Press Briefing, March 26, 2007
Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to Iraq, gives his farewell press conference, March 26, 2007.
BRIEFING BY AMBASSADOR ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ TOPIC: FINAL PRESS CONFERENCE LOCATION: THE COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 4:15 A.M. EDT DATE: MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2007
AMB. KHALILZAD: Good morning. As I come to the end of my tenure as the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, I wanted to offer you my thoughts on the prospects for Iraq. In my view, though difficult challenges lie ahead and there is a long way to go, Iraq is fundamentally headed in the right direction and success is possible. I am cautiously optimistic as a result of several indicators.
First, even before the full deployment of additional coalition forces, security operations in Baghdad appear to be having a positive impact. Although there are differences among the various areas of the city, violence in Baghdad has fallen by nearly a quarter since the inception of Operation Law and Order.
Second, in the context of these operations, Iraqi security forces are performing better and they are doing better in terms of carrying their share of the burden. The operations within Baghdad are Iraqi- led. They have followed through on their commitment to provide nine additional battalions to provide security in Baghdad, and have stood up the Baghdad Operations Center, led by a three-star general. The attitude of the Iraqis appears to be more positive towards their security forces in those areas where this was not the case before. One indication of the change is the steady number of tips coming in from the Iraqi citizen.
Third, the government is behaving in an evenhanded manner in dealing with those who are breaking the law, which should increase its credibility with all communities.
Fourth, Iraqis are uniting against al Qaeda. In Sunni-Arab areas, tribal leaders, and even some insurgent elements have turned against al Qaeda.
Coalition commanders have been able to engage some insurgents to explore ways to collaborate in fighting the terrorists. These insurgents are also in touch with the government, seeking reconciliation and cooperation in the fight against the al Qaeda terrorists and joining the government in a reconciliation program. The al Qaeda terrorists are seeking to intimidate Sunni Arabs into opposition to the government, incite Shi'ite gunmen to attack Sunnis and posturing themselves as the protector of the Sunni community. These changes are important for the political landscape in Iraq.
Fifth, Iraqi leaders have taken important steps towards national reconciliation. The recent approval of the hydrocarbon law by the cabinet, which provides for an equitable distribution of the benefits of Iraq's mineral wealth, was a landmark achievement. An agreement on a revision of the de-Ba'athification law is very close to a conclusion, and the committee charged with developing front-loaded amendments of the constitution is making good progress.
Sixth, the economic situation is improving. The Kurdish region is doing well. Also, the Iraqi government has committed $10 billion to its reconstruction budget, which means that Iraqis now will carry the burden in terms of rebuilding. Iraqi leaders have also adopted measures on fuel import liberalization, investment law reform and fuel subsidy reductions, as well as maintaining fiscal discipline.
Seventh, the Iraqi leaders have launched an initiative to shape a conducive regional environment for the stabilization of Iraq. The recent neighbors conference established a good overall framework, establishing working groups that will engage in discussions leading to a ministerial conference. Also, the United States and Iraq have agreed on a combination of pressure and engagement to create incentives for changes in behavior on the part of states currently seeking to destabilize Iraq.
These are positive indicators and developments. They are significant. For success, however, to become inevitable, more needs to be done to build on this momentum. Most important, Iraqi leaders need to take a number of key steps toward national reconciliation, including enactment of a program to demobilize militias, action on the amendments to the constitution, scheduling of provincial elections, completing the changing of de-Ba'athification into accountability and reconciliation and agreements to enable insurgents to lay down their arms, join the political process and reconcile with the new democratic Iraq. Iraqis have an unprecedented opportunity. The members of the coalition as well as other countries have made enormous sacrifices to give Iraqis the chance to build a stable and democratic order. Iraqis must not lose this opportunity, and they must step up and take the tough decisions necessary for success.
Our challenge remains incentivizing the Iraqis to make these decisions in a timely manner. And as long as Iraq's leaders make progress towards national reconciliation, I'm confident that United States will stand with them.
Before closing, I want to thank President Talabani and Prime Minister Maliki for their hospitality over the past 21 months. I also want to thank the men and women in uniform serving here for their dedication and selfless service to our nation and the people of Iraq; our coalition partners, who have contributed so much to our efforts here; and, of course, the embassy personnel and other civilians who worked so hard to support me. I also want to thank you for your mission, for your hard work during the past 21 months, for your graciousness, for doing your job. Although we may have not always agreed on your commentary or your assessment, but I do respect what you are trying to do.
