AP: The top American diplomat in Iraq said Wednesday that the insurgency there remains formidable and will take longer to defeat if neighboring countries such as Syria and Iran continue to play “unhelpful roles.”
By JENNIFER LOVEN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The top American diplomat in Iraq said Wednesday that the insurgency there remains formidable and will take longer to defeat if neighboring countries such as Syria and Iran continue to play “unhelpful roles.”
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke after an Oval Office meeting with President Bush as the administration tried to put the best face on recent developments.
It was announced this week that Iraqis overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in an Oct. 15 referendum. The success of that voting clears the way for the election of a new, full-term parliament on Dec. 15.
At the same time, the number of U.S. service members killed in a war that is increasingly unpopular with the American public has now surpassed 2,000.
Khalilzad urged Americans not to be “jaded about events as historic as this constitution.”
“Never before has a major country in the Arab world freely elected representatives to draft a constitution that would then be submitted to the people for ratification in an open, free and fair process,” he told reporters at a briefing after the meeting, which was closed to the press. Bush did not speak publicly.
But Khalilzad acknowledged that the terrorists and insurgents “remain a formidable challenge” to the success of building a stable democracy in Iraq that will allow U.S. troops to come home.
Such acknowledgments of the difficulties still ahead in Iraq have become more common out of the White House and are a contrast to earlier sunny portrayals of the situation.
In May, for instance, Vice President Dick Cheney said the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes,” an assertion which was rejected then by military leaders.
Khalilzad said of the insurgents: “I believe that they’re on the wrong side of history – that the people of Iraq are moving away from them, including the Sunni community. They will ultimately be defeated. The question is not whether, but when.”
How long that process takes, he said, depends in part on Iraq’s neighbors, “at least two of” whom he said are playing “unhelpful roles.” The administration long has contended that Syria and Iran are seeking to interfere in post-invasion Iraq by supporting insurgents and exerting political pressure.
“Iraq will succeed. It will take longer if the neighbors play an unhelpful role,” Khalilzad said. “It can happen at a faster pace if the neighbors play a positive role.”
He celebrated the fact that many more members of the disaffected Sunni minority participated in the recent voting, despite calls by insurgents for them to stay home, than did in the Jan. 30 election of Iraq’s interim government. Sunni Arabs largely boycotted that election, which produced a government of mostly majority Shiites and Kurds.
Khalilzad also noted that some important Sunni parties have already signaled their intention to compete in the parliamentary elections, in hopes of expanding their seats in parliament and thus affecting the debate over changes to the constitution.
Disagreements over how the charter approaches such difficult issues as federalism and the role of Islam nearly scuttled the constitutional referendum. A last-minute deal allowed for additional changes to be made to it in the assembly that is elected; that body also must pass laws putting in place many of the constitution’s provisions.
“Like the U.S. Constitution, this is a living document that can be adjusted if necessary to reflect the values and needs of the Iraqi people,” Khalilzad said. “Additional changes and compromises will be necessary in the coming months.”