Iraq: One Year Later
It's been a year since U.S. and coalition forces led a drive into Iraq that ultimately would liberate its people and capture its brutal dictator. It's been year of ups, yet some downs. Optimism, yet some disappointment. And progress, yet some setbacks. All have been well-documented and surely will continue to be throughout this campaign year. But taking into account all of the events that have occurred in Iraq since our initial push on March 19, 2003, we know this for certain: The people of Iraq are far better off today than they were a year ago, and the same holds true for our nation's own long-term peace and security.
In the past year, our Armed Forces have performed magnificently, first liberating an oppressed country and now stabilizing peace and security. As a nation, we could not be more proud of their efforts and dedication, and we thank them and their families for their commitment and sacrifices.
Make no mistake, solid progress has been made in the past year in reconstituting an Iraqi civil society and public infrastructure - after nearly 30 years under the thumb of Saddam Hussein. Iraq now has an interim constitution and a national Governing Council, while nearly every city and town in the nation has its own municipal council. Iraqi police forces are working with our soldiers to patrol the streets, and tens of thousands of Iraqis are training for their nation's new army. With the help of the international community, we are immunizing Iraqi children against diseases like polio and tuberculosis, while tons upon tons of food are being sent to Iraq each month through the World Food Program.
One area of progress I find particularly heartening is the work being done to improve the education system for Iraq's children. This is a critical step in giving them a viable, independent future, and it is necessary in order to secure Iraq's place in the world as a prosperous and peaceful country. More Iraqi children are attending school now than ever before - currently 5.5 million students in all. All of Iraq's universities and technical schools have been re-opened. But most importantly, every classroom in that country now focuses on a curriculum based on reading, writing, and math - not on fear of a ruthless dictator.
Despite this progress, we know there is still more work to be done. Our troops and Iraqis themselves still face threats from terrorists who have no future in a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.
And while some have questioned the wisdom of our decision to liberate Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein as a threat to the international community, the recent terrorist attack in Spain should drive home the point of why we must take the fight to the terrorists - rather than waiting to fight with them here on our soil. This is not a clash of cultures, peoples, or religions.
This is about fanatics who despise their peaceful fellow countrymen, as well as the freedom our own nation represents for the rest of the world.
Though Iraq has become the central front in the War on Terrorism, the war itself is a global effort; it is a long-term effort. And - as President Bush has stated from the very beginning - it is an effort that will take a great deal of patience.
Terrorists have many agendas and capabilities. Their supporters hide in dark shadows and are elusive. And even as we disrupt their communications, destroy their camps, and intercept their finances, they remain defiant, holding onto a false hope that we will give in - a foolish and cowardly decision a handful of nations around the globe seem to be considering, even after the tough lessons we have learned over the past several years. But in the end, they will realize that America is strong in its resolve to fight terrorism, just as our dozens of committed allies are as well.
We've come a long way in Iraq this past year. We've dismantled a regime, placed its leader behind bars, and planted seeds of democracy with the help of a vast majority of the Iraqi people. The challenge in the next year is not to give in; not to turn back. Finishing the job in Iraq will deal a sharp blow to the terrorists who are waiting for us to blink.