We will continue helping Iraqis build an impartial system of justice that protects all of Iraq’s citizens. Millions of Iraqis are seeing their independent judiciary in action, as their former dictator, Saddam Hussein, is put on trial in Baghdad. The man who once struck fear in the hearts of Iraqis has heard his victims recount the acts of torture and murder that he ordered. One Iraqi watching the proceedings said: “We all feel happiness about this fair trial.” Slowly but surely, with the help of our coalition, Iraqis are replacing the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law, and ensuring equal justice for all their citizens.
Oh, I know some fear the possibility that Iraq could break apart and fall into a civil war. I don’t believe these fears are justified. They’re not justified so long as we do not abandon the Iraqi people in their hour of need. Encouraging reconciliation and human rights in a society scarred by decades of arbitrary violence and sectarian division is not going to be easy and it’s going to happen overnight. Yet the Iraqi government has a process in place to resolve even the most difficult issues through negotiate, debate and compromise. And the United States, along with the United Nations and the Arab League and other international partners, will support these efforts to help resolve these issues. And as Iraqis continue to develop the habits of liberty, they will gain confidence in the future, and ensure that Iraqi nationalism trumps Iraqi sectarianism.
A fourth key challenge is for Iraqis to maintain their newfound freedoms in a tough neighborhood. Iraq’s neighbor to the east, Iran, is actively working to undermine a free Iraq. Iran doesn’t want democracy in Iraq to succeed because a free Iraq threatens the legitimacy of Iran’s oppressive theocracy. Iraq’s neighbor to the west, Syria, is permitting terrorists to use that territory to cross into Iraq. The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to live under an Iranian-style theocracy, and they don’t want Syria to allow the transit of bombers and killers into Iraq — and the UUnited States of America will stand with the Iraqi people against the threats from these neighbors. (Applause.)
We’ll continue to encourage greater support from the Arab world and the broader international community. Many Arab states have kept the new Iraq at arms’ distance. Yet as more Arab states are beginning to recognize that a free Iraq is here to stay, they’re starting to give Iraq’s new government more support. Recently, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan have welcomed the Iraqi Prime Minister on official visits. Last month, the Arab League hosted a meeting in Cairo to promote national reconciliation among Iraqis, and another such meeting is planned for next year in Baghdad.
These are important steps, and Iraq’s neighbors need to do more. Arab leaders are beginning to recognize that the choice in Iraq is between democracy and terrorism, and there is no middle ground. The success of Iraqi democracy is in their vital interests because if the terrorists prevail in Iraq, they will then target other Arab nations.
International support for Iraq’s democracy is growing, as well. Other nations have pledged more than $13 billion in assistance to Iraq, and we call on them, those who have pledged assistance, to make good on their commitments. The World Bank recently approved its first loan to Iraq in over 30 years, lending the Iraqi government $100 million to improve the Iraqi school system. The United Nations is playing a vital role in Iraq — they assisted in last January’s electionns, and the negotiations for the constitution, and in the recent constitutional referendum. And at the request of the Iraqi government, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution extending the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq through 2006. Earlier this year, the European Union co-hosted a conference for more than 80 countries and international organizations, so they can better coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis rebuild their nation. Whatever differences there were over the decision to liberate Iraq, all free nations now share a common interest — building an Iraq that will fight terror, and be a source of stability and freedom in a troubled region of the world.
The challenges ahead are complex and difficult, yet Iraqis are determined to overcome them and build a free nation. And they require our support. Millions of Iraqis will put their lives on the line this Thursday in the name of liberty and democracy. And 160,000 of America’s finest are putting their lives on the line so Iraqis can succeed. The American and Iraqi people share the same interests and the same enemies — and by helping democracy succeed in Iraq, we bring greater security to our citizens here at home.
The terrorists know that democracy is their enemy, and they will continue fighting freedom’s progress with all the hateful determination they can muster. Yet the Iraqi people are stepping forward to claim their liberty, and they will have it. When the new Iraqi government takes office next year, Iraqis will have the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world, and Americans will have a partner for peace and moderation in the Middle East.
People across the broader Middle East are drawing, and will continue to draw inspiration from Iraq’s progress, and the terrorists’ powerful myth is being destroyed. In a 1998 fatwa, Osama bin Laden argued that the suffering of the Iraqi people was justification for his declaration of war on America. Now bin Laden and al Qaeda are the direct cause of the Iraqi people’s suffering. As more Muslims across the world see this, they’re turning against the terrorists. As the hope of liberty spreads in the Middle East, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits, and lose the sanctuaries they need to plan new attacks.
