WASHINGTON – President Bush hosted interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi at the White House on Thursday. Following is a transcript of their news conference:
BUSH: Thank you all for coming.
I'm honored to stand with the prime minister of a free and sovereign Iraq.
Welcome, Mr. Prime Minister.
I applaud your leadership and your courage.
I'm honored to welcome a friend to the White House.
ALLAWI: Thank you.
BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister, you've accomplished a great deal in less than the three months since the transition to a free Iraq that is governed by Iraqis. These have been months of steady progress, despite persistent violence in some parts of your country.
Iraqis and their leaders are engaged in a great and historic enterprise: to establish a new democracy at the heart of a vital region.
As friends of liberty, the new leaders of Iraq are friends of America and all civilized nations.
As enemies of tyranny and terror, the people of Iraq and the American troops and civilians supporting their dreams of freedom have been the target of acts of violence. The enemies of freedom are using suicide bombing, beheadings and other horrific acts to try to block progress.
We're sickened by the atrocities. But we'll never be intimidated. And freedom is winning.
Mr. Prime Minister, America will stand with you until freedom and justice have prevailed. America's security and Iraq's future depend on it.
The Iraqi people are showing great courage and great determination. As terrorists have attacked Iraqi security forces, still more brave Iraqis have come forward to volunteer to serve their country.
As killers have attempted to assassinate governments officials, Iraq's leaders have refused to be intimidated and the vast majority of Iraqis remain committed to democracy.
The path to our safety and to Iraq's future as a democratic nation lies in the resolute defense of freedom.
If we stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere, in America and other free nations. To retreat now would betray our mission, our word and our friends.
Mr. Prime Minister, America will k believe terrorist violence may well escalate as the January elections draw near. The terrorists know that events in Iraq are reaching a decisive moment. If elections go forward, democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat.
And because Iraq and America and our coalition are standing firm, the Iraqi people and not the terrorists will determine Iraq's future.
There's much at stake.
Mr. Prime Minister, you recently said, "The war in Iraq now is not only an Iraqi war, it is a war for the civilized world to fight terrorists and terrorism. And there is no route but the route of winning."
Prime Minister Tony Blair recently called the struggle in Iraq the crucible in which the future of global terrorism will be determined.
I share the view of these strong leaders that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror and our only option is victory.
We're making steady progress in implementing our five-step plan toward the goal we all want: completing the mission so that Iraq is stable and self-governing and American troops can come home with the honor they have earned.
The first step was achieved on June 28th, not only on time, but ahead of schedule, when the coalition transferred full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens.
The second step is to help Iraq's new government establish stability and security. Iraq must be able to defend itself and Iraqi security forces are taking increasing responsibility for their country's security.
Nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are working today and that total will rise to 125,000 by the end of this year. The Iraqi government is on track to build a force of over 200,000 security personnel by the end of next year.
With the help of the American military, the training of the Iraqi army is almost halfway complete. And in Najaf and other important areas, Iraqi military forces have performed with skill and success.
In Najaf, Iraqi and coalition forces effectively surrounded, isolated and engaged enemy militias. Prime Minister Allawi and his government reached out to the local population to persuade citizens the path to a better future would be found in political participation and economic progress.
The interim government then negotiated from a position of strength to end the standoff.
Serious problems remain in several cities. Prime Minister Allawi believes this combination of decisive action and outreach to peaceful citizens is the most effective way to defeat terrorists and insurgents and secure the peace of Iraq. And America stands with him.
The third step in our plan is to continue improving Iraq's infrastructure. On television sets around the world we see acts of violence, yet in most of Iraq children are about to go back to school, parents are going More than 2,000 schools have been renovated and millions of new textbooks have been distributed.
There's much more work to be done. We've already spent more than $1 billion on urgent reconstruction projects in areas threatened by the insurgency. In the next several months over $9 billion will be spent on contracts that will help Iraqis rebuild schools, refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair bridges, upgrade the electricity grid and modernize the communication system.
Prime Minister Allawi and I both agree that the pace of reconstruction should be accelerated. We're working toward that goal.
The fourth step in our plan is to enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition to democracy. The multinational force of some 30 nations continues to help secure a free Iraq. We honor the service men and women of Great Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Thailand and Ukraine who've died, besides Iraqis and Americans, for the cause of freedom and security of the world.
