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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November 2004, 20:58 GMT
Iraq deputy PM lectures in Wales
Barham Saleh in Cardiff
Barham Saleh (centre) with Ann Clwyd at the university
Iraq's deputy prime minister has spoken of the challenges the Iraqi interim government is facing over the elections planned for next January.

Barham Saleh was the guest speaker at the annual Keir Hardie lecture in the Cynon Valley on Friday.

Mr Saleh, who used to be a student in Cardiff, said that holding the elections on time would be tough, but delaying them would be tougher.

He was invited to speak in south Wales by Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd.

Mr Saleh's speech came as the Electoral Commission in Iraq announced that it was considering a request from 10 leading Iraqi parties to postpone the elections for six months because of security reasons.

He said: "We are working on the premise that the election will be held on time on 30 January."

In 1980, when I came to Cardiff, I fled my country, I fled repression and tyranny. Wales gave me a home
Barham Saleh

"That's an obligation of the government towards the people of Iraq and towards the United Nations Security Council."

He said it was "a tough challenge", but added: "I want to remind people that we have proved doubters wrong too many times during the process of transition".

"We accomplished the interim constitution on time, we accomplished the handover of sovereignty and the establishment of a sovereign interim Iraqi government on time.

"And I am very hopeful that despite the odds, despite those challenges we will meet that deadline. It's not easy but it's something that most Iraqis want to see done."

'Coming home'

Mr Saleh also said he could not describe his feelings returning to Wales for the first time since he came to Cardiff as a student 24 years ago.

"It's like coming home," he said.

Barham Saleh
Mr Saleh spent time in Cardiff after studying in Wales

"In 1980, when I came to Cardiff, I fled my country, I fled repression and tyranny. Wales gave me a home, gave me an education and gave me lifelong friendships that I cherish."

"I'm confident that the people of Wales are freedom fighters and recognise freedom fighters around the world and will support freedom and liberty".

Mr Saleh also spent some time working in Cardiff after he graduated as a civil and structural engineer from the University of Wales around 20 years ago.

Earlier on Friday, he attended a function at the university in Cardiff, during which he met his former tutor from his 1980s student days, as well as university vice-chancellor David Grant.

Human rights

Mr Saleh, formerly the head of the regional Kurdistan government, has forged a strong relationship with Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair's human rights envoy to Iraq.

Ms Clwyd is a frequent visitor to Iraq in her role, which she was handed 18 months ago.

She has campaigned for human rights in Iraq for 25 years and in particular for the people of Kurdistan.

In 2002, Mr Saleh, then the head of the Iraqi Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) regional government, escaped an assassination attempt in Sulaymaniyah in Iraq.

He was also arrested by security forces in Iraq.

Friday's speech is named after Kier Hardie, the first Labour MP elected to parliament, and who went on to lead his party in the early 20th century.


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