Bush: 'We Have Kept Our Word'
Celebration of Shift in Baghdad Mixed With Caution on Future
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; Page A18
ISTANBUL, June 28 -- President Bush celebrated the transfer of political authority in Iraq on Monday as the fulfillment of his promises to a broken country, but warned that violence and the U.S. military presence in the country are unlikely to end soon.
"After decades of brutal rule by a terror regime, the Iraqi people have their country back," Bush said at a summit of NATO leaders in Turkey, standing beside his partner in the war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush said the transfer, moved up two days to avert what the White House feared would be spectacular attacks by insurgents on June 30, "marks a proud moral achievement for members of our coalition."
"We pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed and to restore sovereignty," he said. "We have kept our word."
The president's aides portrayed the handoff, just more than four months before Bush is up for reelection, as a political victory for the president, saying it would suggest to voters that he has a plan for establishing a democratic, peaceful Iraq and bringing U.S. troops home.
During a morning session at the NATO meeting, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, received an update from the U.S. administrator of the Iraq occupation, L. Paul Bremer, then passed Bush a note. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was between them, grinned as he read the note, which officials later released. It read: "Mr. President, Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 AM Iraq time -- Condi."
Bush, using one of the thick black pens he uses to sign autographs, scrawled "Let Freedom Reign!" and sent it back to her. He checked his watch and whispered to Blair, who was sitting next to him in the front row, and the two shook hands.
Bush and Blair spoke after the NATO leaders agreed that the alliance would help the interim Iraqi government train security forces. The statement said NATO would consider "further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions."
It left unanswered questions of how many people the training would cover and whether it would take place inside or outside Iraq, reflecting continuing discord between some European governments and the war allies.
The White House said the statement demonstrated that leaders of the free world were beginning to put the bitterness of the past year's divisions over the war behind them.
But French President Jacques Chirac continued to differ with the United States, saying that any such training should not take place in Iraq because it is not "NATO's role to intervene in Iraq."
Chirac also had sharp words for Bush's call this weekend for the European Union to set a date to begin negotiations toward admitting Turkey. "If President Bush really said that the way I read it, well, not only did he go too far, but he went into a domain which is not his own," Chirac told reporters at the summit.
In other business, the NATO leaders also agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan to bolster security during elections planned for September. The force of 6,500 ground troops would increase by no more than 2,200, with 1,200 to 2,000 more troops on standby outside Afghanistan.
White House officials said Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, had asked for the early handoff and that Bush had been considering the idea for more than a week. Late Sunday afternoon, aides visiting Bush's hotel suite here before a black-tie dinner told him that Allawi had decided Monday should be the day.
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