Iraq will always be part of me, and I will always work to help the people of Iraq achieve the great potential that we all know Iraq possesses.
And thank you, and may God bless the people of Iraq.
And I'll be glad to take some questions.
Q (In Arabic.)
AMB. KHALILZAD: Thank you. First, as far as the first meeting is concerned, there was an agreement form these three committees, and those committees are in the process of being formed. And should our help be necessary with the work of those committees, we will be more than happy to help and participate.
There is the agreement also to hold a ministerial that would involve the Permanent 5 as they were involved in the Baghdad conference, and perhaps the G-8. There's also the International Compact for Iraq that needs to be finalized, and there are discussions about holding that meeting as well. And we will participate as appropriate. And, as we have said, our policy is that we're willing to work with any country for the sake of benefitting Iraq, for stabilizing Iraq. And that is an agreement that we have reached with the government of Iraq, and we are looking forward to future opportunities for discussion with Iraq's neighbors. Yes, sir?
Q Brian Bennett from Time magazine. Ambassador, one of the important events that happened during your tenure was the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein. I was wondering if you could assess the effects of that execution. And also, in looking at the way the execution was portrayed, in a disorganized manner, if you would think that, looking back, it was a mistake to hand over Saddam as quickly as the U.S. did, if they should have waited a few more days for them to be organized, and if you could assess the effect that the way the execution was portrayed had on the U.S. mission internally in Iraq for reconciliation and also assess the way that the execution was portrayed externally in the Middle East for the U.S. mission of trying to get more cooperation here in Iraq.
AMB. KHALILZAD: The decision to execute Saddam came as the result of a judicial process. That was an Iraqi process and we respect that.
With regard to the timing and how it was done, I've spoken about that. I did have discussions with the prime minister prior to the execution. I gave him my judgment and my advice on the timing with regard to the Eid. But he decided as the leader of Iraq to do it when it happened. There was no disagreement on the principle, it was the timing, because the principle was decided by the court.
I believe that the manner in which it was carried out, the video and the timing, did have some negative impact to the perceptions internationally and regionally. But the fact that justice was done and Saddam is gone, I think, is a positive thing for Iraq and for Iraq to move forward and turn a new page.
Q (Through interpreter.) Excellency, what are the projects that you wanted to do in Iraq and did not realize? And the U.S. Congress has voted for the withdrawal of the American military at 2008. Are you with that decision or you are with the decision of remaining here?
AMB. KHALILZAD: The question of remaining or leaving has to do with the mission. The important thing is the success in the mission. And success in Iraq is very important. Certainly it's important for the Iraqi people, it's important for the region and it's important for the world, because this region now is the defining issue of our time. There is discussion in the United States on how to incentivize Iraqis to do the right thing, and there are different points of view on that.
I believe that the current size of our force here, the current composition of the force, are not ends in themselves for us. They are related to the mission and to the agreement that we have with the Iraqis. At the present time, we're in the middle of an increase in the forces, in order to assist with the security of Baghdad, and the process will not be completed until sometime in June.
I believe it's very important for the Iraqis to take advantage of the opportunity that the presence of these forces provide, to make the decisions and the compromises that are necessary. And I believe as long as that is the case, the United States will stay and support Iraq, although the size and the composition of the force will vary. Because our goal is, the sooner Iraqis can take matters in their own hands, can stand on their own feet, look after their own security, the better.
Q Kim Gamel of the AP.
Ambassador, you've said that the neighboring countries need to play a role in Iraq's development. In light of the recent detention of the British soldiers -- sailors by the Iranians, and also the revelation that U.S. soldiers also have had us engaged in a standoff with the Iranians on Iraq's territory, can you elaborate a little bit on if you think Iran can play a helpful -- or if it will play a harmful role in Iraq's development in the future? And what advice would you give to your successor in dealing with them?
AMB. KHALILZAD: I think that Iran can play a helpful role, unhelpful role, and it's a decision that the Iranian leadership can make. We would like them to play a helpful role, of course. I think their record so far has been a mixed one. On the one hand, there has been positive relations between Iran and the government and some of the key personalities here. But on the other hand, there has been clear evidence to my satisfaction that there has been arms training and assistance provided to groups involved in violence against the coalition and against Iraqis.
