Bush: 'We Have Kept Our Word'
Bush said he thought Allawi's request "was a smart thing to do" because terrorists were targeting the scheduled transfer. He also called it "a sign of confidence" by the new leaders.
"The final decision was by Prime Minister Allawi, and he thought it would strengthen his hand," Bush said. Aides said that was a reference to the ability both to crack down on terrorists and to go to power brokers in Iraqi communities to encourage them to keep peace among their people.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to about a hundred White House reporters, said: "We have said all along that we believe that the terrorists on the ground were going to do everything they can do, literally and figuratively, to blow up the handover of sovereignty. It's clear today that that hasn't taken place."
In a reflection of the dire conditions in Iraq as the interim government assumes power, Bush and Blair said that they would not be surprised if Allawi imposed martial law, and that they would support him if he did.
Bush asserted that Iraq's leaders "understand what we know, that the best way to defend yourself is to go on the offense and find the killers before they kill." Pointing to a picture of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian linked to al Qaeda who has asserted responsibility for killing foreign hostages in Iraq, Bush said Allawi "may decide he's going to have to take some tough measures to deal with a brutal, coldblooded killer."
Blair agreed, saying Allawi was "faced with a group of people who will kill any number of people and who will do the most terrible acts of barbarity . . . to stop them getting a democratic and stable country."
The two leaders pledged to continue to protect Iraq's infrastructure and people. "Iraq today still has many challenges to overcome -- we recognize that," Bush said. "The United States military and our coalition partners have made a clear, specific and continuing mission in Iraq. As we train Iraqi security forces, we'll help those forces to find and destroy killers. . . .
"Iraqis' prime minister and president have told me that their goal is to eventually take full responsibility for the security of their country, and America wants Iraqi forces to take that role. Our military will stay as long as the stability of Iraq requires and only as long as their presence is needed and requested by the Iraqi government."
Blair said: "From now on, the coalition changes. We are there in support of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people."
Bush and Blair used their 34-minute news conference to make a case for their home audiences that the invasion, which was never popular in Britain and has lost majority support in the United States, was worth the cost.
Like Bush, Blair pointed to Iraq as a potential example for the greater Middle East. "If Iraq becomes a stable and democratic country -- and I'm not underestimating for a single instant the difficulties in doing that, incidentally -- but if it does, that is a huge blow to the propaganda and to the efforts of the extremists," Blair said.
Bush was in a jovial mood, winking at a few reporters when the cameras were on Blair, but used somber tones when it was his turn to speak. An aide explained: "He knows that 10 hours after he walks off the stage, something terrible could happen in Baghdad."
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