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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Monday the United States will not pull out of Iraq when a provisional government is established by July 1.
Bush made the promise in a meeting with Iraqi women who told the president of the hardships they had suffered under Saddam Hussein. "I assured these five women that America wasn't leaving," Bush said in the Oval Office.
"When they hear me say we're staying, that means we're staying," Bush said.
Under a plan reached between the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council, the country's political transition will be sped up with the formation of an interim government by midyear.
Bush, in a brief exchange with reporters, brushed aside a question about whether the creation of a provisional authority marked the start of an exit strategy for the United States.
"The politics will go forward. The political process is moving on. The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves," the president said. He said the United States was working with the Iraqi council to put in place laws to get the country running.
Pledging no hasty withdrawal of American forces, Bush said, "We fully recognize that Iraq has become a new front in the war on terror. He said that various factors and terrorists "want to test the will of the civilized world.
"We will work with Iraqis to bring people to justice," Bush said.
Bush said that a free Iraq was in the interest of the United States.
"A free Iraq in a part of the world that is troublesome and dangerous will set such a good example," he said. "We're talking about a historic opportunity to change parts of the world. And Iraq will be the leader of that change."
One of the women pleaded with Bush to keep U.S. forces in Iraq.
"We don't want them to leave us ... we need them at this time," she said, seated on a couch by the president.
Bush also said recent terrorist attacks around the world demonstrate the true nature of the al-Qaida terrorist network.
"They'll kill innocent people anywhere, anytime," he said. "That's just the way they are. They have no regard for human life."
He said al-Qaida tries to create chaos by killing. "There's only one way to deal with al-Qaida: find them and bring them to justice," Bush said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)