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The President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, Shares His Views in 'Dear Americans'

As I am visiting the United States for the second time representing free and democratic Iraq, I felt it my duty to give you an update on what has been achieved in Iraq over the past year and on the challenges that lie ahead.

The first thing I would like to convey is the gratitude of all Iraqis, who are fighting for a democratic government and a civil society, to the Americans. Without your commitment, our struggle against despotism could not have made the progress that we have achieved. No expression of thanks could be enough for those who lost loved ones in Iraq. We feel your pain, we honor your sacrifice and we will never forget you.

To those of you who have family and friends in Iraq today, we say: Your sons and daughters are helping us through a historic transition. We will always remember the enormous sacrifice that America is making for Iraq.

Thanks to the United States, we are transforming Iraq from a country that was ruled by fear, repression and dictatorship into a country that is ruled by democracy and has the values of equality, tolerance, human rights and the rule of law at its heart.

April 9, 2003, the day of liberation, heralded a new era in the history of Iraq and the region. That day triggered a sequence of events that laid the foundation of a modern Iraq that is at peace with itself and the world.

All segments of Iraqi society have benefited from liberation .

Under Saddam Hussein, the majority of the Sunni Arabs of Iraq were marginalized, Saddam and his gang were ruling in the name of this community. But in reality, the Sunni Arabs never had the chance to choose their representatives democratically and have a say about their future. Today, they have 58 deputies in Parliament, a vice president, a deputy prime minister and a speaker of Parliament; all were elected by the people of Iraq.

The Shia majority of Iraq was for decades oppressed and discriminated against. They did not even have the right to practice their religious ceremonies. Now, they are equal citizens and hold key posts in government and parliament through their democratically elected representatives. Kurds were second-class citizens. They suffered from genocide and chemical bombardment; now they are equal members of Iraqi society and active participants in the running of their country, Iraq.

The same applies to the Turkomens, Assyrians and other groups of Iraqi society.

Iraq finally has an elected and representative government, a huge contrast to the authority of a vicious tyrant. In other words, Iraq is no longer the property of a gang that ruled by fear and repression. Every Iraqi today feels they have a stake in the new Iraq.

With the regime of Saddam gone, the countries of the Middle East no longer worry about the threat of new adventures by Saddam and his army across Iraq's international borders.

Every time that I visit the United States, I am convinced anew of the virtues and health of the American idea of government, and of the generosity of its people.

I was here around the same time last year. Here is what has happened between then and now, although I must say that I do not think that our situation can be understood simply by following the latest news. A much broader view of Iraq must be taken.

For this, I will start with the economy.

The economic conditions for most Iraqis have improved. The economy was liberated from the control of the state and we are now taking the first steps in creating a vibrant private sector.

Thanks to our independent businesspeople, our market places are bustling despite the unsettled security situation.

A new investment law is before our Parliament. It will further invigorate our private sector, streamline the procedures for starting a new business, and open the country to greater foreign participation and investment.

Salaries of government employees were raised 100 times or more. A policeman under Saddam received $2 to $3 dollars a month. Now a policeman is paid at least $200 a month.

The financial and economic boom is mostly noticed in the safer parts of Iraq. The city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan region now has more than 2,000 millionaires. Before liberation, the city had 12.

Politically, we had an eventful year. For the first time in Iraq's history, we ratified a constitution that enshrines many of the democratic values of human rights, equality, rule of law and good government.

After three historic ballots that remain landmarks in the history of the Middle East, we now have a government that arises out of the people, instead of over the people, to use the words of a great American patriot, Thomas Paine.

Unlike the previous election, last December more people voted - 10.5 million - and a more representative parliament and a national unity government are now in place.

Taking part in the national election and referendum on the constitution were the first steps in our national reconciliation efforts; we opted for the ballots and not the bullets to resolve our differences.

We consolidated this by the National Reconciliation Plan of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The plan aims at bringing into the political process all elements of the Iraqi political spectrum that condemn terror and violence.