So what we would like through this policy of pressure -- and as you know, especially in recent months we have focused on these networks that bring in weapons from Iran, to increase the pressure on the network. But at the same time, we have supported the policy of engaging through the initiative of the Iraqis on the regional conference. So it's a mix of pressure and engagement, and the relative weight of each can vary depending on the circumstances.
My advice to my successor would be that since our policy is set by the president, by our leadership, that you'll have to follow those -- and he will, I'm sure -- policies, and that I think the framework is as I described.
Q (Through interpreter.) Montozar Zait (sp), Khadat Fadahiyah (sp). Mr. Zalmay, you have been here 21 months. There is talk about failures and badly made decisions. And those who are opposing the political process say that the U.S. has failed in many points in Iraq. What, in your opinion, the United States has failed in Iraq?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, I think of course different people, looking at the same situation, may come to a different judgment.
What our political goal has been from the beginning, particularly since I've been here -- and that I'm most familiar with that -- has been how to get Iraqis to resolve their differences through the political process; that the fact that you have differences should not lead you to violence or to support terror, but rather to participation in the political process; and that there has to be an opportunity for everyone to participate in the political process.
And I have worked hard during the constitution, when I came here, to get a front-loaded amendment process agreed to just before the vote, because some of the communities in Iraq did not participate fully in the process of the initial drafting of the constitution. Then we worked hard together to get everyone to participate in the elections. And I must say I was very encouraged by the level of participation from all communities in the last national election and in the effort to get the national unity government and then to get that government to implement a unity program and to make progress on a number of key issues in order to have a national compact.
So I believe there have been successes, but at the same time, there have been difficulties. And I particularly point out to the increased sectarian violence as the most difficult issue that has arisen or has increased during the period. And that has been due to the efforts of the terrorists, particularly al Qaeda, by attacking the Samarra shrines. As I described in my opening statement, their strategy seemed to be to go after targets, Shi'a targets, in order to provoke the Shi'a to attack Sunni targets and for them then to posture themselves as the protector of the Sunnis; and then have some success in that regard in the aftermath of Samarra.
But I believe that working with Iraqis as we have, there has progress on the political front, but there's a lot more that needs to be done. There are significant obstacles. This is an important complicated state and nation-building process in a difficult region, in a difficult neighborhood. Iraq is not an island. And also there is a global terrorist network that's focused here.
So I appreciate very much from interacting with Iraqis that they face difficult, challenging issues, and these issues have not been easily dealt with in other environments, if you look at the history of Europe or other parts of the world. I know that we are an impatient people, and I constantly signal to the Iraqi leaders that our patience or the patience of the American people is running out. As I said in my statement, our challenge is how to incentive and to move at a pace that's tolerable back home.
But I think the record will show that there is has been progress, but there have been setbacks and also the sectarian violence has been a major negative development, the increase in sectarian violence.
Q We had some reports come in today that you yourself have held thoughts and discussions and negotiations with Sunni insurgent groups to bring about this whole unity and curbing the insurgency. Could you throw some light on that as to what exactly happened during those talks and who these groups were?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, we have an agreement the Iraqi government ourselves -- by "ourselves" I mean embassy people as well as military folks and others, as well as the Iraqis, have met on several occasions and those processes are continuing. That's why I don't want to talk a lot about them at this time because these are ongoing processes, and people's lives are at stake, given the al Qaeda effort to derail such efforts. And as I said, I'm encouraged by the recent developments, the fault line between some of the key Sunni tribes, by some of the insurgents with the al Qaeda. It's a positive development.
But we have had discussions with those groups, and as I said, Iraqi government has and we have been in very much in coordination and cooperation with the Iraqi government as part of the reconciliation program of Prime Minister Maliki. And those have taken place, and they are continuing to take place. And I think one of the challenges is how to separate more and more groups away from al Qaeda out to turn them to cooperate with the Iraqi government against al Qaeda. That is the strategic important objective.
Yes, sir, and I'll come to you next.
Q (Through interpreter.) Ali Hussein (ph) from -- (affiliation inaudible). You have spoken about the strategy in Iraq. Is there going to be change in the strategy with new ambassador?
AMB. KHALILZAD: I don't believe the strategy changes because of the ambassador, because the ambassador's an implementer. He's a participant clearly in the development of the strategy. But the president in our system decides. We have a good, institutionalized system of decision-making.
