October 30th, 2006 04:06 EST
U.S. ambassador cites transfer of duties as goal of new joint working group
Effort Under Way To Shift Security Task to Iraqis, Khalilzad Says
A newly established joint committee will work to speed the transfer of security responsibilities in Iraq to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad says.
Speaking from Baghdad October 29 on CNN's Late Edition, Khalilzad responded to Maliki's reported desire for such a speedy transfer by terming it "a development that we welcome, and we embrace."
In a joint statement issued after video consultations October 28, President Bush and Maliki announced that they had set up the working group -- one that includes the Iraqi national security advisor, minister of defense and minister of interior, Khalilzad, and U.S. General George Casey, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq. (See related article.)
In their statement, the two leaders said the goals would be "accelerating the pace of training the Iraqi Security Force, Iraqi assumption of command and control over Iraqi forces, and transferring responsibility for security to the government of Iraq."
Khalilzad said in his October 29 television interview, "We have a plan in place for how that transfer of command and control, increasing the capability of the Iraqis and for Iraq to assume complete control over time of the security responsibility, we're looking at how to expedite that, given the prime minister's desire for this to happen as quickly as possible."
Asked by host Wolf Blitzer for his assessment of changes in the situation in Baghdad over the past year, Khalilzad suggested the picture is mixed.
"I think there is no question that Baghdad has gone through a very, very difficult period in the course of the last several months, particularly in the aftermath of the attack against the Samarra shrines, where Al Qaida attacked the shrine that led to increased sectarian violence, something that the terrorists wanted to happen," he said. (See related article.)
Khalilzad said that led to "very, very substantial, very negative, very costly violence in which a lot of civilians lost their lives and many mixed neighborhoods faced very difficult set of circumstances."
But at the same time, he said, in much of the rest of Iraq -- more than half the provinces -- "quite positive developments have taken place, economic development has taken place, agricultural production has increased, the number of cell phones have reached 7.2 million, electricity production has gone up by about 30 percent."
And even in Baghdad, which "did have and continues to go through a very difficult situation," the ambassador said, "in the last several days it has been better than it was during Ramadan."
A transcript of Khalilzad's interview is available on the CNN Web site.
For more information on U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.