Bush Sees Hopeful Signs on Fourth Anniversary of Iraq Mission

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – President Bush says he sees hopeful signs in the struggle to secure Iraq and urges continued support for the Iraqi people as they work to secure their country and build a democracy.

"The fight is difficult, but it can be won,” Bush said. “It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through."

Bush spoke from the White House in televised remarks March 19 urging continued support for the U.S. mission in Iraq, which began four years ago on March 19, 2003.

In the four years, Bush said, the Iraqi people brought Saddam Hussein to justice, produced a new constitution and voted in elections for leaders working to build a free society that respects the rule of law, provides security and is an ally in the international struggle against terrorism. 

But Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, remains the target of extremists attacking the government by instigating violence between the country’s Shia and Sunni Muslim communities, he said.

“Until Baghdad's citizens feel secure in their own homes and neighborhoods, it will be difficult for Iraqis to make further progress toward political reconciliation or economic rebuilding – steps necessary for Iraq to build a democratic society,” Bush said.

Earlier in the day, Bush met with his National Security Council, where he was briefed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and coalition commander Army General David Petraeus on efforts to clear the capital of violent elements, hold neighborhoods with regular patrols and rebuild communities. (See related article.)

The president also spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki via secure video conference, and he reiterated Washington’s commitment to helping the Iraqi government bring violence under control.

Bush said the Baghdad security plan is in its initial stages and will take several months to complete, but pointed to “hopeful signs” of early progress, including new security stations established throughout the city by Iraqi forces and their coalition allies, as well as a series of operations to rein in extremists. 

But as 21,500 more coalition troops join Iraqi forces in Baghdad, Bush warned that Iraq’s enemies would continue launching attacks against civilians in an effort to erode the people’s faith in their government and hope for the future. 

"We know we have a huge challenge,” White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters March 19, adding that al Qaeda’s role in many of Baghdad’s worst bombings means that progress in Iraq over the past four years also must be viewed in the context of the struggle against terrorism.

On the political front, Bush highlighted signs of progress toward political reconciliation, including approval of a law outlining the division of the country’s oil revenues among its people; a $41 billion budget that includes $10 billion for reconstruction; and the recent visit by Maliki to Ramadi, Iraq, to reach out to local Sunni leaders.

“We have to remember that this is a very difficult process of taking a place that has lived under tyranny and violence for practically its entire history, and getting to the point that Iraqis can solve their problems through politics,” Rice said in a March 19 interview on ABC’s Good Morning America.  “This is a new government that is committed now to a better life for its people.” 

In a second interview with NBC’s Today Show, Rice said despite international concern about Washington’s decision to lead a military coalition against Saddam Hussein four years ago, nations understand the importance of a stable Iraq, as seen in their support of the recent 13-nation regional conference on Iraqi security and the launch in 2006 of the U.N.-sponsored International Compact with Iraq. (See related article.)

“People want us to succeed in Iraq because they understand that the cost of an Iraq that is not stable, the cost of an Iraq that becomes a haven for terrorism, the cost of an Iraq that is not unified and cannot deal with troublesome neighbors would be an unacceptable cost for the entire region and therefore an unacceptable cost for the peace and security of the world,” she said.

Bush’s remarks and a related fact sheet are available from the White House Web site.

Transcripts of Rice’s interviews with Good Morning America, Today Show, and Early Show are available on the State Department Web site.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update.