A free Iraq is not going to be a quiet Iraq — it will be a nation full of passionate ddebate and vigorous political activity. It will be a nation that continues to face some level of violence. Yet Iraqis are showing they have the patience and the courage to make democracy work — and Americans have the patience and courage to help them succeed.
We’ve done this kind of work before; we must have confidence in our cause. In World War II, the free nations defeated fascism and helped our former adversaries, Germany and Japan, build strong democracies — and today, these nations are allies in securing the peace. In the Cold War, free nations defeated communism, and helped our former Warsaw Pact adversaries become strong democracies — and today, nations of Central and Eastern Europe are allies in the war on terror.
Today in the Middle East, freedom is once again contending with a totalitarian ideology that seeks to sow anger and hatred and despair. And like fascism and communism before, the hateful ideologies that use terror will be defeated by the unstoppable power of freedom. (Applause.)
And the advance of freedom in the Middle East requires freedom in Iraq. By helping Iraqis build a lasting democracy, we will spread the hope of liberty across a troubled region, and we’ll gain new allies in the cause of freedom. By helping Iraqis build a strong democracy, we’re adding to our own security, and, like a generation before us, we’re laying the foundation of peace for generations to come.
Not far from here where we gather today is a symbol of freedom familiar to all Americans — the Liberty Bell. When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, and a witness said: “It rang as if it meant something.” Today, the call of liberty is being heard in Baghdad and Basra, and other Iraqi cities, and its sound is echoing across the broader Middle East. From Damascus to Tehran, people hear it, and they know it means something. It means that the days of tyranny and terror are ending, and a new day of hope and freedom is dawning.
Thank you for letting me come. (Applause.)
I thought I might answer some questions. (Laughter.) Yes, ma’am.
Q Since the inception of the Iraqi war, I’d like to know the approximate total of Iraqis who have been killed. And by Iraqis I include civilians, military, police, insurgents, translators.
THE PRESIDENT: How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We’ve lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq.
Q Mr. President, thank you —
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll repeat the question. If I don’t like it, I’ll make it up. (Laughter and applause.)
Q — Thank you for coming to the city where liberty was born. Central to your policy in Iraq is the role of the Iraqis. We hear widely different tales about how the Iraqis are doing in their own area of defense. Could you give us your perspective on how they’re doing, how well the military is doing, what you feel the capability is to do the task that you want them to do, to include some of the widely different impressions that we hear about.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate that. When we first began training — our strategy all along has been to train Iraqis so they can take the fight and succeed in what we’re trying to do, which is a democracy — a democracy which will serve as an example for others; a democracy which will join us in the fight on terror; a democracy which will help us prevent other countries from becoming safe haven for terrorists who still want to kill us. That’s — that was our objective. And all along we wanted the Iraqis to be able to do — take the fight.
When we first got going we said we’ll train an army that will be able to deal with external threats, and a civil defense corps that will be able to deal with internal threats. And the problem with that strategy was that the internal threats were a heck of a lot more severe than the external threats, and the army — the civilian corps we trained was not properly trained and equipped.
So we adjusted. We trained everybody for the army and — recognizing that the army is going to have to not only take the fight to the enemy — or the new army take the fight to the enemy, but when we clear enemies out of places like Mosul, that there has to be an Iraqi army presence to earn the confidence of the people.
When the war first got going, we’d move into Mosul, clear out an enemy, leave, and the enemy would return. And so the Iraqi people had no confidence in the future. They were — they didn’t dare, for example, tell coalition forces or Iraqi forces the names of those who were killing their citizens because they didn’t have the confidence there would be a force to protect them. And so we began the process of clearing out and holding with more and more trained Iraqi forces. And now the Iraqi forces are helping to rebuild these cities.
Democracy is only going to succeed if people say, my life is going to be better. I mean, no different a campaign here — you know, vote for me, I want to help improve your life.
And that’s what — and so the strategy has been to — let me say, we adjusted our strategy, and there’s about 200,000-plus capable units. Now, not all of them are ready to take the fight to the enemy. In order to have a division or a battalion ready to fight, you’ve got to be able to communicate, you’ve got to be able to move, you’ve got to be able to have logistical supplies. But more and more of the Iraqis are in the lead in the fight, and more and more Iraqis are being trained so they can hold the positions once we clear.
We are not completed — we haven’t completed the job of training the Iraqis. But what is beginning to happen is, is that you’re beginning to see our troops step back from the fight. I don’t know if you realize, we had some 90 bases in Iraq, and I think we’ve closed about 40 — or turned over — closed or turned over 40 of those bases to the Iraqis. In other words, our profile is beginning to move back as the Iraqis get trained up — so that we can continue working on training, and also help them chase down Zarqawi and his buddies.
They’re — these guys are very tough and they’re cold-blooded killers.
