President Bush in Philadelphia: The War on Terror and the Iraqi Elections
Park Hyatt Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

11:16 A.M. EST 12-12-05

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you. Thanks for the warm welcome. Thank you for the chance to come and speak to the Philadelphia World Affairs Council. This is an important organization that has, since 1949, has provided a forum for debate and discussion on important issues. I’ve come to discuss an issue that’s really important, and that is victory in the war on terror.

President George W. Bush walks onto the stage during his introduction before delivering remarks on the War on Terror in front of members of the Word Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005. White House photo by Eric DraperAnd that war started on September the 11th, 2001, when our nation awoke to a sudden attack. Like generations before us, we have accepted new responsibilities; we’re confronting dangers with new resolve. We’re taking the fight to those who attacked us and to those who share their murderous vision for future attacks. We will fight this war without wavering, and we’ll prevail.

The war on terror will take many turns, and the enemy must be defeated on many — on every battlefield, from the streets of Western cities to the mountains of Afghanistan, to the tribal regions of Pakistan, to the islands of Southeast Asia and to the Horn of Africa. Yet the terrorists have made it clear that Iraq is the central front in their war against humanity, so we must recognize Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

Last month, my administration released a document called the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” — and in recent weeks I’ve been discussingg our strategy with the American people. At the U.S. Naval Academy, I spoke about our efforts to defeat the terrorists and train Iraqi security forces so they can provide safety for their own citizens. Last week before the Council on Foreign Relations, I explained how we are working with Iraqi forces and Iraqi leaders to help Iraqis improve security and restore order, to rebuild cities taken from the enemy, and to help the national government revitalize Iraq’s infrastructure and economy. Today I’m going to speak in depth about another vital element of our strategy: our efforts to help the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East. I can think of no better place to discuss the rise of a free Iraq than in the heart of Philadelphia, the city where America’s democracy was born.

I want to thank the — Buntzie Churchill and Bill Sasso for letting me come. Thank you all for welcoming me. I got something to say, I’m looking forward to saying it here. I’m traveling with United States Senators — they’re always quick to hop a ride on Air Force One. (Laughter.) Particularly when they don’t have to reimburse the government. (Laughter.) But I’m proud to be a friend of Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum. They’re fine, honorable members of the United States Senate. (Applause.) I’m also pleased that Jim Gerlach and Mike Fitzpatrick and Joe Pitts of the United States Congress are with us. Thanks for serving. Thanks for being here. (Applause.)

President George W. Bush points to a member of the audience during a question and answer segment, after delivering remarks on the War on Terror before members of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005. White House photo by Eric DraperA few blocks from here stands Independence Hall, where our Declaration of Independence was signed and our Constitution was debated. From the perspective of more than two centuries, the success of America’s democratic experiment seems almost inevitable. At the time, however, that success didn’t seem so obvious or assured.

The eight years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the election of a constitutional government were a time of disorder and upheaval. There were uprisings, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was a planned military coup that was defused only by the personal intervention of General Washington. In 1783, Congress was chased from this city by angry veterans demanding back-pay, and they stayed on the run for six months. There were tensions between the mercantile North and the agricultural South that threatened to break apart our young republic. And there were British loyalists who were opposed to independence and had to be reconciled with America’s new democracy.

Our founders faced many difficult challenges — they made mistakes, they learned from their experiences, and they adjusted their approach. Our nation’s first effort at governing — a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, failed. It took years of debate and compromise before we ratified our Constitution and inaugurated our first president. It took a four-year civil war, and a century of struggle after that, before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all Americans.

It is important to keep this history in mind as we look at the progress of freedom and democracy in Iraq. No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks, and false starts. The past two-and-a-half years have been a period of difficult struggle in Iraq, yet they’ve also been a time of great hope and achievement for the Iraqi people.

Just over two-and-a-half years ago, Iraq was in the grip of a cruel dictator who had invaded his neighbors, sponsored terrorists, pursued and used weapons of mass destruction, murdered his own people, and for more than a decade, defied the demands of the United Nations and the civilized world. Since then, the Iraqi people have assumed sovereignty over their country, held free elections, drafted a democratic constitution, and approved that constitution in a nationwide referendum. Three days from now, they go to polls for the third time this year, and choose a new government under the new constitution.

President George W. Bush delivers his remarks on the War on Terror before members of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005. White House photo by Eric DraperIt’s a remarkable transformation for a country that has virtually no experience with democracy, and which is struggling to overcome the legacy of one of the worst tyrannies the world has known. And Iraqis achieved all this while determined enemies use violence and destruction to stop the progress. There’s still a lot of difficult work to be done in Iraq, but thanks to the courage of the Iraqi people, the year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East, and the history of freedom.

