By: E&P Staff
At a meeting with reporters today following his discussions with the Iraqi leader, President Bush — just hours after news that his Iraq Study Group would call for the berginning of a U.S. pullout — said it would be up to the Iraqis to decide that.
“The United States will be in Iraq so long as the government asks us to be in Iraq,” he said.
Here are excerpts from the press conference.
BUSH : Our objective is to help the Maliki government succeed. And today we discussed how to further the success of this government. This is a government that is dedicated to pluralism and rule of law. It’s a government elected by the Iraqi people under a constitution approved by the Iraqi people, which, in itself, is an unusual event in the Middle East, by the way.
We talked today about accelerating authority to the Prime Minister so he can do what the Iraqi people expect him to do, and that is bring security to parts of his country that require firm action. It’s going to — the presence of the United States will be in Iraq so long as the government asks us to be in Iraq. This is a sovereign government. I believe that there is more training to be done. I think the Prime Minister agrees with me. I know that we’re providing a useful addition to Iraq by chasing down al Qaeda and by securing — by helping this country protect itself from al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda wants a safe haven in Iraq. Al Qaeda made it clear earlier that suicide bombers would increase sectarian violence. That was part of their strategy. One of our goals is to deny safe haven for al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Maliki government expects us and wants us to provide that vital part of security.
So we’ll be in Iraq until the job is complete, at the request of a sovereign government elected by the people. I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there….
Q: Time limit on meeting goals. Is there a time limit on meeting goals?
PRESIDENT BUSH: A time limit. As soon as possible. But I’m realistic, because I understand how tough it is inside of Iraq. The Prime Minister is dealing with sectarian violence. The Prime Minister is having to deal with al Qaeda. The Prime Minister is having to deal with criminal elements. And we want to help him.
And, yes, I talked about making sure that al Qaeda doesn’t take — doesn’t provide — gets safe haven in Iraq. Sure, that’s an important part of our strategy. But I also have said that the goal is a country that can defend, sustain, and govern itself. And therefore, to the extent that our troops are needed to help do that, we’re willing to do that. That’s part of the operation in Baghdad. Part of the plan in Baghdad was to prevent — prevent killers from taking innocent life.
Q: Including sectarian violence?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well that’s — killers taking innocent life is, in some cases, sectarian. I happen to view it as criminal, as well as sectarian. I think any time you murder somebody, you’re a criminal. And I believe a just society and a society of — that holds people to account and believes in rule of law protects innocent people from murderers, no matter what their political party is.
And I discussed this with the Prime Minister, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I received a satisfactory answer about the need to protect innocent life. And that’s exactly what our troops have been doing, along with the Iraqis. My plan, and his plan, is to accelerate the Iraqis’ responsibility. See, here’s a man who has been elected by the people; the people expect him to respond, and he doesn’t have the capacity to respond. And so we want to accelerate that capacity. We want him to be in the lead in taking the fight against the enemies of his own country.
And that’s exactly what we discussed today. We had a Joint Committee on Accelerating the Transfer of Security Responsibility Report. And it was a report that General Casey, who is with us today, and our Ambassador Zal Khalilzad, who is with us today, as well as the Prime Minister’s team, delivered to both of us about how to accelerate responsibility to the Iraqi government so this person elected by the people can take the fight to those who want to destroy a young democracy….
Q: When you were in Baghdad six months ago, you expressed the same kind of confidence in the Prime Minister and his government that you’ve expressed today. Yet there have been repeated rounds of disappointments when it comes to the Prime Minister’s Baghdad Security Plan, with his plans for reconciliation. I’m wondering, if anything, if you’ve had any doubts over the last six months about the strength of his government, about the Prime Minister’s own abilities. And what gives you such confidence today to think that he can achieve what he hasn’t done over the last six months?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, as you mentioned, he’s been in power for six months, and I’ve been able to watch a leader emerge. The first thing that gives me confidence is that he wants responsibility. A sign of leadership is for somebody to say, I want to be able to have the tools necessary to protect my people. One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we’ve been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people. And today we had a meeting that will accelerate the capacity for the Prime Minister to do the hard work necessary to help stop this violence. No question it’s a violent society right now. He knows that better than anybody. He was explaining to me that occasionally the house in which he lives gets shelled by terrorists who are trying to frighten him.
