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Iraq elections, U.S. drawdown continuing
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Iraq’s elections and the U.S. drawdown of troops there later this year will go on undeterred by suicide bombings last week and previous attacks like it, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said recently.
“Neither this attack nor any of the previous attempts to derail the electoral process and to destabilize the government have been or will be successful, nor do we anticipate that it will derail our responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq,” Morrell said.
The United States has about 96,000 service members in Iraq and will maintain that level in the weeks following today’s national elections, the secretary said. That troop strength is necessary to provide for a peaceful transfer of power.
“But once that has been established, we are prepared to draw down dramatically” to get to President Barack Obama’s goal of having 50,000 troops in Iraq by Sept. 1, he said.
Suicide bombers attacked two police stations and a hospital just outside Baghdad in Baqouba last week, reportedly killing dozens of people.
“It’s disgraceful, it’s deplorable and we strongly condemn it,” Morrell said of the attack, but he added that it would not deter the election or U.S. troop drawdown.
The elections mark the third time Iraqis have gone to the polls since the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the second time under the current constitution, Morrell said. They are the first Iraqi national elections to take place without a large-scale insurgency and widespread sectarian violence, and unlike previous elections, he said, no political parties or ethnic groups are boycotting.
“This is an historic opportunity, and Iraqis recognize it as such,” the secretary said. “We expect participation to be broad across Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian spectrum.”
The United States and international organizations, including the United Nations, are assisting the Iraqi Independent High Commission as needed, “although frankly, they haven‘t needed much,” Morrell said. Iraqi forces are leading security efforts, he told reporters, and the United States stands ready to assist them if called upon.
“The bottom line is, this is the Iraqis’ election, and all indications are that they are more than prepared to pull it off,” he said.
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