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Rebuilding Iraq

Bush talks of a 'free' Iraq

Says Hussein ouster would lift Mideast

By Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 2/27/2003

WASHINGTON - President Bush outlined his vision for a democratic Iraq last night, preparing the nation for war with a sweeping promise to usher an ''age of progress and liberty'' into the Middle East by removing Saddam Hussein from power.

Speaking at a conservative think tank, Bush gave an optimistic forecast for the region's political future and made his most direct correlation to date between overhauling the Iraqi regime and brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

But his outlook extended beyond the borders of the Middle East. Comparing the current task to the effort to bring democracy to Germany and Japan after World War II, Bush declared that removing Hussein from power is critical to securing the future of the ''civilized world.''

''The security of our nation and the hope of millions depend on us,'' Bush said. ''Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard. We have met great tests in other times, and we will meet the tests of our time.''

He said: ''America's interests and security, and America's belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.''

Bush and his advisers have faced harsh criticism for failing to disclose how much a war and its aftermath will cost in human and financial resources. Questions have been raised around the world about the administration's commitment to remaining engaged until a stable government is in place in Baghdad. With cost estimates as high as $95 billion, and projections showing that hundreds of thousands of US soldiers could be stationed in Iraq for years, Bush sought to more fully explain the need for such an extensive commitment in the Persian Gulf.

''The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people,'' Bush said. ''Yet we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another.''

In a rare reference to ''nation-building,'' the practice he has rejected since the presidential campaign, Bush acknowledged that reconstituting Iraq will be difficult. ''Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own,'' he said.

But he promised that the commitment would not be open-ended - and drew a broad historical comparison. ''We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more,'' Bush said. ''America has made and kept this kind of commitment before - in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies; we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom.''

Dwelling at length on the broader crisis in the Middle East, Bush addressed one of the most frequent criticisms of his Iraq policy: that it would inflame passions in the region and potentially make it harder for Israelis and Palestinians to return to the peace process.

Bush argued just the opposite. ''The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated,'' he said. ''Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders.''

The president also renewed his call for the ouster of the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority, implicitly criticizing chairman Yasser Arafat for sponsoring terrorism.

''A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror,'' he said.

Though Bush frequently expresses his support for the forceful tactics of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, he also pledged to hold the Israelis accountable. He said that once the suicide bombings have stopped, Israel - and other nations in the region - will be responsible for helping a free, democratic Palestine emerge.

The speech, interrupted numerous times by applause from the audience at the American Enterprise Institute, was delivered as diplomatic negotiations over a potential war reached a new level. Earlier in the day, administration officials rejected a Canadian proposal setting a deadline of March 28 for Iraq to disarm, moving ahead toward a second UN resolution and continuing to eye mid-March as the likely start of any war in the Persian Gulf.

Bush made another pitch to the Security Council, arguing that ''if the council responds to Iraq's defiance with more excuses and delays, if all its authority proves to be empty, the United Nations will be severely weakened as a source of stability and order.'' But, he said, ''If the members rise to this moment, then the council will fulfill its founding purpose.''

While the United Nations mulls over its next steps, the Bush administration has already deployed some 180,000 land, air, and naval personnel to the Persian Gulf region - about 70,000 troops shy of the number US officials estimate they would need at the height of an attack against Iraq.

After a war, the force could grow further, reaching as large as several hundred thousand military personnel, the Army chief of staff said earlier this week, to the surprise of many congressional leaders who had assumed the task could be performed by about 100,000 troops, with the assistance of trained Iraqis.

The size and scope of a postwar US presence has been a focus of intense debate both domestically and overseas in recent weeks, especially as Pentagon officials revealed that the cost of the war could easily surpass previous estimates - reportedly reaching as high as $100 billion.

White House officials, who have largely avoided making the potential cost of a war in Iraq public, would not confirm that the military estimates had ballooned so unexpectedly.

Bush's most recent budget, which predicts a federal deficit of $307 billion next year, does not take any war or post-war costs into account, an omission that has prompted fierce criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

In a speech yesterday to the Council on Foreign Relations, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut and a presidential contender, said that Bush's failure to explain how he will pay for a war has created tensions at home and diplomatic hurdles around the world.

''To sustain a difficult policy for any length of time in a democracy, the people need to know the costs and consequences - the risks, responsibilities, and rewards,'' Lieberman said, according to a prepared text of his remarks.

Across the Bush administration, post- Hussein planning has been ongoing - much of it modeled on the experience in Afghanistan.

Bush said that the United States and its allies are moving some 3 million emergency rations into place in Iraq and are planning to reopen approximately 55,000 food distribution sites, now used in the oil-for-food program, to serve the Iraqi people as soon as US forces are in control.

He also pledged to secure the oil fields, saying that they belong to the Iraqi people, not Hussein.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/27/2003.
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