Our coalition is grateful that the United Nations has reestablished its mission in Baghdad. We're grateful to the G-8 countries and the European Union for pledging support to the new Iraqi government. We're grateful to the NATO alliance for helping to train Iraqi forces. We're grateful to many of Iraq's creditors which have agreed to have further reduction of Iraq's debt.
Because all nations have an interest in the success of a free Iraq, I urge all nations to join in this vital cause.
The fifth and most important step in our plan is to help Iraq conduct free, national elections no later than next January. An Iraqi electoral commission is now up and running and has already hired personnel and is making key decisions about election procedures.
Just this week the commission began a public education campaign to inform Iraqis about the process and encourage them to become voters. The United Nations electoral advisers are on the ground in Iraq, though more are needed. Prime Minister Allawi and I have urged the U.N. to send sufficient personnel to help ensure the success of Iraqi elections.
At every stage in this process of establishing self-government, the Iraqi people and leaders have met the schedules they set and have overcome their challenges with confidence. And under this good man's leadership they will continue to do so.
The war for Iraq's freedom is a fight against some of the most ruthless and brutal men on Earth. In such a struggle there will be good days and there will be difficult days. But every day our resolve must remain firm.
Prime Minister, today I want to leave you and the nation you serve with a clear message: You have not faltered in a time of challenge and neither will America.
Thank you for your leadership. You honored us with your visit.
ALLAWI: Mr. President, thank you for those kind words.
It is an honor to be here today in your nation's capital.
It is a great honor to share this platform with you, a leader who worked tirelessly for the liberation of my country.
These last few days have been difficult for us Iraqis, for you Americans and for all our allies.
Let me start by saying that my thoughts and prayers are with the families of those fighting today in Iraq, and in particularly with the families of those who have lost loved ones at the hands of the terrorists or the insurgents.
Like this nation, which in the face of such brutality are standing strong against terrorism, so we Iraqis will not be cowed by the terrorists.
Your government and my government understand what is at stake today in Iraq.
Today, we fact a concentrated campaign by terrorists and by the enemies of all the values which we hold dear; a campaign to shake our resolve and to prevent Iraq and Iraqis from attaining the freedom and democracy which we have dreamed of for more than the last 30 years.
These terrorists understand all too well that success in Iraq will be an enormous blow for terrorism worldwide, and an enormous step forward for peace and stability in the Middle East and in the wider world.
I thank you, Mr. President, for your determination to stand firm with us in Iraq and for the unflinching message which you are delivering to our enemies.
Mr. President, I stand here today as a prime minister of a country emerging finally from dark ages of tyranny, aggression and corruption.
Like you, I knew how evil Saddam Hussein and his regime truly were. Like you, I knew the damage he had brought on his country. Like you, I knew of the wars he had started and the dangers he posed to my region and the world.
Or at least I thought I knew for I, like millions of other Iraqis, were forced into exile, realizing that we could only fight Saddam from outside Iraq. Even then we were not safe as I, myself, can testify.
But when I returned to Iraq, following the liberation of my country, I was truly shocked by just how much damage Saddam had done in his 30 years of rule.
Iraq is a deeply scarred society in a very troubled region. Today we are witnessing all too vividly the true extent of the damage what Saddam inflicted on our society.
Mr. President, Iraqis thank God, thank America and thank our allies that Saddam is gone. We are safer, the region is safer, the world is safer without him. But the scars will take time and determination to heal.
Again, Mr. President, I thank you for your leadership.
We had an excellent meeting today building on the talks we had on Tuesday in New York. We discussed the challenges ahead of us and how to confront them. We discussed the plan to take Iraq through these difficulties and to ensure that democratic elections take place on time next year.
And we discussed the importance of maintaining the strength of the coalition and the support of the international community in helping us to succeed.
As we discussed, the plan focuses on building democracy, defeating the insurgency and improving quality of life for the ordinary Iraqis. Our political plan is to isolate the terrorists from the communities in which they operate. We are working hard to involve as many people as we can in the political process, to cut the ground from under the terrorists' feet.
