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4/16/04 - IRAQ SOVEREIGNTY DRAWS NEAR - 2004-04-16

As the June 30th date for Iraqi sovereignty draws near, small factions are attempting to derail democracy and seize power in some cities. In some places, remnants of the former Saddam Hussein regime have attacked Iraqis and coalition forces.

In other areas, attacks are being incited by Moqtada al-Sadr, a self-styled Shiite Muslim religious leader backed by Iranians. Sadr is wanted for the murder in April 2003 of a respected Shiite cleric, Abdul Majid al-Khoei. Sadr is using his private militia, called the Mahdi army, to shut down schools in Baghdad to demonstrate against the coalition. “Go back home,” the militia told the students. “It reminded me of the old regime,” one student told a reporter. “They used to do the same thing.” A representative of Iraq’s leading Shiite, Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned Sadr’s “acts of sabotage, chaos, and takeover of public property.”

President George W. Bush says that the coalition “is finding and engaging the enemy”:

“In Fallujah, marines of Operation Vigilant Resolve are taking control of the city, block by block. Further south, troops of Operation Resolute Sword have taken the initiative from al-Sadr’s militia.... Our decisive actions will continue until these enemies of democracy are dealt with.”

Shiite extremists, former regime elements, and foreign terrorists are attempting to dictate the course of events in Iraq by force and prevent the Iraqi people from having a voice in their future. “In these ambitions,” says President Bush, “the enemies of freedom will fail. Iraqi sovereignty will arrive on June 30th”:

“The transition to sovereignty will mark the beginning of a new government, and the end of the coalition’s administrative duties. But the coalition’s commitment to Iraq will continue.... We will continue helping the Iraqi people reconstruct their economy, undermined by decades of dictatorship and corruption.”

President Bush says, “The coalition will stand with the Iraqi people as long as necessary, to ensure that their young democracy is stable and secure and successful.”