Ambassador Says 2006 to Be 'Year of Police' for Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 20, 2005 2006 will be the 'Year of the Police' in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said here today.
At a news conference, Zalmay Khalilzhad charted Iraqi political progress over the past year, and talked about the road ahead for the country.
The ambassador, who arrived in Iraq in July after serving as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said the United States is making progress on the "Iraqization" of the security effort. In 2005, the number of Iraqi police and army battalions skyrocketed from a handful to 123. Some 81 of these battalions are fighting side by side with coalition forces and 42 are taking the lead role, he said.
"We will work with Iraqis to increase the size, capability and credibility of Iraqi forces," Khalilzhad said.
The emphasis on the police does not mean the Iraqi army will be neglected, said embassy officials after the briefing. Coalition military transition teams will continue to work with Iraqi army units, and larger units - brigades and divisions - will stand up and take over battlespace from coalition forces. The 8th Iraqi Army Division, for example, was certified as ready today in a ceremony at Multinational Division Central South.
But the police need some work to become "credible in their own communities," the ambassador said. The newly elected government's selection of a new interior minister will be critical, he said.
"You can't have someone who is regarded as sectarian as minister of the interior," he said. "You need to have someone who has the confidence of all communities."
Much training already is under way, and the Interior Ministry's paramilitary public order battalions acquitted themselves well in the past year, officials said. But local police - also under the Interior Ministry - did not do as well, and the coalition will take steps to provide training and increase the professional outlook of the Iraqi force, officials added.
Iraqi is a diverse country, and the nation must reach "a national compact" as the permanent government takes reins in the coming months, the ambassador said. He said the negotiations over the constitution began the discussion and narrowed the differences among groups, deferring some decisions until the newly elected parliament has a chance to debate them.
"This give-and-take and willingness to search for accommodation set the stage for the ratification of the constitution," he said. In 2006, the ambassador added he will work with the parties to help sort out that Iraqi national compact.
Khalilzhad said goals of the past year to include Iraqi "rejectionists" in the political process and isolate Saddamists and foreign fighters will continue. He pointed to the number of Sunni Arabs who participated in the Dec. 15 election as a sign of success. "In the coming year, we will continue to bring more Iraqis into the political process, which will isolate the hard-core terrorists and Saddamists," he said. "We will continue to go after the terrorists in focused operations."
Khalilzhad said he will continue efforts to reach out to regional friends and allies to help Iraq, and will continue to discourage "unhelpful" behavior by Iran and Syria.
"Over the next year, we will encourage our regional friends and allies to do more to support the emergence of Iraq as a valued partner in regional political and economic systems," he said. "We will also take steps to stem unhelpful activities by Syria and Iran."
The U. S. will work with the new government to enhance the national ministries, and to help the provincial and regional governments, Khalilzad said. The provincial reconstruction team concept, so successful in Afghanistan, is being imported into Iraq, he added. And that will be a way for coalition officials to help train a level of government that really didn't exist under Saddam Hussein. The focus, he said, will be on delivering basic services to the Iraqi people.
The ambassador noted economic gains over the past year. Iraq's gross domestic product grew by 3 to 4 percent in 2004, and embassy officials estimate the growth for 2005 will be in double digits. Officials, the ambassador explained, have recalibrated the Iraq reconstruction program to smaller projects employing Iraqi companies and workers. He said he wants Iraq to shift away from nonproductive subsidies.
Finally, the ambassador said, he will continue efforts to explain U.S. goals in Iraq and the region as well as he can in as many places as he can.