Of course, we know that terrorism cannot be defeated with political tools alone, but we can weaken it. Ending local support helps us to tackle the enemy head on to identify, isolate and eradicate this cancer.
Our military plan will enable us to build and maintain security across Iraq. Ordinary Iraqis are anxious to take over entirely this role and to shoulder all the security burdens of our country as quickly as possible.
We do not want the multinational force to stay in Iraq anymore than you want to remain there. But for now we need you, we need the help of our American and multinational partners while we continue to accelerate the training of the Iraqi security forces.
The Iraqi government now commands almost 100,000 trained and combat-ready Iraqis, including police, national guard and army. The government has accelerated the development of Iraqi special forces and established the counter-terrorist strike force to address the specific problems caused by the insurgency.
Our intelligence is getting better every day. You have seen that in the successful resolution of the Najaf crisis and in the targeted attacks against insurgents in Fallujah.
Finally our economic plan is to improve the everyday lives of Iraqis as we deliver both political and security progress. Here, thanks to a large extent to the generous security and reconstruction funding approved by the United States Congress, work is under way.
Oil pipelines are being repaired. Basic services improved. Streets and homes rebuilt. Schools, hospitals and clinics reopened. Thousands of Iraqis have new jobs. Salaries have been increased dramatically, in many cases five or four timings over. Iraq's economy, freed from the stranglehold of a failed Baathist ideology, has finally started to flourish.
Mr. President, we also discussed the importance of holding free and fair national and local elections this coming January as planned. I know that some have speculated, even doubted whether this date can be met. So let me be absolutely clear that elections will occur in Iraq on time in January because Iraqis want elections on time.
In 15 out of 18 Iraqi provinces, the security situation is good for elections to be held tomorrow. Here Iraqis are getting on with their daily lives, hungry for the new political and economic freedoms they are enjoying. Although this is not what you see in your media, it is a fact.
The Iraqi elections may not be perfect. They may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold. They will undoubtedly be an excuse for violence from those who despair and despite liberty, as were the first elections in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Indonesia. But they will take place and they will be free and fair.
Finally, Mr. President, a word about international resolve. Iraq cannot accomplish this alone. The international forces of tyranny and oppression are lined up against us. Iraq is now the main battleground between the forces of hope and the forces of fear.
This is a struggle which will shape the future of our world.
Already Iraq has many partners. More than two dozen countries are represented in Iraq with troops on the ground. We Iraqis are grateful for each and every one of these courageous men and women.
The United States, the European Union, the G-8 have lent their strong support. NATO, just yesterday, increased its commitment to Iraq. Many more nations have committed to our future in the form of economic aid. I am grateful for the support. I look to my Arab brothers to join us fully.
I know it is difficult, but the coalition must stand firm. When governments negotiate with terrorists, everyone in the free world suffers. When political leaders sound the sirens of defeatism in the face of terrorism, it only encourages more violence.
Working together, we will defeat the killers. And we'll do this by refusing to bargain about our most fundamental principles.
I understand, while faced with the daily headlines, there are those doubts. I know, too, that there will be many more setbacks and obstacles to overcome. But these doubters underestimate our country and they risk fueling the hopes of terrorism.
Mr. President, there are those who want to divide our world. I appeal to you, who have done so much already to help us, to ensure they don't succeed.
BUSH: We'll take a couple of questions now.
QUESTION: Two more Americans have been beheaded, more than 300 Iraqis have been killed in the last week, Fallujah is out of government control and U.S. and Iraqi forces have been unable to bring security to diplomatic and commercial centers of Baghdad.
Why haven't U.S. forces been able to capture or kill al-Zarqawi, who's blamed for much of the violence? And what's your answer to General John Abizaid's statement that, "I think we will need more troops than we currently have"?
BUSH: If that's what he says -- he was in my office this morning, he didn't say that to me. But if he were to say that, I'd listen to him. Just like I've said all along that when our commanders say that they need support, they'll get support, because we're going to succeed in this mission.
The first part of the question was how come we haven't found Zarqawi? We're looking for him. He hides. He's got an effective weapon and that is terror.
I said yesterday that our military cannot be defeated by these thugs. But what they do is behead Americans so they can get on the TV screens. And they're trying to shake our will and they're trying to shake the Iraqis' will. That's what they're trying to do.
