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Bush: US Will Not Impose a Government on Iraq - 2003-04-24

President Bush says he has faith in the ability of the Iraqi people to live in peace and freedom, and stresses they will ultimately decide their nation's fate.

The president was greeted with cheers at a defense plant in the state of Ohio that produces army tanks.

He gave the crowd a review of the war effort, and an assessment of the work that lies ahead.

"There are still dangers and challenges to remain," he said. "But one thing is certain. Saddam Hussein is no longer in power!"

The president said the current demonstrations in Iraq are a sign that freedom is taking root, and people know they can speak out or practice their faith without fear of reprisal.

"When Saddam was the dictator and you spoke your mind, he would cut out your tongue, and leave you to bleed to death in a town square. No fooling. That is how he dealt with dissidents," said Mr. Bush. "Today in Iraq, there is discussion, debate, protest, all the hallmarks of liberty."

Mr. Bush said progress is being made, and the United States wants to help. But he stressed that the future of Iraq is up to the Iraqi people, not Washington.

"Iraq must be democratic," said President Bush. "And as new Iraqi leaders begin to emerge, we will work with them. But one thing is certain, we will not impose a government on Iraq."

The president said the coalition will work in Iraq until its mission is complete including tracking down the truth about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. He noted the ousted regime spent years hiding such arms from United Nations inspectors.

"And so it is going to take time to find them. But we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them, or hid them, we are going to find out the truth," stressed the President. "And one thing is for certain, Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction."

The president spent most of the day in Ohio, a state that could be important to a re-election bid. Before his speech on Iraq in the town of Lima, he delivered an address in Canton on the economy. Overall, his message to the American public was that while he is concerned about events abroad, he is taking action to tackle domestic problems at home.