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Iraqis Anxious for Responsibility, U.S. Ambassador Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2006 – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is anxious to take more responsibility for his country’s security, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said today.

Currently just two Iraqi army divisions are completely under Iraqi control, and they still require coalition support for some operations, Zalmay Khalilzad said. Though Iraq controls its police forces, the coalition remains in control of all other Iraqi forces.

“He wants to have appropriate capability and command and control of forces,” Khalilzad told Wolf Blitzer, host of CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We welcome his desire to have more forces, to have more capable and credible forces, and for him to have command and control of Iraqi forces that are currently under coalition control.”

A plan already existed for how to transfer command and control, how to increase Iraqi forces’ capabilities and for the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for its country’s security over time, Khalilzad said. Maliki and President Bush yesterday created a U.S. and Iraqi committee to address how that goal can be achieved on an accelerated schedule.

“We are looking at how to expedite that, given the prime minister’s desire for this to happen as quickly as possible, a development that we welcome and we embrace,” Khalilzad said.

The security situation in Baghdad may be a factor in achieving that goal, however.

Khalilzad said the capital city has faced its challenges recently but in the days after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is beginning to calm down.

“I think there is no question that Baghdad has gone through a very, very difficult period in the course of the last several months, particularly in the aftermath of the attacks against the Samarra shrine,” he said.

A Shiite shrine in Samarra was bombed in February in a terrorist effort to inflame sectarian violence. It caused substantial and costly violence, in which many civilians were killed, he said.

“But in much of the rest of Iraq, on the other hand, the situation has been, in more than half of the provinces, quite positive developments have taken place,” Khalilzad said, noting economic, agricultural and electrical progress.

“So there have been positive things in part (of the country), but Baghdad, in particular in the aftermath of the Samarra attack, did have and continues to go through a very difficult situation, although in the last several days it has been better than it has during Ramadan.”

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