And we have had a big review just a few months ago that I participated in, and you know the results of that review, some adjustments that have been made in our strategy, and those are being implemented. I just -- I talked about those. Those changes are having, in my view -- the initial indications are a positive effect. The ambassador clearly -- the new ambassador will want to take a look at the situation himself and see what he thinks in terms of the tactics, and perhaps can recommend some changes otherwise. But the essential policy framework is set by the president, and we have a new strategic framework strategy that has just been in the past few months been launched.
Q James Hider from the London Times.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Yes, sir.
Q In regard to the talks with the insurgent groups, this is -- it sounds as though it's at odds with what George Bush has said about not negotiating with terrorists. And in these talks, is there an admission that there has been some kind of legitimate national resistance against the Americans?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, I do not say we have talked to terrorists. We have talked to groups who have not participated in the political process who have ties with some of the insurgent groups who are reconcilable. And certainly the terrorists are irreconcilable. There cannot be reconciliation with al Qaeda. They have to be brought to justice. But there are groups that resisted the democratic change, the change in Iraq. It is our goal to get those groups to be reconciled, to accept, to embrace this new Iraq, and that will be a victory, a success for the changes that's taking place.
Q A few months ago, you indicated that you shared the assessment of the military, that Jaish al-Mahdi represented the biggest threat to stability at that point in Iraq. Is that an assessment that you retain today or has it changed?
AMB. KHALILZAD: What we said at that time was, if I remember correctly, that among the various conflicts that existed in Iraq -- and there were several -- there is the terrorist al Qaeda threat, there is the insurgent threat. Then there is in the south conflict between political forces of -- coming from the same sect. And then there was the problem of sectarian violence, particularly increased in the aftermath of Samarra, and that that one, this last category, was becoming the most important of all the conflicts that we described, and the elements of Jaish al-Mahdi were involved in that violence, as were some Sunni insurgent groups as well.
And in the plan for law and order, the prime minister has agreed that all groups who break the law to pursue violence, or use violence to pursue objectives in Baghdad, which is the focus of the plan, will be pursued. And that's what's happening. I said in my statement there is a balanced approach that the government forces are pursuing, in cooperation with the coalition, the coalition in cooperation with the Iraqi forces are pursuing all those who break the law. This is a change that's taking place in the relative role of various forces.
But it's too early for me to give you a kind of an assessment of exactly what has become more important in these four conflicts. Certainly al Qaeda is trying to derail this plan, the Baghdad security plan. Al Qaeda is seeking to provoke -- using VBIEDs to provoke Shi'a groups to target Sunnis, a la post-Samarra in revenge or retaliation. Certainly they are going after Sunni figures and Sunni areas as well. So they have declared war on both sects now. So -- but I think in terms of quantitatively, I think a little bit of more time has to pass and more data has to be collected to make a quantitative judgment on that.
Q Thanks. Larry Kaplow with Cox Newspapers. Getting back to the contacts with what you termed reconcilable insurgent elements, what are the kind of incentives you offer them? And specifically, can you address what you say when the issue comes up with them saying there has to be a timetable for withdrawal and then they'll stop fighting.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, of course the incentives are issues that come with the government. Some of these groups have initially started with demands that are unreasonable, unacceptable, and particularly with regard to the government of Iraq.
And ultimately reconciliation has to take place between Iraqis, the government and other Iraqis who have been against this new order in Iraq. And I think there is an evolution in their position as a result of change in the situation and perhaps the contacts that they have had.
Now the focus of effort -- of the concern that they have is the threat of al Qaeda is one of the common goals between the government coalition and some of these groups. And I think from that cooperation and that key common interest, other things can take place.
But, you know, our position has been quite clear on the issue of the timetable, that our current level of presence, the composition of the force, these are not ends in themselves for us, that it's driven by conditions, by the needs of the Iraqi government. And we have explained, and whenever we have had discussions our people have explained these things.
Of course, I don't want to go through kind of the litany of issues that sometimes some groups raise, but I think the key issue now that is a positive development is the effort against al Qaeda, and al Qaeda's trying to intimidate these groups into not entering into an understand with the government or cooperating with the government or cooperating with the coalition. So there is a real struggle going on in the Sunni Arab part of Iraq between those of al Qaeda and the other more patriotic groups who want a successful Iraq, an Iraq in which everyone's rights is respected, it's a rule-of-law country, and I think this is a key issue of the current period.
Q (Through interpreter.) Excellency, you were very close to the work with the blocs and the Iraqi government. Do you think that there is a crisis of trust between those components, and do you think this is one of the greatest challenges that you had in Iraq?
