U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Predicts Big Voter Turnout
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2005 The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said he expects millions of Iraqis to go to the polls this weekend during what he called "a major stride toward freedom on the part of the Iraqi people."
Ambassador John Negroponte said during an interview today on CNN's "American Morning" that he expects a strong voter turnout in the northern and southern part of the country, but acknowledged that security issues could affect participation in central Iraq.
During another interview, with CBS' Early Show, Negroponte insisted that despite calls by some Sunni Arab leaders to boycott the elections and security concerns in the Sunni triangle, Sunnis will also turn out to vote.
"Sunnis don't only live in some of these beleaguered provinces," said Negroponte. "They live here in Baghdad. They live in other parts of the country. And I think you're going to see participation across the board."
Security has been stepped up throughout the country in an effort to protect voters and prevent insurgents from disrupting the election process. "Every effort is being made to enable as many people as possible to vote," Negroponte told CNN.
The Iraqi police will assume principal responsibility for security at most polling sites, with the Iraqi National Guard and Iraqi army providing backup, he said. U.S. and multinational troops "will be in the outer ring of security, beyond the horizon," ready to respond as a quick reaction force if needed, Negroponte said.
"But the lead will definitely be the Iraqi security forces," he said.
The upcoming elections "are particularly important to the people of Iraq" and represent "a very important step in the transition from an appointed to an elected government," he said.
Voters will elect a National Assembly, which in turn will elect a president and two vice presidents and draft a permanent constitution. "That is going to lead, by the end of this year, to the election of a definitive government, so this is a major stride toward freedom on the part of the Iraqi people," Negroponte said.
But the ambassador declined to lay out a detailed timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. "Certainly we don't want to stay here for a prolonged or indefinite period," he said. "What we would like to see is the Iraqi armed forces and police take on greater and greater responsibility for their own security."
Achieving this goal will be a major goal of the multinational forces during the year ahead, he said, "so that progressively, we can turn over more and more of those responsibilities to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces."