Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bush on Iraq

A rare interview with President Bush will air on ABC News tonight. Here are the remarks on Iraq:
VARGAS: Let's move to Iraq. This has been a rough few days in Iraq since the bombing of the mosque in Samarra. There's been a lot of sectarian violence. We heard fresh reports of violence again today and reports from Baghdad that the violence in these past three days has been the worst since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There was a lot of criticism from both the Shi'ites and the Sunnis of the U.S. military for standing back and not doing enough to stop the violence.

What is the policy if, in fact, a civil war should break out or the sectarian violence continues? Are you willing to sacrifice American lives to get the Sunnis and the Shi'ites to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I don't buy your premise that there's going to be a civil war. There's no question that the bomber of the mosque is trying to create sectarian violence, and there's no question there was reaction to it. On the other hand, I had the duty, which I did, to call these leaders, Shi'a and Sunni leaders, as well as Kurdish leaders.

And the response was that we understand this is a moment that we've got to make a choice if we're going to have sectarian strife or whether or not we're going to unify. And I heard loud and clear that they understand that they're going to choose unification, and we're going to help them do so.

The presence of the U.S. troops is there to protect as many Iraqis as we possibly can from thugs and violence, but it's also to help the Iraqis protect themselves, and we're making progress in terms of standing up these Iraqi troops so they can deal with, deal with these incidents of violence.

VARGAS: But what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the U.S. troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?

BUSH: No. The troops are chasing down terrorists. They're protecting themselves and protecting the people, and—but a major function is to train the Iraqis so they can do the work. I mean the ultimate success in Iraq — and I believe we're going to be successful — is for the Iraqi citizens to continue to demand unity.

And remember, one of the things that's lost during this troubled week — and there's no question it's a troubled week — was the fact that 11 million Iraqis, about 2 months ago, went to the polls and said, "We want to have a democratic government." So there's still a will of the people there that are interested in a unified government.

Secondly, we're working with the leaders to form this unity government, and we'll see how it goes. We're making pretty good progress though. And I think the bombers really caused the leaders to say, "Wait a minute. We now have got to project civil war, or civil strife, or sectarian violence."

And the other side of the equation has got to be to train the Iraqis to fight, so that the people feel like there is a unified security force that's interested in protecting them from a few people that are trying to sow violence and discord.

VARGAS: But there is a concern that when you talk to these political leaders that they don't wield the real power in Iraq, that it's the clerics that wield the power and the clerics who are controlling these militias, the militias who were responsible for most of the violence in the last few days.

BUSH: Well, Ayatollah Sistani, who is by far — not by far — is one of the most revered clerics, has made it very clear that this type of violence is not acceptable, and that he calls for a unified government. And matter of fact, many of the clerics have spoken out for a peaceful unified future for Iraq.

And there's no — look, these are — there are people that don't want to see democracy, and the reason why is because it defeats their vision of a totalitarian type government from which they can launch either attacks on America or future instability in the Middle East. You're witnessing this ideological struggle that's taking place, and Iraq happens to be the battlefront for that struggle right now.

And I believe we're — we will prevail, and the definition of prevailing is Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, an Iraq that is not a safe haven for people like Zarqawi or al Qaeda and its affiliates, an Iraq which becomes an ally in the war on terror.

VARGAS: So let me make sure I understand you. No matter what happens with the level of sectarian violence, the U.S. troops will stay there?

BUSH: The U.S. troops will stay there so long as—until the Iraqis can defend themselves. I mean, my policy has not changed. To summarize it, as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

And as you know, we've reduced troop levels this year, and that's because our commanders on the ground have said that the security situation in Iraq is improving because the Iraqis are more capable of taking the fight.

VARGAS: And if in fact the violence continues, will the Americans be forced to take a more active role in suppressing it?

BUSH: Well, the Americans are very active right now taking a role in suppressing it.

VARGAS: But as I said at the beginning, there's a lot of criticism from both the Sunnis and the Shiites that they weren't doing enough to stop the killing, and it was a lot of killing that happened after the upset attack.

BUSH: Well, I understand the criticism. It's also difficult sometimes to stop suicide bombers, and—but the Americans are—as well as Coalition forces, and more importantly, the Iraqis themselves are patrolling and trying to keep neighborhoods safe.


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