AMB. KHALILZAD: There's no question that because of the history of Iraq and the experiences that they've had living with the reign of terror, with the sense of insecurity that existed as a result of that, there is a lot of distrust, mistrust among political forces.
There is a need for bridging -- building bridges of confidence. So therefore, there is a lot of overinterpretation of statements, of meetings. And there is a culture that has been created, as a result of what they have experienced, of conspiracies always -- every step is part of something -- they see it as something much bigger that would have huge consequences, although in reality, if you knew what was happening, it's something small and discrete without sort of being part of some broader plan that's often -- people suspect.
That is a reflection, I believe, of insecurity of having come out of many, many years of being oppressed and, you know, people knock at the door at night, using even your kids to get information about what the relatives might have done. So there is that insecurity. And I hope with the consolidation of this new order there will be a greater sense of security and greater confidence in one's self and what has happened here that will improve the interaction among political leaders and groups.
Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Why did the statement change concerning the achievement of Iraqi forces? Did this come at the time with the U.S. Congress's resolution concerning withdrawal of your forces?
AMB. KHALILZAD: No. Our judgment -- and I rely, myself, on our security people. I'm talking about General Petraeus and our other military leaders who work with the Iraqi forces on a daily basis, you know, in our regular meetings with them; that working together as they are doing, you know, they're going out on patrols together, they're staying in close quarters near each other. So there is a lot of more jointness in these operations around Baghdad. And they can observe that they are courageous, they've taken significant risk to stop attacks or even get killed in the process themselves.
And they see the people reacting more positively towards them, unlike reports we used to get from the same people or similar people earlier, as to in some neighborhoods where the Iraqi security forces were not necessarily received very positively.
So it's based on our on-the-ground experience. Our evaluation here, and I believe our military folks' evaluation of the performance of Iraqis, is not driven by politics in Washington. Everyone is aware of the debate in Washington, about the different approaches that exist, but that doesn't color, in my view, the judgment about how Iraqi forces are doing in particular operations.
Yes, sir, in the back, and I'll come to this group.
Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- Al-Hurriyah.
Excellency, you know that the army is being formed, but does not have enough equipment to defend itself and for security. Within the American strategy, do you think there will be support in this matter?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, we want Iraqi forces to be more capable and to have more equipment, to be better equipped. That is the definition of success for us, because then Iraqis can take on more responsibility for their own security. But in order to make good use of equipment, you know, you have to go through stages.
And there is a plan that we have jointly with the Iraqi government. And that plan was then accelerated as the result of the request of Prime Minister Maliki at a meeting in Jordan with President Bush, to move it faster in terms of training and equipping and turning over units that are trained Iraqi units to the government at a faster pace, and then transfer security responsibility at a faster pace than was envisaged, because of that agreement. And part of that plan is the equipping part that includes the transfer of heavier equipment and air elements that you mentioned.
But Iraq is very interested in being able to protect itself. This government is a government that seeks good relations with all its neighbors, doesn't want to equip itself to threaten and occupy other people's land.
And -- but this process of building up Iraqi forces -- I can appreciate very much the sentiment of some Iraqis that they would like to see this happen very urgently, as quickly as possible, and that's perfectly understandable, and I respect that. But it does take a bit of time. I think already the Iraqi security forces and army today is much better than it was six months ago, a year ago, and I think next year it would be a lot better than it is now. But we are committed very much to helping, and there is a plan that we're committed to implementing.
Q Alissa Rubin, The New York Times. You've mentioned several times that you want the Iraqi government to move forward at sort of a reasonable pace.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Right.
Q And what do you see as the timetable for moving forward on reconciliation, the de-Ba'athification modifications? You mentioned that it has to be with some reference to the mood in the United States.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Yes.
Q So where do you see that time frame?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Sure. Sure. I believe that one of the reasons for the decrease in patience or lack of patience back home is that -- the fact that the American people and their representatives would like to see more progress on the reconciliation track, to see the government move on the de-Ba'athification issue, on the constitutional amendment and on quite a number of other things, the oil law, although the cabinet did approve it, but to get the assembly to approve it. They -- to them, this shows the Iraqis are committed to success and making the decisions necessary.
