WASHINGTON– The Iraqi people look upon President Bush as a liberator who delivered them from a brutal despot, Iraq’s chief executive told reporters at the White House today.

Bush is a hero who saved Iraq “from the worst kind of dictatorship” under Saddam Hussein, President Jalal Talabani said.

And Iraq has “no stronger defender” for its people than Talabani, Bush told reporters after meeting with the Iraqi president. Talabani has served as Iraq’s president since 2005.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Bush said of Talabani, an Iraqi from the Kurdish region in the north. Talabani underwent heart surgery last month at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Talabani “cares deeply about the Iraqi people,” Bush said, “and he has been a strong defender of human liberty.”

Increased security brought about by the success of the surge has enabled Iraqis to rebuild their lives and the United States to withdraw some 8,000 troops by February, Bush said.

“Iraqis want there to be fewer U.S. troops; the United States wants there to be fewer U.S. troops,” Bush said. “But, both of us want to realize that vision based upon success.”

Iraq and the United States are putting the finishing touches on a strategic framework agreement, Talabani said, that will define the status of U.S. forces in Iraq after the U.N. Security Council resolution expires at the end of the year.

With violence having greatly decreased in Iraq over the past year, Talabani said, his government and the United States have achieved notable success against terrorism in Iraq.

“So, we are thankful to you and to your people, your Army,” Talabani said to Bush. “We hope that the agreement about this strategic relation will be signed soon.” Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament is now working to finalize the draft of new election legislation, Talabani said. Iraq is heavily involved in reconstruction projects, he added, noting his government “is rebuilding the country.”

Talabani also reported that Iraq has improving relations with neighbors like Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, the United Arab Emirates recently posted its ambassador to Iraq in Baghdad. Kuwait, Jordan and Bahrain also have named ambassadors to Iraq, but they haven’t taken up their posts as of yet.

The Iraqi president also expressed his hope that American and Iraqi friendship “will continue and will be strengthened.”

“We will never forget what you have done,” Talabani said to Bush.

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