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New Iraqi Parliament's First Meeting Slated for March 16

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2006 – The new Iraqi parliament is scheduled to convene March 16 for the first time since its members were chosen in the Dec. 15 nationwide election, a senior Defense Department official said here today.

The inaugural meeting of the new parliament, or general assembly, "would be another step forward in seating the government," DoD spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters.

Having the Iraqi people gain confidence that their political process is moving forward "is vital to the security environment, too," Whitman said.

Whitman said the security situation in Iraq appears to be improving since sectarian violence erupted after the Feb. 22 bombing of a prominent Shiite mosque in Samarra. Senior Iraqi government and religious leaders have called for civic calm to avoid the specter of possible civil war.

Despite continued tensions, Iraq's political leaders are continuing discussions to select key cabinet members for the new government. This is important work that will determine Iraq's future, the top American diplomat in Iraq noted in an article published Feb. 12 in the Los Angeles Times.

"Elected leaders need to govern from the center, not the ideological extremes," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad wrote. "This is particularly true in the security area, where the new government must continue increasing the capability of Iraqi security forces while ensuring that Defense and Interior Ministry officials are chosen on the basis of competence, not ethnic or sectarian background."

In a March 12 interview with CNN "Late Edition" host Wolf Blitzer, Khalilzad said it was paramount that Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds work together to form a democratic, unified government that will confront the terrorists and respect and protect the rights of all Iraqis.

"We are very much committed to defeating terrorists here," Khalilzad reported to Blitzer from Baghdad. "We are very much committed to building a democratic state in Iraq that's successful."

The ambassador also told CNN he was optimistic that Iraqi leaders will work together and form a government of national unity. "That's what's necessary. And, we're on the right track," Khalilzad said.

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Zalmay Khalilzad

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