And as a result, given the current circumstances, that Iraqis do need external help to deal with the situation, I -- although I very much appreciate that these decisions are sovereign Iraqi decisions, but it's -- since they are in a cooperative relationship in terms of need for assistance, they need to take that factor in account as they timeline or consider timelining their decision-making. And I talk -- we're talking about some of these issues they're -- they have their own timetable on some of these issues that -- we would like to see that be done, their commitment -- for example, the hydrocarbon law -- and there is a May 31st deadline that they have agreed among themselves for the passage of the main law and associated laws, particularly the one having to do with management of revenues. And there are supposed to be discussions imminently taking place. There are various drafts that I'm aware of, of that, between the central government and the Kurdish region of Iraq.
We would like to see those things happen in a timely manner in order to sustain the support that Iraqis need from the United States, given the political reality which is in the United States and in Washington.
Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- from Al Hurra. Does Jaish al-Mahdi, are they part of those you have discussed with them? And are the same groups that the government met with you met with? And is there an imminent agreement about all these issues and groups? And have -- some of the Congress people have accused you that you like some people over some -- like you like Sunnis more than the Shi'as. And what about marginalization of these groups?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Ultimately, for success of country the monopoly of weapons and the use of force in a significant way, other than personal protection, have to be handled the state. So therefore, one of the challenges that Iraq faces, how to have a successful decommissioning, demobilization and the reintegration program for unauthorized military formation, and they are not from one sect or one group, they're across. And I'm very much aware that the prime minister is cognizant of this, and he has established a section in his office to -- working with others to come up with such an approach.
How do you reduce and eliminate unauthorized military formations? It's a very difficult task, I understand; once people have arms and have used them, it's difficult to take them away from them. Particularly important is our part of the DDR, the reintegration, what you do with the people. If you don't have a good program integration where these people are appropriately integrated into jobs, they can be part of criminal gangs, they can pose a threat under a different kind of heading or in a different way.
It's a difficult challenge, and I -- we've promised the prime minister that we will help. I personally had some experience on this issue in dealing in Afghanistan, where I was ambassador there. They had very large and heavily-armed militia groups who had fought each other for a long time. So there are other countries that have had experiences in this area; that needs to be utilized. But that's an important issue, and it applies across the board, not only with Jaish al-Mahdi but with others as well.
On the second issue, I talked before about the difficulty of building a national compact, the lack of trust that exists. And sometimes when you are pushing for one compromise or another, depending on who is at the receiving end of the pressure at that moment for a compromise -- and often I have said to everyone that I'm here to help; if my help is not needed, I'm -- will be very happy, but on the other hand, failure is not an option. If you need my help, I'm available at any time. So we have sometimes -- I think -- my guess is -- and you will be better judges of that -- at some points I have gotten someone angry to say something that, you know, we are taking sides. One side of the constitution didn't take enough account of the interests of the other group. Later on, when we were pushing for a kind of amendment process or the formation of national unity government, people -- oh, boy, you were working for the interests of another side.
I have had the best of relations -- this is my opportunity to say -- with all sides that have -- or have been willing to engage the United States, talking about Sunni, Shi'a, Kurdish, with all of them. Everyone knows that I have worked long and hard, before coming as ambassador, for the past 15, 16 years on the issue of Iraq. The president had sent me earlier to work with the opposition in London and Salahuddin and Nasiriyah and Balad. I know many of these leaders. We know each other quite well, and I think sometimes these statements are just for the purpose of tactical use in particular circumstances. I have no complaints about my relations with the key political forces that are active in -- on the scene in Iraq.
Q Hi. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, National Public Radio.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Oh. Good to hear from you.
Q I've covered Iraq for many years. I've seen many officials from the United States government make many statements about positive indicators in Iraq over the years.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Yeah, sure. Sure.
Q There obviously is a political constraint back in the United States now in patience, which you discussed quite well.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Right.
Q But fundamentally, what indicators lead you to believe that Iraq is going to turn a corner? What fundamentally is different now that you think all of a sudden things might actually be better and that things here won't backslide into anarchy or chaos?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, I've gone through the list that I -- I thought about this last night, what I was going to say to you, and those are the things that came to my mind as indicators, positive indicators.
But I am also aware of the complexity of the situation, the uncertainties associated with it. And I'm also very much aware that there is a great deal to be done to make sure that the indicators become lasting trends, and for success to be assumed to be inevitable. And, you know, you make judgments at the time you make them with the factors or facts that you're there. But you need to be also informed by the broader context and the sense of history, which is that the process is extremely difficulty. As I said, it's an ancient land but a new nation, in a sense; state-building and nation-building at the same time. Neighbors that -- some of whom are not being helpful to them. These things take a long time. There will be ups and downs.
