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Abizaid: Terrorists Fear Free Elections in Iraq

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2005 – What's happening today in Iraq is revolutionary in political terms, with millions of Iraqis expected to go to the polls this weekend, the commander of U.S. forces in Southwest Asia told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 26.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, joined Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in short press availability after briefing the committee about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The thing that enemy fears most -- the thing that people such as (Abu Musab al) Zarqawi and (Osama) bin Laden and (Ayman al) Zawahiri fear the most -- are free elections, elections that are the result of a fair process where a new government is chosen and a new future is taken," Abizaid said.

That's why it's likely that violence in Iraq will continue following the Jan. 30 elections, he said. "We should anticipate that after the elections that the people that desire to derail the process of a new future for Iraq will continue to fight and continue to fight hard," he said.

"We have to recognize how determined the people we're up against are," Rumsfeld said. "These are people who cut off people's heads on television. These are people that go around killing innocent people throughout Iraq. These are people that know they have a lot to lose if Iraq is successful in setting itself on a path of democracy."

Rumsfeld said it's likely that these groups will continue their string of violent acts as they desperately try to disrupt the democratic process and progress in establishing security forces able to hold their own against the insurgents.

Abizaid said the insurgents' fight will be "an uphill battle, because the Iraqi security forces, with our backing, will be successful." He said the multinational forces will continue to increase their training and partnership with the Iraqi security forces in the post-election environment.

In the meantime, U.S. forces are assisting the Iraqi interim government and Iraqi Electoral Commission, as requested, to finalize arrangements for the elections this weekend. "We understand that our role is to ensure that this is an Iraqi election," Abizaid said. "And I think you'll see (Jan. 30) millions of Iraqis will go to vote, because they want to vote."

Rumsfeld acknowledged that the weeks immediately following the elections, before the results are certified, will be "a period of ambiguity" about Iraq's future leadership.

After the election is certified, the Iraqi government will seat and organize a national assembly, which will select a president and two deputies. These three people will recommend a prime minister, who will, in turn, recommend cabinet members. The assembly will then approve all the ministers selected.

This process will take time, Rumsfeld said, particularly because Iraq has little experience in operating a democratic system.

"To be realistic, we have to recognize that that's the period we're moving into," the secretary said. "And it will take some time for that government to settle down, get its staff worked out, (and) get its relationships worked out among the ministers." Sorting these issues out could continue into March or possibly April, he said.

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Army Gen. John Abizaid
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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