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Iraqi Official Foresees More Challenges Ahead for Iraqi, Coalition Forces

By Tech. Sgt. Elaine Wilson, USAF
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2006 – Although progress has been made, the war in Iraq is complex and many challenges are still on the horizon for Iraqi and coalition forces, Iraq's deputy prime minister said today.

"We are dealing with a tough war against international terrorism and the remnants of the Saddam (Hussein) regime," Barham Salih said in an interview on CNN's "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer. "We're dealing with a difficult, difficult political and security challenge."

With widespread sectarian violence and insurgent attacks, an immediate challenge for the country is the selection of a permanent defense minister and interior minister, responsible for the police and homeland security.

The prime minister "is committed to making the decision very soon," Salih said. "I hope we will bring into the team of the government two competent Iraqis who will help bring about security and help resolve many of the security challenges before us."

Whoever is chosen, Iraq will not achieve stability unless the country sees an end to militia activity, Salih said.

"We know who the terrorists are, and the terrorists are on one side and the rest of the people of Iraq are on the other," he said. "But the issue of organized armed groups who are acting outside the state and outside the law are becoming a serious problem for our politics and our society, and we have to deal with it."

Despite ongoing challenges, Salih said, Iraq is on the right track.

"There is significant progress in the way Iraqi forces are trained and recruited," he said. "If you were to compare the situation now to where we were a year ago, you would see significant progress."

If the pace is maintained, Salih said, the country will be able to rely more on Iraqi troops and security organizations and less on coalition forces, an evolution that eventually will enable a significant number of American troops to come home.

"I think the challenge for this government and coalition forces will be placing Iraqis in the front to assume the security of their own country," Salih said. "I think you will see more and more emphasis on Iraqi troops as opposed to multinational forces," he said.

Salih declined to give any timeframe for the transfer of security responsibility. "In terms of significant reductions of American and other forces, this again depends on the situation on the ground, but ... we should not submit to a specific timetable because we do not want to give the terrorists any hints or ideas that they can wait us out," he said.

Plagued by ongoing security issues, Salih urged people to be patient with Iraq. "My hope is that people on the outside world would understand the scale of difficulties that we are dealing with, certainly on the security file."

Although difficult to pin down on specifics, Salih was definitive on one point. "This war against international terrorists must be won and must be won decisively. Failure is not an option here in Iraq," he said.

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