Powell Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Iraq

By K.L. Vantran

March 19, 2004 – The United States will not shrink from its task of giving Iraqis a country that is based on democracy, freedom and individual rights, Secretary of State Colin Powell said today in a briefing from Baghdad.

"We must not let anyone believe that we won’t prevail," he said. "We will prevail. We owe it to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people deserve it. They want to live in a democracy."

Just how far the war-torn country has progressed on the road to democracy was evident as several journalists walked out prior to Powell’s opening remarks. The journalists’ departure followed a statement and moment of silence for the reporter and cameraman of the Arab satellite television station Al Arabiya who died as a result of wounds allegedly inflicted by U.S. troops. The incident is under investigation.

"I respect the rights and privileges of the journalists who just left to express their feelings," said the secretary. "It’s something that couldn’t have happened at an earlier time in the history of Iraq, and certainly not in the last 30 years."

Saying the loss of any life is tragic and regrettable, Powell said, it is the terrorists who are responsible.

"It’s those who do not want to see the Iraqi people live in peace, those who do not want to see democracy take root," he said. "(It’s those) who would return this nation under the thumb of a dictator, a dictator who filled mass graves, who ran rape rooms, who suppressed his people, who wasted the resources and talents of the Iraqi people."

Acknowledging there will be "difficult days ahead," Powell said coalition forces will continue to go after people responsible for terrorist acts.

Responding to media questions about the March 11 bombing in Spain and subsequent remarks from Spanish officials about the possible pullout of its troops from Iraq, the secretary said about 30 countries are at work in Iraq, and that he believes the "coalition is still strong."

Many of the coalition nations, Powell noted, have reinforced their commitment to ensuring a democratic Iraq.

"This is not the time to say, ‘Let’s stop what we’re doing and pull back,’" said Powell. "This is the time to redouble our efforts in every way … and deal with the threats to the civilized world — and not run and hide and think that it won’t come and get us.

"It will come and get us," he continued. "It’s a threat to the whole civilized world, and the civilized world has to respond."