03 April 2006
Rice, Britain's Straw Urge Iraq To Form Government Soon
U.S. and U.K. foreign ministers praise Ayatollah Sistani's moral guidance
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw are urging Iraq's political leaders to take swift action to form a government of national unity needed to fill a political vacuum and quell sectarian violence.
At a press conference with Straw in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, Rice said "the next and most important step" in overcoming sectarian violence is "to get a government of unity, to get one quickly ...."
The two foreign ministers arrived in Baghdad April 2, in an unannounced visit, to meet with Iraqi leaders. (See related article.)
Straw said that it is crucial that Iraqi politicians move quickly to nominate officials to fill senior positions "because there is frankly no doubt" that the political vacuum is causing the security situation to deteriorate.
Dozens of Iraqis are killed daily amid fighting led by militias.
Rice and Straw praised the moral guidance provided by Iraq's pre-eminent Shi’a cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini Sistani, as Iraq navigates from dictatorship to democracy.
"[W]ithout the remarkable spiritual guidance shown by His Eminence, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, this country ... would not have in its hands the potential of a very much better future,” Straw said. "And we salute the guidance and the restraint that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has been able to bring to his people, the majority community," he added.
Rice said that Sistani's wisdom, courage and leadership have been the anchor not only for Iraq's Shi’a community but for all Iraqis "who want to have a peaceful and democratic and unified future."
Rice said Iraqi politicians have made progress since the December 2005 legislative elections in establishing a program for governing needed in order for a coalition government to function effectively.
The two secretaries affirmed Iraq's sovereignty and said that the United States and the United Kingdom have no intention to try to choose the members of the Iraqi government.
"[O]ur purpose was not to say who needs to do what, but to say to every leader, look within yourself and do whatever you have to do to make this process move forward," Rice said.
She said that a national unity government is crucial to quelling the sectarian violence because it will put in place defense and interior ministers who will govern in the interest of all Iraqis, not narrow sectarian groups.
"[T]here is going to be a reining in of militias," Rice said. "The Iraqi people demand it, and those who are on the ground and helping with security from the multinational forces also demand it."
For additional information, see Iraq Update.
Following is the transcript of Rice's and Straw's press conference in Baghdad April 3:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
April 3, 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
And British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
April 3, 2006
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the second day of the visit by Secretary Rice and myself to Iraq. As you're aware, we've held a series of meetings with leaders of all the communities in Iraq. What we've said to them is, first of all, we recognize the huge progress that the Iraqi population have made towards establishing a democratic government here in Iraq. And although the news in the last few weeks has been bleak, not least with the attack on the holy shrine in Samarra on February the 22nd and all its aftermath, the fact that the Iraqis last year had one election, then put together a constitution, then had that ratified in a referendum, and then had these elections on December the 15th with a 75 percent turnout, peaceful on the whole, recognized as free and fair, is astonishing against a background of tyranny and oppression and politics entirely by violence, which had dominated this land for almost four decades. But we have also said to those that we have met, that whilst they have made progress -- and in the six weeks that I was here -- I was last here on February the 20th and the 21st -- they've made a lot of progress in putting together the way in which this coalition government should operate.
It is now crucial that they move forward quickly to ensure the nominations of the senior positions, have those agreed and then agree the cabinet, because there is frankly no doubt that the political vacuum that is here at the moment is not assisting the security situation, and the country's got to be able to move forward. We have emphasized, Secretary Rice and myself, time and again that who becomes nominated and then elected to these leadership positions, including the prime minister, is a matter for sovereign decisions by the sovereign parliament, the Council of Representatives of Iraq; but the international community, particularly the United States, whose forces have lost so many brave men and women, and the United Kingdom a similar situation relative to the strength of our forces, that we are entitled to say that whilst it's up to you, the Iraqis, to decide who should fulfill these positions, somebody has to fill these positions and fill them quickly. And we have urged those that we've been speaking to, to do so.
One last thing that we both want to say which is this, that although there have been difficulties, I think we both recognize and people around the world recognize that without the remarkable spiritual guidance shown by His Eminence, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, this country, for all the problems that it now faces, would not have in its hands the potential of a very much better future. And we salute the guidance and the restraint that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has been able to bring to his people, the majority community. And we also recognize that the United Islamic Alliance, the Shia alliance, given the fact that they represent the largest congressional grouping and the majority of people in this country have a right to nominate the key position, the prime minister.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you very much. It has indeed been a very busy 24 hours or so. And we came here principally to underscore the importance of bringing to a close the negotiations on the formation of a government, the appointment of the most important positions, those who will govern and lead Iraq. I want to emphasize that we do know that the Iraqi leaders have been working very hard. Indeed, they have produced a program for governing. They have produced the institutions and procedures by which they will govern. This has not just been a matter of sitting around talking about who will get what positions, but rather they've done some very important work in this period of time.
