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Iraq Transition

Transcript of Bush news conference


George W. Bush

A day after President Bush's surprise trip to Baghdad, he briefed reporters on his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and said the U.S. will "keep its word" in helping in Iraq. Following is a partial transcript of his news conference on Wednesday:

I've just returned from Baghdad. And I was inspired to be able to visit the capital of a free and democratic Iraq.

It was a pleasure to meet face to face with the prime minister. I talked to him on the phone a couple of times, but I thought it was important to sit down with him and talk to him in person.

I saw firsthand the strength of his character and his deep determination to succeed, to build a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the people who work for the U.S. government: our embassy staff, the intelligence community. And I had a chance to thank them.

You know, theirs is a tough job. And they're far away from home, and, obviously, they miss their families. And it was an honor to say to them, I appreciate their hard work and so do the American people.

And I met with our troops. I had a chance to congratulate those that were responsible for bringing (terror leader Abu Musab) Zarqawi to justice.

You know, when you're in a theater like that, it's important to hear words of congratulations sometimes, to hear that their efforts are appreciated -- and doing hard work. And I got to do that.

On operations after al-Zarqawi's death

General Casey briefed me on the operations that followed the death of Zarqawi. He told me that Iraqi and coalition forces are still on the offense, that they launched a series of raids on terrorist targets across Iraq.

We've got new intelligence from those raids which will enable us to continue to keep the pressure on the foreigners and local Iraqis that are killing innocent lives to stop the advance of a country that can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself.

Obviously, the raids aren't going to end terrorism. I understand that, and the American people understand that.

But the terrorists are vulnerable. And we will strike their network and disrupt their operations and continue to bring their leaders to justice.

Bush: Al-Maliki's 'got a plan to succeed'

Prime Minister Maliki and I held a joint meeting of our two cabinets; members of my Cabinet participating by video, some of whom were slightly surprised to see me from afar.

I told the prime minister how impressed I was to meet the team he assembled. They are good people -- from different walks of life.

I appreciated very much the agenda he's laid out. In other words, he's got a plan to succeed.

And I appreciated their determination -- it's not just his determination, but their Cabinet's determination to succeed.

In other words, part of the success in Iraq depends upon the Iraqis and their will and their desire.

The Iraqi people have expressed their desires, and now it's up to the government to follow through.

The prime minister briefed us on immediate steps he's taken in three key areas: to improve security, to build up the Iraqi economy, so ... the Iraqi people can see real progress, real economic progress, and he's reaching out to the international community to help secure support for this new government.

We discussed ways that my administration can help the prime minister accomplish these objectives. The policy of the United States government is to stand with this new government and help them succeed, and we will do what it takes to help them succeed.

The prime minister has taken immediate action to implement a plan to improve security, and his top priority is around Baghdad.

On massive security operation in Baghdad

Operation Together Forward started this morning. This operation is a joint effort to restore security and rule of law to high-risk areas in the capital city.

It will be carried out by some 26,000 Iraqi soldiers, some 23,000 Iraqi police, backed up by over 7,200 coalition forces.

Iraqi troops will increase the number of checkpoints, enforce a curfew and implement a strict weapons ban across the Iraqi capital.

Baghdad is a city of more than six-and-a-half-million residents. And we've got to recognize that it's going to take time for these operations to take hold.

Iraqi and coalition forces are also working to restore security in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

Bush: 'We want to help them'

The prime minister's plan to bring militias and other armed groups under government control is moving forward. And we talked about that plan. He understands how important it is to rein in these militias.

Many militia members will be demobilized and integrated into the Iraqi security forces, where they'll be dispersed among different units and, obviously, monitored closely by the government.

I directed General Casey and our ambassador to work with the prime minister on this really important effort, so we can make clear the illegal militias have no future in a free Iraq.

Prime Minister Maliki is working to build confidence in the Iraqi security forces. And he has a plan to do that. To assist him, we'll continue embedding coalition transition teams in Iraqi army and police units.

