- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

President Bush yesterday told Iraqi immigrants in the nation's largest Arab community that the United States will stay in their home country until democracy flourishes and declared that the U.S.-led occupation is making life in Iraq better "hour by hour."
"It'll be a hard journey, but every step of the way, Iraq will have a steady friend in the American people," the president told a cheering crowd in the Arab-American enclave of Dearborn, Mich., near Detroit.
"Day by day, hour by hour, life in Iraq is getting better for the citizens, yet much work remains to be done," Mr. Bush said. "There were some in our country who doubted the Iraqi people wanted freedom or they just couldn't imagine they would be welcoming a liberating force. They were mistaken."
Speaking on Saddam Hussein's 66th birthday, Mr. Bush quoted an Iraqi woman who said she never believed the dictator would be forced from power.
One audience member yelled, "He's gone." The president said: "A lot of Iraqis feared the dictator, the tyrant, would never go away. You're right, he's gone."
During his speech and an earlier round-table discussion with Iraqi-Americans in the community, Mr. Bush pledged to let the people of Iraq decide their own government.
"You are living proof the Iraqi people love freedom and living proof the Iraqi people can flourish in democracy," he said.
In the private session with 17 Arab-Americans, Mr. Bush said "the United States of America will stay in Iraq to provide stability, health, to develop an infrastructure, to provide the conditions necessary for Iraqis to develop their own government. … Then we'll leave."
He broke into the round-table conversation when a founder of the Kurdish National Congress of North America and a Basra native began debating whether Iraq should be carved into two or more autonomous regions.
"We're not going to have a debate on the form of the government," Mr. Bush said. "This debate is going to take place within Iraq."
In his speech, Mr. Bush said the United States "has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture" but will ensure that Iraq's new government "will protect the rights of all."
"Whether you're Sunni or Shi'a or Kurd or Chaldean or Assyrian or Turkmen or Christian or Jew or Muslim. No matter what your faith, freedom is God's gift to every person in every nation," he said, drawing a standing ovation. "People who live in Iraq deserve the same freedom that you and I enjoy here in America. And after years of tyranny and torture, that freedom has finally arrived."
As the president talked about "a strong nationalism" in Iraq that led him to believe that there would be "a separation of church and state" in the new government, the White House sketched out what the administration believes is needed most in Iraq.
"Transparency, rule of law, tolerance," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "We've always said that there can be an Islamic democracy not an Islamic theocracy like Iran, but an Islamic democracy."
With Shi'ite Muslims forming more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, a free vote could produce an Islamic-oriented government with close ties to the historically anti-U.S. Shi'ite clerics who have governed Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the United States will not allow a religious government such as Iran's to take hold in Iraq.
In his speech, Mr. Bush also said U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq were "pointless."
"It is time for the United Nations to lift the sanctions so the Iraqis can use their own resources to build their own prosperity," he said.

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