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Iraqi interim president: Insurgents will be gone in a year

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq's interim president has said he sees no reason why the insurgency should not be vanquished within a year and Iraq well on its way toward becoming a constitutional democracy.

"Why not?" Ghazi al-Yawar said in a CNN interview on Wednesday. "We're not fighting a Viet Cong, which has principles and popular support. We are fighting Saddam loyalists. ... They know they are fighting for a losing battle. The whole Iraqi population is against them. I'm sick and tired of them.

"I think one year from now, exactly, we'll be very busy preparing for our free democratic election after we have a constitution."

Al-Yawar said he believes the United States was wrong when it eliminated the Iraqi army.

"In hindsight, it was a mistake to disband the Iraqi military," he said.

He said he foresees U.S. forces remaining in Iraq until enough Iraqi forces have been recruited and trained to replace them.

Their ranks should be opened to former members of the Iraqi military under President Saddam Hussein who are loyal to the new Iraqi government, al-Yawar said.

Al-Yawar also acknowledged there are concerns with several of Iraq's neighbors including Iran, Syria and Jordan.

Although Iran's influence over the Iraqi election, scheduled for January 30, has been questioned by some observers, al-Yawar expressed the belief that neighboring Iranians would not interfere in an attempt to create another Islamic regime.

The situation in Iran "is too complicated," al-Yawar said.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is a moderate, but his view is not shared by everyone in the government, he said.

Al-Yawar expressed confidence that Iraqis would reject any Iranian meddling.

"We are depending on the merit of our Iraqi people in the south," most of whom are Shiites, said al-Yawar. "The majority are skeptical of the Iranian role in Iraq."

Although some Iraqi Shiites see themselves as part of the same group as the Iranian Shiites, "We in Iraq have one platform that brings us together: the Iraqi identity," he said.

Two other neighboring nations have been accused of supporting Iraqi insurgents.

Al-Yawar said he was not sure whether Saddam loyalists in Jordan were providing support for insurgents. Syria, he said, is more complicated.

The Washington Post cited U.S. military intelligence in a report that said Syrians are financing, organizing and allowing passage of insurgents.

Al-Yawar said he agreed that insurgents were entering Iraq from Syria, but that he believed many insurgents were paying their own way.

"They have a lot of cash, which they stole from Iraqi Central Bank before the collapse of the old regime. They are using their own money. The problem is Syria -- we think that [Syria] is offering them a safe haven and shelter and they're operating from there," he said.

Al-Yawar added that he believes "some entities in the Syrian government" are working to strengthen the insurgency.

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