That said, it is time to agree on those positions, because the Iraqi people are rightly demanding that they have a government after they braved the threats of terrorists to go to the polls and vote. And indeed the international partners, particularly the United States and Great Britain and others who have forces on the ground and have sacrificed here, have a deep desire and I think a right to expect that this process will keep moving forward, because it is after all the political process that will disable those who wish to engage in violence against the Iraqi people. It is only through a political process in which the Iraqi people have confidence and political leadership in which they have confidence that they can be certain to abandon for all time any resort to violence. You cannot have a circumstance in which there's a political vacuum in a country like this that faces so much threat of violence.
I want to underscore one other thing. It is important to come here and to urge the parties to move forward. It's also important to come here and to acknowledge the extraordinary journey that the Iraqis have been on for this number of years since the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. It's important to acknowledge that a people who have had a history of solving their problems and their differences by violence and coercion are now trying to do that through a political course. It is important to acknowledge that groups, communities that suffered great violence and great repression, the Shia who suffered enormous acts of repression under Saddam Hussein, who still mourn mass graves here in Iraq simply because they were Shia, that to see these people overcome that terrible history and to be a part of an effort for a national unity government is indeed inspirational to all of us who believe in democracy.
And let me very much underline what Secretary Straw has said. The leadership of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani in this regard, someone who, as I said the other day, we all admire for his wisdom and his courage and his leadership, has been an anchor for that community but also for all Iraqis who want to have a peaceful, and democratic, and unified future. It is also, of course, the case that other communities -- Kurds -- have suffered, and let us not forget that Saddam Hussein repressed Sunnis as well. So this is a country that is trying to overcome a very terrible past and, of course, there are sectarian tensions, and those who would stoke those sectarian tensions. But what I have been amazed at is the resilience of this community, this country, the resilience of their political leaders, and the degree to which they have been able to overcome those efforts of those who would try and tear them apart. The next and most important step in overcoming the efforts of those who would tear them apart is to get a government of national unity, to get one quickly, and to put it to work on behalf of the problems, difficulties, and challenges facing the Iraqi people. Thank you very much.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have time for several questions. Libby Leist from NBC.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you. You've made clear that President Bush sent you here to Baghdad to deliver a message to the Iraqi leadership that they need to form a government as soon as possible. My question is: With two-thirds of the American public disapproving of President Bush's handling of the war, to what extent was this trip designed to be a political message to the American people that the U.S. is actively involved in setting up an eventual American troop withdrawal? And Foreign Secretary Straw, the same question to you: To what extent is this trip sending a similar signal to the British people? Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first and foremost, the reason for this trip is to encourage and urge Iraqis to do what Iraqis must do, because the Iraqi people deserve it. But yes, in fact, the American people, and the British people, and others who have sacrificed need to know that everything is being done to keep progress moving here. Because the goal of our presence here and the goal of having liberated this country from Saddam Hussein is not to leave a job undone. The goal is to leave the foundation for a democratic and stable Iraq, because once that democratic and stable Iraq is in place, you will have the foundations of a different kind of Middle East and our own security will be much stronger.
And so the President has said many times that the presence here is for the purposes that I've just talked about, and it is going to remain the presence that we need until Iraqis are able to secure themselves. And so the only message here is that the process needs to keep moving forward and, yes, I hope that's a message that not just the Iraqis will take but that, in fact, the American people know that it is of great concern to their government that the process keep moving forward.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Yes, as the Secretary said, we've come here fundamentally to encourage the political process forward. In my case, this is the fourth visit I've made since November here, so it's a familiar routine. But it's of huge importance for the Iraqis that this process is moved forward. Of course, there's every interest in the United States and the United Kingdom and all those other countries who've had forces here and who have shed blood for Iraq's liberation as well. And the skepticism certainly in my country is understandable as long as there appears to be slower progress than anticipated, so that's a good reason, another reason, for pushing that forward. But also don't forget that whatever the disagreements three years ago, there was international unity enshrined in United Nations Security Council resolutions about this political process and the timetable which Secretary Rice and I are seeking to encourage.
MR. MCCORMACK: Al-Iraqiya.
