WASHINGTON – The United States wants to ensure a "real transfer" of sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30 and will stick around to make sure the fledgling government is steady on its feet, President Bush said Tuesday.
"What's imperative is that the Iraqi citizens develop a constitution that they can call their own — a constitution written and approved by Iraqis," Bush said during a White House appearance with Iraqis who received medical care in the United States after being brutalized by Saddam Hussein's (search) regime.
"As I said last night, our intention was never to have Iraq look like America. Our intention was to have Iraq be free and stable and whole — at peace with its neighbors," said Bush, who on Monday night gave a nationally-televised speech on Iraq.
Bush met in the Oval Office (search) with seven Iraqi men who, during the former Iraqi dictator's regime, were charged with doing business in U.S. dollars, had black crosses tattooed on their foreheads and had their right hands amputated — a sign of shame in the Arab world. The men were fitted with artificial hands and had their tattoos removed — compliments of Houston doctors and technicians.
With the events, the White House was aiming to remind people about the brutality of Saddam's regime and the promise of a new Iraq.
"They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant," Bush said Tuesday. "These men had their hands restored because of the generosity and love of an American citizen and I am so proud to welcome them to the Oval Office."
Bush said he assured the Iraqi men that there is a plan to help Iraq hold full elections and transfer sovereignty, secure the country, continue reconstruction projects and that he will "continue to ask the world to help."
In the speech Monday night — the first in a series of weekly addresses before the historic power transfer — Bush warned that violence would continue as Iraq moves to independence and freedom, but said that any strife would not succeed in deterring the U.S.-led coalition's goals.
"America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend — a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf. And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done," the president said at the Army War College (search) in Carlisle, Pa.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, several news outlets reported that Bush was planning to appoint a new, higher-ranking military commander for Iraq that likely would replace Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez (search) as the top general on the ground.
But senior military sources told Fox News that it isn't unusual for commanding generals to rotate out after one year. However, Sanchez had said he would stay as long as possible to assist with the June 30 handover of political power to Iraqis.
Sanchez "has done a fabulous job," Bush said Tuesday. "He's been in the service a long time … his service has been exemplary," adding that the Defense Department would have further comment.
Bush Assures World: 'We'll Be There to Help'
On Monday, U.S. and British officials presented a draft of a new Iraq resolution to the U.N. Security Council — a blueprint for a post-occupation Iraqi government.
But French President Jacques Chirac said Tuesday that the draft needs further discussion. Leading up to the war, France led the opposition charge at the United Nations to prevent the U.S.-led war and wanted to continue the then-fruitless weapons inspections.
Chirac's office said the French head of state told Bush in a telephone conversation that there must be a "real" transfer of power to Iraqis on June 30, Reuters reported. Chirac did not say what France wanted changed in the draft.
Bush said he had a "great conversation" with Chirac.
"We share the same goal — a free and peaceful and stable Iraq," Bush said. "They want to make sure that the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government is a real transfer and that's what we want. We want there to be a complete and real transfer of sovereignty so that the Iraqi citizens realize the fate of their country is now their responsibility and we'll be there to help and we'll help in a variety of ways."
Many supported Bush's move to ask the United Nations to have more of a role in the post-handover process.
"In spite of the U.N.'s past record of corruption and limited utility in protecting the Iraqi people, President Bush sees the promise and potential of the United Nations," said Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., admonished Republicans who have been backsliding in their support for the president.
"This is important enough for Americans to die for, it's important enough for us to stick together as a party and support our commander-in-chief," King told Fox News. "Any Republican who was not won over really wasn't listening or didn't want to listen."
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said many of Bush's principles "we've heard before" and now Bush needs to "genuinely reach out to our allies so the United States doesn't have to continue to go it alone."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said lawmakers need to quit the political sniping and taking jabs at the president on Iraq and instead work together to resolve the situation there.
Lawmakers should stop the "two-bit mouthing and bad mouthing" to score "BS political points," Hatch told Fox News, adding, "I'm getting sick of it."
"We're gradually winning this; if we stick it through, we're gonna have the first representative form of government in the Middle East and it's gonna put pressure on everybody else ... to get rid of the terrorists," Hatch added.
Five Points and the End of a Prison
In his speech Monday night, Bush laid out a five-point plan:
- hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government;
- help establish security;
- continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure;
- encourage more international support;
- move toward a national election "that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people."
The United States would also demolish Abu Ghraib prison and build a new detention facility to provide humane conditions to criminals, the president said.
Bush said if commanders requested more troops, he would send them. Even after the transfer of sovereignty, U.S. troops would still be under American command.
Bush listed several achievements that have been made, including the training of an Iraqi army that will be 260,000-strong. He also said that several nations have relieved Iraq's debt to them; many local governments are operating; a new currency is being traded and Iraq is producing 2 million barrels of oil each day, which has brought in $6 billion so far this year.
Observers applauded Bush's emphasis on the importance of Iraqis taking the reins in securing and governing their own country.
Samir Samaid'ie, Iraq's new interior minister, told Fox News that terrorists in Iraq will continue to try to disrupt the transfer of sovereignty and if they fail, they will try to disrupt Jan. 31 elections, so it's vial for Iraqis to stand firm and see the elections through.
"Iraqis need to "make sure the terrorists … cannot change the course of this country," he said. "The only way they [insurgents] can regain the country is from chaos … they will not succeed, the bulk of the people are not with them."
Fox News' Sharon Kehnemui and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.