And like all Americans, I'm disgusted by that kind of behavior, but I'm not going to yield. We're not going to abandon the Iraqi people. It's in our interests that we win this battle in the war on terror.
See, I think that the Iraq theater is a part of the war on terror.
That's what the prime minister said as well. He believes the same thing. He understands what's going on there; after all, he lives there.
And I believe that if we wilt or leave, America's security will be much worse off. I believe that if we fail in Iraq, it's the beginning of a long struggle. We will not have done our duty to our children and our grandchildren.
And so that's why I'm consistently telling the Iraqi citizens that we will not be intimidated. That's why my message to Mr. Zarqawi is, "You cannot drive us out of Iraq by your brutality."
It's tough work, everybody knows that. It's hard work. But we must not allow the actions of a few -- and I emphasize that. I say that because there are 25 million Iraqis, by far the vast majority of whom want to live in a free society. And we cannot allow the actions of a few to determine the fate of these good people as well as the fate of the security of the United States.
ALLAWI: May I, Mr. President?
ALLAWI: I just have a few words to say to his question.
We cannot really substitute Iraq for Fallujah. Fallujah is a small part of Iraq. There are insurgents and terrorists who are active there for geographical reasons.
The people of Fallujah are adamant that they should, whenever they are capable, to get rid of the insurgents. We have been talking to them. I have been talking to them, engaged in dialogue. My deputy met with the Fallujah tribes two days ago.
Things are moving in the right direction. And we are hitting insurgents and terrorists in this part of the world.
To have more troops, we don't need. What we need really is to train more Iraqis because this is ultimately for Iraqis -- for Iraqi security forces to take responsibility for their own security and to defend the rest of the civilized world.
What is happening, sir, in Iraq is really -- Iraq is becoming a front line for a global fight against terrorists.
So that's why Zarqawi is not alone. There are other groups similar to Zarqawi. There are groups who are insurgents who have stained their hands with the murders of the Iraqi people who are Saddam's loyalists. They are working together.
We assure you that we are going to defeat these evil forces in Iraq and throughout the world.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) level with the American people about how tough it is there. How do your respond to him?
BUSH: It's hard work in Iraq. Everybody knows that. We see it on our TV.
My message is that we will stay the course and stand with these people so that they become free. It's in our national interest we do so.
I believe this is a central part in the war on terror. I believe that when we succeed in Iraq that America will be more secure.
I also know that a free Iraq will send a clear message to the part of the world that is desperate for freedom.
It's hard work. The American people know that. But I believe it's necessary work.
And I believe a leader must be consistent and clear and not change positions when times get tough. And the times have been hard. These are hard times.
But I understand what mixed messages do. You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed messages. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages. You send the wrong message to our troops by sending mixed messages.
That's why I will continue to lead with clarity in a resolute way. Because I understand the stakes. These are high stakes and we'll succeed.
Is anybody here from the Iraqi media? Why don't we? Yes, please, sir. Standing next to a fine man, indeed.
QUESTION: (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)
BUSH: I'm not so sure I agree with that.
QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The question to you, Mr. President: What are the plans to accelerate the arrival of the fund donated by various countries around the world, the countries that are contributing to the rebuilding of Iraq, in order to encourage investments in Iraq, particularly with a very high unemployment rate?
BUSH: Right. There are at least three aspects to the reconstruction projects. One is our own money.
And as I mentioned in my remarks, there's $7 billion committed. We've got more money to spend and we will spend it when contracts are let. And when there's enough security in certain neighborhoods to be able to spend the money wisely.
And secondly, part of making sure that the Iraq balance sheet is in good shape is to continue to work on debt reductions.
I named former Secretary Jim Baker to go around to the creditor nations. He received some commitments. And I believe that the world will make its decision later on this year as to how much debt reduction there'll be in Iraq.
And thirdly, as you mentioned, other nations have pledged help to the Iraqi people, and there will be a donors conference in Japan, kind of an accountability conference, for people to come and explain where they are in meeting their different prd the central theme of your campaign is that America is safer because of the invasion of Iraq.
Can you understand why Americans may not believe you?
BUSH: No. Anybody who says that we're safer with Saddam Hussein in power is wrong.
