By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 27, 2007 - President Bush today praised Iraqi leaders for an agreement that will allow former low-level Baath Party officials to serve in the Iraqi government. The agreement helps meet one of the specific benchmarks set by U.S. legislators and shows progress in the political arena, Bush said during a stop at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.
Iraqi President Jalal Talibani; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi; Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi; and Massoud Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, hammered out the agreement and announced the breakthrough yesterday in Baghdad. The agreement still must pass the Iraqi parliament, but U.S. officials are hopeful for its success, since the men represent the largest sects in Iraq.
"I congratulate Iraq's leaders on the agreement reached yesterday in Baghdad," Bush said in New Mexico. "These leaders ... recognize the true and meaningful reconciliation that needs to take place, and they recognize this is a process. Yesterday's agreement reflects their commitment to work together for the benefit of all Iraqis to further the process."
The agreement will begin to establish new power-sharing arrangements, the president said. It also commits to supporting bottom-up security and political initiatives and advances agreement among Iraq's leadership on several key legislative benchmarks.
Reforming the de-Baathification law has been a top priority for the Iraqi government, along with a hydrocarbon law and a revenue-sharing law. Sunni Arabs held many positions of responsibility in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, and Shiia Arabs and Kurds worry that the Sunni minority will return to power.
Bush called the agreement an important step, but said he reminded Iraqi leaders in phone calls that much more needs to be done.
"The Iraqi parliament will convene again in early September, and it will need to act to codify this political progress," he said.
The president said the United States will continue to help the Iraqi people succeed. "Success in Iraq will be a major blow to the extremists and radicals who would like to attack America again," he said. "And that's why the United States will continue to support Iraq's leaders and all the Iraqi people in their efforts to overcome the forces of terror that seek to overthrow a nascent democracy."