Cheney to troops: Mideast needs freedom

The vice president to meet with Iraqi leaders before heading to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the PA and Turkey.

cheney 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
cheney 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Rallying troops after an overnight stay at an air base, Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that as long as freedom is suppressed in the Mideast, the region will remain a place of "stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export." "You and I know what it means to be free," Cheney told the troops at an outdoor rally. "We wouldn't give such freedoms away and neither would the people of Iraq or Afghanistan, but in both of those countries, they're facing attack from violent extremists who want to end all democratic progress and pull them once again in the direction of tyranny. "We're helping them fight back because it's the right thing to do and because it's important to our own long-term security," Cheney said. "As President Bush has said, the war on terror is an ideological struggle and as long as this part of the world remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export." The vice president, the highest ranking US official to sleepover in Iraq, plans to meet with Iraqi leaders before heading to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian territory and Turkey, the next stops on his 10-day trip through the region. Among the officials on his schedule was Massoud Barzani, head of the regional administration in the semiautonomous Kurdish area. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, slept in a trailer set up for VIPs at Balad Air Base about 40 miles northwest of Baghdad, then had breakfast with some of the 20,000 US troops on the base, which supplies food, fuel, bullets and other items - from toilet paper to military hardware - to all operations in Iraq. It was Cheney's second overnight in Iraq. He spent a night last May at Camp Speicher, a base near former leader Saddam Hussein's hometown and about 100 miles north of Baghdad. Noise from mortar and artillery shells fired from the base interrupted sleep during the pre-dawn hours Monday, but base officials said later the shelling was routine - used to keep pressure on ground miles off base where insurgents have been active before. Cheney said he was already up when he heard the explosions. "Nobody came running in to wake me up," he said as he loaded his plate with sausage, bacon and eggs, and hash browns. He and his wife and daughter, Liz, who also spent the night at the base, had breakfast with a dozen or more troops, and Cheney presented two bronze stars awarded for valor. Hundreds of troops greeted Cheney at the rally where he reaffirmed America's commitment to Iraq and credited recent reductions in violence to Bush's decision last year to send 30,000 more troops to the fight. "We made a surge in operations and the results are now clear: more effective raids to root out enemies, better and more accurate intelligence information from the locals and higher hopes for the future among the Iraqi people," Cheney said. The vice president expressed hope that anti-American sentiment generated by the US-led invasion five years ago this week, was waning - at least in Iraq where the US death toll is nearing 4,000. "Across this country, the more that Iraqis have gotten to know the Americans - the nature of our intentions and the character of our soldiers - the better they have felt about the United States of America," he said. On Monday during a series of meetings in Baghdad with Iraqi leaders and US military and diplomatic personnel, Cheney hailed security gains and a recent reduction in violence. What's unclear is whether the drawdown of the extra 30,000 U.S. troops by about July will leave the country vulnerable to a resurgence of bloodshed. U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, will give Congress a status report on the war next month. Bush will use that and other input to decide whether he will order additional drawdowns after July that would return more troops home during his final months as president. At a news conference Monday, Cheney warned that large drawdowns of American troops could jeopardize recent security gains. "It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy," Cheney said. "And I don't think we'll do that."