WASHINGTON – "Your nation will soon be free," President Bush told Iraqis Thursday as ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured residents of the war-torn nation that coalition soldiers are "friends and liberators, not your conquerors."
The messages, taped on Tuesday at the end of a war summit in Northern Ireland, were sent out by U.S. military forces who are now televising information programs to the Iraqi people.
In the broadcast aired at 6 p.m. Baghdad time, 10 a.m. EDT, Bush and Blair said that they had not wanted war but that Saddam Hussein had left them no choice.
"In refusing to give up his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam gave us no choice but to act. Now that the war has begun, it will be seen through to the end," Blair said in the message titled "Toward Freedom."
"Our only enemy is Saddam's brutal regime — and that regime is your enemy as well," Bush said in the two-and-a-half minute message with Arab subtitles. An Arabic written text was also released.
The campaign to convince Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world that U.S. troops are not a hostile invasion force is part of a bulwark to widespread criticism from the world community. The leaders spent part of the message ensuring the Iraqis that "the goals of our coalition are clear and limited."
Bush said the coalition agenda includes ending Saddam's regime, getting rid of weapons of mass destruction, providing security, respecting religious traditions, building a representative government and creating a sovereign nation.
"The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over," the president said. "You deserve to live as free people. And I assure every citizen of Iraq: Your nation will soon be free."
The two leaders said their commitment to Iraq would not falter as it did in 1991 following Iraq's retreat from Kuwait. At that time, a popular uprising was crushed by Saddam after the U.N.-led coalition had left the country with the despot still in power.
"This regime will be gone and ended," Blair said, adding that Iraqi oil, which made Saddam "one of the richest men in the world," will now help Iraqis prosper.
The Bush-Blair addresses followed an eventful day in Iraq when coalition forces stormed into the center of Baghdad and helped the residents tear down a foreboding statue of Saddam situated in the central square of the city. Overnight, troops solidified control over several other areas of the country and blocked the road from Baghdad to Tikrit, which many believed would be used by Baath party members to escape.
With Iraqi television off the air, the coalition now has a chance to counter some of the programming that aired on state-run Iraqi television suggesting that the United States and United Kingdom were sending an invasion force to the country.
The new station will broadcast from a U.S. C-130 Hercules aircraft circling in the skies over Iraq directly to the former Iraqi state TV channel. Programming will air five hours a day five days a week and will be rebroadcast from independent news outlets in the United States and Great Britain, the White House said.
Starting Saturday, the coalition also will publish a newspaper in southern Iraq, with an initial circulation of 10,000, the White House said.