We've deployed advisory teams to assist Iraq's new ministries of -- ministers of -- defense and interior, both of whom I met.

We want to help them build the command-and-control capacity of their ministries. In other words, you can't have an effective army unless you've got command-and-control coming out of government.

We want to establish an internal affairs bureau to root out corruption. No question, this government has got to deal with corruption at all levels in order to earn the confidence of the people.

And, of course, we will encourage them and help them investigate and punish human rights violations in order to earn the confidence of all Iraqis.

Part of the prime minister's plan is to improve the Iraqi judicial system. And to assist him, I've directed the attorney general and the secretaries of state and defense to work together on a new rule-of-law initiative. Under this initiative, we'll help train Iraqi judges, increase security so they can do their jobs, improve Iraqi prison capacity and help the Iraqi government provide equal justice for all its citizens.

On reconciliation in Iraq

Prime Minister Maliki is promoting reconciliation among the Iraqi people. And during my discussions with his Cabinet and others, the concept of reconciliation kept coming up. People know they've got to reconcile the past in order to have a bright future.

He told us he's going to soon appoint a Reconciliation Committee that will focus on resolving specific concerns of different Iraqi communities.

We will support his efforts to bring the Iraqis together by encouraging leaders from countries like South Africa to share their experiences with this new government to help them reconcile the past.

Secondly, the prime minister has a plan to revitalize the Iraqi economy. He understands that the people have got to feel benefits from the new government. I mean, it's a simple concept, but it's a profound one.

I've directed our secretary of treasury and the Treasury Department to send teams of experts to Iraq to help the government create a public finance system that is accountable and transparent. These advisers will help Iraqis develop an economic framework that promotes growth and job creation and opportunity.

I've directed the secretaries of commerce and agriculture to travel to Iraq as soon as possible to meet with their counterparts.

To revitalize the Iraqi economy, the prime minister's working to increase oil and electricity production. We spent a lot of time talking about energy in Iraq.

I reminded the government that that oil belongs to the Iraqi people and the government has the responsibility to be good stewards of that valuable asset and valuable resource.

Bush: 'It's up to the Iraqis'

... We're working with the Iraqi government on measures to protect key infrastructure from insurgent attacks. There's rapid repair teams that are being established that'll quickly restore oil and electricity production, if and when attacks do occur.

I've directed the secretary of energy to travel to Iraq to meet with his counterpart and identify ways we can provide additional support.

It's up to the Iraqis to pass a hydrocarbon law, which they're now debating.

It's up to the Iraqi government to decide what to do with the people's asset.

Our advice is to be careful and to develop it with the people's interest in mind.

Finally, the prime minister is taking immediate action to engage the international community. And we're going to help him. Earlier, the international community pledged about $13 billion to help this new government, and they've only paid about $3 billion. And so we're going to help encourage those who made a pledge to pay up, to help the new government succeed.

Plus, he's working to develop what he's calling an international compact. Under this compact, Iraq will take a series of steps in the political, economic and security areas, and then the international community will provide more robust political and economic support.

...I told the prime minister, I'll designate Deputy Treasury Secretary Bob Kimmitt to lead our efforts on behalf of our country and the people of this country.

He'll be supported by State Department counselor Phil Zelikow and other senior officials. And they will soon travel to the United Nations and then to Baghdad for consultations.

And then they're going to travel across Europe and Asia and the Middle East to discuss the compact and secure support from governments for this new government.

I was impressed with the prime minister. And I'm impressed by his team. I told him that America is a nation that meets its commitments and keeps its word. And that's what we're going to do in Iraq.

It's in our interest that Iraq succeed. More importantly, it's in the interest of the Iraqi people.

The challenges that remain are serious. And they will require more sacrifice and patience. And our efforts are well worth it.

By helping this new government succeed, we'll be closer to completing our mission. And the mission is to develop a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and a country that is an ally in the war on terror.

We'll seize this moment of opportunity to help the prime minister. We'll defeat our common enemies. We'll help build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and that'll make Americans and Iraqis and the world more secure."

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