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American Forces Press Service

Iraqi Unity Government Huge Accomplishment, Rumsfeld Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2006 After four months of tough negotiating and politicking, the steps taken last week to form a unified Iraqi government were a huge accomplishment, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

"This is THE government of Iraq," Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters. "It's their government in a sovereign nation. And it's a thrilling accomplishment."

A political deadlock was broken April 22, when the Iraqi parliament elected several high-ranking officials, including its president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who then named Jawad al Maliki, a Shiite, as prime minister-designate. The new leadership has a month to pull together an Iraqi cabinet that represents Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

"Over the past four months they have been working their way through this, and now they have produced the top leadership of the country," Rumsfeld said.

He said that this breakthrough was another example of how violent extremists have failed to stop progress in Iraq. After failing to stop the drafting of a constitution and the Dec. 15 elections, the terrorists have now failed to stop an important step toward the formation of a successful new government, he said.

The new government will now have to deal with the difficult task of governing and serving the Iraqi people, he said, "That's a difficult assignment," he said. "It's going to take them awhile, and we have to wish them well."

It is now vital that the new government choose competent and capable ministers who will govern from the center and work closely together, he said. Iraqi ministers must develop "a strong, capable government that gives confidence to the people in that country that it can protect them," he said.

The secretary emphasized that the United States and the new Iraqi leadership must not lose their will, or they'll risk extremists taking control of the country. "It would be a terrible thing for the region," he said. "For the 25 million Iraqi people, it would just be a tragedy, and the consequences for the world would be serious."

He said that if the government stays unified the Iraqi security forces will continue to be successful. He also stressed that the security forces must be seen as representative of the entire country and viewed as fair to all elements within.

Rumsfeld said whether the new government would affect U.S. troop levels in Iraq depends on fluid conditions. "The drawdown of our forces will be conditioned-based," he said. "That is to say that the conditions on the ground will determine the pace at which we are able to reduce our forces."

U.S. troop levels in Iraq have peaked at around 165,000, he said, and currently number about 132,000. "As we're able to pass over more responsibility, one would think that we would be able to continue reducing down our forces," he said.

The secretary also talked about the situation in Iran. He said Iranian leaders feel threatened by the burgeoning democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, which geographically bookmark Iran. "The last thing Iran wants is to have successful regimes, representative systems, free people, in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "It is harmful to their extreme view of the world."

Rumsfeld said continued success in Iraq and Afghanistan will help contain extremism in Iran. "Success in Afghanistan and success in Iraq is critical to containing the extreme impulses that we see emanating from Iran," he said.

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