London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Washington has criticized the Iranian role in Iraq, describing it as "unhelpful," and stressing that Tehran "finances and equips gunmen there." US Undersecretary for Defense Eric Edelman said that Washington will not stand idle before Iranian interferences in Iraq, and is coordinating in this regard with the British deployed in southern Iraq. He divulged that the US and Iraqi forces that recently launched a military operation to expel gunmen from Tal Afar, an Iraqi village adjacent to the Syrian border, found children who had been booby-trapped by gunmen.
Edelman, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat in London following his meeting with British officials to discuss the situation in Iraq, said that people think the United States is preoccupied with the Syrian role in Iraq, whereas in fact, it is extremely interested in the Iranian role. Edelman said that Iran and Syria share a number of common positions on the situation in Iraq and are hence likely to coordinate with one another as was demonstrated by some (Iranian-Syrian) statements and meetings. He said that the United States continues to contact the Syrians via the US Embassy in Damascus.
Washington demands that Syria meet certain conditions in exchange for improved relations, including halting the assistance it extends to gunmen in Iraq in the form of facilitating their passage through borders, or so believes the US Administration.
Commenting on Syria”s denial of any such assistance, Edelman said, "They always deny. Doing so will not change a thing. Syria helps and supports gunmen." The US official demanded that Syria stop "interfering" in Lebanon and end its support of Palestinian rejection elements.
As for the Iraqi internal situation, Edelman expected 88 percent of Iraqis to vote in the 15 October referendum on the constitution, and said that a high voter turnout is expected in the legislative elections slated for December.
Edelman said that Sunnis will strongly participate in the electoral process, and added "unlike last time, I think they are anxious to participate," stressing that the new constitution was "set by Iraqis for the sake of Iraq." Edelman refused to set a date for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq and said: "No one wants foreign troops on their land, but a specific date for the withdrawal cannot be set unless matters there stabilize. Most Iraqis do not want foreign troops to leave before the situation stabilizes. This will eventually be the deciding factor." Edelman said that 192,000 Iraqis have undergone training and that Iraqi forces are playing an ever-increasing role as was proven in Tal Afar, where a large Iraqi force operated alongside US forces. He revealed that "US and Iraqi forces managed to kill a large number of gunmen and would-be suicide bombers in Tal Afar (he did not provide a figure), and, for the first time ever, found children who had been booby-trapped." He noted that "the Arab gunmen in Tal Afar came from all the Arab countries." Edelman said that the situation in 14 of Iraq”s 18 governorates is currently stable and secure, and that acts of violence are committed in only four governorates.
In response to a question on Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian national at the head of the Al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq, Edelman said that information available to the United States confirms his presence in Iraq and indicates that he will focus his attacks on Shiites. Edelman noted that Al-Zarqawi no longer targets foreign or Iraqi forces, and that his choice of targets seeks to inflame the sectarian conflict in the country. Edelman said that journalists and news correspondents focus on security matters but do not shed enough light on other matters such as the opening of schools, hospitals, and clinics, the restoration of the electricity and water networks, and the fact that Iraqis can now visit sanctuaries like those in Karbala, to which more than a million visitors flock. He said that some of the military personnel who served in Iraq wish to go back there in order to help in development projects or see what has become of the infrastructure projects they contributed to. He expressed his belief that "life is now much better than it was, and will be much better in the future; this is what 60 percent of Iraqis believe."
Edelman spoke about democratic reform in the Arab world, saying that the democratic process is capable of rectifying itself, and noting that Washington is aware of the need to monitor political and economic affairs. He said that US democracy has rectified itself over past eras, where there was slavery in most states, and where women were only allowed to vote in 1920.