As the Iraqi people struggle to build their democracy, adversaries continue their war on a free Iraq. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists and Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein. They reject an Iraq in which they’re no longer the dominant group. We believe that over time most of this group will be persuaded to support a democratic Iraq led by a federal government that is strong enough to protect minority rights, and we’re encouraged that many Sunnis plan to actively participate in this week’s election.

The Saddamists are former regime loyalists who harbor dreams of returning to power, and they’re trying to foment anti-democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. Yet they lack popular support, and over time, they can be marginalized and defeated by the people and security forces of a free Iraq.

The terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda are the smallest, but most lethal group. Many are foreigners coming to fight freedom’s progress in Iraq. They are led by a brutal terrorist named Zarqawi — al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Iraq — who has stated his allegiance to Osama bbin Laden. The terrorists’ stated objective is to drive U.S. and coalition forces out of Iraq and gain control of that country, and then use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks against America, overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East, and establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Spain to Indonesia.

The terrorists in Iraq share the ideology of the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th. They share the ideology with those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, murdered tourists in Bali, and killed workers in Riyadh, and slaughtered guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan. This is an enemy without conscience, and they cannot be appeased. If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be leading quiet lives as good citizens. They would be plotting and killing our citizens, across the world and here at home. By fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we are confronting a direct threat to the American people, and we will accept nothing less than complete victory. (Applause.)

President George W. Bush answers a question from the audience after delivering remarks on the War on Terror before members of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005. White House photo by Eric DraperWe are pursuing a comprehensive strategy in Iraq. Our goal is victory, and victory will be achieved when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks against our nation.

Our strategy in Iraq has three elements:

On the economic side, we’re helping the Iraqis restore their infrastructure, reform their economy, and build the prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq.

On the security side, coalition and Iraqi forces are on the offense against the enemy. We’re working together to clear out areas controlled by the terrorists and Saddam loyalists, and leaving Iraqi forces to hold territory taken from the enemy.

And as we help Iraqis fight these enemies, we are working to build capable and effective Iraqi security forces, 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.

We’re making steady progress. The Iraqi forces are becoming more and more capable. They’re taking more responsibility for more and more territory. We’re transferring bases to their control so they can take the fight to the enemy. And that means American and coalition forces can concentrate on training Iraqis, and hunting down the high-value targets like the terrorist Zarqawi and his associates.

Today, I want to discuss the political element of our strategy: our efforts to help the Iraqis build inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all the Iraqi people. By helping Iraqis to build a democracy, we will win over those who doubted they had a place in a new Iraq, and undermine the terrorists and Saddamists. By helping Iraqis to build a democracy, we will gain an ally in the war on terror. By helping Iraqis build a democracy, we will inspire reformers across the Middle East. And by helping Iraqis build a democracy, we will bring hope to a troubled region, and this will make the American people more secure.

From the outset, the political element of our strategy in Iraq has been guided by a clear principle: Democracy takes different forms in different cultures. Yet in all cultures, successful free societies are built on certain common foundations — rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free economy, and freedom to worship. Respect for the belief of others is the only way to build a society where compassion and tolerance prevail. Societies that lay these foundations not only survive, but thrive. Societies that do not lay these foundations risk backsliding into tyranny.

When our coalition arrived in Iraq, we found a nation where almost none of these basic foundations existed. Decades of brutal rule by Saddam Hussein had destroyed the fabric of Iraqi civil society. Under Saddam, Iraq was a country where dissent was crushed. A centralized economy enriched a dictator instead of the people; secret courts meted out repression instead of justice; and Shia Muslims, and Kurds and other groups were brutally oppressed. And when Saddam Hussein’s regime fled Baghdad, they left behind a country with few civic institutions in place to hold Iraq society together.

To fill the vacuum after liberation, we established the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The CPA was ably led by Ambassador Jerry Bremer, and many fine officials from our government volunteered to serve in the EPA — CPA. While things did not always go as planned, these men and women did a good job under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances — helping to restore basic services, making sure food was distributed, and reestablishing government ministries.

One of the CPA’s most important tasks was bringing the Iraqi people into the decision-making process of their government after decades of tyrannical rule. Three months after liberation, our coalition worked with the United Nations and Iraqi leaders to establish an Iraqi Governing Council. The Governing Council gave Iraqis a voice in their own affairs, but it was unelected. It was subordinate to the CPA and, therefore, it did not satisfy the hunger of Iraqis for self-government. Like free people everywhere, Iraqis wanted to be governed by leaders they had elected, not foreign officials.

