Bush stands firm on Iraq handover

President George Bush has rejected calls to push back Iraq's 30 June transfer of power, as US forces struggled to overcome mounting unrest in the country.

    Bush has vowed to confront ''every challenge''

    Despite little apparent sign of a government ready to take over in Baghdad, the US leader said on Saturday a delay would play into the hands of "enemies" who he said were trying to "seize power". 

    In a combative weekly radio address broadcast as turmoil in Iraq intensified and as Americans were now among foreign hostages held by resistance fighters, Bush vowed to confront "every challenge" to US efforts to establish a new government in the country. 

    "A small faction is attempting to derail Iraqi democracy and seize power," Bush said of the insurrection by Sunni and Shia fighters in cities across Iraq. 

    "Some have suggested that we should respond to the recent
    attacks by delaying Iraqi sovereignty," he declared. 

    "This is precisely what our enemies want. They want to dictate the course of events in Iraq and to prevent the Iraqi people from having a true voice in their future. 

    "They want America and our coalition to falter in our commitments before a watching world. In these ambitions, the enemies of freedom will fail. Iraqi sovereignty will arrive on June 30." 

    Few details

    US officials have given few details on what the new Iraqi
    government will look like. This and the heightened violence has led to calls to review the proposed transfer. 

    Even senior Republicans, including Senator Richard Lugar,
    chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have said there should be a "debate" on the date. 

    In the face of bitter fighting in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities over the past week, Bush said "our coalition forces have faced challenges and taken the fight to the enemy. And our offensive will continue in the weeks ahead." 


    Bush's address came amid
    turmoil in war-torn Iraq

    He went on: "As the June 30 transition approaches, we will continue to see a test of wills between the enemies of freedom and its defenders. We will win this test of wills and overcome every challenge, because the cause of freedom and security is worth our struggle." 

    Blaming al-Sadr

    The president said supporters of Saddam Hussein, who was ousted one year ago, had led some of the attacks, but he also blamed Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. 

    Bush said al-Sadr "has called for violence against coalition
    troops, and his band of thugs have terrorised Iraqi police and
    ordinary citizens." 

    "Our coalition's quick reaction forces are finding and engaging
    the enemy. Prisoners are being taken, and intelligence is being gathered. Our decisive actions will continue until these enemies of democracy are dealt with." 

    Bush highlighted the efforts of UN special envoy al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi, who is meeting Iraqi leaders to try to agree on a government that can take over on 1 July. 

    "We welcome this UN engagement," said the president. 

    Rebuilding Iraq

    "As we have done before, America is fighting on the side of
    liberty - liberty in Iraq, and liberty in the Middle East. This objective serves the interests of that region, of the United States and of all freedom-loving countries"

    George Bush,
    US president 

    He emphasised the United States would continue to help rebuild Iraq after the handover and that coalition forces would remain in Iraq. 

    "Iraq's elections for a permanent government are scheduled to be held near the end of 2005, and the elected government can count on coalition assistance. 

    "We will stand with the Iraqi people as long as necessary, to ensure that their young democracy is stable and secure and successful," said Bush. 

    "As we have done before, America is fighting on the side of liberty - liberty in Iraq, and liberty in the Middle East. This objective serves the interests of that region, of the United States and of all freedom-loving countries. 

    "As the greater Middle East increasingly becomes a place where freedom flourishes, the lives of millions in that region will be bettered, and the American people and the entire world will be more secure," Bush said.



    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.

    The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh

    The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh

    Prince Philip has done the world an extraordinary service by exposing the racist hypocrisy of "Western civilisation".

    China will determine the future of Venezuela

    China will determine the future of Venezuela

    There are a number of reasons why Beijing continues to back Maduro's government despite suffering financial losses.