We went into Iraq because Saddam Hussein defied the demands of the free world. We went into Iraq after diplomacy had failed and we went into Iraq because I understand, after September 11th, we must take threats seriously before they come to hurt us.
And I think it's a preposterous claim to say that America would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power. I certainly know that that's the case for America and I certainly know that's the case for the Iraqi people.
These are the people who were tortured. This good man was in bed in a London flat and he wakes up with two Saddam henchmen there with axes trying to cut him to pieces with an ax.
And fortunately, he's alive today. Fortunately, we call him friend and ally. But he knows what it means to have lived under a society in which a thug like Saddam Hussein would send people with axes to try to kill him in bed in a London flat.
No, this world is better off with Saddam Hussein in prison.
QUESTION: Sir, may I just follow? Because I don't think you're really answering the question.
I mean, I think you're responding to Senator Kerry. There are beheadings regularly, the insurgent violence continues, and there are no weapons of mass destruction.
My question is, can you understand that Americans may not believe you when you say that America is actually safer today?
BUSH: Imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein were still in power. This is a man who harbored terrorists: Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, Zarqawi. This is a man who's a sworn enemy of the United States of America. This is a man who used weapons of mass destruction.
Going from tyranny to democracy's hard work. But I think the argument that says that if Saddam Hussein were still in power we'd be better off is wrong.
QUESTION: Sir, I'd like you to answer Senator Kerry and other critics who accuse you of hypocrisy or opportunism, when on the one hand you put so much stock in the CIA when it said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and now say it is just guessing when it paints a pessimistic picture of the political transition.
And I'd like to, if you don't mind, follow on something the prime minister just said. If General Abizaid says he needs more troops and the prime minister says he does not want more troops, who wins?
BUSH: Let me talk to General Abizaid. As I said, he just came in to see me. And I want to make sure -- I'm not suggesting any of the reporters here might be taking something out of context; that would never happen in America. But nevertheless I do want to sit down and talk to him about it.
Obviously, we could work this out. I mean, if our commanders on the ground feel it's in the interest of the Iraq citizens to provide more troops, we'll talk about it. That's why they're friends, that what we do about friends.
First part of the question? Oh, yes, yes, yes.
QUESTION: Those who say you've been opportunistic...
BUSH: Got it.
Listen, the other day I was asked about the NIE, which is a national intelligence estimate. This is a report that talks about possibilities about what can happen in Iraq, not probabilities.
I used an unfortunate word, "guess." I should have used "estimate."
And the CIA came and said, "This is a possibility, this is a possibility and this is a possibility." But what's important for the American people to hear is reality. And the reality's right here in the form of the prime minister. And he is explaining what is happening on the ground. That's the best report.
And this report was written in July. And now we are here in September. And, as I said, "estimate" would have been a better word.
QUESTION: Sir, you've been accused on the campaign trail in this election year of painting an overly optimistic portrait of the situation on the ground in Iraq.
Yesterday, in Valley Forge, you said that there was a handful of people who were willing to kill to try to disrupt the process. Isn't that really understating the case, particularly when there are intelligence reports that hundreds, if not thousands of foreign fighters are streaming across the border from Syria to take up the fight of the insurgency?
And do you believe, given the situation on the ground and Fallujah and other northern cities in the Sunni triangle, that elections are possible in four months?
BUSH: I do, because the prime minister told me they are. He's interested in moving this country forward. And you heard his statement. And I believe him.
The first part of the question?
QUESTION: Are you painting...
BUSH: Yes, got it, got it. Yes, yes.
Yesterday -- right. I said -- look, what we're seeing on our TV screens are the acts of suicide bombers.
They're the people that are affecting the nightly news. And they know it's a fact.
I said that the enemy cannot defeat us militarily. What they can do is take acts of violence that try to discourage us and try to discourage the prime minister and the people of Iraq.
Look, I'm fully aware we're fighting former Baathists and Zarqawi network people. But by far the vast majority of people, among 25 million people, want to live in freedom. My point is, is that a few people, relative to the whole, are trying to stop the march of freedom.
It is tough work. Everybody in America knows that. And the fundamental question is: Are we going to allow the tough work to cause us to retreat, to waver?
