WASHINGTON (Talon News) — In a briefing from the Pentagon on Thursday, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al Naqib, speaking via video conference from Baghdad, thanked America for “helping Iraq and the Iraqis in getting rid of the regime, the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” Minister Naqib also expressed thanks to the American people for “helping the Iraqis to build its own democratic state.”

“So, I think most of the Iraqi people appreciate that very much,” Naqib said.

The Iraqi interior minister added, “First of all, I must say that in just two years, Iraq has gone from a total dictatorship to the first-ever democratic vote in this country. On January 30, 2005, the Iraqis proved skeptics wrong. They stood up to terrorism, and showed the world what’s in the heart of the Iraqi citizens. Despite desperate attempts by terrorists to destroy Iraq’s future, by intimidation and other cowardly terrorist acts, the Iraqis voted against terror and for democracy.”

Naqib noted that the Iraqi police “stood firm” even as terrorists “tested their resolve.” Naqib said that he looks forward to the future as a new Iraq emerges.”

Interior Minister Naqib was asked whether efforts to apprehend noted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his terror network were beginning to pay off. Naqib created the Iraqi special forces for doing a “great job.”

“We have arrested more than 350 terrorists in just three weeks, the last three weeks before the election,” Naqib explained. “So I must say, part of the success of the election are the operations we have been able to do in the last six weeks. 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 or his group.”

The interior minister said that the Iraqi special forces are following Zarqawi and have “missed him twice or three times,” sometimes arriving within one hour of Zarqawi being at an identified location.

“[H]opefully next time we will be able to capture him,” Naqib added.

When asked about increased violence following the elections in Iraq, Naqib said that Iraqi officials actually “expected worse than that.”

“They’re planning, they think once we finish the elections our security forces will be relaxed, and things will be much easier for them to do that,” Naqib said. “But, actually we continue attacking their bases. We have arrested a number of them in the last couple of days after the election, and we are continuing to do that.”

In discussing the growth of Iraq’s internal security forces and a timetable by which those forces could assume full responsibility for security, Naqib said that a strong Ministry of Interior in Iraq, one that “can control the security situation in Iraq,” could be in place in eighteen months.”

“Talking about the withdrawal of the multinational forces, that will be maybe a political question, actually,” Naqib added. “But from my perspective, and my predictions that we, as a the Ministry of Interior, if we will continue at the same speed we have been doing for the last four months, I think we will be able to have a good control over our internal security by the Iraqi forces.”

In order for the transition to full Iraqi control over security, Naqib said that Iraqi forces must have “good control” over their borders.

“I think we will need some time until we have secured borders, maybe 12 months,” Naqib said. “For the internal security, there are two parts of it, fighting terrorists. First of all, we have to have a good intelligence organization to bring information. Then we have to have a good strong force to deal with those terrorists, which we already started these forces on. Also we started our intelligence organization. Then we will be able to get rid of all the terrorist organizations in this country.”

Naqib explained that the other element in overall security is the “regular police force.” The Iraqi minister said that Iraq is “redesigning” and “modernizing” the police forces to deal with the added security responsibilities.

“I wish to thank all of you who helped make this election a success,” Naqib said. “May God bless you all, and may God bless Iraq.”

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