And so the second point I make to you is that I appreciate his courage. You can’t lead unless you have courage. And he’s got courage, and he’s shown courage over the last six months. Thirdly, he has expressed a deep desire to unify his country. You hear all kinds of rumors about the politics inside of Iraq. I’m talking to the man face-to-face, and he says that he understands that a unified government, a pluralistic society, is important for success. And he’s making hard decisions to achieve that.
No question it’s been tough. It would have been a lot easier had people not tried to destabilize the young democracy. His job would have been more simple had there not been terrorists trying to create sectarian violence.
Now, I want everybody to remember that it was Mr. Zarqawi of al Qaeda who said, let us bomb Shia in order to create the conditions necessary for sectarian violence. The Samara bombing started off this new phase of violence. The Prime Minister comes in about halfway through that phase in order to — he’d been selected and now he’s dealing with a serious situation on the ground. And what I appreciate is his attitude. As opposed to saying, America, you go solve the problem, we have a Prime Minister who’s saying, stop holding me back, I want to solve the problem.
And the meeting today was to accelerate his capacity to do so. It’s not easy for a military to evolve from ground zero, and I appreciate our forces, and I appreciate General Casey, who have worked very hard to train the Iraqis so they become a capable fighting force, as well as a unifying element for Iraq. But it’s one thing to put people in uniform, and another thing to have clear command structure, or the capacity to move troops from point A to point B, or the capacity to make sure that the troop carrier from point A to point B has got the necessary air in its tires or oil in its engine. In other words, this is a sophisticated operation to get a unifying army stood up.
And one of the reasons I appreciate the Prime Minister is that he, on the one hand, sees that it’s a sophisticated operation to get a military up from zero, but on the other hand, is frustrated by the pace. And the reason why he’s frustrated is because he wants to show the people who elected him that he is willing to take the hard tasks on necessary to provide security for the Iraqi people, such as hunting down those who are killing the innocent. And the reason I came today to be able to sit down with him is to hear the joint plans developed between the Iraqi government, the sovereign government of Iraq, and our government, to make sure that we accelerate the transfer of capacity to the Prime Minister. And I know he’s looking forward to more capacity being transferred so he can do his job.
Anyway, he’s the right guy for Iraq, and we’re going to help him, and it’s in our interest to help him, for the sake of peace…
Q: (As translated.) Mr. President, in light of the war that the United States is fighting against terror in Iraq, what has been accomplished? What do you expect to be accomplished after a three-year confrontation?
Another question — other people are accusing the United States of bringing terrorism to Iraq, and the proof is that what’s going on in Iraq and what’s going on in Afghanistan. And the biggest loser is the Iraqi citizen.
PRESIDENT BUSH: It’s an interesting analysis: the biggest loser for a free society is the Iraqi citizen when this society was just liberated from the grips of a brutal tyrant that killed thousands and thousands of the Iraqi citizens.
What has been accomplished is the liberation of a country from a tyrant who is now sitting in jail getting a trial that he was unwilling to give thousands of people he murdered himself, or had murdered.
Secondly, this country has a constitution, which is one of the most modern constitutions ever written in the Middle East. This is a government that had been elected by the people. No question it’s tough. But the reason why terrorists are trying to stop the advance of freedom in Iraq is the very reason why we need to help them, because they can’t stand democracies and they want to impose a hateful vision on as much of the world as possible. They want safe haven from which to launch attacks again. A safe haven in Iraq, a country that has got a lot of resources, would be very dangerous for America.
It didn’t take but 19 people who were trained in Afghanistan to get on airplanes and come and kill over 3,000 citizens in my country. Threats that gather overseas must be taken seriously if we want to protect ourselves. And the best way to protect ourselves is to hunt down the terrorists and to help young democracies survive. Freedom and liberty is the great alternative to the hateful vision of those who are willing to murder innocent lives to achieve their objective.
And so, you bet it’s worth it in Iraq, and necessary. And I was very proud and pleased to see 12 million Iraqis go to the polls, to be able to express their desires, their wishes, as they helped put a government in place that this man now leads.