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U.S., Iraqi Officials Reach Out to Uneasy Citizens

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2006 – U.S., coalition and Iraqi government representatives are reaching out to uneasy Iraqi citizens in efforts to have them participate in the new Iraq's political process, a senior U.S. Defense Department spokesman said here today.

"The coalition is involved in reaching out to influential community leaders across Iraq to address legitimate concerns of the people, to urge people to participate in (a) peaceful political process," DoD spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters.

Whitman said U.S. and coalition representatives do not engage in dialogue with members of al Qaeda in Iraq, people still loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime, criminals and foreign fighters.

"That is not the type of engagement that we're talking about," Whitman said.

Some Iraqis are dragging their feet about participating in the new Iraq because they resent the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops in their country. U.S. and coalition policy is to depart Iraq as soon as Iraqis are capable of providing their own security.

Among other disaffected Iraqis are some Sunnis who'd been favorably treated under Saddam and now fear the loss of political power and social prestige under the democratic process. Shiites comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's population, while Sunnis and Kurds each make up about 20 percent.

The new Iraqi government also is involved in efforts "to bring everybody into a peaceful political process that involves all the interests of the various ethnicities in Iraq," Whitman said.

About 11 million Iraqis, roughly 70 percent of registered voters, participated in Dec. 15 nationwide elections. Sunnis had largely boycotted the previous election held in January 2005, but they turned out in large numbers to cast their ballots on Dec. 15, along with Iraqi Kurds and Shiites.

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