Addressing Congress, the Iraqi prime minister has described the war against terrorism as a conflict between genuine Islam and extremists seeking to undermine it. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqis have gone from dictatorship, mass graves and torture chambers to a young democracy with respect for human rights.
Now that Iraqis have seen freedom, Prime Minister Maliki said, they are willing to defend it absolutely against those who would attempt to destroy it.
Declaring liberty and freedom universal ideals for humanity, he said Iraqis demonstrated repeatedly by turning out for elections that they will always choose democracy.
Those fighting his government, he added, seek to use Islam for their own purposes, and he sought to reassure American lawmakers about his government's commitment to the fight.
"I know that some of you here question whether Iraq is part of the war on terror," he said. "Let me be very clear. This is a battle between true Islam, for which a person's liberty and rights constitute essential cornerstones, and terrorism which wraps itself in a fake Islamic cloak, in reality, wages a war on Islam and Muslims and values."
Mr. Maliki repeated both his determination to disband militias, and an offer of reconciliation to groups, "willing to accept the logic of dialogue and participation."
Multinational forces, he said, should not leave until the battle against terrorism is won, but he said Iraqis have the will to defeat terrorists who "would never be able to recover."
"But let our enemies not mistake our outstretched hand for forgiveness as a sign of weakness," he said. "Whoever chooses violence against the people of Iraq, then the fate that awaits them will be the same as the terrorist [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi."
Addressing congressional worries about the slow pace of efforts to rebuild Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki said reconstruction in volatile areas should fuel economic growth for the rest of Iraq, but he appealed to Congress and other countries for assistance.
Although lawmakers frequently responded to Mr. Maliki with applause, his speech was briefly disrupted by a woman wearing a white T-shirt with the words "[U.S.] Troops Home Now."
"Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now. Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now," she said.
Security officials removed the protester from the House chamber, but the incident was highly-unusual during an address by a foreign leader to a joint meeting of Congress.
Not mentioned in the Iraqi leader's speech was the controversy over his recent remark in which he accused Israel of aggression in its conflict with the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
After the address, Democratic senators expressed disappointment, calling general Iraqi government condemnations of terrorism insufficient.
On the prime minister's remarks about the military situation in Iraq, Senator Richard Durbin says the address has not dispelled concerns.
"The fact that we now have to increase the number of American soldiers in Baghdad, the area where we have focused more force than any other area part of Iraq, is an indication of instability in that country that continues," he said. "We cannot ignore the fact that what is going on in Iraq today is, if not a civil war, very close to it."
After addressing Congress, the Iraqi prime minister traveled with President Bush and four lawmakers to a U.S. Army base just outside of Washington, where the two leaders met with approximately 200 U.S. military personnel.