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Iraq ‘Headed in the Right Direction,’ Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2007 – Several positive developments indicate that Iraq’s leaders and its people will eventually surmount insurgent violence occurring in the country and ultimately achieve stability, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq told reporters in Baghdad today.

“In my view, although difficult challenges lie ahead, and there is a long way to go, Iraq is fundamentally headed in the right direction and success is possible,” Zalmay Khalilzad said at the news briefing.

President Bush has nominated Khalilzad, who has served as the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq for the past 21 months, to become the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Taking stock of the situation in Iraq, Khalilzad said he’s buoyed and “cautiously optimistic” about that country’s future due to several indicators:

-- The early success of the Operation Law and Order anti-terrorist campaign in Baghdad and western Iraq.

-- The improved performance of Iraqi soldiers and police.

-- The Iraqi government’s example of dealing evenhandedly with lawbreakers.

-- More Iraqis are turning their backs on al Qaeda.

-- Some Iraqi insurgent groups have agreed to fight al Qaeda terrorists and work toward reconciliation.

-- Iraq’s leaders are reaching out to include all Iraqis in the sharing of the country’s oil wealth.

-- Improvement in Iraq’s economic situation.

-- Iraqi leaders’ comprehensive plan to achieve national reconciliation and stability.

Indeed, ongoing joint U.S., coalition and Iraqi security operations in Baghdad “appear to be having a positive effect,” Khalilzad said, noting violence has decreased in Iraq’s capital city by about 25 percent since Operation Law and Order began in mid-February.

The Iraqi security forces “are performing better and they are doing better in terms of carrying their share of the burden,” Khalilzad pointed out. Iraqis seem to appreciate the presence of their soldiers and police on the streets to help effect stability, he said, noting citizen-provided tips about insurgent activity have been flowing in steadily.

Also, the Iraqi government is bolstering its credibility among its citizens, Khalilzad said, by dispensing justice fairly without discriminating against any one group. Iraqi involvement with al Qaeda is on the wane, Khalilzad said, adding that some insurgent elements have openly turned against al Qaeda.

Some of these insurgents are “in touch with the (Iraqi) government, seeking reconciliation and cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda terrorists,” the ambassador said.

And the recent approval of a national hydrocarbon law that shares the nation’s oil wealth with all citizens demonstrates that the Iraqi government is reaching out to all Iraqis, Khalilzad said.

Iraq’s economic situation is looking up, and the Iraqi government has committed $10 billion for reconstruction programs, the ambassador said.

“Iraqi leaders have also adopted measures on fuel import liberalization, investment law reform and fuel subsidy reductions, as well as maintaining fiscal discipline,” said he added.

Iraq’s leaders also are taking steps to achieve good relations with neighboring countries, Khalilzad said, while continuing government efforts to achieve reconciliation between the nation’s different sects and tribes.

“Also, the United States and Iraq have agreed on a combination of pressure and engagement to create incentives for changes in behavior on the part of states currently seeking to destabilize Iraq,” the ambassador said.

Though these are all significant indicators and developments for Iraq, more needs to be accomplished, he said, to maintain the positive momentum.

Iraqi leaders need to enact a program to demobilize militias, make amendments to the constitution, schedule provincial elections, and reformulate the de-Baathification program so that insurgents can lay down their arms and join the political process, Khalilzad said.

“Iraqis have an unprecedented opportunity” to establish a better life for themselves, Khalilzad said. Yet, Americans and their elected representatives, he said, would like the Iraqi government to achieve more progress involving reconciliation, constitutional amendments and other issues.

“The members of the coalition as well as other countries have made enormous sacrifices to give Iraqis the chance to build a stable and democratic order,” Khalilzad said. “Iraqis must not lose this opportunity, and they must step up and take the tough decisions necessary for success.”

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