Rice, Rumsfeld Find New Iraqi Leaders 'Focused'
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Apr. 26, 2006 After meeting with Iraq's newly selected top leaders, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters here today that they liked what they heard.
(From left) U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad on April 26 to show support for the continuing process of building a new Iraqi government. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Four days after the Iraqi parliament named a prime minister-designate, a president and five other leaders for the country's government, Rice and Rumsfeld came to Baghdad to show support for the new government and to exchange views on Iraq's future.
Rice said she found Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki to be "focused, and very clear that he understood his role and the role of the new government to really demonstrate that it's a government of Iraqi unity in which all Iraqis could trust and on which all Iraqis rely."
In fact, Rice said, she and Rumsfeld came prepared to suggest to Maliki that Iraq's cabinet ministries must also project national unity, only to hear him say it first.
"He really emphasized this question of getting all Iraqis to feel that this is their government," Rice said. "And I found it both refreshing and really heartening. I found him a very focused person, and I thought he was really impressive.
Rumsfeld concurred, and said the same could be said about all the Iraqi leaders he and Rice spoke with today, some of whom the defense secretary said he had known previously.
"They certainly have been engaged in intensive discussions," Rumsfeld said. "And it's clear they have come to reasonable understandings about what the Iraqi people expect from them. I came away most encouraged from it."
Rice dismissed a suggestion that today's visit might be interpreted as meaning the new Iraqi government is less than autonomous. "I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that the 11 million Iraqis who went out and voted were exercising sovereignty and that this prime minister intends to do what he thinks is best for the Iraqi people," she said.
Maliki has been part of a number of important efforts for Iraq, Rice said.
"We know that he's not always agreed with us, or we with him," she noted. "But he is somebody who has always had the interest of the Iraqis at heart and who has worked hard on their behalf.
"People can say whatever they please," Rice noted, "but this is a sovereign government, a permanent government, a government that is being formed out of an electoral process in which Iraqis voted in overwhelming numbers, and it's the most democratic process ever in the Middle East.
"And I would challenge anybody in the Middle East who wants to talk about who this government is beholden to," she continued, "to show me a process that is this democratic anywhere in the Middle East."
As for the security situation in Iraq, both U.S. Cabinet members said the solution will be both a political one and an Iraqi one, and that the country's leaders know it's their job to solve it.
"It's a government that's in for a period of years, and undoubtedly, unquestionably, it will be addressing the question as to how they can best provide for the security of all of their people," Rumsfeld said. "They discussed that today. They intend to approach those issues. They have a parliament, and I'm sure they'll be working with the parliament on those issues."
Rumsfeld noted other countries have dealt effectively with the same issues in an orderly way over time, with a minimum of violence.
Rice said that as the Iraqi security forces get better and continue to earn the trust of the Iraqi people, the rationale that sectarian militias are necessary for local security will fade away.
Afghanistan had militias in the aftermath of the Taliban regime's fall, Rumsfeld pointed out, and through the Japanese-led Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Program, the militias disbanded in an orderly fashion, with many former militia members absorbed into the Afghan military and police forces.
"Over time, the heavy weapons were put in cantonments and life went on," he said. "And weeks or months or a couple of years before that, people looked at it and said, 'Oh my goodness, all the warlords have these, and they have this,' and the sky was going to fall."
Rumsfeld said he's certain Iraq's leaders will come up with an Iraqi solution.
Rumsfeld said no Iraqi leader suggested that the United States should have fewer troops in Iraq or asked about a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.
"What we did talk about was the importance of the new government meeting with (Army General George W. Casey Jr., commander of coalition forces in Iraq,) and his people and discussing the kinds of steps that will be taken to transfer over responsibility to the Iraqis so that we can continue to reduce coalition forces," he said.