The enemy has got one weapon. See, they can’t defeat us militarily. What they can do is they can — and will — kill innocent people in the hopes of trying to get the United States of America to leave the battlefield early. The only way we can lose is if we lose our nerve. And they know that. And they’ve stated that publicly.
And — but the training is going much better than it was in the first year. The — and we’ve just got more to do, and we need to do it, because a free Iraq, again, will be an important ally in this war. This is a global struggle we’re in. It’s — this isn’t an enemy that is isolated, kind of angry group of people. These are people that have got a totalitarian vision. They’ve got designs and ambitions. They’ve laid out their strategy and they explained their tactics. And we’ve got to listen to them and take them seriously. And part of their tactics is to create vacuums so that their hateful ideology flows in.
They — listen, the attack of September the 11th was a part of a broad strategy to get us to retreat from the world. And that — people say, well, he’s making it up that they want to establish a totalitarian empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia. I’m telling you what they said; not me. This is what Zawahiri has said — the number-two man in al Qaeda. It seems like to me we need to take it seriously when the enemy says something.
Kind of getting off subject, here, but — yes, sir.
Q Mr. President, I’m a proud U.S. citizen, naturalized, and card-carrying Republican. I voted for you both times. I grew in India, a Sunni. In fact, the President of the Republic of India is a Sunni. And I think it’s a great testimony to this nation that was — the vision of which was laid out within a few — half a mile of here, that somebody like me can be in a position of leadership and be successfully engaged in contributing to the current and future economic well-being of this nation. Mr. President, I support your efforts in Iraq. But I’d like to know what are we going to do in the broader battle in creating a favorable image and reaching out to people across the world, so that people like me all over the world can be passionate supporters of the United States.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that. First of all, success will help the image of the United States. Look, I recognize we got an image issue, particularly when you got television stations, Arabic television stations that are constantly just pounding America, creating — saying America is fighting Islam, Americans can’t stand Muslims, this is a war against a religion. And we’ve got to, obviously, do a better job of reminding people that ours is not a nation that rejects religion; ours is a nation that accepts people of all faith, and that the great strength of America is the capacity for people to worship freely.
It’s difficult. I mean, their propaganda machine is pretty darn intense. And so we’re constantly sending out messages, we’re constantly trying to reassure people, but we’re also — we’re also acting. And that’s what’s important for our citizens to realize. Our position in the world is such that I don’t think we can retreat. I think we have a duty and an obligation to use our vast influence to help.
I cite two examples of where I think it will make a big — of where American image in the Muslim world will be improved. One is the tsunami. The tsunamis hit; it was the United States military, through the USS Abraham Lincoln, that provided the logistical organization necessary to get the — to get the — to save a lot of lives.
We moved. A lot of people kind of sat around and discussed; not us. We saw a problem and we moved.
Same in Pakistan. The earthquake in Pakistan is devastating. The United States of America was first on the scene. We got a lot of kids flying choppers all around that country providing help and aid.
And so I guess what I’m saying to you is, is that a proper use of influence that helps improve people’s lives is the best way to affect — to change the image of country, and to defeat the propaganda. Having said all that, a lot of people want to come to America. The image may be bad, but give them a chance, all you who want to come to America, raise your hand — there’s a lot wanting to come. That’s another issue, which is immigration reform.
But thank you for that. One thing America must never do is lose our capacity to take people from all walks of life and help them become an American, first and foremost. That’s what distinguishes us from other cultures and other nations. You can come from wherever you are, and I can come from Texas, and we both share the same deal — we’re Americans first and foremost. I happen to be a Methodist. You’re a Sunni. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, I would like to know why it is that you and others in your administration keep linking 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq when no respected journalist or Middle Eastern expert confirmed that such a link existed.
THE PRESIDENT: What did she — I missed the question. Sorry. I didn’t — I beg your pardon, I didn’t hear you. Seriously.
Q I would like to know why you and others in your administration invoke 9/11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes —
Q — when no respected journalists or other Middle Eastern experts confirm that such a link existed.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. 9/11 changed my look on foreign policy. I mean, it said that oceans no longer protect us, that we can’t take threats for granted; that if we see a threat, we’ve got to deal with it. It doesn’t have to be militarily, necessarily, but we got to deal with it. We can’t — can’t just hope for the best anymore.
And so the first decision I made, as you know, was to — was to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan because they were harboring terrorists. This is where the terrorists planned and plotted. And the second decision, — which was a very difficult decision for me, by the way, and it’s one that I — I didn’t take lightly — was that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He is a declared enemy of the United States; he had used weapons of mass destruction; the entire world thought he had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations had declared in more than 10 — I can’t remember the exact number of resolutions — that disclose, or disarm, or face serious consequences. I mean, there was a serious international effort to say to Saddam Hussein, you’re a threat. And the 9/11 attacks extenuated that threat, as far as I — concerned.
