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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, launching a massive media campaign in war-torn Iraq, said in a nationally televised address Thursday, "Your nation will soon be free." British ally Tony Blair assured Iraqis that coalition soldiers are "friends and liberators, not your conquerors."
The separate addresses, taped on Tuesday while Bush and Blair wrapped up their war summit in Northern Ireland, were being aired by the U.S. military as part of a new information program being televised to the Iraqi people.
"Our only enemy is Saddam's brutal regime -- and that regime is your enemy as well," Bush said, according to excerpts released jointly by the White House and the prime minister's office.
Blair, in his message for the new station called "Towards Freedom," told Iraqis that the United States and Britain had not wanted war.
"But in refusing to give up his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam gave us no choice but to act. Now that the war has begun, it will be seen through to the end," the prime minister said.
The broadcast -- which was to be aired at 6 p.m. Baghdad time Thursday, 10 a.m. EDT -- was part of a campaign to convince Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world that U.S. troops are not a hostile invasion force. There is still widespread opposition to the war throughout much of the world.
"The goals of our coalition are clear and limited," Bush said. He said they included, ending Saddam's regime, ridding the nation of weapons of mass destruction, providing security, respecting religious traditions, building a representative government and creating a sovereign nation.
"The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over," the president said in a two-and-a-half minute address produced with Arabic subtitles. It was the first public word from Bush since jubiliant Iraqis welcomed the collapse of Saddam's government in Baghdad. "You deserve to live as free people. And I assure every citizen of Iraq: Your nation will soon be free."
The station will broadcast from a U.S. C-130 Hercules aircraft circling in the skies over Iraq, beaming five hours of programming five days a week to the former Iraqi state TV terrestrial channel, Blair's office said.
The programming will come from the U.S. and British military as well as rebroadcasts from independent news outlets in both countries, the White House said.
Starting Saturday, the coalition also will publish a newspaper in southern Iraq, with an initial circulation of 10,000, the White House said.
The Bush-Blair addresses came a day after Baghdad fell into coalition hands and much of Iraq was being overtaken by British and U.S. forces.
The two leaders sought to assure there would be no repeat of 1991, when Saddam crushed a popular uprising after the Persian Gulf War was stopped by Bush's father, then-President George Bush.
"This regime will be gone and ended," Blair said. He also said Iraqi oil, which made Saddam "one of the richest men in the world," will now help Iraqis prosper.
While keeping a close eye on progress in Iraq, the president also was turning attention to his economic agenda and hopes for a free-trade pact between the United States and five Central American nations.
The negotiations for yet another tariff-lowering agreement, begun in January and expected to wrap up by the end of the year, were to dominate a session Thursday in which Bush was welcoming the leaders of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to the White House.
Bush advisers have sought to portray the president as engaged on domestic issues -- particularly the sputtering economy that has Americans concerned about their financial future -- despite a heavy focus on the war and planning for an interim Iraqi government after hostilities end.
Bush, a staunch believer in free markets, has aggressively pursued deals to lift trade barriers as he seeks to nudge the economy into better shape.
In addition to the pending pact in Central America, the White House wants to complete negotiations with Morocco this year and with Australia and five countries in Southern Africa in 2004. Deals were recently inked with Chile and Singapore. The idea is to push ahead on these several smaller fronts and create momentum for bigger deals.
The administration is currently involved in 34-nation talks to create the world's largest free trade zone, covering the Western Hemisphere, and global trade talks involving the 144 nations that are members of the World Trade Organization.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)