In the period between the election and the formation of the national unity government, the political blocs - which formed the government later - agreed on the political program for the government and agreed on forming the Political Council for National Security.

An important event that marked the new Iraq over the past year is the trial of Saddam Hussein and his aides for the crimes that were committed against the people of Iraq.

We offered him the justice that he denied Iraqis for decades. The trials, the testimonies of the witnesses and those of the defendants are stark reminders and indications of what Iraq was like in the past and what the new Iraq is about.

Through the constitution and other legal means, we are redefining the foundations that Iraq was built on and are rebuilding what the country's bloody past has destroyed. We have no choice but to succeed.

Our enemy attempts to destroy and disrupt any part of the political process, not because they disagree with the tenets of the Iraqi constitution, but because they do not want a constitution.

This contingent of international terrorists and the supporters and beneficiaries of the old regime - the devotees of Saddam Hussein - constitute the driving force of our enemy.

They attempt to turn Iraqis against each other, and take Iraq back to its brutal and bloody past.

Their tactics of suicide bombings and beheadings make it obvious that they mean to govern by inciting terror and fear, just as Saddam did. Although portions of Iraq are already safe and secure, certain parts are still coming under attack from the vicious, bloodthirsty enemy.

With the support of the citizens of Baghdad, the government started its Baghdad Security Plan. This plan is already showing signs of success, with a marked drop in the reported incidents of violence over the last month.

The battle in Iraq today is not between the various communities. Their elected representatives have agreed on a government of national unity and on national reconciliation. Nor is it a battle between civilizations, as some have seen it.

It is a war "about civilization" as Prime Minister Tony Blair has phrased it so well - the conflict is between those who believe in having a civilization and those who don't believe in having one at all.

As you no doubt already understand, we are fighting a terribly difficult war in Iraq. We are doing everything within our power to protect our people from this clear form of fascism that seduces them into civil war.

The calculated crime of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his henchmen in bombing the Shrine of Samarra, one of Iraq's religious and cultural treasures, is a prime example of their agenda. They wanted to slide the country into civil war.

Thanks to the presence of the U.S. forces in Iraq and the wisdom of my colleagues in the leadership of Iraq, that plan was thwarted and the short spate of violence was contained.

I want to be frank here. In order to rid Iraq of the constant threat of violence, we still need your help. As long as we are determent to outlast and outsmart our enemy, we shall reach our common goals.

Iraq is slowly gaining the ability to fight this war with its own soldiers, evidenced recently by the relinquishing of complete control of coalition forces to the Iraqi government. The coalition now employs more soldiers from Iraq than any other nation.

Slowly but surely, Iraq will be able to protect itself on its own.

The stakes of Iraq are enormous, world-shifting even. This is why our country should be a point of concern for every democratic country of the world.

I can assure you that the immediate departure of coalition forces would only unleash tensions between different communities; the prospect of a safe Iraq would be completely lost; and the previous descriptions of a civil war would seem insufficient and tame compared to the bloodshed of an Iraq that loses its international support.

And although I cannot promise when or how the American presence will completely end in Iraq, I can promise that American soldiers do not fight in vain.

We in Iraq recognize that an incredible amount of American resources have been offered to us. And we understand that many Americans are frustrated with the course of the war, and we understand that doubt naturally coincides with difficulty.

I realize that many Americans were apprehensive about the decision to go to war.

But I ask that you put this behind you in favor of supporting a democratic and free Iraq, and a future for Iraqis that excludes the threat of violence and extremism.

I ask that you consider what the terms of failure in Iraq would actually look like, and what they would mean for Iraq, the United States and the international community.

I would venture to say that the interest of Iraq and the United States are one in this matter.

The United States carries a heavy responsibility in helping us. As complicated as the relationship may be, America and Iraq are now siblings in the world.

By Jalal Talabani

Jalal Talabani is the President of Iraq. He wrote this for McClatchy Newspapers.


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