Elections demonstrate progress
The recent elections in Iraq were indeed an early Christmas present, not only for the people of Iraq, but for the entire world.
With each successive election in Iraq this year, there has been higher turnout and less violence. Of the 15.5 million eligible voters, it is estimated that 65 to 70 percent of Iraqis turned out to vote – between 10 and 11 million people defied terrorist threats and risked their lives to cast a vote.
All major groups participated in this election on a day of peace where Iraqis voted to fill the 275-member parliament, which will select a president and approve the prime minister and a Cabinet.
There is strong support for American efforts in Iraq. Watching the news would make you think otherwise. The national press has worked overtime to highlight the “bad” news of the day.
We must remember that America did not establish a democracy overnight, and we cannot expect Iraq to do it either.
It's only been three years since Saddam Hussein was still in power, tyrannizing the people of Iraq.
Even in the face of a ruthless insurgency, Iraq has evolved into to a sovereign nation: peaceful elections have been held for a transitional government; there has been a peaceful handover from the interim to the transitional government; a constitution has been drafted and approved; the Iraqi Security Forces has grown to more than 200,000; and most recently, elections have been held for a permanent assembly.
Make no mistake, much more work remains for 2006. The new four-year government must be selected, make the transition and take its place. There will also be a debate on amending their constitution.
The United States must continue to support this new government. We cannot withdraw our troops on any artificial, politically motivated timetable. Our men and women in uniform and their civilian support continue to help make the successes in Iraq possible.
As I have said before, announcing an exit strategy would be like Tommy Tuberville calling Mike Shula and telling him the plays he plans to run on game day.
The men and women of our armed forces and the members of Iraqi and Coalition forces have made tremendous sacrifices in the name of a free and democratic Iraq.
The people of Iraq now have hope. In the midst of an area of the world that has known trouble and conflict for centuries, a free Iraq is now truly a possibility.
Tracking al Qaeda
I also want to take this opportunity to discuss a topic that has received much attention over the past week: the president's authorization to monitor suspected terrorists within the United States.
Following Sept. 11, Congress granted the president authority to use military force against al Qaeda. Under this authority, the National Security Agency (NSA) was authorized to intercept international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.
The government must have information that establishes a clear link to a terrorist network. With strict guidelines in place to safeguard the civil liberties of all American people, the NSA program is reviewed every 45 days to ensure proper use.
It is also important to note that calls that originate and end in the U.S. are not monitored, a point that has been broadly exaggerated. The government is not listening to conversations between neighbors; these are known terrorists making plans to harm the United States.
The NSA program is crucial to our national security. As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, it was clear that terrorists inside the United States were communicating with terrorists abroad before the September 11 attacks.
Two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al Hozmi and Khalid al Midhar, communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al-Qaeda who were overseas.
We live in a world where terror attacks can be coordinated within our borders, and we must act accordingly.
As commander in chief, President Bush has the constitutional responsibility to protect the American people, and this program has helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States.
May this season of hope also bring peace to your hearts and to our world.
My staff and I work for you. Please call if we can be of service.
Jo Bonner represents the people of this area in the U.S. H ouse of Representatives.