And my answer to the American people and the Iraqi people and to the enemy is that we will complete our mission. We will do our duty. We will adjust strategies on the ground, depending upon the tactics of the enemy. But we're not going to allow the suiciders to drive us out of Iraq.
ALLAWI: May I please?
BUSH: Yes, please.
ALLAWI: Let me explain something which is very important. I have noticed in the media, it have been neglected and omitted several times, in the Western media.
Iraq is made out of 18 provinces. Out of these 18 provinces, 14 to 15 are completely safe; there are no problems. And I can count them for you, starting from Basra, moving into Iraq Kurdistan.
There are three areas, three provinces where there are pockets of insurgents, pockets of terrorists who are acting there and are moving from there to inflict damage elsewhere in the country.
So really few care to look at Iraq properly and go from Basra to Nasiriyah to Kut (ph) to Diala to Najaf to Karbala to Diwina to Samawa (ph) to Kirkuk to Sulaymaniyah to Dahoo (ph) to Irbil there are no problems. It's safe. It's good.
There are problems in Fallujah. Fallujah is part of a province, the province is called Al Anbar. It's vast, very big. It has many other important towns, such as Anna (ph), such as Rawa (ph), such as Ramadi. There's nothing there. In Anna (ph) and Rawa (ph) indeed there is nothing, no problem, except on a small pocket in Fallujah.
So really, I call up on the responsible media throughout the world, not only here, to look at the facts as they are in Iraq and to propagate these facts to the international community.
I am not trying to undermine that there are dangers. There are dangers in Iraq. There are problems and we are facing international terrorist onslaught on Iraq. I personally have received every day a threat. In the last four weeks, they found four conspiracies to kill me. And likewise they are killing people. They are killing officials. They are killing innocent people. But the Iraqis are not deterred and we are not going to be deterred.
I went the next day and saw a recruitment center for the police after they killed, massacred 40, 45 people. I found hundreds of people coming to volunteer to the police and to the army.
I had spoke to them. They are all upbeat. They are resolved to beat terrorism and to defeat the insurgents.
These are facts that one really needs to explain it to you and you need to explain it to the people.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask about the Iraqi people. Both of you have spoken for them today, and yet over the past several months there have been polls conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority, by the Oxford Institute and other reputable organizations, that have found very strong majorities do not seeppy with American policy and want us out.
Don't the real voices of the Iraqi people themselves contradict the rosy scenarios you're painting here today?
BUSH: You said the poll was taken when the CPA was there?
BUSH: OK, let me stop you.
First of all, the Iraqi people now have got Iraqi leadership. Prime Minister Allawi and his cabinet are making decisions on behalf of the Iraqi people.
Secondly, I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. It was pretty darn strong. I mean, the people see a better future.
Talk to the leader. I agree, I'm not the expert on how the Iraqi people think, because I live in America where it's nice and safe and secure.
But I'd talk to this man. One reason I'm optimistic about our ability to get the job done is because I talk to the Iraqi prime minister.
I'm also optimistic that people will choose freedom over tyranny every time, that's what I believe.
But, Mr. Prime Minister, you might answer the question on the polls. There's a lot of polls. Sometimes they show you up and sometimes they show you down, as you might remember.
ALLAWI: Let me take a minute to explain to you something, a factual event.
I meet personally every now and then with the fringes of the so- called resistance to try and talk them into respecting law and order and throw their arms.
And I asked them, in a very honest and open way, I say to them, "What do you want to achieve? Could we know exactly what you want to achieve? Do you want to bring Saddam back from the hole in the ground living like a rat? Do you want to bring him back to rule Iraq? Or do you want to bring bin Laden or similar persons to bin Laden to rule Iraq?
"If you want to do this, we will fight you room to room, house to house. If you want to be part of the political process, you have to be part of the political process; you are welcome. If you do not want the multinational force in Iraq" -- I was talking to Fallujah people recently, to tribes, ex-army officers, ex-Saddam loyalists -- "If you want the multinational force out, win the elections, go to the United Nations, talk to the Security Council and tell them we don't need the multinational.
"But I tell you what is going to happen. If you ask the multinational force to leave prematurely" -- this is me talking to the Fallujah people -- "your country will be in ruins. And we cannot now on our feet stand and fight terrorism and global terrorism."
