Military action began last night in Iraq after twelve long years of diplomatic efforts aimed at assuring this day would not come. But as President Bush said, "peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime failed because we are not dealing with peaceful men." Human history has taught us the harsh lesson that some threats ultimately cede to nothing short of the use of force. The United States and other nations did nothing to warrant or invite this threat, but once engaged, we will do everything necessary to defeat it.
We entered this conflict reluctantly. But the people of the United States and our friends and allies have resolved that we must confront the threat now, rather than meet it later on the streets of our cities with fire fighters, police and doctors.
What has come to be called the coalition of the willing continues to grow. As of noon today, more than 44 countries are committed to this shared effort. All told, the population of the coalition now exceeds one billion people. Every major race, religion and ethnic group in the world is represented. The coalition includes nations from every continent on the globe.
Free nations have a duty to defend their people by uniting against clear threats to mutual security. It's no accident that many members of this coalition themselves recently escaped from tyranny and oppression. They understand what is at stake in bringing freedom and liberation to the Iraqi people, and in reducing the threat to all of us of terrible weapons in the hands of aggressive rogue regimes or terrorist groups.
The coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. We go to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. As President Bush made clear, the United States has no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more dark rooms where children are tortured as their parents are forced to watch. The greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and to turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace.
That is the mission now underway. We pray for its swift conclusion, with as little loss of life as possible. We look forward to the day no longer far at hand when we can welcome Iraq back into the international community of shared values. And together, the coalition partners will assist the Iraqi people with the task of building a united, stable and free country.
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As of 5 PM March 20, 2003, more than 44 countries were publicly committed to the Coalition, including:
El Salvador Eritrea