Bush vows to demolish Abu Ghraib in Iraq plan
U.S. President Bush outlined plans on Monday to hand over power to a friendly Iraqi government and promised with Iraqi approval to tear down the infamous prison where American soldiers abused inmates.
The president was using a prime-time speech on television to try and convince Americans that he can turn around the deteriorating situation in Iraq with just five weeks to go before the United States plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.
Spreading violence and the scandal over the inhumane treatment of prisoners by the U.S. military, have pushed the president's approval ratings to new lows.
"America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend -- a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf. And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done," Bush said in excerpts from his speech.
In an attempt to clean up its tarnished image, the White House said the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad will be torn down. Photographs and video tapes of American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi inmates at the prison have seriously undermined U.S. efforts in Iraq.
"America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison. When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated," a White House fact sheet said.
"Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison, as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning."
The White House said U.S. troops "will remain in Iraq" after the June 30 handover and troop levels will remain at the current 138,000 "for as long as necessary."
They will operate under U.S. command as part of a multinational force that will be authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution, the text of which was being circulated on Monday.
Bush, who is due to speak at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, will outline five steps to "help Iraqi achieve democracy and freedom."
They are: Handing over authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 30; helping establish stability and security in Iraq; rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure; encouraging more international support; and moving toward free, national elections.
U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has set up the structure of an interim Iraqi government to take over from the U.S.-led coalition, complete with a president, a prime minister, two vice presidents and 26 government ministers.
Brahimi is expected to announce his choices for the positions in as little as a week.
In his excerpts, Bush said America's vision for freedom in Iraq and the insurgents' vision of violence have met in Iraq and are "contending for the future of that country."
"We will persevere, and defeat this enemy, and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty," he said.
The White House acknowledged that in some cases the performance of Iraqi security forces has fallen short.
"We have learned from these failures and have taken steps to correct them," the fact sheet said. It said Washington is accelerating a program to help train Iraqis and a new team of senior military officers is now assessing every unit in Iraq's security forces.
With little more than a month to go until the handover, many in Congress believe the administration has raised more questions than it has answered about how long American forces will remain, what the costs will be, and when Iraqi security forces will be ready to take over from U.S. troops.
Bush's speech is due as his job approval rating fell to the lowest level of his presidency, suggesting he faces the possibility of defeat in the Nov. 2 election.
A poll by CBS News said 41 percent of those surveyed approved of the job Bush is doing as president, while 52 percent disapprove. Two weeks ago in the same poll, 44 percent approved. A year ago, two-thirds did.
Sixty-one percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while just 34 percent approve, according to the poll.
No recent president has been re-elected with such low numbers this close to the November elections, but a Gallup Poll gave Harry Truman a 39 percent approval rating in June 1948 and he went on to squeak out a victory over Thomas Dewey.