Iraqis fighting American troops are not all terrorists, President George Bush said in an interview today, and he insisted he could understand their distaste for occupation.
Bush told Paris Match magazine that “no one would want to be in the place” of Iraqis under occupation.
“They are not all terrorists,” Bush said in the Oval Office. “The suicide bombers are, but other fighters aren’t. They can’t stand being occupied.”
“That’s why we are giving them back their sovereignty,” he added, a reference to US plans to hand over control of the country to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.
Bush said “complete sovereignty” would be given to the Iraqi leadership.
Bush is due in France on Saturday for commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The June 6, 1944, invasion on the Normandy coast, led by British and US forces, marked the beginning of the end of Nazi rule over France and much of Europe.
In a theme he is likely to bring up Sunday in an address in Normandy, Bush raised parallels between the US intervention in the Second World War and the Iraq campaign.
Facing widespread international criticism of the occupation in Iraq, Bush said many people believed Germany and Japan would never become democratic nations.
“Fortunately, there were optimists – individuals who believed in principles and value systems based on the application of law, democracy and justice,” he said.
“They were right. They triumphed. Fortunately, their opinion prevailed. And now Germany and Japan are among our best friends in this war,” he said.
Bush acknowledged the US-led effort in Iraq has at times been more difficult than first imagined since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“What happened was that we progressed through the country so quickly that many of Saddam’s faithful went into hiding, and they have come back today to perturb the progress of freedom,” Bush said.
In the wide-ranging interview, Bush expressed regret that US “honour” had been “soiled” by torture of Iraqis by some American troops.
Bush also said he was never embittered when French President Jacques Chirac became the leading critic of US plans to use force in Iraq.
“I was never angry with the French. France is a long-time ally,” Bush was quoted as saying.
“Friends can disagree,” Bush said, according to the interview. “Jacques told it to me clearly. He didn’t believe the use of force was necessary. We debated it as friends.”
Does that mean Chirac will be invited to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas anytime soon?
“If he wants to come see cows, he’s welcome,” Bush said, with a laugh.