Armitage & Iraqi Interim President Ghazi Al-Yawar
Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary
of State; Iraqi Interim Government
President Ghazi Al-Yawar
Thomas Jefferson Room
December 6, 2004
(12:45 p.m. EST)
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: President Al-Yawar, distinguished Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, let me welcome you all to this magnificent Thomas Jefferson Room, which I always hasten to add when Members of Congress are present, is furnished through the generosity of private donors. (Laughter.) We wouldn't want you to think that we've spent those budget increases you were kind enough to give us on chandeliers and on new drapes.
This room was named, of course, for the man who wrote the American Declaration of Independence. I should point out, however, that the room next door, which is even more magnificent, was named for his editor. Of course, we would all be writing bestsellers if we could claim Benjamin Franklin as an editor.
It is certainly fitting that we gather here today surrounded by the images and the artifacts of the men and women who founded this nation. Ultimately, each brought different views and various skills to the grand undertaking, but all held a common conviction and the courage to put their fortunes, their reputations, their very lives on the line for the freedom of this country.
Well, I am humbled to be here today to honor another great patriot, one who shares that selfless commitment to freedom, President Ghazi Al-Yawar. As an engineer and as an entrepreneur, President Al-Yawar is a man of the modern world. Indeed, he has a Master's Degree from George Washington University. At the same time, he embodies the most noble traditions of a proud and of an ancient people, including the loyalty and the generosity of spirit that is common across Iraq's tribes and clans.
As a leader, he is facing great challenges with formidable personal courage and he is an inspiration to millions of Iraqis following in his footsteps. They are the ones who put on a police uniform every morning, who open the doors to their shops and send their children to school. They are the ones who seek to build something better for the future in defiance of terrorists and criminals who would rule their streets and return the country to a reign of brutality.
This Iraqi majority is struggling alongside allied forces and civilians with countless acts of individual heroism and sacrifice, and because of their collective efforts the country is engaged in a vigorous political debate in preparation for elections next month. Alliances and coalitions are taking shape. Iraqis are working to privatize their economy, to rebuild their shattered infrastructure and re-forge the links of civil society broken in decades past. Women are standing up and speaking out and playing an increasingly prominent role in the new Iraq.
Of course, any day that brings us news of the death of an American service member or an innocent Iraqi civilian reminds us that we still have a long way to go. Back in 1781, after the defeat of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, a friend said to Benjamin Franklin, "It looks as if the battle for independence is finally over." Franklin responded, "Sir, you are mistaken. The Revolutionary War may be over, but the battle for independence has just begun."
In a sense, the battle for Iraq's independence has just begun. But someday, when we look back on this time, I believe we will see the roots of our success in the determination of ordinary Iraqis and the dedication of leaders like President Ghazi Al-Yawar.
Mr. President, you can be certain of the enduring commitment of the American people in this battle. Indeed, as you look around this room, you will see a diverse group of diplomats and politicians, activists and entrepreneurs. We're not all of one mind, of course, but we've all demonstrated in some way our support for the people of Iraq. And, in turn, we know we can be certain that your commitment to freedom will help deliver the better future your people deserve.
Sir, we are honored today to be in your company. Thank you.
PRESIDENT AL-YAWAR: Thank you very much for the kind words and I'm really honored and pleased being here today at Department of State meeting all the distinguished ladies and gentlemen from all different entities of the American society, let's say, not government only.
It's been my pleasure coming back here to the United States and connecting with the American public and American administration, too. Right now in Iraq we have a fight which is reaching a critical moment. We are seeing the birth of a democracy. We firmly believe that democracy is not a target that we are looking for; democracy is the means to have a prosperous country that's Iraq. We in Iraq believe very much that all the fear talking about civil wars is baseless, and history can attest to that. We never, ever, over 7,000 years when we had on the shores of the two rivers the first civilization and the first law was written, still today we never had a single incident of violence based on ethnicity or sect or religion in Iraq.
Unfortunately, we were plagued with dictators, a bunch of them. Whoever wakes up earlier in the morning assumes power until there comes a vicious dictator who stopped everything and owned the country and paralyzed the minds and the souls of Iraqi people, took away dignity of Iraqis. A year and a half ago, or almost two years ago, there was a battle or a fight for liberating Iraq, a surgical solution that had to take place. At that time, before it started, I was one of the people who were skeptical of it. Then, every time I look at it and I see that Saddam has established a dynasty of villains, there was no other way but to go and have a surgical solution.
Right now, we are recuperating out of the surgery. I'm not a doctor, but I'm just using medical expressions here. Yes, it's tough. Yes, it's terrible now. But we have guts and we have determination in Iraq. All Iraqis, and I mean all Iraqis, are on this side. Many, or some of the Iraqi public, are scared and frightened by these enemies of the human race, armies of darkness. They have no ideology. They have no faces. They have no leaderships.
What do they want? Can we sit and talk to them? No, we can't. There are no faces, no political leadership. What do they want? They want to incite a civil war in Iraq based on ethnicity in certain areas where different ethnicities coexist and based on sectarian bases where different sects coexist.
We cannot let them do so. And some people say it's possible to win. I don't say that. I say we must win and we're going to win. Why? Because they are a timely enemy. Because they have no roots in the Iraqi society. People are not accepting them. People are terrified by them. They are more like, I would say, a hoodlum or a mob. And this is the case in Iraq today. We're going to fight them. We're going to try to open our arms for all Iraqis who have not had their hands stained with Iraqi blood. But we will not retreat. We will not let them win.
Elections are an issue that we've been talking about. We have set a date nine months ago. Unfortunately, suddenly, a month ago, people woke up and saw that there will be elections, and now asking for postponement. I'm an Iraqi, first of all and foremost. I come from a unique case where I have constituency of more than 60 percent Shiite and 40 percent Sunni, and even Kurds might vote for me. I don't have certain constituency. I cannot confine myself into a certain side of the Iraqi society. The only thing we have in common in Iraq is our Iraqi identity. We are 26 million of a diversity of ethnicities, religions, sects. The only thing we have in common is our Iraqi pride, our Iraqi identity.
There is no boycott desire in the streets of Iraq. It's a word that politicians use to bluff each other and try to frighten each other. But rest assured, everybody in Iraq wants to cast their votes. Yes, there are people who are deprived because of these people, because of the enemy who are slaughtering human beings, who are committing a lot of atrocities. We still have about two months to work on it. I hope that everybody will be there.
It is very important that we have a national assembly that is balanced where, when I say balanced, I don't mean you have to have these labels of Shiites and Kurds and Turkomen and that. I mean all components of the Iraqi society has to be participating because we are going to draft our constitution and it has to be a credible body that Iraqi people trust and have confidence in.
This will take place next month, and I'm not going to say hopefully. I'm saying it's going to take place by the will of God because it is important that it takes place. I think it would be a solution to many of our problems. These people are reaching climax because their main objective right now is to stop us from having these elections, and if they succeed in doing so they will have a tactical victory. It won't be a strategic victory because no matter how long, they go on to fail, we go on to prevail.
Well, I'm here on behalf of the Iraqi people to express our gratitude and thankfulness to the American people, the people of the United States and the leadership, and to send our feelings of sympathy to the families of the lost ones in the quest for a democratic and free Iraq. After all, the United States is the leader of the free world, and if you are a leader you've got to be a leader in all senses. You cannot have the positive of leadership and leave the negatives. But after all, in a major way it's a positive.
I don't want to keep talking here. I know everybody probably is hungry now and people have to go and attend to other work, but I just want to say God bless you all and thank you very much.
Released on December 6, 2004