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Bush: U.S. Won't Leave Iraq When Govt Formed

Bush: U.S. Won't Leave Iraq When Provisional Government Formed

Assures group of prominent Iraqi women in Oval Office meeting

By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent

Washington -- President Bush said November 17 that the United States will not pull out of Iraq when a provisional government is established there.

Bush made the promise in a meeting in the Oval Office with five prominent Iraqi women who told the president of the hardships they had suffered under Saddam Hussein.

"I assured these five women that America wasn't leaving," Bush said.

"When they hear me say we're staying, that means we're staying," Bush said.

Under an agreement, announced November 15, between the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S. administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, a provisional Iraqi government is to be formed by June. It is to be named by a transitional assembly by the end of May. A constitution is to be drafted before the end of 2005.

Bush called the meeting with the Iraqi women "one of the most extraordinary meetings" he'd had as president.

The group included two members of the Iraqi Governing Council, two members of the Baghdad City Advisory Council, and a representative of a nongovernmental organization in the Kurdish region of the country.

"I'm seated here with five courageous, brave Iraqi women who believe in the people of Iraq, believe in the future of Iraq, who love their freedoms, who look forward to working to see that their nation is a free and peaceful country," Bush said.

"The stories of these five courageous leaders is a story of human tragedy, on the one hand, and human hope, on the other. And I am so honored that they're here."

One of the group, Raja Habib Khuzai, told reporters that "all of us are different ethnic and religious groups, but we are from Iraq. And we are all Iraqis. And Iraq is just one nation. And we are looking forward to see the new, democratic Iraq, and everyone will live in peace. We don't like wars anymore, and we suffered a lot."

Songul Chapouk, also from the Iraqi Governing Council, said she was from the Turkoman community, and "it's a pleasure for me to be in America. I work for my people.... We all like Iraq. We all like America. And we don't want them to leave us.

"We need them, because we have open borders, and we don't have army and we don't have trained policemen, so we need them at this time. And we ask them to not leave us, please, at this time, because this is a very, very difficult condition for us. Our children like you, our children want you to stay, and all Iraqi people like your forces. Thank you very much."

Bush said the terrorists want to try to drive the United States forces out of Iraq "before these leaders and other leaders are able to put their government together and live in peace. And we will succeed, we will succeed."

He said the Iraqi people "are plenty capable of governing themselves. We're in the process now of working with the Governing Council to put in place the necessary laws so that people feel comfortable about the evolution of the government. The Governing Council itself is going to be making these decisions, and it's full of capable people."

But he made clear that the United States will continue to work with the Iraqi people to secure Iraq.

"We fully recognize that Iraq has become a new front on the war on terror, and that there are disgruntled Baathists, as well as Fedayeen fighters and Mujahidin types and al Qaeda types, that want to test the will of the civilized world there," he said.

"And we will work with Iraqis to bring people to justice. We talked about the high price the Iraqi citizens are paying. There's a lot of brave and courageous Iraqi soldiers and police who are chasing down these terrorists, and they're paying a price for it.

"And the reason I bring that up is the Iraqi people want to be free. And we will continue to work with them to develop a free society. And a free Iraq is not only in the interests of these five courageous women; a free Iraq is in our interests. A free Iraq in a part of the world is troublesome and dangerous will set such a good example. We're talking about an historic opportunity to change parts of the world, and Iraq will be the leader of that change."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that the agreement announced by the Iraqi Governing Council over the weekend "sets in course a process for transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people by the end of May."

This is an important step "toward achieving a free, peaceful and prosperous future for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people are well on their way toward realizing that important goal," McClellan said.

He noted that the Iraqi Governing Council has said it would expect coalition forces to remain on the ground in Iraq as "invited guests" even after the interim government is in place.

The security of Iraq "is a very high priority," McClellan said. "And we will continue to have discussions with the Governing Council as we move forward. And then we will continue to have discussions with the new interim government, once it is in place, about the security matters."

The Iraqi people have indicated in a number of different ways, he said, such as opinion polls and statements by Governing Council representatives, "that they want us to stay until the job is finished. And part of that job is making sure that we have a secure environment for the Iraqi people.

"We still have important obligations that will need to be fulfilled. That includes the security side; that includes the reconstruction side. There are enormous amount of resources that are going into Iraq from the international community. All of us have a stake in seeing a peaceful and free Iraq come about.

"It's important to transforming the Middle East. The Middle East has been a volatile region that has been a breeding ground for terrorism. And bringing about a free, peaceful, and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will help transform that region for the better and bring about a safer and better world."

McClellan said Bush's meeting with the Iraqi women leaders was "an opportunity for the president to reaffirm our commitment to bringing about a free, peaceful and prosperous Iraq for the Iraqi people."

It was "also an opportunity for the president to express his longstanding support for full participation of Iraqi women in the political transition, reconstruction efforts, and the future of Iraq," the press secretary said.

Following the Oval Office meeting, Bush met in a nearby room with the entire group of 17 Iraqi women visiting Washington.

Following is biographical information of the five participants in the Oval Office meeting as released by the White House.

Raja Habib Khuzai, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is from the southern city of Ad Diwaniyah. She holds degrees in obstetrics and gynecological health from the University of London. For the past several years, she has directed a hospital in Ad Diwaniyah and taught at the local medical college. Ms. Khuzai is the president of the Women's Organization in Ad Diwaniyah and founder of the Women's Health Center in Baghdad. She is the founder of Widow's Care Organization. She seeks to develop a women's health strategy for post-war Iraq, with particular attention to screening and the early detection of cancer in women.

Songul Chapouk, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is from Baghdad. She is trained as an engineer and teacher. Ms. Chapouk, who is a Turkoman, is the founder of the Iraqi Women's Organization in Kirkuk, which aims to organize women from all communities in Iraq.

Nessreen Haydir Qader, from Baghdad, is a member of the Baghdad City Advisory Council representing the Rashid District. Dr. Qader is the chief of laboratories for a local health clinic in Baghdad and holds a master's degree in microbiology from Baghdad University, with a speciality in virology. She joined the Citizens Advisory Council to serve the community and to help establish democracy in Iraq. She is very active in the council's committees, serving on the Women and Children, Economy and Development, Public Relations, and Health and Environment committees. One of her priorities is expanding the infant vaccination program she has fostered in conjunction with the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Siham Hattab Hamdan, from Baghdad, is a member of the Baghdad City Advisory Council and former vice chairperson representing the Sadr City district. In her current position, Ms. Hamdan serves on the Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Public Relations, and Women and Children committees. She obtained her master's degree at Mustansiriya University, where she is currently a lecturer in English Literature. Among other projects, she is working to establish women's centers in Sadr City.

Ala Tahsin Talabani, from Kurdistan, is a woman NGO leader. She is an advocate for Kurdish and women's rights. She has met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and contributed to a number of British and Arab newspaper and magazine articles on the state of Iraq and its Kurdish population. Ms. Talabani has organized and chaired a number of conferences on women's political participation in post-war Iraq. She co-founded Women for a Free Iraq in February 2003 and the Iraqi Women's High Council in October 2003.

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