So in the summer of 2003, we proposed a plan to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people. Under this plan, the CPA would continue to govern Iraq while appointed Iraqi leaders drafted a constitution, put that constitution before the people, and then held elections to choose a new government. Only when that elected government took office would the Iraqis regain their sovereignty.

This plan met with the disapproval of the Iraqis. They made it clear that they wanted a constitution that was written by elected leaders of a free Iraq, and they wanted sovereignty placed in Iraqi hands sooner. We listened, and we adjusted our approach. In November of 2003, we negotiated a new plan with the Governing Council, with steps for an accelerated transition to Iraqi self-government. Under this new plan, a Transitional Administrative Law was written by the Governing Council and adopted in March of 2004. This law guaranteed personal freedoms unprecedented in the Arab world, and set forth four major milestones to guide Iraq’s transition to a constitutional democracy.

The first milestone was the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government by the end of June 2004. The second was for Iraqis to hold free elections to choose a transitional government by January of 2005. The third was for Iraqis to adopt a democratic constitution, which would be drafted no later than August 2005, and put before the Iraqi people in a nationwide referendum no later than October. And the fourth was for Iraqis to choose a government under that democratic constitution, with elections held December 2005.

The first milestone was met when our coalition handed over sovereignty to the Iraqi leaders on June 28th, 2004 — two days ahead of schedule. In January 2005, Iraqis met the second milestone when they went to the polls and chose their leaders in free elections. Almost eight-and-a-half million Iraqis defied the car bombers and assassins to cast their ballots, and the world watched in awe as jubilant Iraqis danced in the street and held ink-stained fingers and celebrated their freedom.

The January elections were a watershed event for Iraq and the Middle East, yet they were not without flaws. One problem was the failure of the vast majority of Sunni Arabs to vote. When Sunnis saw a new 275-member parliament taking power in which they had only 16 seats, many realized that their failure to participate in the democrat process had hurt their chances and hurt their groups — it hurt their constituencies. And Shia and Kurdish leaders who had won power at the polls saw that for a free and unified Iraq to succeed, they needed Sunni Arabs to be part of the government. We encouraged Iraq’s leaders to reach out to Sunni leaders, and bring them into the governing process. When the transitional government was seated in the spring of this year, Sunni Arabs filled important posts, including a vice president, a minister of defense, and the speaker of the National Assembly.

The new government’s main political challenge — next political challenge was to meet the third milestone, which was adopting a democratic constitution. Again, Iraq’s leaders reached out to Sunni Arabs who had boycotted the elections and included them in the drafting process. Fifteen Sunni Arab negotiators and several Sunni Arab advisors joined the work of the constitutional drafting committee. After much tough debate, representatives of Iraq’s diverse communities drafted a bold constitution that guarantees the rule of law, freedom of assembly, property rights, freedom of speech and the press, women’s rights, and the right to vote. As one Arab scholar put it, the Iraqi constitution marks “the dawn of a new age in Arab life.”

The document that initially emerged from the committee did not unify Iraqis, and many Sunnis on the constitutional committee did not support the draft. Yet Iraq’s leaders continued working to gain Sunni support. And thanks to last-minute changes — including a new procedure for considering amendments to the constitution next year — a deal was struck four days before the Iraqis went to the polls. The revised constitution was endorsed by Iraq’’s largest Sunni party. It was approved in referendum that attracted over a million more voters than in the January elections. Many Sunnis voted against the constitution, but Sunnis voted in large numbers for the first time. They joined the political process. And by doing so, they reject the violence of the Saddamists and rejectionists. Through hard work and compromise, Iraqis adopted the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world.

On Thursday, Iraqis will meet their fourth milestone. And when they do go to the polls and choose a new government under the new constitution, it will be a remarkable event in the Arab world. Despite terrorist violence, the country is buzzing with signs and sounds of democracy in action. The streets of Baghdad, and Najaf and Mosul, and other cities are full of signs and posters. The television and radio air waves are thick with political ads and commentary. Hundreds of parties and coalitions have registered for this week’s elections, and they’re campaigning vigorously. Candidates are holding rallies and laying out their agendas and asking for the vote.

Our troops see this young democracy up close. First Lieutenant Frank Shriley of Rock Hall, Maryland, says, “It’s a cool thing riding around Baghdad and seeing the posters — it reminds me of being home during election time. After so many years of being told what to do, having a real vote is different.”

Unlike the January elections, many Sunnis are campaigning vigorously for office this time around. Many Sunni parties that opposed the constitution have registered to compete in this week’s vote. Two major Sunni coalitions have formed, and other Sunni leaders have joined national coalitions that cross religious, ethnic, and sectarian boundaries. As one Sunni politician put it, this election “is a vote for Iraq; we want a national Iraq, not a sectarian one.”

