Tuesday, March 3, 2009

British commander says democracy rooted in Iraq

The senior British commander in Iraq said in an interview published Monday that democracy is now rooted in the country and al-Qaeda has largely been defeated there, as Britain prepares to pull out.

Lieutenant-General John Cooper, who stands down Tuesday as deputy commanding general in Iraq, told the Guardian newspaper that British troops will leave a better country when they withdraw by the end of July.

"We have got democracy rooted here," he said from Baghdad.

"Clearly there is a long way to go to develop things. The (January) provincial elections show that Iraqis have an appetite for it. They were free, fair and credible and that reflects a desire for change."

Cooper added: "Al-Qaeda had been here in significant numbers and hopefully their aims and objectives have been denied to them.

"The lesson that I draw from this is that an organisation like al-Qaeda that purports to represent the people and then targets them will never take the people with them."

The general said their organisational ability had been "greatly reduced", their means of communication and their funding disrupted and "effectively the size of their networks has been much reduced."

Cooper said the army's job had not been to resolve all Iraq's problems but set the conditions for change.

"They have a writ of national government, the growth of the internal security services. They have a well-defined legal system, a well-defined and understood legislative system and security structures that have grown," he said.

He also rejected suggestions that British forces would withdraw from their base at Basra airport only to be replaced by US forces.

Britain's role was to train the Iraqi army, and "we have done that", he said, adding: "The Americans are going to be doing something different."

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