By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 9, 2007 – The image of thousands of Iraqi citizens peacefully voicing their views in Najaf today illustrates the freedoms they've gained since U.S. and coalition forces liberated the country from Saddam Hussein's iron grip four years ago, a senior U.S. military officer in Baghdad said today. Between 5,000 and 7,000 Iraqis are participating in peaceful anti-U.S. demonstrations in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, Navy Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad.
"That is their right in the new Iraq," Fox said. "And, it's only fair, however, to note that they exercise that right because coalition forces liberated them from a tyrannical, barbaric regime that would never have permitted such freedom of expression."
The U.S. and coalition forces' air and ground campaign launched March 20, 2003, quickly overwhelmed Saddam's military. The dictator's rule was effectively ended on April 9, when American troops in downtown Baghdad pulled down a metal statute of the dictator amid the cheers of elated Iraqis.
American forces found Saddam hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit in December 2003. After being tried and convicted by an Iraqi court on charges of genocide against the Iraqi people and other crimes, Saddam was executed by hanging on Dec. 29, 2006.
The removal of the late dictator's "republic of fear" also has enabled hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to participate in multiple religious celebrations and festivals held across the country.
However, Fox acknowledged the ongoing animosity between some of Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites that's often instigated and inflamed by al Qaeda attacks. "Now, Iraqis must reject those who seek to drive wedges between people who have in the past lived in harmony," the admiral said.
Fox cited the establishment of a constitution, democratic governance and voting processes among the "substantial accomplishments" witnessed in Iraq since the end of Saddam's regime. "Today, the Iraqi people are free to vote, to worship and to peacefully assemble," Fox said.
Yet, he also acknowledged that parts of the country remain dangerous "for those who have been involved in helping to build a new (democratic) state in this ancient land."
Meanwhile, Iraqi and coalition security forces are working together to protect the people of Iraq, as provincial reconstruction teams are helping restore Iraq's battered infrastructure and resuscitate the national economy to provide a better future for Iraq's citizens, the admiral said.
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