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"We have already launched five major task forces [with the Iraqi government] to move forward on key issues. These include efforts to implement joint plans on overall security, coordinating reconstruction, managing fiscal demands, infrastructure security, and resolving the [unclear] issues," Khalilzad said.
One of the biggest challenges facing Iraqis is overcoming the loss of trust among the communities, the ambassador observed, adding: "This underlies current political and sectarian tensions. In part, it also underlies the insurgency." In order to overcome this legacy, Iraqis would need to build trust across communities, including the building of "truly national institutions" that are "not instruments of revenge or fiefdom of patronage of one group or another."
On the issue of terrorism, Khalilzad said that Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated group and former Ba'athists are "seeking to pull more Iraqis into their terrorist networks." Khalilzad said: "Choosing this path would be fatal.... Protracted violence would lead their most talented people to go abroad, destroy educational opportunities for their children as schools close or do not operate in ways that they should. Reconstruction would become difficult and these circumstances would create fertile ground for the growth of extremism that would further impoverish the region. I warn Iraqis in central and western Iraq to avoid falling in the trap laid by their enemies," he said.
Offering a "legitimate alternative," Khalilzad challenged Iraqis in these areas to join in a national compact "enshrined in the constitution that protects the rights of all communities," adding that the United States is "committed to supporting Iraqis who seek to realize this vision." Khalilzad noted the predicament of Iraqis in these Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq who want to have a voice and place in the new Iraq and are seeking a political role in the face of intimidation and great risk to themselves. To this end, he pledged to "work to provide security" for those who seek to join the national compact.
The ambassador said that the plan to build up the Iraqi security forces is a "strategy first to win over the people and then to isolate and destroy the enemy." An essential part of the plan, the ambassador announced the intention of multinational forces to hand over control of specific areas of Iraq to Iraqi security forces and withdraw coalition troops.
RFI asked Khalilzad for more specifics on the plan, but he declined to identify what cities and towns would be handed over first. "We are working to build up Iraqi capabilities so that the security that is needed to be provided, is provided by the Iraqi forces as soon as possible. But we know that that takes time. Therefore we're working through this joint committee that I talked about as to how this transition from the coalition...could take place, that Iraqis take more and more responsibility for security in those areas. And we're going to develop an integrated, agreed upon, prudent plan of action on how to move forward and this is the work of this joint committee that I talked about."
Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told reporters in Baghdad on 1 August that Al-Diwaniyah, Karbala, Al-Najaf, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Samawah will likely be among the first cities in southern Iraq to be handed over. Al-Rubay'i added that he and Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi will represent Iraq in joint committee meetings with the United States.
Singles Out Neighboring States
The ambassador singled out Iran and Syria as states that are "engaged in unhelpful activities" and are not doing enough to contribute to the security of Iraq, adding that the United States intends to help shape a more favorable regional environment.
Regarding Syria, he said: "Terrorists are moving into Iraq through Syria. Leaders of hardcore Ba'athist insurgents reside there. Terrorists and insurgents are trained in Syria and funding goes through Syria. Syrian government media are broadcasting anti-Iraq propaganda. The Syrian government must take action to halt these activities or risk new pressures."
Iran, he said, is working along two contradictory tracks. "On the one hand, Tehran works with the new Iraq; on the other there is movement across its borders of people and material used in violent acts against Iraq. We welcome good relations between Iraq and all its neighbors. But activities inconsistent with such relations must stop."
Stresses Need To Build Up Capabilities
Khalilzad also stressed the U.S. government's intention to build up the capabilities of Iraqi ministries. In addition to improving the capacity to operate and manage projects, the ambassador said the United States would decentralize part of the reconstruction process by working with provincial governments to fund projects that meet local needs.
The ambassador also stressed the need to expand private-sector opportunities, saying: "I will work with Iraqi political and business leaders to do more, including expansion of credit, increasing the use of Iraqi contractors in reconstruction, and opposing corruption."
As part of this plan, Khalilzad vowed to do more to encourage the international community to become more involved in Iraq. "Iraqis need help in this period, just as other great nations in Europe and Asia have needed it after the end of major wars or the fall of totalitarian regimes," he said.