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Bush: 'Freedom Taking Hold' in Iraq - 2003-08-09


U.S. President George Bush says U.S. troops in Iraq have made "remarkable progress" since the end of most of the fighting there.

Mr. Bush said coalition forces in Iraq are on the offensive against members of the former government, making the country more secure in the 100 days since he declared an end to major combat operations.

"Freedom is taking hold in that country, as people gain confidence that the former regime is never coming back," he said. "One hundred days is not enough time to undo the terrible legacy of Saddam Hussein. There is difficult and dangerous work ahead that requires time and patience."

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said U.S. troops are seizing stockpiles of weapons, while helping to establish a new Iraqi army and police force.

He says the country's economy is also starting to rebound, with coalition troops recovering hundreds of millions of dollars from the former regime to pay civil servants, including teachers, whose pay, he says, is four times higher than before the invasion.

"Every day, Iraq is making progress in rebuilding its economy," said president Bush. "In Baghdad, the banks have opened, and other banks will open across the country in the coming months. This fall, new bank notes will be issued, replacing the old ones bearing the former dictator's image. And Iraq's energy industry is once again serving the interests of the Iraqi people."

The president says more than a million barrels of crude oil and over two million gallons of gasoline are now being produced in Iraq every day.

Mr. Bush says the country's 25-member transitional Governing Council is drawing up a budget, and will soon begin drafting a new constitution. At the local level, he says, all major cities and most towns now have municipal councils.

He again linked the invasion of Iraq with his administration's broader fight against international terrorism, saying the fall of Saddam Hussein has made the world a better place.

"Our country and the nations of the Middle East are now safer," he said. "We're keeping our word to the Iraqi people by helping them to make their country an example of democracy and prosperity throughout the region. This long-term undertaking is vital to peace in that region and to the security of the United States."

Preventing the former Iraqi regime from helping terrorists gain weapons of mass destruction was the president's biggest justification for invading Iraq. So far, none of those chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons has been found.

That has opened the president to criticism from Congressional Democrats, some of whom are running for president next year. Mr. Bush Friday dismissed that criticism as "pure politics" and says it will get worse as the election draws closer.

In the Democratic radio address, Texas Congressman Charlie Stenholm criticized the president's tax cuts for contributing to a federal deficit that he says will make it harder for Americans to find work.

The U.S. economy has lost more than three million jobs since President Bush came to office. He says that is the result of recession, the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.