QUESTION: Al-Iraqiya. A lot of news that says that you support this certain candidate and refuse other candidate. Yesterday some, you know, read from the signs, the signs on the face of Secretary Rice, that you were much happier with Adil Abd al-Mahdi than you were with Al-Jafari. Was this truth? Is this the truth that you are supporting one and not the other?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I would caution against trying to read my facial expressions. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only, which is to try to help give momentum to a process that is well underway but really now needs to come to conclusion. It is not my responsibility or the responsibility of Secretary Straw to determine who is going to be the prime minister of Iraq; that can only be determined by Iraqis. We know that the largest voting bloc out of the democratic process will nominate that person; that is also only fair in a process like this. But the only question that we have had is how this gets done now. -- how you complete the process of getting a government, how you complete the process -- and in order to do that, you have to have a prime minister named. And that must be somebody who can unify the various blocs, the various groups of voters who also went to the polls and had -- and now represent the interests of their voters. That's what the process of coalition formation is about. It needs to be a strong leader, who's a unifying force and someone who can bring stability and meet the challenges that face the Iraqi people, but it is not our job to say who that person is going to be.
MR. MCCORMACK: Is there an Iraqi journalist?
SECRETARY RICE: I think this woman, this woman all the way in the back.
QUESTION (Via interpreter): Don't you think that this an interference in the Iraqi affair in determining its fate, then especially that Iraq is supposed to be sovereign and this is against the principles of democracy?
SECRETARY RICE: Okay. The question was whether or not this is interference in Iraqi affairs. Iraq is sovereign. And is it also -- is it democratic to do this, I guess, is the way to put it.
First of all, we've been very clear that Iraq is indeed sovereign. That is indeed what we fought and which -- for what our people died. So let's be very clear that there are Americans and Brits and others who gave their lives so that Iraq could be liberated from a tyrant and Iraq could be sovereign. The transfer of sovereignty took place almost two years ago now and we have done nothing as an international community and as a coalition force but support the process by which the will of the Iraqi people will be made evident.
That process has now resulted in the election of responsible and representative leaders for the Iraqi people. And all we're saying is that the Iraqi people and, indeed, the international community which has supported the Iraqi people, needs to see that process of government formation come to an end. Again, it is not our job to determine who will do that. But as the Secretary said yesterday, we should not say and will not say who the prime minister of Iraq should be, who the president of Iraq should be, who the speaker should be. But that there must be -- and soon -- responsible leaders in those positions is something that I think the international community has a right to expect.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: And could I just underline, look, we've made it clear from the very start, which is our duty towards a sovereign state, that we will recognize anybody who emerges democratically as the prime minister and vice president, president, and other leaders, whether it's Mr. A, Mr. B, Mr. C. But please, the Americans have lost over 2,000 people. We've lost over 100. There are 140,000 overseas troops here, helping to keep the peace in Iraq and billions -- billions -- of United States dollars, hundreds of millions of British pound sterlings have come into this country. We do have, I think, a right to say that we've got to be able to deal with Mr. A or Mr. B or Mr. C. We can't deal with Mr. Nobody. And that's a problem, okay.
SECRETARY RICE: Jack, I'm sure we'd be all right with Miss A, B or C, too, right? (Laughter.)
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Yeah, we would.
SECRETARY RICE: Who knows? (Laughter.) Let's leave it open.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Yeah, but I was not being gender specific -- (laughter) -- just referring to the realities here on the ground. Don't report me, please. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll take the BBC next.
QUESTION: Thank you. A question to both of you. You're saying that there can only be security once there's a government of national unity. But most people feel that there can really only be security once efforts are taken to deal with the militias which, of course, are linked with some of the parties involved in discussions to form a government.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, look, we're not saying that at the moment there's a government with a prime minister, a magic wand will be waved and all the problems of Iraq will be resolved. But we are saying that getting established a government with a four-year perspective with leaders who feel secure in their position is a fundamental precondition to resolving these others matters, including the issue of militias.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have time for two more questions.
QUESTION: (Off-Microphone inaudible) For both of you, please, Is there anything that you can point to in particular that you heard or learned on this trip that tells you that your message was getting through? How much longer do you think this process can go on? And, Madame Secretary, since you have said that really the goal of whomever becomes prime minister is to form a government and both of you have said that that decision ought to be up to the Iraqis, would it be easier for someone to form a government and for this process to move forward if Jafari stepped aside?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, on the latter point, Anne, it's not for us to say how this will get resolved in terms of the prime minister. The key is that there are two parts to the process. There's a nomination from the largest bloc; and then that nominee, because the largest block is still not large enough to form a government, must bring others on board in order to have a -- in order to become prime minister and therefore lead the formation of the government and ultimately lead the country.
