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3/17/04 - OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM - 2004-03-17

March 19th marks the first anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein. The world knew Saddam Hussein’s record. For more than two-decades, he terrorized the Iraqi people and threatened Iraq’s neighbors. He used chemical weapons against Iran and against Iraqis, in particular Iraqi Kurds. He attacked Iran and Kuwait. He launched ballistic missiles at Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that only after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did a U.S.-led coalition take action:

“For twelve years, through seventeen U-N Security Council resolutions, America and the world gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to avoid war simply by living up to the terms of the [cease-fire from the] first Gulf War -- that they disarm and prove that they had done so. Instead of disarming, as Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Ukraine did in their time, and Libya is now doing, Saddam choose deception and defiance.”

Alaa Kathem is an Iraqi soccer player who was punished for losing games. He told a reporter: “We felt better after the regime fell. Now we are really happy. We have been freed from our nightmare.” But serious problems remain. Baath party loyalists and foreign terrorists are targeting Iraqis and members of the U.S.-led coalition. Many have been killed or wounded in the past year. Nevertheless, most Iraqis, says Donald Rumsfeld, feel that securing their freedom is worth the risk:

“The Iraqi Governing Council signed an interim constitution, the document that will serve as the framework for their government until a permanent constitution is adopted. It guarantees freedom of religion, of worship, of expression, the right to assemble and to organize political parties, the right to demonstrate, the right to vote. It prohibits discrimination based on gender, on nationality, or on religion, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention.”

A year ago, none of these constitutional protections could have been imagined by the Iraqi people. Now, they are working to make the rule of law a reality.