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Iraq's National Unity Government

President George W. Bush
Arie Crown Theater at Lakeside Center -- McCormick Place
Chicago, Illinois
May 22, 2006

Excerpts from address and question and answer session.

10:37 A.M. CDT

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: We face challenges at home and we face challenges abroad. So I've come to talk to you about an historic event that took place halfway around the world this weekend. This Saturday in Baghdad, the new Prime Minister of Iraq announced a national unity government. This is a free government under a democratic constitution, and its formation marks a victory for the cause of freedom in the Middle East. (Applause.)

In three elections last year, millions of Iraqis cast their ballot in defiance of the terrorists. And now they have a government of their own choosing under a constitution that they drafted and they approved. As this new unity government takes office, it carries with it the hopes of the Iraqi nation, and the aspirations of freedom-loving people across a troubled region.

The unity government has strong leaders that will represent all of the Iraqi people. I called them this weekend to congratulate them. I thanked them for being courageous and strong and standing for the belief that liberty will help transform their troubled nation.

The new government is led by Prime Minister Maliki. He's a Shia. He's an Iraqi patriot who for years was part of the resistance to Saddam Hussein. He's shown courage and wisdom by surrounding himself with strong leaders who are committed to serving all the people. Prime Minister Maliki said this weekend, "Just as we did away with the tyrant and the days of oppression and despotism, we will do away with terrorism and sabotage, backwardness, poverty, and ignorance." The Iraqi people are blessed to have a leader like Prime Minister Maliki, and I'm proud to call him, ally and friend. (Applause.)

Iraq's new government has another strong leader in its President, President Talabani. He's a Kurd who distinguished himself by his service in the transitional government and in his long fight against Saddam Hussein. He's proved that he's not afraid to take the lead. He's made clear that a democratic Iraq must reject sectarian violence as strongly as it rejects terrorism. He says, "It's our duty, all of us, to work hand-in-hand to protect our people and to support Iraqi unity."

Iraq's new government has another able leader in Speaker Mashhadani. He'll preside over Iraq's new Council of Representatives. The Speaker is a Sunni who originally opposed America's presence in Iraq. He rejects the use of violence for political ends. And by agreeing to serve in a prominent role in this new unity government, he's demonstrating leadership and courage.

It was said to me that he wouldn't have taken my phone call a year ago. He's now taken it twice. (Applause.) He says Iraq's new leaders must govern by common vision. This common vision is critical to the new government's success.

Although Iraq's new leaders come from many different ethnic and religious communities, they've made clear they will govern as Iraqis. They know that the strategy of the terrorists and the insurgents is to divide Iraq along sectarian lines. And the only way the enemy will be defeated is if they stand and act as one.

The government is still a work in progress, and overcoming longstanding divisions will take time. Iraq's new leaders know they have a great deal of work ahead to broaden the base of their government and to unite the people. They also understand that representing all Iraqis and not just narrow sectarian interests, they will be able to make a decisive break with the past and make a future of progress and opportunity for all their people a reality. (Applause.) The unity government must now seize its moment and pursue a common agenda for the future.

This weekend, Prime Minister Maliki laid out his plan for a new Iraq. He promised to work for a sovereign Iraq that will assume responsibility for the security of its people. He committed himself to a free Iraq that will uphold international standards of human rights and respect the role of women in Iraqi society. He pledged to work for a prosperous Iraq that welcomes foreign investments and accelerates reconstruction and lays the foundations for economic growth and opportunity. He declared he would lead a transparent Iraq, where government is open and accountable, and corruption is not tolerated. And he vowed to work for a peaceful Iraq that is the enemy of terror, a friend to its neighbors, and a reliable partner in the community of nations.

The Prime Minister promised that he will soon fill the remaining positions in his government, and announced the details of his plans to build his new country, his new Iraq. As his government moves forward it can draw on many strengths of the Iraqi nation. Iraqis are among the most highly educated and skilled people in the Middle East. They have abundant natural resources, including fertile soil, abundant water, and large reserves of oil. And they're rich in cultural and historical and religious sites that one day could draw millions of tourists and pilgrims from across the world. Iraq's new leaders understand that so long as they remain united there is no limit to the potential of their country. (Applause.)

The unity government opens a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Iraq. The new Iraqi government does not change America's objectives or our commitment, but it will change how we achieve those objectives and how we honor our commitment. And the new Iraqi government -- as the new Iraqi government grows in confidence and capability, America will play an increasingly supporting role. To take advantage of this moment of opportunity, the United States and our coalition partners will work with the new Iraqi government to adjust our methods and strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve victory over our common enemies.