These are realities, and once you are in Iraq, I will be your host, I can put you together with these people in my home, and you can talk to them, and you can find out yourselves that the Iraqis tremendously, by and large, respect the United States and respect the other partners in the coalition for helping Iraq, not only in liberation, but now in helping Iraq to rebuild itself and to rebuild its institutions.
BUSH: Let me say one other thing about why I'm optimistic we'll succeed.
By the way, you can understand it's tough and still be optimistic.
You can understand how hard it is, and believe we'll succeed.
I remember when some were talking about the possibility of success in Afghanistan in pretty stark terms. I don't know if you remember that period or not, but there was a period where some were saying it's impossible for democracy to come forward in Afghanistan.
Today, 10 million citizens have registered to vote, 41 percent of whom are women. It's a phenomenal statistic, I think. I think it shows what's possible if you believe -- if you have certain beliefs from which you won't waver.
And I believe I people yearn to be free.
Again, I think if you look at polls -- which sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't admittedly -- that by far the vast majority of Iraqis want to vote. They want to live in freedom.
And the fundamental question is, do we have the will to stay? I mean, do we have the will to put a smart strategy in place? I've laid out the strategy. We're implementing the strategy. But really do we have the will to complete the mission?
And my message to the Iraqi people and to the enemy and to our troops in harm's way and to our allies is, we'll complete the mission.
QUESTION: Mr. President, for the past couple of days you have been talking about the consequences of the mixed messages you say John Kerry sends.
I want to ask you, sir, do you mean immediate consequences, not just if the senator is elected? Do you mean that the messages being said now have a negative effect on the effort in Iraq?
And does making the war in Iraq a part of the campaign also have consequences on the situation there, sir?
BUSH: Well, I think -- look, in a campaign, the war of Iraq's going to be a part of a campaign. It is -- this is a major moment in American history. These are historic times and I view it as a great opportunity to help secure our country.
As I said before, Iraq is a central part of the war on terror. And I believe it's important for us to succeed there because of that.
See 9/11 changed everything. September the 11th meant that we had to deal with a person like Saddam Hussein.
Of course, I was hoping it could be done diplomatically. But diplomacy failed. And so the last resort of a president is to use force. And we did. And now we're helping the Iraqis.
The prime minister said something very interesting a while ago and it's important for the American people to understand. Our strategy is to help the Iraqis help themselves. It's important that we train Iraqi troops. There are nearly 100,000 troops trained.
The Afghan national army is a part of the army.
By the way, it's the Afghan national army that went into Najaf and did the work there.
There's a regular army being trained, a border guard being trained, their police being trained. That's a key part of our mission.
But I think the world watches America. We're an influential nation, and everybody watches what we say. And I think it's very important for the American president to mean what he says.
That's why I understand that the enemy could misread what I say. That's why I try to be as clearly as I can. I don't want them to be emboldened by any confusion or doubt. I don't want them to think that, well, maybe all they got to do is attack, and we'll shirk our duties.
See, they've been emboldened before. They have caused certain nations to withdraw from coalitions as a result of their action. Such action reinforcing the ability for suiciders, for example, to affect free societies. I know that. I've seen firsthand the tactics of these killers.
And so therefore I think it's very important for all of us involved in the process not to send mixed signals.
I don't know what the enemy thinks today, but I do know they're watching America very carefully. I do know they want to affect other nations by their acts of murder. I do know they were emboldened when Spain withdrew from Iraq as a result of attacks on election.
And therefore, I have a duty, to our troops for starters, most importantly, not to send a mixed signal.
I want our troops to know that the sacrifices they are making are worthwhile and necessary for the security of this country. And I don't want the Iraqis to fear that, oh, all of a sudden there'll be a change of heart. That there'll be tough times politically or that you know, a poll might say something and therefore cause me to change my opinion.
I don't want them to think that because they have to make the hard choices for freedom. They have to go from a society that has been tortured by a brutal thug to a society in which they take responsibility for their daily lives. I don't want the coalition forces to feel like we were wavering.
And so I understand that people watch our words and that's an explanation of why I say what I say.
Listen, thank you all very much.
Mr. Prime Minister, I appreciate your good job. I'm proud you're here.