To encourage broader participation by all Iraqi communities, the National Assembly made important changes in Iraq’s electoral laws that will increase Sunni representation in the new assembly. In the January elections, Iraq was one giant electoral district, so seats in the transitional assembly simply reflected turnout. Because few Sunnis voted, their communities were left with little representation. Now, Iraq has a new electoral system, where seats in the new Council of Representatives will be allocated by province and population — much like our own House of Representatives. This new system is encouraging more Sunnis to join in the democratic process because it ensures that Sunnis will be well-represented, even if the terrorists and Saddamists try to intimidate voters in the provinces where most Sunnis live.

More Sunnis are involved because they see Iraqi democracy succeeding. They have learned a lesson of democracy: They must participate to have a voice in their nation’s affairs. A leading Sunni who had boycotted the January vote put it this way: “The Sunnis are now ready to participate.” A Sunni sheik explains why Sunnis must join the process: “In order not to be marginalized, we need power in the National Assembly.” As more Sunnis join the political process, the Saddamists and remaining rejectionists will be marginalized. As more Sunnis join the political process, they will protect the interests of their community.

Like the Shia and Kurds, who face daily attacks from the terrorists and Saddamists, many Sunnis who join the political process are being targeted by the enemies of a free Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party — a Sunni party that boycotted the January vote and now supports elections — has seen its offices bombed. And a party leader reports that at least 10 members have been killed since the party announced it would field candidates in Thursday’s elections. Recently a top Sunni electoral official visited the Sunni stronghold of Baquba. He went to encourage local leaders to participate in the elections. During his visit, a roadside bomb went off. It rattled his convoy, but it didn’t stop it. He says this about the attempt on his life: “The bomb is nothing [compared to] what we’re doing. What we’re doing is bigger than the bomb.”

By pressing forward and meeting their milestones, the Iraqi people have built momentum for freedom and democracy. They’ve encouraged those outside the process to come in. At every stage, there was enormous pressure to let the deadlines slide, with skeptics and pessimists declaring that Iraqis were not ready for self-government. At every stage, Iraqis proved the skeptics and pessimists wrong. At every stage, Iraqis have exposed the errors of those in our country and across the world who question the universal appeal of liberty.

By meeting their milestones, Iraqis are defeating a brutal enemy, rejecting a murderous ideology, and choosing freedom over terror.

This week elections won’t be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process. Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead, and our coalition and the new Iraqi government will face many challenges, including in four critical errors — areas: ensuring Iraqi security, forming an inclusive Iraqi government, encouraging Iraqi reconciliation, and maintaining Iraqi democracy in a tough neighborhood.

The first key challenge is security. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the terrorists and Saddamists will continue to use violence. They will try to break our will and intimidate the Iraqi people and their leaders. These enemies aren’t going to give up because of a successful election. They understand what is at stake in Iraq. They know that as democracy takes root in that country, their hateful ideology will suffer a devastating blow, and the Middle East will have a clear example of freedom and prosperity and hope.

So our coalition will continue to hunt down the terrorists and Saddamists. We’ll continue training Iraqi security forces to take the lead in the fight, and defend their new democracy. As the Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down. And when victory is achieved, our troops will then return home with the honor they have earned.

The second key challenge is forming an inclusive government that protects the interests of all Iraqis, and encourages more in the rejectionist camp to abandon violence and embrace politics. Early next year, Iraq’s new parliament will come to Baghdad and select a prime minister, and a presidency council, and a cabinet of ministers. Two-thirds of the new parliament must agree on the top leadership posts, and this will demand negotiation and compromise. It will require patience by America and our coalition allies. This new government will face many tough decisions on issues such as security and reconstruction and economic reform. Iraqi leaders will also have to review and possibly amend the constitution and ensure that this historic document earns the broad support of all Iraqi communities. By taking these steps, Iraqi leaders will build a strong and lasting democracy. This is an important step in helping to defeat the terrorists and the Saddamists.

The third key challenge is establishing rule of law and the culture of reconciliation. Iraqis still have to overcome longstanding ethnic and religious tensions, and the legacy of three decades of dictatorship. During the regime of Saddam Hussein, Shia, Kurds and other groups were brutally oppressed, and for some there is now a temptation to take justice into their own hands. Recently, U.S. and Iraqi troops have discovered prisons in Iraq where mostly Sunni men were held, some of whom have appeared to have been beaten and tortured. This conduct is unacceptable, and the Prime Minister and other Iraqi officials have condemned these abuses, an investigation has been launched, and we support these efforts. Those who committed these crimes must be held to account.

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