Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Success and Strategies in the Effort to Liberate Iraq
April 17, 2003

(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)

     Good afternoon. As President Bush said, "These are good days in the history of freedom." The victories in Iraq have been achieved with a most impressive and humane military campaign, thanks to the leadership of President Bush, our coalition partners, General Tommy Franks, his staff and our brave men and women in uniform.

     For decades, a fortunate few Iraqis have escaped the reign of Saddam Hussein's tyranny and fear to find freedom in the United States. These Iraqis, who tasted liberty here, have longed for the liberation of their native land. During the past few weeks, Iraqis in the U.S. have become our unheralded partners in Operation Iraqi Freedom. America is honored by their sacrifices and the risks they have endured to help liberate Iraq.

      Today, America celebrates with the Iraqi people as they experience their first breaths of freedom, and who, for the first time in a generation, can look forward to a future free of fear and tyranny.

      We know that danger still exists and that there is still much work to be done. Many challenges lay ahead, both overseas and at home.

      The Justice Department's Iraq-related terrorism prevention efforts included planning for the possibility of intensified domestic threats during conflict with Iraq. Last spring, as a contingency plan, the FBI developed the action plan to address any related threats that we might face during any possible elevation of military operation.

      History taught us from Operation Desert Storm that Iraq had a plan to use intelligence officers to infiltrate the U.S. in 1991 to carry out terror. The Iraqi Intelligence Service played a role in terrorist operations, including the attempted assassination of President George H. W. Bush, and other attempts around the world. These Iraqi intelligence officials endangered both our nation and the Iraqis who had fled Iraq to start a new life here, free of Saddam Hussein's oppression and terror.

      As this conflict escalated, we heard Usama bin Laden speak in a videotape released on February 11, saying, and I quote, "We stress the importance of the martyrdom operations against the enemy - operations that inflicted harm on the United States and Israel that have been unprecedented in their history, thanks to Almighty God." Bin Laden also said, "Regardless of the removal or the survival of the socialist party or Saddam, Muslims in general and the Iraqis in particular must brace themselves for jihad against this unjust campaign and acquire ammunition and weapons."

      An FBI-focused Justice Department Iraqi Task Force plan was put in place, in addition to the integrated prevention security framework established after the September 11th attacks. The Iraqi Task Force Plan consisted of a three-prong strategy to: gather intelligence from Iraqi people, eliminate the Iraqi Intelligence Service's presence in the United States, and to disrupt potential attacks by other terrorists.

First, to identify threats to America and to assist our forces overseas, the FBI gathered intelligence on Iraq in the U.S. and abroad:

     Director Mueller will provide greater detail on the interview process, but I would add that the cooperation of the Iraqi-American people was essential to our efforts to secure and safeguard our nation at this critical time. The Department of Justice greatly appreciates the assistance and cooperation of the Iraqi community here in the United States.

     Efforts to reach out to this community are part of an overall strategy the Department has in place to work with the broader Arab and Muslim communities across the country to ensure their rights are respected and protected.

     The FBI took care to ask those they interviewed if they were aware of any backlash discrimination or hate crimes - and the Civil Rights Division here in the Justice Department has opened 36 new cases into incidents as a result. Other activities we have taken include:

Second, the Justice Department moved aggressively to expel or arrest all known Iraqi Intelligence officials within the U.S. including:

Third, the Justice Department aggressively countered potential counter-terrorism threats during the Iraqi conflict: Using all of the tools at our disposal, including provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, we have brought charges against 21 individuals as a result of our stepped-up efforts in the time period before and during the conflict with Iraq. Some of these include:

     The indictment alleges some websites promoted terrorism through suicide bombings and using airplanes as weapons. According to evidence proffered at the bond hearing, Al-Hussayen also posted statements and proclamations of two radical sheiks, who had ties to Usama bin Laden and advocated violence and terrorist activities against the United States, on these websites.

     Also, during this time, the Justice Department took guilty pleas from four individuals who are providing cooperation to the United States as part of their plea agreements.

     Such cooperation is a critical tool for our war on terrorism.

     The Justice Department's efforts leading up to, and during, the Iraqi conflict should send a clear message to the American people and others, that we will not tolerate those who would do our nation harm.

     It is a credit to our new investigative tools - carefully targeted and utilized - as well as the hard work of the law enforcement community, our intelligence agencies and a cooperative public, that we have not suffered another major terrorist attack in this country since September 11th.

     But we know that a significant terrorist threat persists and we all must remain ever vigilant.

      Thank you.