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American Forces Press Service

Iraq Reaches 'Important Milestone' in Forming Unity Government

By Tech. Sgt. Elaine Wilson, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2006 After months of deadlock, Iraq reached an "important milestone" in its journey toward democracy with an agreement on top leadership posts for a national unity government, President Bush said yesterday.

The parliament elected a president, two vice presidents, a parliament speaker and two deputies yesterday. President Jalal Talabani then named Jawad al Maliki as prime minister-designate.

"This agreement represents compromise and consensus among many different Iraqi groups and it came after months of patient negotiations," Bush said in a speech at the California Highway Patrol Academy in Sacramento.

"The agreement reflects the will of the Iraqi people who defied the terrorists by voting to choose the men and women who will lead their nation forward," the president continued. "And this historic achievement, by determined Iraqis, will make America more secure."

The new leadership has 30 days to assemble an Iraqi cabinet. "Once inaugurated, the new government will hold power for up to four years," Bush said. "Unlike the interim and transitional governments that came before, the new Iraqi government will have full constitutional authority."

Although the progress is promising, there is still "a lot of work to do to get the rest of the cabinet in place," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday during a telephone briefing. "But the most important thing is they now have a government; they will now have a government of national unity that can take on the challenges that they will have."

The challenges are "major" ones, the president said, adding that "Iraq's new leaders have important responsibilities to the people who chose them."

Bush pointed out a few responsibilities, to include deploying Iraqi security forces to defeat terrorists and insurgents and gain control over the militias; rebuilding an infrastructure to enable commerce and support educational and health needs; strengthening the economy; and encouraging job creation.

"It's a long list," Rice said. "Obviously the security situation is key. But this is now going to be a government that needs our help in creating the infrastructure so they can ... deliver these services, and we'll be right there for them."

Although the challenges are many and varied, Iraqi leaders can rest assured they will not face them alone, Bush said.

"Formation of a new Iraqi government is an opportunity for America to open a new chapter in our partnership with the Iraqi people," he said. "The United States and our coalition partners will work with the new Iraqi government to reassess our tactics, adjust our methods and strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve victory in this central front in the war of terror."

Bush suggested the new government could signal the start of a drawdown of American forces from Iraq, which number more than 130,000. "As more Iraqi forces stand up, American forces will stand down," he said.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq echoed Bush's positive outlook.

"As the circumstances change, the size, mission and composition (of U.S. forces) will change," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said in an interview today on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "I think the political process will have a very positive effect if it goes forward."

A key player in the outcome will be a "good, strong" prime minister, the ambassador said.

Khalilzad said the "indications are positive" that Maliki could fill that role, as he is known as a "tough minded, strong leader" who has "taken strong positions against terrorism.

"He has a reputation for being a strong leader, a patriotic leader, without being subordinate or having strong ties to any of the regional players," the ambassador said. "We look forward to working with him."

Bush said there will still be tough times ahead but the enemy "suffered a real blow" yesterday. "The Iraqis are showing the world that democracy is worth the wait, that liberty is worth the sacrifice and that freedom is the future of every man, woman and child on this Earth."

"This is a good day for Iraq; it's an important day for Iraq," Rice noted.

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