President Bush today welcomed the formation of an interim Iraqi government in preparation for a transfer of sovereignty at the end of the month, hailing the new administration's members as strong leaders and patriots who value the continued presence of U.S. troops but are unafraid to criticize the United States.
In an appearance in the White House Rose Garden that turned into a news conference, Bush said, "The naming of the new interim government brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of millions of Iraqis: a fully sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs."
But he also warned, as have U.S. military commanders, that more violence can be expected in Iraq as the U.S.-led occupying coalition there turns over political power to the interim government on June 30.
"Yes, I believe there will be more violence because there's still violent people who want to stop progress," Bush said in response to a question during his 35-minute appearance. But he vowed that insurgents and foreign terrorists in Iraq are "not going to shake our will."
He said the formation of the new government represents "a major step toward the emergence of a free Iraq" and "a very hopeful day" for the Iraqi and American people.
Bush's remarks came after the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the new Iraqi interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, announced a government that also includes a president, two deputy presidents, a deputy prime minister, 26 cabinet ministers and five ministers of state.
Bush praised Allawi as "a strong leader" who had survived assassination attempts by the regime of Saddam Hussein and who "has always been an Iraqi patriot." He said he was especially grateful for comments today in which he said Allawi "thanked the American people" for helping Iraq "become a free country."
The president also expressed appreciation for Allawi's statements on Iraq's need to work with the forces of the U.S.-led coalition to provide security for national elections in January.
"Mr. Allawi said today the troops need to be there," Bush said. "And we look forward to working with the Iraq prime minister and the Iraq defense minister to help secure the country."
Asked if he were confident that the interim government wants U.S. troops to stay in Iraq at least for the short term, Bush said, "I am confident, yes, sir. And I'm confident because of the remarks of Mr. Allawi. And I am told by people on the ground there that . . . they, the Iraqis, feel comfortable in asking for us to stay so that we can help provide the security."
Bush said he realized that "there is a deep desire by the Iraqis" to handle their own security. "But I know that they're not going to ask us to depart until they're comfortable in that position."
Questioned about criticism of the United States from some members of the new government, notably the interim president, Ghazi Yawar, Bush said the most important qualification for the leadership was to be "loyal to the Iraqi people." He added, "It's a government with which I believe we can work. . . . What I'm most for is for people who are willing to work toward a free Iraq. . . . And if there's some criticism of the United States, so be it. The end result is a peaceful Iraq in the heart of the Middle East."
Bush said he had "no role in picking" the Iraqi government, "zero." He said Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, had been the "quarterback" in that process and had made the selections. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which dissolved itself today to give way to the interim government, "simply opined" about the choices for the new administration but did not impose them on Brahimi, Bush said.
"I think it's instructive that Mr. Brahimi picked leaders who are willing to speak their mind, which is fine with me," Bush said. "I fully understand a leader willing to speak their mind."
Bush urged the interim government to send a representative to the United Nations soon to help make the case for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would endorse the transfer of sovereignty and the continued presence of a U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.