The U.S. ambassador to Iraq predicts a strong turnout amid tight security for next Sunday's Iraqi election. John Negroponte says an elaborate security plan is in place.
One week to the day before Iraqis go to the polls, Ambassador Negroponte was interviewed on five American television talk shows. He said Iraqis want to vote and efforts are being made to make sure they can do so safely.
On the Fox News Sunday television program, Ambassador Negroponte offered this assessment:
"We will see strong participation by Iraqi voters in the northern and southern parts of this country. There will be problematic areas, particularly in the center, in the Sunni Triangle," he said.
Insurgents in the Sunni-dominated area are issuing threats against those who want to participate in the election, calling it a ploy to put Shi'ite Muslims in power.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said while he hopes all eligible Sunnis vote, the extent of Sunni participation should not be the sole criteria for judging the election.
"Well, I do not think we should allow the question of Sunni turnout to be the arbiter, if you will, of the legitimacy of this election. What about the aspirations of the other ethnic and religious groups in this country or the non-sectarian politicians? So, I think we have to be very careful about that," he added.
Ambassador Negroponte stressed that even in areas where the insurgency is strongest, great efforts are being made to make sure that every eligible Iraqi can cast a ballot.
"Security measures are being taken by both the MNF, the multi-national forces here in Iraq, as well as the Iraqi armed forces and police," said Mr. Negroponte. "They have elaborate security plans that go all the way down to the district level."
Leading U.S. Congress members also commented on the Iraqi election. Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, told Fox News Sunday it is extremely important, noting it could ultimately bring the various factions in Iraq together.
"This is a first step and there are many opportunities along the line to bring in Sunni participation. Hopefully, Sunnis will vote," she said.
On the same program, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham looked ahead to what might happen after the vote. He said even if political unity is achieved, the insurgency will continue to test the will of the Iraqi people.
"This year, 2005, will be a very tough year even after the vote," he said. "If we have solid participation, which I hope we do, the insurgents are going to keep pushing, keep attacking because the constitution has got to be written this year."
Senator Graham said it is going to be a tough year for both Iraq and the United States. But he added if those involved in bringing democracy to Iraq are patient, it is going to be a great year.