the direction of Dr. Ala'din al-Alwan, the Ministry has trained more than 30,000
teachers and supervisors for the schools of a new Iraq.
All along, some have questioned whether the Iraqi people are ready for
self-government, or even want it. And all along, the Iraqi people have given
their answer. In settings where Iraqis have met to discuss their country's
future, they have endorsed representative government. And they are practicing
representative government. Many of Iraq's cities and towns now have elected
town councils or city governments - and beyond the violence, a civil society is
The June 30th transfer of sovereignty is an essential commitment of our
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. By keeping our promise on June 30th, 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 in the plan for Iraqi democracy is to help establish the
stability and security that democracy requires. Coalition forces and the Iraqi
people have the same enemies -- the terrorists, illegal militia, and Saddam
loyalists who stand between the Iraqi people and their future as a free nation.
Working as allies, we will defend Iraq and defeat these enemies.
America will provide forces and support necessary for achieving these goals.
Our commanders had estimated that a troop level below 115,000 would be
sufficient at this point in the conflict. Given the recent increase in
violence, we'll maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as
necessary. This has required extended duty for the 1st Armored Division and the
2nd Light Cavalry Regiment -- 20,000 men and women who were scheduled to leave
Iraq in April. Our nation appreciates their hard work and sacrifice, and they
can know that they will be heading home soon. General Abizaid and other
commanders in Iraq are constantly assessing the level of troops they need to
fulfill the mission. If they need more troops, I will send them. The mission
of our forces in Iraq is demanding and dangerous. Our troops are showing
exceptional skill and courage. I thank them for their sacrifices and their
In the city of Fallujah, there's been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists
and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors.
American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. Our
commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's
Governing Council and local officials, and determined that massive strikes
against the enemy would alienate the local population, and increase support for
the insurgency. So we have pursued a different approach. We're making security
a shared responsibility in Fallujah. Coalition commanders have worked with
local leaders to create an all-Iraqi security force, which is now patrolling the
city. Our soldiers and Marines will continue to disrupt enemy attacks on our
supply routes, conduct joint patrols with Iraqis to destroy bomb factories and
safe houses, and kill or capture any enemy.
We want Iraqi forces to gain experience and confidence in dealing with their
country's enemies. We want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing
capabilities, even as we help build them. At the same time, Fallujah must cease
to be a sanctuary for the enemy, and those responsible for terrorism will be
held to account.
In the cities of Najaf and Karbala and Kufa, most of the violence has been
incited by a young, radical cleric who commands an illegal militia. These
enemies have been hiding behind an innocent civilian population, storing arms
and ammunition in mosques, and launching attacks from holy shrines. Our
soldiers have treated religious sites with respect, while systematically
dismantling the illegal militia. We're also seeing Iraqis, themselves, take
more responsibility for restoring order. In recent weeks, Iraqi forces have
ejected elements of this militia from the governor's office in Najaf.
Yesterday, an elite Iraqi unit cleared out a weapons cache from a large mosque
in Kufa. Respected Shia leaders have called on the militia to withdraw from
these towns. Ordinary Iraqis have marched in protest against the militants.
As challenges arise in Fallujah, Najaf, and elsewhere, the tactics of our
military will be flexible. Commanders on the ground will pay close attention to
local conditions. And we will do all that is necessary – by measured force or
overwhelming force -- to achieve a stable Iraq.
Iraq's military, police, and border forces have begun to take on broader
responsibilities. Eventually, they must be the primary defenders of Iraqi
security, as American and coalition forces are withdrawn. And we're helping
them to prepare for this role. In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi
forces fell short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy. We've learned from
these failures, and we've taken steps to correct them. Successful fighting
units need a sense of cohesion, so we've lengthened and intensified their
training. Successful units need to know they are fighting for the future of
their own country, not for any occupying power, so we are ensuring that Iraqi
forces serve under an Iraqi chain of command. Successful fighting units need
the best possible leadership, so we improved the vetting and training of Iraqi
officers and senior enlisted men.
At my direction, and with the support of Iraqi authorities, we are accelerating
our program to help train Iraqis to defend their country. A new team of senior
military officers is now assessing every unit in Iraq's security forces. I've
asked this team to oversee the training of a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers,
police, and other security personnel. Five Iraqi army battalions are in the
field now, with another eight battalions to join them by July the 1st. The
eventual goal is an Iraqi army of 35,000 soldiers in 27 battalions, fully
prepared to defend their country.
After June 30th, American and other forces will still have important duties.
American military forces in Iraq will operate under American command as a part
of a multinational force authorized by the United Nations. Iraq's new sovereign
government will still face enormous security challenges, and our forces will be
there to help.
The third step in the plan for Iraqi democracy is to continue rebuilding that
nation's infrastructure, so that a free Iraq can quickly gain economic
independence and a better quality of life. Our coalition has already helped
Iraqis to rebuild schools and refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair
bridges, upgrade the electrical grid, and modernize the communications system.
And now a growing private economy is taking shape. A new currency has been
introduced. Iraq's Governing Council approved a new law that opens the country
to foreign investment for the first time in decades. Iraq has liberalized its
trade policy, and today an Iraqi observer attends meetings of the World Trade
Organization. Iraqi oil production has reached more than two million barrels
per day, bringing revenues of nearly $6 billion so far this year, which is being
used to help the people of Iraq. And thanks in part to our efforts -- to the
efforts of former Secretary of State James Baker, many of Iraq's largest
creditors have pledged to forgive or substantially reduce Iraqi debt incurred by
the former regime.
