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American Forces Press Service

Bremer Thanks Departing Troops, Says June 30 Date Should Hold

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2004 - The civilian administrator of the coalition in Iraq today thanked American soldiers now returning to their home bases for their service in Iraq, and reaffirmed the June 30 target date for the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III said during a news conference in Baghdad that the June 30 date should hold, despite news reports saying the date will slip.

Bremer thanked the coalition troops who have been serving in Iraq. The United States is rotating units out of and into the country. In December, one planner called it the logistical Normandy invasion in both directions.

"Before those completing their service depart, I want to speak directly to the men and women from around the world making up the coalition forces," Bremer said. "After months of arduous, dangerous and uncomfortable duty, many of you are being relieved now by your compatriots. People everywhere know, understand and appreciate the sacrifice you've made.

"You have made America and each of your countries and the world a safer place," Bremer continued. "You can rightly tell your children and their children, 'We liberated Iraq and put it on the road to democracy.' Thank you for your service to your country, your service to the world and your service to the people of Iraq."

On the transition of sovereignty, Bremer said much depends on what U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says following a report of a U.N. team that visited Iraq to gauge the possibility of direct elections. "The secretary- general intends to issue his views on this question in the next 24 hours, and I would prefer to wait until I hear what he has to say," Bremer said.

He said if the United Nations decides direct elections - an outcome that Iraqi Shiia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has insisted on - are not possible, other methods to choose an interim government are possible. The coalition proposal is for caucuses, but there are "a number of ways in which a transitional government could be selected if it was not possible to hold elections." Bremer said it would be complicated, but could be done in time for the June 30 transfer.

The ambassador said the coalition's goal is simple: an Iraq that is free, democratic, united, peaceful and prosperous. To secure this goal, the coalition has made "great progress" in security, politics and the economy, he said.

The bottom line, Bremer said, is that Iraqis must ultimately be responsible for their own security. "We always knew that what began as a coalition effort would have to become an Iraqi effort in partnership with the coalition countries, and eventually a wholly Iraqi effort," he said.

"This transformation is under way, and in spite of painful losses, it is progressing. Iraqis continue to swell the ranks of their armed forces. Our Iraqi comrades in arms and the coalition forces continue to capture or kill foreign terrorists, subversives and others who would derail Iraqis' movement toward democracy."

Terrorists are focusing their efforts on Iraqis working for a new Iraq. This is working against the terrorists, and they know it, Bremer said. Al Qaeda associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "knows that attacks on Iraqis provoke hatred of and resistance to the terrorists," Bremer said.

The ambassador said the terrorists are trying to provoke a civil war in Iraq. "They will not succeed," he said. "The growing strength and confidence of Iraq's security forces will eventually overwhelm subversives and terrorists."

Political developments also moving forward, Bremer said. Any changes that may arise in the way forward, he added, "should not distract us from reaching the goals that we set out in the coalition at liberation."

"We said we'd seek a representative and sovereign Iraqi government," he pointed out. "That government should be bound by a transitional administrative law that protects fundamental rights and provides a stable political structure."

That transitional law would provide for freedom of speech, assembly and religion, and would guarantee the rights of minorities and women. "Iraq will be a single country with one currency, one foreign policy, one army, one police force and one national border," he said. "These are the core values and precepts of the coalition countries, and they will be embedded in the transitional administrative law."

Bremer said while progress on the national level is important, the seedbeds of participatory democracy also are thriving. "This is crucial, because democracy is more than just elections; democracy rests on pluralism and the balance of power at multiple levels," he said.

Economic progress, the coalition administrator said, also is crucial to a new Iraq. "A moribund economy sooner or later leads to a moribund and insecure society," Bremer said. "Iraq's once moribund economy is coming to life." The ambassador said consumer goods are widely available and the banking system has new life.

Infrastructure improvements also stimulate the economy. "The restoration and expansion of electrical services continues," he said. "Last week, electrical production hit its highest point since the war, on a seven-day average of 4,260 megawatts. We continue to project 6,000 megawatts of peak power by July 1."

The telephone system continues to recover and expand. "Hospitals, schools, food supplies (and) water resources are all at or above prewar levels," Bremer said. "It's not good enough yet, but progress has been made."

The economic activity will receive another boost when $10.2 billion worth of reconstruction contracts are let by July 1, he said.

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