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The President on Iraq, In-Depth

On Wednesday, President George W. Bush gave an extensive press briefing on Iraq, discussing both successes and failures on our own behalf, and on behalf of our Iraqi allies, as well as plans for the future. I have excerpted some of his opening remarks below, and provided a link to a full transcript of the briefing, which includes questions from journalists. The only point I'll emphasize is that, as the president notes, the current government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is only five months old. To many it seems that the Iraqis have had a long time to get themselves together, but the process of establishing a new representative government where before there was nothing but a police state would have taken a long time even if we had done everything right. Obviously we did not, and my estimation is that we could have saved about a year by handling things differently after the fall of the Baathist regime. But regardless this would have taken years, and it is safe to say that if General Washington and the Continental Congress had been given the timetable many wish to force on Maliki's government, the United States would not exist today.

President Bush:

Over the past three years I have often addressed the American people to explain developments in Iraq. Some of these developments were encouraging, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the elections in which 12 million Iraqis defied the terrorists and voted for a free future, and the demise of the brutal terrorist Zarqawi. Other developments were not encouraging, such as the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, the fact that we did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters.

Recently, American and Iraqi forces have launched some of the most aggressive operations on enemy forces in Baghdad since the war began. They've cleared neighborhoods of terrorists and death squads, and uncovered large caches of weapons, including sniper scopes and mortars and powerful bombs. There has been heavy fighting. Many enemy fighters have been killed or captured, and we've suffered casualties of our own. This month we've lost 93 American service members in Iraq, the most since October of 2005. During roughly the same period, more than 300 Iraqi security personnel have given their lives in battle. Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of the terrorists, insurgents, illegal militias, armed groups, and criminals.

The events of the past month have been a serious concern to me, and a serious concern to the American people. Today I will explain how we're adapting our tactics to help the Iraqi government gain control of the security situation. I'll also explain why, despite the difficulties and bloodshed, it remains critical that America defeat the enemy in Iraq by helping the Iraqis build a free nation that can sustain itself and defend itself.

Our security at home depends on ensuring that Iraq is an ally in the war on terror and does not become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan under the Taliban. The enemy we face in Iraq has evolved over the past three years. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, a sophisticated and a violent insurgency took root. Early on this insurgency was made up of remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, as well as criminals released by the regime. The insurgency was fueled by al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists, who focused most of their attention on high-profile attacks against coalition forces and international institutions.

We learned some key lessons from that early phase in the war. We saw how quickly al Qaeda and other extremist groups would come to Iraq to fight and try to drive us out. We overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people. We did not expect the Iraqi army, including the Republican Guard, to melt away in the way that it did in the phase of advancing coalition forces.

Despite these early setbacks, some very important progress was made, in the midst of an incredibly violent period. Iraqis formed an interim government that assumed sovereignty. The Iraqi people elected a transitional government, drafted and adopted the most progressive democratic constitution in the Arab world, braved the car bombs and assassins to choose a permanent government under that constitution, and slowly began to build a capable national army.

Al Qaeda and insurgents were unable to stop this progress. They tried to stand up to our forces in places like Fallujah, and they were routed. So they changed their tactics. In an intercepted letter to Osama bin Laden, the terrorist Zarqawi laid out his strategy to drag Iraq's Shia population into a sectarian war. To the credit of the Shia population, they resisted responding to the horrific violence against them for a long time...

Read the full transcript of the press conference.

Notes