At my direction, the Secretaries of State and Defense recently traveled to Baghdad to meet with the Prime Minister and other leaders. And now the new government has been formed, I've instructed those Secretaries to engage Iraq's new leaders as they assess their needs and capabilities, so we will be in the best position to help them succeed. Iraqis are determined to chart their own future. And now they have the leadership to do it. And this unity government deserves American support, and they will have it. (Applause.)

Our nation has been through three difficult years in Iraq. And the way forward will bring more days of challenge and loss. The progress we've made has been hard-fought, and it's been incremental. There have been setbacks and missteps -- like Abu Ghraib -- that were felt immediately and have been difficult to overcome. Yet we have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror.

Two years ago, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq wrote a letter that said, "democracy is coming," and this would mean "suffocation" for al Qaeda and its allies. The terrorists fought this moment with all their hateful power -- with suicide attacks, and beheadings, and roadside bombs -- and now the day they feared has arrived. And with it has come a moment of great clarity: The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. (Applause.)

The terrorists did not lay down their arms after three elections in Iraq, and they will continue to fight this new government. And we can expect the violence to continue, but something fundamental changed this weekend. The terrorists are now fighting a free and constitutional government. They're at war with the people of Iraq. And the Iraqi people are determined to defeat this enemy, and so are Iraq's new leaders, and so is the United States of America. (Applause.)

The path to freedom is always one of struggle and sacrifice. And in Iraq, our brave men and women in uniform have accepted the struggle and have made the sacrifice. This moment would not be possible without their courage. The United States of America is safer because of their success, and our nation will always be grateful to their service. (Applause.)

For most Iraqis, a free, democratic and constitutional government will be a new experience. And for the people across the broader Middle East, a free Iraq will be an inspiration. Iraqis have done more than form a government; they have proved that the desire for liberty in the heart of the Middle East is for real. They've shown diverse people can come together and work out their differences and find a way forward. And they've demonstrated that democracy is the hope of the Middle East and the destiny of all mankind.

The triumph of liberty in Iraq is part of a long and familiar story. The great biographer of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote: "Freedom is ordinarily born in the midst of storms. It is established painfully among civil discords, and only when it is old can one know its benefits." Years from now people will look back on the formation of a unity government in Iraq as a decisive moment in the story of liberty, a moment when freedom gained a firm foothold in the Middle East, and the forces of terror began their long retreat. (Applause.)

Thank you all very much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all. I'll be glad to answer some questions if you've got some. Tinsley said it would be helpful if I answered some questions. (Laughter.)

* * * * *

Q Hi -- Orlando, Florida. Let me first say, it's an honor to hear you speak. And I'm a proud supporter. I just had a quick question. Yesterday, at the keynote address, Ted Koppel mentioned that there is a growing lack of trust between government and the American people. How would you address this statement?

THE PRESIDENT: He said there's a growing lack of trust between our government and the American people?

Q Yes, he did.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I would say that there's an unease in America now, and the reason why is because we're at war. And war is more difficult -- particularly this kind of war, where it's on our TV screens every day. And I can understand why people are uneasy. Americans care about human life. We have a great compassion for people all around the world. And so when people read or see that the enemy has run a suicide bomber into a village or a marketplace and innocent people died, it breaks their heart. So there is an unease about America.

Hey, listen, we got an amazing economy -- it's strong, and yet there's an uneasiness. And that's what happens in war. And let me just share my thoughts about this with you. If I didn't think we'd succeed, I wouldn't stay. And if I didn't think it was important that we succeed, I wouldn't stay. And the reason it's important is that we must understand that we're in a global war against a totalitarian group of people who will kill innocent life there or here in order to achieve an objective. That's just the lessons of September the 11th that I refuse to forget. (Applause.)

In Iraq, the enemy has made it clear -- this is their words, not mine; I quoted the man -- the al Qaeda guy in Iraq -- those weren't my -- I didn't make up those quotes. That's that he said. And by the way you need your President and your Commander-in-Chief to take the words of the enemy seriously. And they have said it's just a matter of time -- (applause.) They have said it's a matter of time for the United States to leave, that democracies are soft, that capitalist societies are weak. And their view is that if they kill enough innocent people, we will tire and leave. That's what they said.

They've also said we're going to stop the elections. They will try to sow sectarian violence in order to make it difficult for a democracy to succeed in Iraq. And the reason why they want us to leave is because they want safe haven from which to launch attacks -- not only against the United States, but modern Muslim nations in the Middle East. That's what they want to do.

Their vision -- they have a vision. They have an ideology that is the opposite of ours. They don't believe in freedom to dissent and freedom to worship. Matter of fact, they've taken a great religion and, in my judgment, have twisted it to meet their own needs. (Applause.)