Having said all that, I believe inevitably, ultimately Iraq will succeed. Look at the history of Europe. Some of you know I'm an academic by training, although I've changed careers several times. But that I have a sense of history that if you look at the history of Italy or history of France or history of Germany, that you had different parts of the country, the whole process of state- and nation-building took a very long time. But ultimately, they found the right formula, and Iraqis will too. They are very smart people, very gifted, have had a terrific history (of time ?), dark period, of course, as well. So I am confident in the ultimate success.
The question for us is -- that's why I said the patience is so important, is the timeline for it. And to sustain U.S. support -- and that's an independent variable, if you like, in its own right -- things have to move at a certain pace. I have tried very hard to communicate that in my discussions, and I think there is no uncertainty, in my judgment, about that, not only from what they're heard from me, but also just listening to you and to your colleagues and following the news internationally given the kind of world that we are living in.
So it's a caveated optimism based on the current set of circumstances as I assess them, and I try to be as objective as I can and be as cautious as I can.
Yes, sir? I would go back and let's go to some Iraqis then -- (inaudible).
Q It's Brian Bennett from Time magazine. The House, one body of the U.S. Congress has voted for a withdrawal in 2008 of U.S. troops from Iraq. What kind of impact have you seen that have psychologically on your Iraqi counterparts? And if the Senate should pass some sort of law that reflects a concrete timeline for withdrawal, what kind of effect would that have on the diplomatic mission of the U.S. because it runs counter to the present strategy here?
AMB. KHALILZAD: I believe that a lot of Iraqis will pay attention. They are still waiting what will ultimately happen. The decision-makers are aware of -- they understand our processes. But there is an issue -- first, I believe Americans generally believe success in Iraq is important. Then it comes about the strategy of how do you achieve that. And there has been -- some people believe the strategy we've been on is not the right strategy.
I believe there is the issue of how to incentivize Iraqis to do more for themselves at a faster pace, but that needs to be done in a way, in my view, not to undermine the whole process. And it's a tough balancing act. As a diplomat, I like to have as much tools in my box as I can to get my interlocutors to do what we think is in our interest and their interest. But I believe this is a very difficult balancing act of -- that needs to be pursued with caution.
Q But can a bill like this undermine the diplomatic efforts here by undermining confidence?
AMB. KHALILZAD: That would -- we will see what ultimately happens, but I believe it is, as I said, it's -- you know, I understand that some people would like to through this process incentivize the Iraqis to do more faster, and I appreciate that. But at the same time, the other side, one has to be very careful to see what the impact will in effect be of some of those decisions. And as I said, it's a tough -- it's a balancing that needs to be done.
The last question goes to this gentleman. I think we are out of time.
Q (Through interpreter.) Your Excellency, during your tenure in Iraq and your work with the political blocs, where is the problem security-wise? Are there political struggles or the U.S. presence or what?
AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, I think fundamentally, I mean, you know, depends what details you look at. But fundamentally, in my view, it's a political problem, the lack of a national compact among Iraqis about the future, an agreement among them. I think there is progress that's being made, but this has been the political thing. The political aspect has been the most fundamental issue.
Now, there is, of course, other factors also that are important, but that is, in my judgment, the fundamental thing, and that's why I have urged Iraqis ever since I have come and I have made my own services available to them whenever they wanted to to get a national compact. I have constantly since my first day here I talk about the need for a national compact for Iraqis to come together to an understanding on key issues about how to -- in this new Iraq, to come to an understanding.
There has been progress that has been made, but still a long way to come. I very much understand the difficulties of some of these issues to compromise, given the background, given the environment that -- and given the violence that exists. But it has been my great honor and privilege to have represented the United States here for the past 21 months. And I believe this is very important, what happens to Iraq, to the future of this region and the world. And I wish Iraqis success in their very difficult but important enterprise. I'll be watching from afar. If I'm confirmed, as you know, I'll go to the U.N., and Iraq will be one of the issues that, of course, comes to the U.N. frequently.
But I want to, as a last word, to thank the leadership and the people of Iraq, and I wish them all the best.
And I thank you again for all the good sessions, and sometimes not so good, that we've had together. So all the best to you. May God bless all of you and the people of Iraq. Thank you.
Q Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
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