By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 8, 2007 - Coalition and Iraqi forces have reduced violence and driven al Qaeda out of strongholds in Iraq's Anbar province, President Bush said today during his first radio address since his surprise visit there earlier this week to visit troops and assess progress. "Success in Anbar is critical to the democratic future of Iraq and to the war on terror," Bush said, as he described the significance of the province that spans nearly a third of the country and until recently served as al Qaeda's main headquarters for operations throughout Iraq.
The president commended the local citizens and tribal sheiks in the region who have come together to fight the al Qaeda terrorists who have brutalized and killed those who opposed their "dark ideology."
Though a year ago it was widely reported that Anbar was lost, Bush said, local governments are again in session, young Sunnis are joining the police and the army, and normal life is returning for the province's citizens.
"The people of Anbar have seen that standing up to the terrorists and extremists leads to a better life," he said. "And Anbar has shown that improving security is the first step toward achieving economic progress and political reconciliation."
During his visit to the war-torn land, Bush met with the country's president, vice president, prime minister and deputy prime minister. Although the men come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, Bush said, they all understand the importance of success in the region.
And while he thanked them for their efforts in the "bottom-up progress," Bush said he told the men that the American people expect them to meet their commitments and pass the legislation they've agreed on.
While in Iraq, the president also met with the U.S. military's top commander in the region, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker. The two updated him on military, political and economic efforts there as they prepare to give Congress their formal assessment of conditions on the ground.
Although he visited with the Iraqi and U.S. leaders in the region, Bush said, the most important part of his trip was the opportunity to visit with U.S. troops serving in Anbar.
"Every day, these fine men and women show courage under incredibly difficult circumstances," the commander in chief said. "The work they're doing on the sands of Anbar is making us safer in the streets of America." He said their bravery and sacrifices are denying al Qaeda safe havens from which to plot and carry out attacks against Americans worldwide.
"I know how hard it is for our men and women in uniform to be away from their families," Bush said. "I told them our nation appreciates their willingness to serve and that the American people stand with them."
Bush said that following consultations next week with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his national security team, members of Congress and Iraqi leaders, he will address the American public directly.
"I will lay out a vision for future involvement in Iraq, one that I believe the American people and their elected leaders of both parties can support," he said. "By coming together on the way forward, we will strengthen Iraq's democracy, deal a blow to our enemies, secure interests in the Middle East, and make our nation safer."