By Ibrahim al-Jafari Monday, March 20, 2006; Page A15
BAGHDAD -- The elections last December in Iraq were a monumental stage in my country's history and a testament to the courage of its people, who refuse to bow to any dictator or terrorist. As the wheels of democracy have begun to turn in Iraq, the people's wishes are becoming clearer and their representatives identified. To this end I am humbled and honored to be chosen by my coalition to lead Iraq's first democratically elected full-term government.
My government's first challenge will be to stifle the terrorism that has plagued our country and defiled the name of Islam. While we are making good progress in expanding and developing Iraq's security services, the war against the terrorists cannot be won by military means alone. It is paramount that all Iraqis work together to build a democratic, free Iraq.
Since I took office, I have sought to bring every community into the political process. I refused to marginalize the Sunni Arabs after the January 2005 election boycott, ensuring they made up over a fifth of the cabinet.
Sidelining Moqtada al-Sadr's group from the Governing Council was a mistake. Had it been integrated into the political process back then, long before the formation of the Mahdi Army, events would have turned out differently in the south. I corrected this policy and brought Sadr's group into the democratic process. This inclusive approach resulted in the huge nationwide turnout for the December elections and a parliament that truly reflects Iraq.
During my term as elected prime minister, Sadr's group has not attacked any coalition troops. Furthermore, Sadr and several Sunni leaders are now catalysts for maintaining the peace in Iraq, calling on their followers not to retaliate against terrorist provocations, which aim to ignite civil war.
Unfortunately, we have suffered setbacks during the past year. The most troubling was the discovery of prisoner torture in an Interior Ministry jail in November. As soon as I learned of these despicable acts I formed an investigative committee made up solely of Sunni leaders, and I await its findings.
The long-term solution to this problem will be multifaceted. We must ensure that all security forces receive proper training and that there is a chain of command that holds commanders and officers responsible for such abuses. In addition, the various militias that fought Saddam Hussein's regime honorably must be fully integrated into Iraq's security forces without concentrating any particular group into any one division. Finally, we need to strengthen the country's nascent judiciary, which suffered years of coercion and corruption under the former regime, to guarantee its independence and impartiality.
The other major challenge my government will face is reviving Iraq's economy. Iraq has been drowned by decades of Baathist socialist policies that have made millions reliant on government handouts. We must encourage entrepreneurship and enterprise, while establishing adequate safety nets for the less privileged.
Economic rehabilitation also requires some tough and unpopular changes, such as the reduction in government subsidies for gasoline that my administration began a few months ago. Such steps can be made only by a popular government that has the trust of the people. My administration has the political capital to be able to bring about these necessary changes.
Ultimately, I will work to secure the reality of a democratic, liberal, peaceful Iraq -- a beacon for freedom in the Middle East. This is not merely a wish but an article of faith. Having lived in London for the majority of my years in exile, I appreciate the importance of liberty for both guaranteeing democracy and ensuring human development.
I am hopeful that with Iraqi determination, and the support of the multinational force, we can defeat the terrorists and make Iraq the first democratic Arab country. I believe in working toward a peaceful, stable and nuclear-free Middle East, where Iraq is not the rogue state that it was under the previous regime.
The road ahead will be tough, but the Iraqi people have demonstrated their bravery, determination and resolve. The world should not falter at such a crucial stage in history.