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Rice, Khalilzad: Iraqis Win, No Matter Referendum Results

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

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2005 – Officials are counting the votes in Iraq's historic constitutional referendum and people are asking whether the people of Iraq have accepted or rejected their new constitution.

But to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, the results of yesterday's referendum are less important than the fact that Iraq had a highly successful and relatively peaceful election in which the Sunnis participated in very large numbers.

"Whatever happens with the referendum ... the Iraqi people clearly are taking advantage of the political process to make their views known, and that's bad news for the terrorists," Rice told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.

Appearing on ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Khalilzad agreed: "If the constitution passes," he said, "there is a path for additional changes. If the constitution does not pass - because of the opposition from the Sunni voters - it would show that their participation in the process did, indeed, make a difference.

"Either way, there will be additional opportunities for change - for a political way forward for Iraq."

Khalilzad also appeared on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer; Rice on NBC News' Meet the Press with Tim Russert. Both officials agreed that the primacy of the political process - and ordinary Iraqis' embrace of that process in yesterday's referendum - is a death blow to the terrorists who are killing scores of innocent Iraqis.

"The Iraqi people are casting their lot with the political process," Rice told Russert. "That will sap the energy from this insurgency; because an insurgency cannot ultimately survive without a political base."

Khalilzad said success lies in "continuous Sunni participation in the political process" and continued isolation and defeat of the terrorists. "That's the recipe, the plan if you'd like, for success," he said. "I think we are making good progress. Yesterday was a good indication that our approach to the Sunnis is producing results."

Rice said that analysis of the voting is now underway, but that preliminary findings suggest that "as many as a million more people voted this time than in January. "The numbers in the Sunni areas are very high," she said. "The Sunnis turned out in very large numbers. That means they're casting their lot now with the democratic process."

Rice and Khalilzad acknowledged the dramatically reduced level of violence and attributed this development to excellent preparation and work by Iraq's security forces.

"The Iraqi [security] forces performed very well in protecting the election process," Rice said. They're "growing in stature in the eyes of the people of Iraq."

Yesterday's referendum, Khalilzad added, shows "that violence is not the way to deal with problems. [It shows] that violence is a dead end street."

For that reason, Rice said, terrorists and terrorist sympathizers in Iraq are few in number. They do not in any way constitute a majority of the population. "Indeed, some of them," she observed, "are foreigners like those who work for [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi."

Rice said many of these foreign terrorists and jihadists are coming to Iraq through Syria - and they're not simply sneaking across, unobserved, the Syrian-Iraq border.

"In many cases," Rice said, "they [foreign terrorists] are coming [to Iraq] through Damascus Airport ... [Syrian] territory," she said, "is being used to kill innocent Iraqis - innocent men, women and children - because suicide bombers are coming through there."

The Syrian government, "is permitting the use of Syrian territory for terrorists to cross Syrian territory. She said the United States and Iraq will address this issue "in a multilateral fashion ... [to] get the Syrian regime to change its behavior."

As for the formal results of yesterday's referendum, Khalilzad said "we will know late tomorrow... [but] yesterday was a great day for Iraq."

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