If somebody said, well, what do you think life would be like with these folks, just remind them what life was like in Afghanistan under the Taliban. There was no dissent, and if you did, you were whipped. Young girls didn't go to school. They have a backward vision of the world, but they do have a vision, and they want to spread that vision. And we stand in the way of spreading that vision -- we and a coalition of nations that are bound together to promote democracy and freedom. That's what -- and democracy worries them.

My quote in the speech was this guy's words -- democracy will be a setback. That's why I said, the formation of this government, under a constitution drafted and approved by the Iraqis, is a setback, because it's -- they said, we will defeat this democracy. But they're not going to defeat the democracy. The only way they defeat the democracy is if we -- is if we let them defeat the democracy, we don't stand with this young government.

Again, I know that -- I know there's concern about -- from the American people that we can't win. See, most Americans want us to win. Most Americans want to succeed. And there's questions about whether or not the strategy will do so. (Applause.)

And I can understand why people are concerned about whether or not our strategy can succeed, because our progress is incremental. Freedom is moving, but it's in incremental steps. And the enemy's progress is almost instant on their TV screens. And, of course, I get briefings from our commanders on the ground. I want to assure you that the information -- I make my mind up based not upon politics or political opinion polls, but based upon what the commanders on the ground tell me is going on. (Applause.)

I do want to share with you -- thanks for bringing this up. It's not exactly the question. (Laughter.) I'll share with you some of my thoughts about why it's important to have a democracy, liberty prevail in the Middle East. You know, our policy up until now was, let's just hope everything's fine. If it looked okay on the surface, then let's just don't rock the boat. Let's get our energy sources and everything will be all right.

But that's not what was happening. Beneath the surface, there was a -- discontent and hopelessness and despair was beginning to take hold. And as a result, this group of killers sprung up, and they were able to recruit and train sophisticated suiciders. And they killed over 3,000 of our people.

I felt it was important for us to address not only the short-term needs of the country, which means stay on the offensive and bring them to justice before they hurt us again, but also the longer-term needs of the country by addressing the root cause of the resentment and hatred. And in my judgment, the best way to defeat the totalitarian vision of the enemy is with an ideology that has worked, that is bright and is hopeful, called freedom and liberty, expressed through democracy.

Now, I know there are some people in our country who say, why worry? Well, the reason why worry is because we have a duty to lay the foundation of peace for a generation to come. And I'm confident we can succeed. And I will tell you two examples of this, of why I'm confident. One, think of all the lives lost in Europe during World War I and World War II, American lives lost. You all know some of them. You know neighbors who had a grandfather or a father who went over -- called up, went overseas to -- and fought in Europe and lost their lives.

But today, after nearly a century of violence and death and destruction, Europe is whole, free, and at peace. And it's important for America to ask the question, why is that the case? Well, democracies don't war with each other, and democracies have taken hold in Europe.

The second example I like to bring up is from World War II, as well, and that is what's happened to our former enemy, the Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi is coming to our country soon. I'll be sitting down to the table with a friend talking about issues like North Korea, or thanking him for having 1,000 troops in Iraq, or worrying about the spread of pandemic disease, or talking about how we can help the young democracy, Afghanistan. And I find it amazing that the President of the United States is sitting down talking about peace with the head of a country that my dad went to war with, and your dads and grandads went to war with.

And what happened between the brutal attack on our country -- that, by the way, killed fewer people at Pearl Harbor than we lost on September the 11th -- and today, when we're talking about keeping the peace? Japan adopted a Japanese-style democracy. One thing history teaches -- and by the way, if you look back at some of the written word when Harry Truman had the vision of helping this country recover from the war and become a democracy, a lot of people were saying, it's a waste of his time; hopelessly idealistic, they would say. But he had faith in certain fundamental truths. One truth is, everybody desires to be free. Freedom is universal. It's not just a right for America. (Applause.)

And the second truth is, proven after 60 years of time, that freedom has the capacity to convert an enemy to a friend. And as I said in my remarks, I believe that this is an historic moment in Iraq, and that some day people will be looking back on this period of time saying, thank goodness the United States of America didn't lose its faith in certain fundamental values, and we laid the foundation of peace. (Applause.)

And it's hard work. It's hard work to go from a tyranny to a democracy. And I understand why people are concerned. I understand it. Listen, I meet with -- the hardest job of the President is to meet with families of the fallen. And it's a -- it's my duty. But almost to a person, they say, whatever you do, Mr. President, complete the mission, lay the foundation of peace so my child had not died in vain. And I give them that assurance every time I meet with them. (Applause.)

* * * * *

END 11:41 A.M. CDT

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