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Democratic Elections Historic, Iraqi Official Says

Democratic Elections Historic, Iraqi Official Says

Deputy prime minister thanks United States for its sacrifices

Washington -- Iraq's deputy prime minister says elections in Iraq are historic, and thanks Americans for making them possible.

Barham Salih, deputy to Interim Iraqi Government Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, began and ended a January 28 videoconference from Iraq with Pentagon journalists by saying that the first-ever democratic elections in Iraq represent "an exciting moment in our history." Near the end of the briefing, he said, "These elections would not have been possible without the liberation of Iraq, and without the sacrifice of the American and coalition forces in Iraq. And I hope the American public understands that those sacrifices have not been in vain. We're talking about democratic transformation in the heart of the Islamic Middle East, and it is a worthy objective."

Salih announced the arrest of a third high-level lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born Palestinian who heads a terrorist group in Iraq connected to Osama bin Laden. He is Anab Mohammed Hamid al-Qas, a 31-year-old Iraqi, also known as Abu Ali. Salih said he was a military adviser to high-ranking Zarqawi affiliates who assisted in financing terrorist operations in Baghdad. Previously announced were the arrests of Salah Suleiman al-Loheibi -- known as Abu Saif -- on December 31, and Ali Hamed al-Issawi -- known as Abu Hassan -- on January 20.

Salih said al-Qaida and affiliate groups like Zarqawi’s are "a bunch of murderers. … We are working aggressively to get Zarqawi and other lieutenants and to eradicate them from Iraqi scene." Asked about recent arrests of Syrians among Iraqi insurgents, he said, "We certainly know of the existence of many senior leaders from the former regime, beyond the borders of Iraq, financing terrorist operations inside Iraq and directing terrorist operations inside Iraq." [Note: Syria's current regime and Iraq's previous one are both Ba'ath Party affiliates.]

Queried as to whether he thought the elections will be credible, Salih said he had no doubts that they would be "maybe imperfect in certain ways, given the environment we're talking about, but nevertheless, a major improvement on what we have had before," he said.

Demonstrating a sense of both humor and perspective, Salih answered a question about Iraqi voter turnout by saying he predicts it will be "better than voter turnout in U.S. elections."

Asked what he thought Saddam Hussein is thinking two days before Iraq's first elections, Salih said, "Saddam Hussein is history. … I cannot imagine Saddam Hussein being a happy man knowing that elections will be two days away."

Responding to a question about Iraq's post-elections need for continued U.S. and coalition military presence, Salih said Iraq would need it "for some time to come," both because of the [internal] terrorist threat and also because Iraq is in "a tough neighborhood."

Salih said he hopes that after an elected Iraqi government takes over, "the security dynamic will change, and more reliance will be placed on indigenous Iraqi forces. … The exact nature and the time scale that we're talking about depend on condition."

The transcript of Salih's briefing is available on the Internet at: >

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