And so we gave Saddam Hussein the chance to disclose or disarm, and he refused. And I made a tough decision. And knowing what I know today, I’d make the decision again. Removing Saddam Hussein makes this world a better place and America a safer country. (Applause.)
Last question. I’ve actually got something to do. (Laughter.) You’re paying me all this money, I’d better get back to work. (Laughter.)
Hold on a second. Got a guy here.
Q Mr. President, I’m from the Phelps School; I’m a supporter of yours.
THE PRESIDENT: Oops, that kind of prejudices your question. (Laughter.)
Q Well I have a question for you. Do you feel that since invading Iraq, the threat of terrorism on U.S. soil has been reduced significantly?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s been reduced; I don’t think we’re safe. What will really give me confidence to say that we’re safe is when I can tell the American people we’ve got the capacity to know exactly where the enemy is moving. This is a different kind of war. These people hide. They — they’re patient and they’re sophisticated. And that’s why our intelligence-gathering is really important.
You know, occasionally they come out and want to fight like they’re doing in Iraq. This guy, Zarqawi, has sworn his allegiance to bin Laden. He has — he’s declared his intentions. But there’s a lot of them who lurk and hide. And what we’ve really got to do is continue to hone our intelligence-gathering to make sure that we can, as best as possible, understand their intents and watch their movements. And this requires international cooperation.
I will tell you the international cooperation, when it comes to sharing intelligence, is good. It requires us being able to cut off their money and move money around. They can’t — it turns out, they can’t launch attacks without money. And so we’re doing the best we can to work with others to find out where their money is moving. And that way, it will be a — give us a chance to find out where they are.
The long run in this war is going to require a change of governments in parts of the world. It’s — and this is why it’s very important for me to continue to remind the American people about what’s taking place in history. One of my favorite stories is to tell people about — or go-bys — is to tell people about my relationship with Koizumi, Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. He’s an interesting guy. He likes Elvis, for example, which is — (laughter) — interesting — (laughter). He’s a friend. He’s also a friend when it comes to peace. He’s a reliable, steady ally when it comes to dealing with North Korea. North Korea is a country that has declared boldly they’ve got nuclear weapons, they counterfeit our money, and they’ve starving their people to death. And it’s good to have an ally that understands human rights and the condition of the human being are vital for this world and world peace.
And yet, 60 years ago, my dad fought against the Japanese — many of your relatives did, as well. They were the sworn enemy of the United States. I find it amazing — I don’t know if you find it amazing — I find it amazing that I sit down with this guy, strategizing about how to make the world a more peaceful place when my dad and others fought him.
And so what happened? Now, 60 years seems like a long time, particularly if you’re 59, like me. (Laughter.) But it’s not all that long in history, when you think about it. And what happened was a Japanese-style democracy emerged. Democracies yield the peace. That’s what history has shown us. That’s what I tried to say in my peroration in this speech. That’s a long word. I’m doing it for Senator Specter here. (Laughter and applause.) Just showing off, Senator. Just trying to look good in front of the folks here at home. (Laughter.) But it’s an accurate portrayal of what has happened. Democracies yield the peace.
So the fundamental question is, do we have the confidence and universal values to help change a troubled part of the world. If you’re a supporter of Israel, I would strongly urge you to help other countries become democracies. Israel’s long-term survival depends upon the spread of democracy in the Middle East. I recognize people have — (applause) — I fully recognize that some say it’s impossible, that maybe only a certain kind of people can be — can accept democracy. I just — I rejectt that. I don’t agree with that. I believe democracy — the desire to be free is universal. That’s what I believe. And if you believe that, then you’ve got to act on it. That doesn’t mean militarily. But that means using the influence of the United States to work with others to help — to help freedom spread.
And that’s what you’re seeing in Iraq. And it’s hard. It’s hard for a country that has come from dictatorship two-and-a-half years ago to become a democracy. It is hard work. There’s a lot of resentment and anger and bitterness. But I believe it’s going to happen. And the only way it won’t happen is if we leave, if we lose our nerve, if we allow the terrorists to achieve their objective. The only way we can lose this is for us to say to the terrorists, maybe you aren’t dangerous, after all — you know, by leaving, maybe that you’ll become hospitable, decent citizens of the world. That’s not reality. And my job as the President is to see the world the way it is, not the way we hope it is. (Applause.)
I, again, want to thank you for giving me the chance to come and deliver this speech. I’m grateful for your interest. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless America. (Applause.)
END 12:14 P.M.