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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ | FROM BUSH'S NEWS CONFERENCE

'I Had No Role in Picking, Zero'

June 02, 2004

Today in Baghdad, U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced the members of Iraq's new interim government. Consulting with hundreds of Iraqis from a variety of backgrounds, Mr. Brahimi has recommended a team that possesses the talent, commitment and the resolve to guide Iraq through the challenges that lie ahead.

On June 30, this interim government will assume full -- full sovereignty and will oversee all ministries and all functions of the Iraqi state....

The foremost tasks of this new interim government will be to prepare Iraq for a national election no later than January of next year and to work with our coalition to provide the security that will make that election possible. That election will choose a transitional national assembly, the first freely elected, truly representative national governing body in Iraq's history....

Many challenges remain. Today's violence underscores that freedom in Iraq is opposed by violent men who seek the failure not only of this interim government but of all progress toward liberty.... The killers know that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. The return of tyranny to Iraq would embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world.

The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the region.

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From my perspective, Mr. Brahimi made the decisions and brought their names to the Governing Council. As I understand it, the Governing Council simply opined about names. It was Mr. Brahimi's selections. And Ambassador [L. Paul] Bremer [III, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority] and Ambassador [Robert D.] Blackwill [ a senior National Security Council aide] were instructed by me to work with Mr. Brahimi. As we say in ... sports parlance, he was the quarterback.

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I had no role. I mean, occasionally somebody said this person may be interested or that, but I had no role in picking, zero.

Secondly, in terms of whether or not our government helped, we did help some of the figures now in the interim government....

You know, I hate to predict violence, but I just understand the nature of the killers. This guy [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, an Al Qaeda associate -- who was in Baghdad, by the way, prior to the removal of Saddam Hussein -- is still at large in Iraq.

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[Ahmad] Chalabi? My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him.

Mr. Brahimi made the decision on Chalabi, not the United States....

I just want to remind you that the mission of the enemy is to get us to retreat from Iraq, is to say, "Well, it's been tough enough; now it's time to go home," which we are not going to do. We will stand with this Iraqi government....

A free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East is going to be a game-changer -- an agent of change. It's going to send a clear signal that the

terrorists can't win....

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I think it's instructive that Mr. Brahimi picked leaders who are willing to speak their mind, which is fine with me. I fully understand a leader willing to speak their mind -- kind of like doing it myself, you know.

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