By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 12, 2008 - The situation in Iraq has improved significantly over the past year, and that progress is enabling some U.S. troops to return home, President Bush today told reporters in Kuwait. "Iraq is now a different place from one year ago. Much hard work remains, but levels of violence are significantly reduced," Bush, who is continuing his week-long trip across the Middle East, told reporters at Camp Arifjan.
The president had previously met in Kuwait with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq. Petraeus's "surge" strategy of adding 30,000 troops to pursue insurgents and disrupt their operations and the emergence of anti-al Qaeda concerned citizens groups in Anbar province and other areas are credited for reducing the violence across Iraq in recent months.
"Hope is returning to Baghdad, and hope is returning to towns and villages throughout the country," Bush said. Iraqis who had fled the violence "are beginning to return and rebuild their lives," the president added.
Al Qaeda in Iraq remain dangerous, but the terror group has been dealt "heavy blows" in recent months, Bush said, by U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces, as well as the concerned citizens groups. Terrorists now face "a growing uprising of ordinary Iraqis who want to lead peaceful lives," Bush said.
The president also pointed to evidence revealing Iranian complicity in stoking violence and unrest in Iraq. "Iran's role in fomenting violence has been exposed. Iranian agents are in our custody, and we are learning more about how Iran has supported extremist groups with training and lethal aid," Bush said.
However, Iraqi soldiers and police have taken more responsibility for security in their country over the past year and have targeted the terrorists with a surge of 100,000 additional forces, the president said.
Additionally, "tens of thousands of concerned local citizens are protecting their communities, and working with coalition and Iraqi forces to ensure al Qaeda cannot return," Bush said. The Iraqi government is distributing oil-generated revenue across the country, he noted, to fuel reconstruction projects to follow the security gains.
"And, from Kirkuk to Ramadi, to Karbala to Baghdad, the people of Iraq – Sunni, Shiia and Kurd – are coming together at the grassroots (level) to build a common future," the president said.
The improvement in the situation is enabling the redeployment of some U.S. forces from Iraq, Bush said, noting that an Army brigade and a Marine expeditionary unit have already departed without being replaced.
"In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit," Bush said. Any future troop reductions, he said, would be based on Petraeus's recommendations, which in turn would be predicated according to conditions on the ground.
Petraeus will continue to monitor the situation, Bush said, noting the general is slated to provide another Iraq report to Congress in March.
Bush said he supported Petraeus's surge strategy to reduce insurgent violence in Iraq because he believed that if the Iraqis were "given a chance to live in a free society, they'll do the hard work necessary to live in a free society."
The Iraqi government is moving forward in passing legislation to bring the country together, but more work needs to be done, Bush said. However, good progress is being made, he said, in view of the fact that the Iraqis have had to transition from Saddam Hussein's despotic rule to a democratic government virtually overnight.
The international community must remain engaged in helping the new Iraq get onto its feet, Bush said.
"We must do all we can to ensure that 2008 brings even more progress for Iraq's young democracy," the president said, and he promised the United States would continue to assist Iraq.
"Long-term success in Iraq is vital to our friends here in the (Mideast) region and to America's national security," Bush said. "And, long-term success will require active U.S. engagement that outlasts my presidency."
Bush said the U.S. relationship with the new Iraq will feature diplomatic, economic and security components and "will strengthen a democracy that serves its people, fights terrorists and serves as a beacon of freedom for millions across the Middle East."