March 5th, 2007 05:03 EST
New Security Plan Encouraging for Iraq
WASHINGTON, March 4, 2007 – The initial implementation of the new security plan for Iraq has been encouraging, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said today from Baghdad.
“The initial signs are encouraging, although there is a long way to go,” Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.”
“I think we have some difficult days ahead and it will take time,” Khalilzad said.
Khalilzad said he believes the performance of Iraqi forces has improved, admitting that some of the earlier units deployed to Baghdad were manned at about 50 percent. But he added that the manning level of more recent units to arrive have been much greater, as high as 80 to 90 percent.
“They’re doing much better,” he said. “Today, the coalition forces with Iraqi forces went into Sadr City, (and) they’re going to establish a permanent presence there.”
Whether radical cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has had a change of heart or just a change of tactics is unclear, but the fact he hasn’t resisted the move into Sadr City is a good thing, the ambassador said.
“This is a good thing that he’s not resisting the coalition at this time, but what is needed over the long term … is for Muqtada al-Sadr to embrace the political process and to give up on militias and on violence,” Khalilzad said.
As he prepares to represent the United States at an Iraqi-hosted regional conference, Khalilzad said he hopes to have the opportunity for bilateral talks with Iran to address arms smuggling from Iran into Iraq. An Iranian representative is scheduled to attend the regional conference. Weapons suspected of coming from Iran are being used against coalition forces.
“The protection of the American forces, the American troops, here is an important priority of ours,” Khalilzad said. “The purpose of any talks that take place, bilateral talks, will be, very much, the security of our forces.”
Khalilzad, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the military aspect is only one piece of the security puzzle for Iraq. He feels the Iraqis must resolve their political differences as well.
“The Iraqis have to rise to the occasion and make the compromises that are necessary on the political front for the security and stability of the country,” he said.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service