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Bush Offers Five-Step Strategy for Iraq's Future - 2004-05-25


President Bush says he has a clear strategy for the future of Iraq. Mr. Bush laid out his plan at a time when U.S. public opinion polls show falling support for his handling of the situation in Iraq.

President Bush says U.S. troops in Iraq are not only fighting insurgents but are also battling to make life better for the Iraqi people.

"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," he says. "And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done."

Mr. Bush, speaking at the U.S. Army's war college in Pennsylvania, said that there are five steps to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom: handing power to a sovereign government, establishing security, rebuilding infrastructure, encouraging more international support and moving toward national elections.

The first step is the scheduled June 30 hand-over of power which Mr. Bush says will follow the outlines of U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That calls for a president, two vice presidents, and a prime minister leading to a cabinet with 26 ministers who will be advised by a national council chosen by Iraqis.

To help establish security, the president says U.S. troops will remain in Iraq under U.S. command as part of a multinational force that he hopes will be authorized by the United Nations. Iraqi security forces under Iraqi civilian control will be part of what Mr. Bush calls a strong partnership in defense of two competing visions for Iraq's future.

"History is moving, and it will tend toward hope, or tend toward tragedy," he said. "Our terrorist enemies have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder."

The president says U.S. troops are also guided by a vision to advance freedom in the Middle East and win what he calls this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty.

Mr. Bush says Washington will continue to rebuild the country's infrastructure with more than $20 billion worth of development projects.

With the approval of Iraqi's new government, Mr. Bush says America will build a new maximum security prison and demolish the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where Saddam Hussein tortured political opponents and U.S. troops abused Iraqi prisoners. "That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values," said Mr. Bush.

The president called for stronger international support for Iraq with a new U.S.-British-sponsored resolution at the United Nations that supports a new interim government and encourages U.N. members to join the reconstruction. That resolution faces doubts at the U.N. about how much sovereignty a new Iraqi government will have with more than 130,000 U.S. troops in the country.

Wrapping-up the president's plans for Iraq is a timetable for free elections by next January where Iraqis will choose a transitional national assembly to name a transitional government and draft a new constitution.

The president's speech comes at an important time for both Iraq's transition - which is five weeks away - and hopes for his own re-election this November. The speech was broadcast by the major American cable news channels but not by the more widely-watched commercial networks.

The White House did not specifically ask those networks to carry the speech as it did not include dramatically new information, but the president's political team hopes the address will shore-up falling poll numbers.

Less than half of Americans approve of the president's overall job performance according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. On Iraq, his numbers were at a personal low, with 58 percent of those polled disapproving of his handling of the situation in Iraq. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of the way he is handling the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. That is up 22 points from earlier this month.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq with just 38 percent saying they see significant progress toward establishing a democratic government there.

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