We're making progress. Yet there still is much work to do. Over the decades of
Saddam's rule, Iraq's infrastructure was allowed to crumble, while money was
diverted to palaces, and to wars, and to weapons programs. We're urging other
nations to contribute to Iraqi reconstruction -- and 37 countries and the IMF
and the World Bank have so far pledged $13.5 billion in aid. America has
dedicated more than $20 billion to reconstruction and development projects in
Iraq. To ensure our money is spent wisely and effectively, our new embassy in
Iraq will have regional offices in several key cities. These offices will work
closely with Iraqis at all levels of government to help make sure projects are
completed on time and on budget.
A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the
dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same
prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who
dishonored our country and disregarded our values. America will fund the
construction of a modern, maximum security prison. When that prison is
completed, detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then, with the approval of
the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison, as a fitting
symbol of Iraq's new beginning. (Applause.)
The fourth step in our plan is to enlist additional international support for
Iraq's transition. At every stage, the United States has gone to the United
Nations -- to confront Saddam Hussein, to promise serious consequences for his
actions, and to begin Iraqi reconstruction. Today, the United States and Great
Britain presented a new resolution in the Security Council to help move Iraq
toward self-government. I've directed Secretary Powell to work with fellow
members of the Council to endorse the timetable the Iraqis have adopted, to
express international support for
Iraq's interim government, to reaffirm the world's security commitment to the
Iraqi people, and to encourage other U.N. members to join in the effort.
Despite past disagreements, most nations have indicated strong support for the
success of a free Iraq. And I'm confident they will share in the responsibility
of assuring that success.
Next month, at the NATO summit in Istanbul, I will thank our 15 NATO allies who
together have more than 17,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Great Britain and
Poland are each leading a multinational division that is securing important
parts of the country. And NATO, itself, is giving
helpful intelligence, communications, and logistical support to the Polish-led
division. At the summit, we will discuss NATO's role in helping Iraq build and
secure its democracy.
The fifth and most important step is free, national elections, to be held no
later than next January. A United Nations team, headed by Carina Perelli, is
now in Iraq, helping form an independent election commission that will oversee
an orderly, accurate national election. In that election, the Iraqi people will
choose a transitional national assembly, the first freely-elected, truly
representative national governing body in Iraq's history. This assembly will
serve as Iraq's legislature, and it will choose a transitional government with
executive powers. The transitional national assembly will also draft a new
constitution, which will be presented to the Iraqi people in a referendum
scheduled for the fall of 2005. Under this new constitution, Iraq will elect a
permanent government by the end of next year.
In this time of war and liberation and rebuilding, American soldiers and
civilians on the ground have come to know and respect the citizens of Iraq.
They're a proud people who hold strong and diverse opinions. Yet Iraqis are
united in a broad and deep conviction: They're determined never again to live
at the mercy of a dictator. And they believe that a national election will put
that dark time behind them. A representative government that protects basic
rights, elected by Iraqis, is the best defense against the return of tyranny --
and that election is coming. (Applause.)
Completing the five steps to Iraqi elected self-government will not be easy.
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. (Applause.)
That nation is moving every week toward free elections and a permanent place
among free nations. Like every nation that has made the journey to democracy,
Iraqis will raise up a government that reflects their own culture and values. I
sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay as an occupying
power. I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them
American. Iraqis will write their own history, and find their own way. As they
do, Iraqis can be certain, a free Iraq will always have a friend in the United
In the last 32 months, history has placed great demands on our country, and
events have come quickly. Americans have seen the flames of September the 11th,
followed battles in the mountains of Afghanistan, and learned new terms like
"orange alert" and "ricin" and "dirty bomb." We've seen killers at work on
trains in Madrid, in a bank in Istanbul, at a synagogue in Tunis, and at a
nightclub in Bali. And now the families of our soldiers and civilian workers
pray for their sons and daughters in Mosul and Karbala and Baghdad.
We did not seek this war on terror, but this is the world as we find it. We
must keep our focus. We must do our duty. History is moving, and it will tend
toward hope, or tend toward tragedy. Our terrorist enemies have a vision that
guides and explains all their varied acts of murder.
They seek to impose Taliban-like rule, country by country, across the greater
Middle East. They seek the total control of every person, and mind, and soul, a
harsh society in which women are voiceless and brutalized. They seek bases of
operation to train more killers and export more violence. They commit dramatic
acts of murder to shock, frighten and demoralize civilized nations, hoping we
will retreat from the world and give them free rein. They seek weapons of mass
destruction, to impose their will through blackmail and catastrophic attacks.
None of this is the expression of a religion. It is a totalitarian political
ideology, pursued with consuming zeal, and without conscience.
Our actions, too, are guided by a vision. We believe that freedom can advance
and change lives in the greater Middle East, as it has advanced and changed
lives in Asia, and Latin America, and Eastern Europe, and Africa. We believe it
is a tragedy of history that in the Middle East -- which gave the world great
gifts of law and science and faith -- so many have been held back by lawless
tyranny and fanaticism. 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. And when that day comes,
the bitterness and burning hatreds that feed terrorism will fade and die away.
America and all the world will be safer when hope has returned to the Middle
These two visions -- one of tyranny and murder, the other of liberty and life --
clashed in Afghanistan. And thanks to brave U.S. and coalition forces and to
Afghan patriots, the nightmare of the Taliban is over, and that nation is coming
to life again. These two visions have now met in
Iraq, and are contending for the future of that country. The failure of freedom
would only mark the beginning of peril and violence. But, my fellow Americans,
we will not fail. We will persevere, and defeat this enemy, and hold this
hard-won ground for the realm of liberty.
May God bless our country.