Bush Declares End to Major Combat Operations in Iraq
"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," Bush said in a nationally-televised speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is at sea off the California coast.
"Now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country," Bush said, warning at the same time that the US-led allied forces still "have difficult work to do in Iraq."
"We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated," Bush said.
He said the political reconstruction in Iraq will take time and the allied troops will stay in the oil-rich country until "work is done."
Linking the Iraq war with the war on terror, Bush characterized the battle of Iraq as "one victory" and "a crucial advance" in the US-led campaign against terror which began following the September11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Buoyed by military success in Iraq, Bush reiterated what has been billed as "the Bush doctrine," vowing that the United States will not only confront terrorists, but also those who support or harbor terrorists and those governments that seek weapons of mass destruction and have ties with terrorists.
"Any person, organization or government that supports, protects or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes," he said.
"Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world and will be confronted," added the US president.
He said the use of force remains a last resort but the United States is prepared to use force in case its security is threatened.
"The use of force has been and remains our last resort. Yet all can know, friend and foe alike, that our nation has a mission. We will answer threats to our security and we will defend the peace," Bush said.
Observers here said Bush's speech marked a shift of focus in Iraq from combat operations to post-war reconstruction.
It was also widely perceived as an effort to set the stage for Bush to seek re-election in 2004.
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