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Ambassador Sees Unifying Effect in Wake of Iraqi Election

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2005 – The fact that Iraq's Jan. 30 national assembly election was on time and successful may bring prior skeptics on board as the country continues on the road to democracy, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Jan. 31.

In an interview with Margaret Warner on the PBS program "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," Ambassador John D. Negroponte said that while some groups, notably Sunni Muslims, were reluctant to participate, the large turnout and the election's results may well prompt them to become part of the way ahead in Iraq.

"I think it's actually encouraging them to want to get on the train," Negroponte said. "In fact, I think initially a number of them were really trying to test the system to see if they could somehow or another cause a delay in the elections. But when the inevitability of the elections became apparent, I think we saw a number of these Sunni groups -- and certainly Sunni voters -- want to participate more in the political process."

Members of some Sunni parties that were not actively involved in the election already have indicated a desire to be involved in the drafting of Iraq's constitution, the ambassador noted. "So rather than having a polarizing effect, as some have suggested," he said, "I think this election could well, in the end, have a unifying consequence."

Even if the election results leave Sunni Muslims underrepresented in the national assembly, Negroponte said, their interests will be protected.

"What we've heard from the political leaders who are candidates in this election is that they want to take an inclusive approach towards the future political life of this country," he said. "So I think you're going to see efforts to involve the Sunni in the new executive branch, through cabinet positions and the like, and I think there is also the intention to try and involve them in various ways in the drafting of a new constitution."

The ambassador pointed out that under the interim constitution of Iraq, any combination of three provinces at the time of the referendum on the constitution can block ratification. "So it's very much in the interest of all concerned, if only to get the constitution ratified, to include representation from all groups," he said.

Negroponte would not speculate on when U.S. and coalition forces might be able to leave Iraq. "But what I can assure you is that we really are working extremely hard on this issue of training, equipping and motivating of the Iraqi armed forces," he said. "And I would give to you as an example the extremely good performance that they displayed (Jan. 30) in protecting these 5,300 polling centers throughout the country." The Iraqi forces deserve a "tremendous amount of credit" for the election's success, he added.

In the meantime, Negroponte said, progress will continue, even as efforts to thwart the progress continue as well. "I think that it is reasonable to expect that this insurgency will continue for some time to come," he said, "and that the best way to deal with it is to keep steadily working away at it through political action, such as these elections, through training and equipping and motivating of their armed forces and the economic reconstruction activities that we have under way."

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U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John D. Negroponte

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