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Coalition, Iraqis Working on Goals for Country’s National Government

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2006 – Coalition officials are working with the Iraqi government to set economic and political goals, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

Eric Ruff said he knows of no timetables or timelines in the discussions.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, are working “to find the demonstrable milestones and benchmarks along the way in which we will hand over more security control” to the Iraqis, White House communications director Dan Bartlett told CBS News this morning.

Ruff said U.S. officials are working with officials of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “to identify ways and programs they can stand up and demonstrate the kind of progress they need to be making.”

He said the security piece of the equation in Iraq is making progress. “Iraqi security forces are over 300,000,” he said. “The Iraqi military is doing a tremendous job. It’s uneven in some places, for sure, but you’ve all seen the stories of the Iraqis being on point and taking the fight (to the enemy). They are not staying in their barracks. They are fighting the enemy, and they are dying.”

But while progress continues in the security arena, Iraqis must make progress on the economic and political fronts. “There needs to be some further structure put into economic development,” Ruff said.

The Maliki government is providing money for job development. People finding jobs will ease tension in Iraq, Ruff said.

Ruff acknowledged the level of violence in Iraq is high. Coalition officials had forecast the increase in violence during Ramadan, which ends today. “While there is this group of insurgents and while there is some sectarian violence, there are a lot of Muslims over there that are tired of this,” Ruff said.

As a reason to hope, he pointed to a meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 20, in which Sunni and Shiite clerics issued “fatwas,” or religious edicts, forbidding violence between the two sects of Islam. “That’s a pretty clear indication that Muslims are getting tired of this murder and mayhem,” Ruff said. “Ultimately it’s the Iraqis who are going to drive this solution. What we can do is help them to stand up.”

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