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U.S. Ambassaor to Iraq Christopher Hill spoke with On Point live from Baghdad today as early voting gets underway, part of the run-up to Sunday's elections. "So far so good," Hill said, despite scattered violence.
Hill said that the plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops by Sept. 1, and to leave only a residual advisory force of 50,000 or fewer, remains "very much on schedule." Observers worry that a spike in violence could derail that timeline.
The elections over the next few days, Hill said, will "help pave the way for a long-term diplomatic and kind of normal relationship that the United States would have with Iraq."
You can listen to Hill's interview here (transcript excerpts below):
TOM ASHBROOK: Ambassador Hill, what’s the biggest challenge you see first for Iraq here? Is it the kind of violence we’ve already seen in the early voting today? Or are the challenges bigger than that?
AMB. CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, you know, there’s no shortage of challenges here. I would say so far, notwithstanding the incidents your listeners have probably heard of – the fact that there were a couple of bombings in Baghdad, I think there was one hand grenade attack up in Mosul. But notwithstanding those reports, it’s been a pretty quiet day so far. Now we’re still waiting to hear more from our 18 American Embassy teams that are spread out around all the provinces reporting in. So far it’s been O.K. So we have to see how the violence goes and make sure it isn’t a major problem. So I would say violence is an issue we focus on. I would say in terms of things that people often worry about, fraud and that sort of thing, that there are really have been very strong efforts to deal with questions of fraud. For example, the ballot paper is a very special type of paper. There’s been a lot of good technical work done by the U.N. office here, and so I think we’re going to be O.K. on that.
TOM ASHBROOK: Ambassador, what would it take in the aftermath of this election, from the election itself, to slow down the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops?
AMB. HILL: Well, look, you know the President about a year ago at Camp Lejeune laid out a schedule for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, down to 50,000, and I think that’s very much on schedule. But you know today is an important day not so much from the point of view of getting our troops out, but today is the beginning of a democratic election which will seat a new parliament, put in a new government, and I think really help pave the way for a long-term diplomatic and kind of normal relationship that the United States would have with Iraq. So we’re kind of looking at this day in terms of the quality of Iraq’s democracy. And as for the troop withdrawals, we believe they’re on schedule. And I don’t want to start speculating or going into hypotheticals of what could conceivably change that.
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