So that process has to take place and it has to take place very quickly, because if you don't have that key position determined, it's going to be difficult to do the other things that you need to form a government. So our purpose was not to say who needs to do what, but to say to every leader, look within yourself and do whatever you have to do to make this process move forward, and I think we said that to each and every person.
As to -- and the second question was about the -- I mean, the beginning of the question was -- I'm sorry, you --
QUESTION: Can you point to anything in particular that your message went through?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, right. Yeah. Well, I had a very strong sense that the message was indeed getting through. I don't think that the Iraqi leaders were unaware of the importance of getting this government formed. They are looking at the quite considerable and now very free Iraqi press that, as I understand it -- I can't read it -- but as I understand it, is calling repeatedly and sometimes in rather pointed ways that politicians need to stop talking and start governing.
Now I just want to make a point. Three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein that in and of itself is a remarkable fact. That the Iraqi people's views and desire and indeed impatience is being expressed through a free press is already a -- quite a step forward. And I can tell you that these leaders are feeling the pressure from their own people because of that free press, and that's a very good step. So I think that they knew that, but we wanted to simply add our voices. And on behalf of the United States and Great Britain and to a certain extent the coalition with whom we talk all the time with other ministers, that the process needs to get forward.
I think that we heard a very strong acknowledgement of that. We have a better understanding of pieces that are falling into place to make that go forward. They are rightly proud of having finished the ground-work for creating a government, but now understand that the next step is to get the people who will actually govern. And I heard a lot that made me believe that they understand that task very well.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Thank you. Yes. As the Secretary said, there's a lot of indication that this message is going through. I think there's a sense by the Iraqi politicians that we met that they recognize the urgency of the matter. And I think they also recognize -- I mean, I certainly recognize and Secretary Rice does -- that if this vacuum continues then the opportunity for the terrorists and the insurgents who are trying to stop democracy, stop the Iraqi people having their own government will bluntly expand. And I'm very conscious of the fact that I was last here on February the 21st. The word that was in my ears as I left was that which a leading Sunni politician had uttered to me that he was quite optimistic about the future. I got back to the UK. I went to bed, I woke up in the morning to the terrible news about the attack on the Holy Shrine, which was not just an attack on the Shia community, but attack on the right of Iraqi people of whatever confessional grouping - Shia, Sunni, whatever ethnic grouping to run their own affairs and this is therefore now urgent. We recognize that coalition building always takes time. It took two months in Germany just before Christmas. But this is now taking more than that and closing decisions is -- becomes important.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the question of militias to Secretary Rice, if I may. There is a lot of concern that particularly since the Samarra mosque -- shrine bombing, the sectarian militias have got out of control, including those run by the SCIRI Ministry of the Interior. In your meetings, which you've had three meetings, I think with SCIRI leaders, have you raised this issue of militias? How urgent do you think it is that these Interior Ministry-run militias are brought under control, and what confidence do you have that they will be?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. In fact, we have talked with all of the leaders about the importance, once there is a government of national unity. And I want to emphasize you have to have a government of national unity so that a minister of defense, minister of the interior can be appointed for whom the responsibility is to provide security in conjunction with the multinational forces here and then to produce conditions under which people are secure and these militias, of course, can be disbanded. It is not legal going forward to have these and you can't have in a democracy various groups that have arms. You have to have the state with a monopoly on power and that will be represented by the ministry of defense for the army and the ministry of interior for the police.
We have sent very, very strong messages repeatedly, not just in this visit, that one of the first things that the multinational forces and the governments that -- from which they come expect is that there is going to be a reining in of militias. The Iraqi people demand it, and those who are on the ground and helping with security from the multinational forces also demand it.
Now, we have talked about problems as we have seen them over this interim government period with the functioning of the police and the functioning of the Ministry of Interior. We've been very clear about that and sometimes we've made those concerns public. But I'm quite confident that when there is a government of national unity, one of the first issues will be a ministry of defense that will govern in a neutral way, that will be certain that sectarianism is rooted out and that supports -- that will be able to support our efforts to better train the police.
One of the obligations and responsibilities that we have taken on Under General Dempsey is to better train the police so that they are more capable, so that the vetting is more thorough, so that they are properly armed and outfitted to be able to provide local security. So it's a comprehensive program. It's a ministry of defense that -- a ministry of interior that is responsible to the needs of the people, not to sectarian needs. It is going to be to do something about militias and it's going to be to train police that can really carry out those functions. That'll be the comprehensive program. And when the Iraqis have a unity government then that's got to be one of the highest priorities.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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