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American Forces Press Service

Troop Withdrawals Depend on Conditions, Iraqi Government, Rice Says

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2006 One day after Iraq's unity government was sworn in, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it's too soon to try to project when major U.S. troop withdrawals might occur.

Speaking today on NBC's "Meet the Press," Rice said conditions on the ground and consultations with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government would play the question out over time.

"We are going to sit with the new Iraqi prime minister and his team and look at the security situation both in terms of what remains to be done and who should do it," Rice said. The secretary noted that when she and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Iraq's new leaders in Baghdad last month, it was clear their focus would be on continuing to expand the role of Iraqi security forces.

"When I was there, Prime Minister Maliki told me that he wanted to see an acceleration of even the training of Iraqi forces, and certainly Iraqi forces stepping up more to take their security responsibilities," Rice said.

The United States will work with Iraq's unity government to plan the way ahead for Iraq's security, the secretary said. "But, clearly, larger numbers of Iraqis are being trained," she added. "Clearly, they are taking on more security responsibility. And it has always been the plan that as they take these responsibilities, we will have less to do."

Rice said U.S. forces are spending more time on training Iraqis, "but there is still some difficult places to deal with, and we want to make sure that we have the forces there that are needed. That's why the president talks about condition-based withdrawal."

Acknowledging that many sacrifices already have been made and many more lie ahead, Rice said the cause is worthwhile and the progress continues steadily.

"We're trying to help the Iraqis create a stable foundation for democracy and a stable foundation for peace," she said. "In a region in which our interest and, indeed, our very security, has been so wrapped up, the Middle East, that is something worth doing, and nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice.

"I understand that it's hard," the secretary continued. "It's also harder to see (amid televised images of violence) the quiet progress on the political front, coming together of Iraqi Sunni, Shiia (and) Kurds, to build their political future. And so I understand that Americans want us to succeed, and that the question is can we succeed? And I just want to say we can."

Though some mistakes and misjudgments have plagued the effort in Iraq, Rice said, it's important to note the misjudgments that weren't made.

"There were those who said that it would be best just to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and then put in an Iraqi strong man who could govern," she said. "That would have been a disaster for the progress of the Middle East as a whole and for a democratic foundation for the Middle East.

"There were those who said, 'The Iraqis will really never be able to do this. Let's go in with a huge footprint and leave nothing to the Iraqis.'" Rice continued.

What the coalition has done is to build Iraqi political capability, competence and confidence steadily over three years, she said.

"People forget, we're a long way from the governing council that had a rotating president every month to the now inauguration of Prime Minister Maliki, the inauguration of an Iraqi government that is capable and competent and committed and the inclusion of large numbers of Sunnis through authentic political leadership that we believe can give people a place in the political system and give less reason for a violent insurgency among the Sunnis," she said.

On "Fox News Sunday," Rice said she's not concerned that three important positions in the Iraqi government - defense minister, interior minister and national security adviser - have yet to be filled.

"Let's give them three or four days, or five or six days to come up with the best possible interior ministry, you know? The five days that they will take to vet people more thoroughly, to make sure that they have the right person, will be well worth it," she said.

The secretary pointed out that Maliki has said he's determined to use maximum force to stop the terrorism and the violence against the Iraqi people.

"This is a strong leader," she said. "I've met him. I've looked into his eyes. This is somebody who is determined to do what is right for the Iraqi people."

She said Maliki told her and Rumsfeld that the Iraqi people have had enough, and that it's important for the unity government to be effective.

"He is demonstrating a kind of focus," she said. "He is demonstrating a kind of resolve, because he's now a permanently elected leader, not an interim leader whose job it is to get a constitution or to set up elections, but whose job it is to govern permanently. And I think we need to give him a little breathing space and a little chance here, and I think you're going to see very good things from this government."

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