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American Forces Press Service

Rumsfeld: Iraqi Elections Will Proceed as Planned

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2005 - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed speculation that the Iraqi elections "won't happen" or will be delayed beyond Jan. 30 during an inaugural ball here Jan. 20 honoring troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking at the Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball, Rumsfeld called the inauguration "a celebration for democracy" and credited the U.S. military with helping spread democracy elsewhere in the world.

The secretary praised "the people in this room, and the people in the armed services" who "have done a truly superb job of liberating 25 million Iraqis (and) 25 million Afghans."

Rumsfeld called his attendance at the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai "one of the great privileges of my lifetime" and praised those in the group who served in Afghanistan and helped make its first popular election possible.

"To see that country launch itself off on a path toward democracy and toward respect for the various elements of the country . was truly a breathtaking experience," he said.

Rumsfeld predicted that Iraq soon will enjoy a similar reprieve from its long history of oppression, following its elections on Jan. 30. He acknowledged that "everyone is speculating that it won't happen, that it has to be delayed," but said, "I bet you it goes forward, and I will bet you that people vote."

Despite insurgents' efforts to disrupt the Afghan elections, Rumsfeld noted that the Afghan people exercised their right to vote. "They stood in line in Afghanistan even though there were explosions taking place nearby, (and) the women voted even though (insurgents) were trying to intimidate them and tell them they couldn't vote," the secretary said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz joined Rumsfeld in praising the troops at the ball and thanking them for the changes they are helping bring about in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Our troops on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan today are not just fighting a great evil," Wolfowitz said. "They're helping 50 million people, almost all of them Muslims, to build new countries (and) new societies that will not only be better for their people, they will be better for the world. And they will be friends of the United States."

"The great sweep of human history is for freedom," Rumsfeld said. "And we are on the side of freedom, and freedom will prevail."

The secretary praised the role America's military men and women are playing in this historic sweep. "You are the best, there's no question," he told the servicemembers at the ball.

"And I am just so pleased to be able to come here and say thank you to each of you -- the men and women who serve our country with such determination and such courage and professionalism. God bless you all, and thank you so much."

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