WASHINGTON – GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
This weekend is a momentous time in the history of the Middle East. After choosing their leaders in free elections in January, the Iraqi people have gone to the polls to vote on a democratic constitution. This constitution is the result of months of debate and compromise by representatives of Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious communities. These leaders came together to produce a document that protects fundamental freedoms and lays the foundation for a lasting democracy. Earlier this week, the Iraqi people embraced changes to the text that have led to its endorsement by some Sunni leaders, as well as Kurdish and Shia leaders. Now the people of Iraq will have the final say.
By casting their ballots, the Iraqi people deal a severe blow to the terrorists and send a clear message to the world: Iraqis will decide the future of their country through peaceful elections, not violent insurgency.
This weekend's election is a critical step forward in Iraq's march toward democracy, and with each step the Iraqi people take, Al Qaeda's vision for the region becomes more remote. As Iraqis prepared for this election, the world learned of a letter written by a leading terrorist explaining why Iraq is the central front in their war on civilization. Al Qaeda's number two leader, a man named Zawahiri, wrote to his chief deputy in Iraq, the terrorist Zarqawi. We intercepted this letter, and we have released it to the public. In it, Zawahiri lays out why Al Qaeda views Iraq as "the place for the greatest battle" of our day.
He says that establishing al Qaeda's dominion over Iraq is the first step towards their larger goal of imposing Islamic radicalism across the broader Middle East. Zawahiri writes: "The jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals. The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq. The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq."
This letter shows that al Qaeda intends to make Iraq a terrorist haven and a staging ground for attacks against other nations, including the United States. The letter makes equally clear that the terrorists have a problem: Their campaign of murder and mayhem is turning the people against them. The letter warns Zarqawi that, "many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia." Even Al Qaeda recognizes that with every random bombing and every funeral of a child, the Muslim world sees the terrorists for what they really are: murderers at war with the Iraqi people.
These terrorists are driven by an ideology that exploits Islam to serve a violent political vision: the establishment of a totalitarian empire that denies political and religious freedom. This is why the terrorists have fought to prevent and disrupt this weekend's elections. They understand that the act of voting is a rejection of them and their distorted vision of Islam. Simply by coming out to vote, the Iraqi people have shown that they want to live in freedom, and they will not accept a return to tyranny and terror.
The terrorists know their only chance for success is to break our will and force us to retreat. The Al Qaeda letter points to Vietnam as a model. Zawahiri says: "The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam, and how they ran and left their agents, is noteworthy." Al Qaeda believes that America can be made to run again. They are gravely mistaken. America will not run, and we will not forget our responsibilities.
In Iraq, we have brought down a murderous regime. We have stood by the Iraqi people through two elections, and we will stand by them until they have established a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. When we do, Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror and a partner for peace and moderation in the Muslim world. And because America stood firm in this important fight, our children and grandchildren will be safer and more secure.
Thank you for listening.