Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — President Bush, addressing U.S. soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe through satellite, yesterday assured troops that Iraqis will know for sure that the United States “will stand with them until their freedom is secure.”

“A turning point will come two weeks from today,” the president said, referring to the June 30 transfer of power.

“I pledged that we would help the Iraqi people to find the benefits and assume the duties of self-government. We’re keeping our commitment,” Mr. Bush said in a sweltering hangar at the U.S. Central Command headquarters to cheers from more than 3,000 soldiers and family members.

In a morale-building speech beamed live to troops in Baghdad and at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the president also warned troops that insurgent attacks in Iraq might intensify as the transfer date nears.

“They’re doing everything in their power to prevent the full transition to democracy, and we can expect more attacks in the coming few weeks, more car bombs, more suiciders, more attempts on the lives of Iraqi officials.”

On Monday, 13 persons, including five foreigners, were killed and 69 wounded in a suicide car bombing on a coalition convoy in Baghdad. Yesterday, three soldiers were killed and 25 persons wounded in Balad, which is 50 miles north of Baghdad .

But the commander in chief assured his troops that the U.S.-led coalition will not back down and vowed: “I will not yield and neither will the leaders of Iraq.”

He compared Iraq to Germany in 1947, noting that even two years after the end of World War II, “some questioned whether a free and stable Germany could emerge from the rubble.”

Targeting his presidential opponent, Sen. John Kerry, who he accuses of being overly pessimistic about America, Mr. Bush said, “Fortunately, America and our allies were optimistic.”

“And because we persevered, because we had faith in our values, because we were strong in the face of adversity, Germany became the stable, successful, great nation that it is today,” he said to echoing applause in the hangar, with Air Force One parked just outside the open doors.

Mr. Bush also said Iraq’s new leaders are “rising to their responsibilities” and the Iraqi people are “making steady progress.” He reiterated the U.S. plan for the power transfer, which includes a national conference in July in which Iraqis will choose an interim national council to advise and support Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his Cabinet.

“Together with our coalition and the United Nations, they are working to prepare the way for national elections by next January,” Mr. Bush said.

The president also praised Iraqi police, who he said are ready to take on the tough task of securing their countrymen as the United States and its coalition partners will “play a supporting role.” He had effusive praise for U.S. soldiers, including forces from special operations, who were among the first into Iraq and, later, Baghdad.

“It is the nature of special ops that many of your victories are unseen and must remain secret — but I know about them,” he said to laughter.

He continued praising the Central Command troops, telling them they are responsible for the liberation of 50 million people.

“I want you to know that you are part of a great force of good in this world. The defense of our country, the defense of our friends and the peace of the world depends on you,” the president said.

After the speech, Mr. Bush was briefed by military officials and then met privately with the families of 11 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also yesterday, the president named Pakistan a major non-NATO ally of the United States, making it easier for the country to acquire U.S. arms.

The designation is a reward for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Other major non-NATO allies include Australia, Bahrain, Israel, South Korea and Morocco.

The status of major non-NATO ally means Pakistan could use U.S. funding to lease certain defense items and would become eligible for loans of military supplies for research and development projects.

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