Negroponte: No Effort Spared to Protect Iraq Voters
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 23, 2005 Northern and southern Iraq should have good voter turnout in the Jan. 30 election for a national assembly, said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte. The center of the country is "problematic."
Terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi and former regime elements have vowed to disrupt the elections in the central provinces, but Iraqi and coalition forces are working to combat this threat. "No effort is being spared to provide the kind of security conditions that will enable as many people as possible in those areas to vote," the ambassador said on U.S. Sunday morning shows today.
He said there is no such thing as an absolute guarantee of safety to Iraqi voters. "But I believe in a preponderance of the country it will be safe for people to go and vote," he said.
And Iraqis want to exercise their rights. The ambassador said Iraqi polling data shows a large majority of Iraqis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds want to vote. "So the important thing is security, and we are doing our utmost to work with the Iraqi armed forces and their police to make sure that the necessary security measures are in place so that every Iraqi eligible to do so can exercise his or her right to vote," he said.
The insurgents trying to disrupt or ruin the vote are "ruthless Saddamists, former regime elements who are aided and abetted by al Qaeda and other international terrorists," Negroponte said. "They use terror as a tactic, both against the enemy and against the populace upon whom they depend for support."
Negroponte said the United States will work with whatever Iraqi government comes out of the electoral process. He said he doubts that the Iraqis would ask the coalition to leave. He said the Iraqis know they cannot handle the threats now facing it.
But with continued training and equipment from the coalition the Iraqi army and police should be able to eventually handle the threat. Iraqi security forces, in fact, have had a number of successes since their dismal performance in April 2004. Iraqi forces have fought well in Samarra, Najaf and Fallujah. They have worked well with 1st Cavalry Division forces in Sadr City.
There are now between 70 and 80 Iraqi battalions operating in the country. This includes regular army units and the Iraqi National Guard that was amalgamated into the army Jan. 6. "In Fallujah right now there are nine Iraqi battalions that are operating," Negroponte said. "There are several Iraqi battalions up in Mosul providing security there. These are forces that simply did not exist six or eight months ago."
He said Iraqi forces continue to improve. "It's not been as good as or as fast as we would like, but there is no higher priority than continuing to train, equip and mentor Iraqi armed and police forces," the ambassador said.