Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Democracy is "rooted" in Iraq and reflects a "desire for change", Lieutenant General John Cooper, Britain's deputy commanding general in the country has said, ahead of the British army's pull-out.
Lt Gen Cooper said January's nationwide provincial elections were a turning point in the country.
He was speaking in an interview with the Guardian newspaper ahead of standing down from his post in Iraq and retiring from the army.
He said: "We have got democracy rooted here. Clearly there is a long way to go to develop things.
"The provincial elections show that Iraqis have an appetite for it. They were free fair and credible and that reflects a desire for change."
Lt Gen Cooper was second in command only to US generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno. All three were responsible for the 150,000 coalition troops in Iraq.
He said that the coalition troops had forced al-Qaeda to retreat and diminished their ability to target civilians.
He told the Guardian: "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.
"Their organisational ability has been greatly reduced. Their ability to communicate through the internet has been taken from them and so has their ability to finance themselves. Effectively the size of their networks has been much reduced."
His assessment comes after the Telegraph revealed that Britain will begin withdrawing troops from Iraq at the end of March.
The Foreign Secretary made the admission during a visit to Basra, when he announced that the pull-out would begin on March 31.
The exact date of the start of the withdrawal had remained secret amid fears that the announcement could spark unrest.