Iraqi delegation visits, applauds military efforts

By Staff Sgt. Jason Lake
332nd AEW/PA

"Your mission was worth it," Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari said of the U.S. military's effort in Iraq. "We're very proud of your sacrifices and deeply appreciate what you have done."

Minister Zebari and members of the Iraqi Governing Council, including Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Shaalan, briefly visited LSA Anaconda before continuing on to Istanbul, Turkey, to speak at the NATO summit.

"Today, as we flew here we saw satellite dishes mounted on people's rooftops," said Minister Zebari, an Iraqi-Kurd who fought in numerous rebellions against the former regime. "One and a half years ago people would have gotten sentenced to death for having something like that. This is a new era for [Iraqis]."

Minister Zebari explained that since Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off last spring, Iraqis have experienced great leaps in personal freedoms - including freedom of the press, freedom of religion, satellite television, unrestricted Internet access and other privileges of a democratic society.

"Another great change has been the rise in salaries for civil servants, teachers and other government jobs," he said. "Some salaries have gone up 100 times higher in some sectors."

Minister Zebari said that the end result of pay raises has been the steady improvement in the quality of life for Iraqis.

"People are out buying all kinds of gadgets," he said. "Before, (Operation Iraqi Freedom) this would have been impossible. Most people never dreamed of this kind of freedom before."

The challenges faced days before the transfer of sovereignty is the price of freedom.

"Every era of change has its complications. But I believe it's just a matter of time before the security situation improves," Zebari said.

Defense Minister al-Shaalan planned to address some security concerns while attending the NATO summit. The defense minister also urged U.S. service members to not let negative media reports or poll results dissolve their resolve for accomplishing the mission.

"The media can be unfair at times," he said. "We think (Operation Iraqi Freedom) was the right decision. History will show that your actions were right."