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Iraqi Leaders Make Progress Toward Unity, U.S. Ambassador Says

By Tech. Sgt. Elaine Wilson, USAF
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2006 – Iraqi leaders took a "very positive step" today toward establishing a government of national unity, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said moments after an emergency meeting with Iraqi leaders.

"It was a good day today in Baghdad," Zalmay Khalilzad said today in an interview from Baghdad on CNN's "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

The meeting, called to initiate progress in the formation of a new government, was an indicator that leaders "are taking the problems of the country seriously," the ambassador said.

Khalilzad said he was encouraged by the meeting's results. "Leaders decided to bring forward the opening of the assembly now rather than on the 19th," he said, adding that the first session of the new parliament will be held March 16.

Leaders from all factions also agreed there is "no red line in terms of the inclusion of any faction in the formation of the government," the ambassador added.

Khalilzad said leaders plan to meet continuously as of March 14 until there is agreement on the government, including a prime minister, one of the primary concerns of the country's leaders. "Everyone agrees the prime minister has to be someone who can bring this country together, someone who is competent in terms of dealing with the problems of Iraq," he said.

"That is one of the key issues in the coming days that Iraqi political leaders will have to decide on; there was a lot of flexibility on all sides," he said.

Khalilzad said he was unable to predict just how long decisions like the selection of a prime minister would take. "This decision, the formation of a government of national unity is extremely important," he said. "If they (Iraqi leaders) make the right decision forming a national unity government -- competent ministers, good process with a good program governing from the center -- it will put Iraq on the right trajectory; it will be a major step forward for Iraq."

However, he said, "It's still going to take a bit of time.

"We'll work with them and do it as quickly as possible. They understand it's an urgent matter."

Khalilzad also commented on a neighbor to Iraq that has been prominent in the headlines - Iran. "We have concerns with regards for their support for some of the militias and some of the extremist groups," he said. "We want good relations between Iraq and all its neighbors. And, at the same time, we do not want any of its neighbors to dominate Iraq, and that is our policy with Iran as well."

The ambassador said Iraqi leaders are "concerned about aspects of Iranian policy which supports extremists and interferes with the development of a successful democratic Iraq."

Khalilzad also expressed his sorrow over the death of peace activist Tom Fox, who was taken hostage by terrorists in Iraq in 2005. American forces found Fox's body March 9 in Baghdad.

"Terrorists want nothing good, and they go after innocent people," Khalilzad said. "They cannot confront our forces or Iraqi forces directly so they want to make life difficult by provoking sectarian war.

"We're very much committed to defeating terrorists here, very much committed to building a democratic state, an Iraq that is successful, and for all communities, including the Shiites, to have the appropriate place, rights respected and protected.

"We're on the right track," Khalilzad said.

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Zalmay Khalilzad

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