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Iraq Committed to Free, Fair, On-Time Elections

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2004 – Iraq's interim government is committed to holding free and fair elections throughout the country as planned on Jan. 30 and is actively working to prepare for that end, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said today in London.

Speaking at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Salih said Iraq's interim government takes "very seriously" its obligations to the Iraqi people, the Iraqi interim administrative law and the U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for Iraq's elections to be held on time.

Salih said Iraq's goal is for "every law-abiding Iraqi citizen in any region of Iraq to take part in the election."

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is conducting an outreach program to engage leaders of the Sunni community as the elections approach, Salih said. "I am confident that the Sunni community wants to take part in the election because they see this as the way that the future of Iraq will be decided," he said.

Debate over elections and a technical delay shouldn't be construed as a lack of interest, Salih said, noting that 180 Iraqi political parties and entities have registered so far to participate.

He called these debates "a mark of the seriousness with which Iraqis are taking the issue of elections" and of "the importance that Iraqis in all communities of Iraq are attaching to the election process."

Blair acknowledged that terrorists and insurgents are committed to stopping the democratic process, with accelerated anti-Iraq activity witnessed in Fallujah, Samarra, Najaf and Mosul.

"So the key thing is are we going to allow people engaged in acts of terrorism to stop the Iraqi people having the right to vote in their government?" Blair asked. "I think our response has got to be to refuse to let those people succeed. And I am sure that that is the spirit in which the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people will approach it."

Overcoming these obstacles won't be easy, Salih said. "But I think as we have demonstrated in the past, Iraqis are capable of overcoming challenges. We have met every deadline that we were asked to meet by the international community and by the Iraqi political process."

Salih said the Iraqi government is working with all local communities to ensure that the political process will be inclusive and fair.

The elections, he said, will be an important step toward Iraq's future. "We are in a process of building a democratic system of government that will be at peace with the people of Iraq and at peace with the world," he said.

"This is no easy mission, and one should not underestimate the difficulties inherent in this monumental challenge. But we are doing it, and the support of the United Kingdom, the United States and the coalition partners to the people of Iraq has been obviously remarkable and appreciated."

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