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American Forces Press Service

Bush, Rice Weigh In on Iraq's Unity Government

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2006 President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today hailed yesterday's seating of Iraq's unity government as an important milestone for the Iraqi people and the Middle East.

"The formation of a unity government in Iraq is a new day for the millions of Iraqis who want to live in freedom," Bush said at the White House this morning. "And the formation of the unity government in Iraq begins a new chapter in our relationship with Iraq." Bush said he had called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as the country's president and parliament speaker to congratulate them on forming the new government.

"I assured them that the United States will continue to assist the Iraqis in the formation of a free country, because I fully understand that a free Iraq will be an important ally in the war on terror, will serve as a devastating defeat for the terrorists and al Qaeda, and will serve as an example for others in the region who desire to be free," Bush said.

In a statement posted on the State Department's Web site this morning, Rice welcomed the inauguration of Iraq's new government, noting how far the country has come since Saddam Hussein was toppled from power.

"Prime Minister Maliki and his Cabinet carry into office with them the hopes of all Iraqis," the secretary's statement said. "In three years, Iraq has gone from Saddam's one-man rule to an inclusive national unity government chosen by a freely elected parliament under a permanent constitution. This is a remarkable transformation, and one which the United States is proud to have helped bring about."

As "the hard work of governing begins" in Iraq, Rice's statement continued, the U. S. is ready to help.

"Iraqis should know that the United States will do all that it can to help their leaders meet the challenges in the days ahead and build a brighter future for them and their country," Rice's statement said.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" today, Rice played down concerns that Malaki has yet to name defense and interior ministers, saying the delay is a case of making sure the right people are chosen for those key posts. Recalling last month when she and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi's newly chosen leaders, Rice said Maliki told her he's being especially careful about his choice for interior minister, who will be in charge of the national police.

"When I was in Iraq with Secretary Rumsfeld, Prime Minister Malaki was very focused on the need, particularly, to have an interior ministry in which people had confidence and police in which people had confidence," she said. "And so I'm not surprised that it's taking them a little bit longer to make sure that these are people in whom the prime minister has confidence.

"It's absolutely pivotal," Rice emphasized, "and it needs to be, truly, a national unity position. It needs to be a position in which there is someone who is not just competent, but somebody of integrity, and I think it actually shows some maturity that they were able to go ahead with the formation of the government so that they can start working, but that they can take a little bit longer (to complete the Cabinet)."

Rice said the ultimate solution to the remaining security problem in Iraq lies with the new government, and she noted that the country's security forces continue to make progress.

"They are stepping up; they're taking large parts of territory that they now control," she said. "That notorious highway between (Baghdad's) airport and the International Zone is now controlled by Iraqis and, in fact, it's been much more peaceful since they've taken control of it. So they are taking their responsibilities; they are taking losses on behalf of their own country."

The secretary praised political leaders in Iraq for their commitment to freedom, even in the face of personal loss. "I have met with Iraqi leaders who have lost family members to hard-core insurgents who don't want, particularly, Sunnis to be part of the political process," she said. "And at every turn when they lose a brother or they lose a sister, they say, 'The way that we honor that memory is to form a government of national unity and to make Iraq a stable democracy.'

"These people are sacrificing, they are committed, and we need to be there to help them succeed," Rice said. "But, it is true, they are the ones that must succeed."

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