Rice, Straw Fly To Iraq; Urge Formation of National Unity Government
By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 2, 2006 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, made a surprise visit to Iraq today to urge officials there to hasten their formation of a national unity government.
Iraqis "need a government that can act on their behalf in this time of testing," Rice told reporters en route to Iraq. "So we're going to urge that the negotiations be wrapped up and a government formed."
The secretary of state acknowledged that it's a difficult task, but said the time has come for Iraqis to put aside their religious and sectarian differences and get on with the task of governance. "I think we both understand how hard it is," she said, "but the Iraqi people need their government and they need their leaders."
Iraqis, she noted, "need a government that is broadly based, a government in which people will have confidence and that can show strong leadership. But they do need that government."
Straw agreed. Iraq, he said, has a free and sovereign government, and the formation of a government there is an Iraqi decision. However, he added, "there is significant international concern about the time the formation of this government is taking."
Formation of a national unity government, Straw said, will enable Iraq to better secure itself from the terrorists and will accelerate national reconstruction and economic development.
Great Britain and the United States will recognize and respect whomever emerges as Iraq's new leader, Straw continued. However, Iraq has to make "swift progress to secure a leader. ... It's fundamental."
Rice and Straw have made recent trips to Iraq, including a November 2005 visit by Rice and a February 2006 visit by Straw. The two officials had been planning separate trips to Iraq when they decided instead to combine for this visit.
Rice said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, has been most directly involved in helping Iraqis to form a national unity government. However, she said, "it's important to have fresh messages from time to time from Washington and from London about the concern that a government be formed."
Rice noted that she and Straw will meet with all Iraqi leaders who are "devoted to a national unity government, and who do not intend to use violence to back up their claims." These leaders, she said, include Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, President Jalal Talabani, and Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim.
Our message, she continued, "is not going to change, whoever we're seeing." And that message is simple: "There really needs to be a government that is strong and a unifying force for the country, and that can act on the challenges that the Iraqi people face and act on those challenges expeditiously."
The secretary had strong praise for Iraqi religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "I don't think there's anyone for whom we have greater respect than Ayatollah Sistani," Rice said. "He's been a voice of reason at difficult times for the Iraqi people.
"He's been someone who has urged unity for the country, who has used his position of considerable authority in the Shiia community to urge an Iraq that would be tolerant and inclusive of all Iraqis. And so we have enormous respect for him."