Remarks in Press Availability Upon Return From Camp David
The White House
March 23, 2003
1:00 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I am pleased with the progress that we're making in the early
stages of a -- of the war to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and
to free the Iraqi people from the clutches of a brutal dictatorship.
Today, in our church service, Laura and I prayed for the coalition forces,
those in the coalition forces who lost their lives. We pray for their families.
We ask God's comfort for those who mourn today. And we thank all the coalition
forces for their bravery and courage in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It is evident that it's going to take a while to achieve our objective,
but we're on course, we're determined, and we're making good progress.
I'll answer a few questions.
QUESTION: Sir, have you seen the tape --
QUESTION: Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: One at a time, please. Scott. Thank you.
QUESTION: What do you know about the prisoners, anything, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I've been briefed, I'm constantly briefed by the Pentagon
and through the National Security Office. I would -- I don't know all the
details yet. I do know that we expect them to be treated humanely, just like
we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely.
I think it's an interesting contrast that a lot of their soldiers welcome
American troops, they're surrendering gleefully, happily. And they'll be
treated well. And I ask you to ask the Defense Department for further details.
QUESTION: Sir, what do you know about Saddam Hussein and his fate, if anything?
THE PRESIDENT: I know that Saddam Hussein is losing control of his country,
that we're slowly, but surely, achieving our objective.
It's important for the American people to realize that this war has just
begun, that it may -- it may seem like a long time because of all the action
on TV, but in terms of the overall strategy, we're just in the beginning
phases, and that we're executing a plan which will make it easier to achieve
objective, and at the same time, spare innocent life.
And I'm most proud of our troops and coalition troops for showing their
bravery and skill.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you know -- at this point, can you tell Americans, I
mean, is the war progressing the way you expected it to?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Larry, it is. It is -- and I -- the air campaign is
achieving its objective, and the ground campaign is also achieving objective.
We're slowly, but surely, taking control of that country so that we can free
the people of Iraq and eventually clear that country of weapons of mass destruction.
We've made good progress.
One of the big concerns early on was the Southern oil fields. As you all
remember, we had discussions about that. There was a lot of speculation about
whether or not coalition forces would be able to get to the Southern oil
fields in time, before -- so that Saddam Hussein wouldn't destroy them. As
a matter of fact, I had frequently talked about the Southern oil fields --
or oil fields in general -- in my declaratory policy.
Tommy Franks put a plan in place that moved on those oil fields quickly,
and at least in the south, they are secure. And that is positive news for
all of us. Most of the south is now in coalition hands. Obviously, there's
pockets of resistance in a place like Basra. We're making great progress
-- in the west, we're making great progress. The area, the launch sites for
the scuds, while certainly not a hundred percent secure, but we've made good
And so I can assure the American people we're making good progress, and
I also can assure them that this is just the beginning of a tough fight.
QUESTION: Sir, have you specifically been told that American POWs have been executed?
And even --
THE PRESIDENT: I have not been told that. I have been told that we have
a problem with potential capture. I'm waiting to -- when I get back upstairs
I'll talk back to the Pentagon again. I was told early this morning that
perhaps our troops were captured. Maybe between the time I left Camp David
and here I'll learn more. But I am concerned about our troops. Obviously,
any time one of our soldiers loses a life, I grieve with their parents and
their loved ones. And if there is somebody captured, and it looks like there
may be, I expect those people to be treated humanely.
QUESTION: Sir, what is your level of confidence that the Iraqi regime will surrender
or collapse before U.S. forces need to be engaged in a fight in Baghdad?
THE PRESIDENT: I -- all I know is we've got a game plan, a strategy to free
the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and rid his country of weapons of mass
destruction, and we're on plan.
Bill. And then Mike.
QUESTION: Iraqi TV has shown what appear to be American POWs, and also what appear
to be American dead. Your reaction?
THE PRESIDENT: I expect them to be treated, the POWs I expect to be treated
humanely. And -- just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured
humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you retain hope that Saddam Hussein will go into exile,
and are there any active negotiations about that?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Mike, I -- he had his chance to go into exile.
I gave him a 48-hour ultimatum to leave the country so that we could disarm
Iraq peacefully; he chose not to go into exile.
QUESTION: Mr. President, how concerned are you about the situation in the north
and Turkey's statement that they will send troops in there and that Americans
might get caught in some kind of cross-fire up there?
THE PRESIDENT: We have got more troops up north, and we're making it very
clear to the Turks that we expect them not to come into Northern Iraq. We're
in constant touch with the Turkish military, as well as Turkish politicians.
They know our policy, and it's a firm policy. And we've made it very clear
to them we expect them not to go into Northern Iraq, as well as -- and they
know we're working with the Kurds to make sure there's not an incident that
would cause there to be an excuse to go into Northern Iraq.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what are you saying to the families of those U.S. soldiers
who appear to be killed or captured, and are paraded on television --
THE PRESIDENT: I say to the families, thank -- I thank them for the sacrifice
they make, and we pray with them. I pray for God's comfort and God's healing
powers, to anybody, coalition force, American, Brit, anybody who loses a
life in this -- in our efforts to make the world more peaceful and more free.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you surprised the enemy has not used any weapons of
THE PRESIDENT: I am thankful the enemy has not used any weapons of mass
destruction. And we will continue employing a strategy to make it difficult
for the enemy to use weapons of mass destruction.
A couple more, then I've got to go.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what will you be telling the congressional leaders tomorrow
about the cost --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait until I talk to them. It's probably best they hear it
directly from me.
QUESTION: Mr. President, to your knowledge, is there any hope of getting these soldiers
THE PRESIDENT: What?
QUESTION: To your knowledge, is there any chance of getting these soldiers back?
THE PRESIDENT: Of course.
QUESTION: Mr. President, how swiftly do you expect -- to get humanitarian aid --
THE PRESIDENT: Good question. I appreciate you asking that question. The
question is on humanitarian aid. In the south of Iraq, coalition forces have
worked hard to make the port area secure, to make the transit of humanitarian
aid as safe as possible. As -- I was told this morning in my briefings that
humanitarian aid should begin moving -- massive amounts of humanitarian aid
should begin moving within the next 36 hours. And that's going to be very
positive news for a lot of people who have suffered a long time under Saddam
We've got a massive ground assault going on, and right behind it will be
a massive movement of humanitarian aid, to help the people of Iraq. We have
made that promise to the people of this country that we will do everything
we can to protect innocent life. And we're doing that. And we'll do everything
we can to help the Iraqi people. First thing, of course, that will help the
Iraqi people is to rid them from a brutal dictator, somebody who has stayed
in power through mutilation and rape and torture. Somebody who has starved
his own people so he could build palaces. When free from that dictatorship,
life will be a lot better.
But we also understand we have an obligation -- and this is just not America,
it's coalition forces -- have an obligation to put food and medicine in places
so the Iraqi people can live a normal life and have hope. And that's exactly
what's going to happen shortly when the area is completely -- safe enough
to move the equipment forward.