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Khalilzad Emphasizes Progress, Urges Commitment on Iraqi Freedom Day

By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2006 – The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, today disputed claims that conditions in Iraq have worsened during the past two years, but said that will happen if the United States abruptly leaves the country, as some have urged.

An increase in sectarian violence will occur "only... if we abandon Iraq as some people have called for in our discussions back home," Khalilzad said this morning on the Sunday talk shows. That, in turn, could lead to other countries from the region, including Iran, to take sides and expand the conflict, he said

However, Khalilzad said, "I do not believe this will happen if we continue to help Iraqis, if a government of national unity is formed, and [if] our forces are here to help them."

Speaking on Fox News Sunday and CNN's Late Edition, Khalilzad commented on a new U.S. embassy study on the situation in Iraq. The study, reported by the U.S. media this morning, allegedly describes the situation in five of Iraq's provinces as "serious." A sixth province reportedly is listed in "critical" condition.

In light of this latest report, asked Fox News' Brit Hume, "why shouldn't people believe that things are deteriorating" in Iraq? "Well," Khalilzad responded, "if [people] had looked at a similar sort of study a year or two years ago, they would have seen that the situation probably was not as good as [it is] now."

The U.S. ambassador acknowledged that Anbar province, west of Baghdad, is suffering from a debilitating terrorist insurgency, but said that's not the case in the other five provinces identified in the report.

Khalilzad said the serious situation described in the report refers to traditional local governance issues, not questions of overall stability as judged by military and police officials.

Under Saddam Hussein's regime, power was centralized in Baghdad, he said. Consequently, local Iraqi provincial governments lack many of the institutional skill sets needed to perform traditional local governance functions. "So they will need [our] help," Khalilzad said. The U.S. embassy report, he added, is "more about the capacity of [Iraqi] local governments rather than a description of the situation overall."

Khalilzad said the United States is pushing Iraqi leaders to move forward in forming a national unity government. However, he counseled Americans to have patience with this process. "It's important to remember that what we want is a good government, not a government as soon as possible. We want a good government as soon as possible.

"While we press them, we need to also be patient," Khalilzad continued. The Iraqis "have not really compromised and have come together ever before in the history of Iraq," he said. "This is the first time that you're getting a democratic government, [with] authoritatively elected people from different communities, compromising [and] coming to agreement. So we need to press them, but also in my judgment, we need to be patient to ensure that we get the right government."

Iraq's elections results were not known until Feb. 10, Khalilzad said. Since then, "the Sunni, Shiite and Kurd parties [have been] working together." In doing so, they've agreed on a number of things: the program of the next government, the processes for decision making, as well as institutions of the new government, he said. What they have yet to agree on, he said, is the composition of that government.

As to the fate of interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, Khalilzad said that will be determined by Iraq's elected leaders, probably within the next two to three days. Jaafari's party nominated him to be Iraq's leader, but doesn't have a majority of the votes in the new assembly. "He needs, in effect, a two-thirds vote of the assembly... He needs the cooperation of other factions, and they have rejected him so far," Khalilzad said.

Asked when he will meet with Iranian officials to help secure Iranian cooperation with Iraq, Khalilzad said these meetings won't be held until after Iraq forms a new government.

"We do not want to give the impression that the United States is sitting with Iran to decide about the Iraqi government. The Iraqis will decide that," Khalilzad said. "So we have deferred that meeting until after the formation of the Iraqi government."

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Zalmay Khalilzad

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