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Iraq Likely to Assume Full Security Role Within 18 Months

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2005 – Iraq's security forces are expected to be ready to assume full responsibility for their country's security in about 18 months, Iraq's minister of the interior told Pentagon reporters today via teleconference from Baghdad.

Falah al-Naquib said the project is based on the current pace in recruiting and training Iraq's military and police forces and their proven successes in carrying out operations with multinational forces as well as independently.

He stressed, however, that decisions about when U.S. and multinational forces will begin withdrawing from Iraq "will be mainly a political decision."

The 18-month timetable depends on Iraq's ability to secure its borders, something Naquib said the interim government expects to be achieved within the next year. Also critical, he said, is Iraq's internal security capability, which depends on pumping up its intelligence network and directing these assets to fighting terrorists that continue to threaten the county's stability.

Iraq's security forces and multinational forces continue to do "a great job" in addressing this threat, Naquib said. During the past three weeks, they have arrested more than 350 terrorists, and on "two or three" recent occasions just before the elections, they came "within about one hour" of capturing al-Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Naquib declined to give specifics about those incidents, saying he would reveal them after Zarqawi's capture, which he said he expects soon. "We are following him," Naquib said. "I think we missed him twice or three times. But we will get him, very soon, hopefully."

Post-election violence in Iraq is actually lower than government officials had feared, Naquib said, and Iraqi security forces are continuing to step up the pressure on terrorists and their supporters.

"We have weakened them very much and we are continuing to weaken them, and hopefully in a very short period of time, nobody will hear about Zarqawi and his group," he said.

In the meantime, Naquib said efforts continue to train, equip and modernize Iraq's security forces and to introduce more professional-level, as well as basic, training. He cited successes in building Iraq's special forces elements, which have become active in a full range of security missions.

Naquib praised the courage and dedication demonstrated by Iraq's security forces, particularly as they faced off terrorists committed to derailing the Jan. 30 elections. "The Iraqi police stood firm and stayed at their posts, and the terrorists tested their resolve," he said.

Some security forces gave their lives as they "defended their country's future," Naquib said. A police constable, for example, recognized a terrorist rigged with an explosive belt approaching a polling station on Jan. 30. The constable chased and tackled the terrorist, who detonated the belt, killing both himself and the constable.

Naquib said the constable's act of heroism "saved scores of people standing in line to vote" and is representative of the commitment by Iraq's security forces and its citizens to moving their nation forward toward democracy.

"In just two years, Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship to the first-ever democratic vote in this country," he said. "On Jan. 30, 2005, Iraqis proved skeptics wrong. They stood up to terrorists and showed the world what is in the heart of the Iraqi citizens. Despite desperate attempts by terrorists to destroy Iraq's future by intimidation and other cowardly acts, Iraqis voted against terror and for democracy."

Naquib thanked the United States and its multinational allies for their role in "helping Iraq and the Iraqis, first, in getting rid of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, and then in helping Iraqis to build their own democratic state."

Iraq "would not have been able to do that by ourselves alone," he said.

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