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Upcoming Elections Represent 'Historic Moment," Iraqi Minister Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2005 – Iraq's Jan. 30 elections mark "the beginning of the end of the miseries and difficulties that the people of Iraq have endured for so many decades," Iraq's interim deputy prime minister told Pentagon reporters today during a videoconference from Baghdad.

The elections will select 275 assembly members who will write Iraq's new constitution.

The interim Iraqi government has implemented several emergency procedures to enhance public safety during the voting period, observed Barham Salih. They include closing the borders and airports, imposing a countrywide evening curfew, placing a ban on civilian-carried weapons, and declaring Jan. 29-31 public holidays.

"No weapons may be carried by civilians on the 30th of January, even if they own weapons cards," Salih said, noting there will also be restrictions on vehicle traffic during the election period.

Iraqi and multinational security services have labored over the past month "to make sure that we disrupt the ability of the terrorists to destabilized the political process," he said.

The deputy prime minister announced that Iraqi security forces recently seized another close associate of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The new detainee, he noted, "served as a military adviser to high-ranking Zarqawi affiliates and assisted in financing terrorist operations in Baghdad."

Salih said the recent detainee joins two other suspected senior terrorists caught in Iraq in recent weeks. During the past two months, he observed, Iraqi security forces have picked up "at least a dozen senior Zarqawi associates."

More than 20 other suspected Zarqawi network operatives have been rounded up as part of a national dragnet that has led to the arrest and questioning of nearly 2,000 suspects over the past two weeks, Salih said.

Iraqi citizen-provided tips precipitated most of the arrests, the deputy prime minister noted. It is important, Salih emphasized, that Iraqi citizens and government agencies work together "to eradicate this terrorist plague and make sure that Iraq will be a safe and secure place, not only for the elections, but beyond."

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