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Ambassador Khalilzad Outlines New Security Plan for Iraq

August 7, 2006 at 6:30 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, the efforts to stem a slide into civil war in Iraq.

Four days ago, the top U.S. general in the Middle East said civil war could be the outcome if the rise in sectarian killings isn’t halted soon. And as part of its plan to help the Iraqis do that, the U.S. has begun sending more American troops to Baghdad.

For more on the security situation there, we’re joined by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. I spoke with him earlier today from the Iraqi capital.

Ambassador Khalilzad, thank you for joining us.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq: Margaret, it’s good to be with you again.

MARGARET WARNER: Last week, the CENTCOM commander, General Abizaid, said that Iraq could slide into civil war. How big a risk do you think there is of that at this point?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, there is some risk of that. There are, in the circumstances that are present here, a way forward that could bring that about. But I think the prospects for avoiding a full civil war is stronger at the present time.

There is the unity government. There is a program for securing Baghdad that the government has put forward that has two elements — to bring about an agreement among those who are deliberately involved in the civil war and are part of the political process, and also security and military measures to make it risky for those who are involved with sectarian violence.

And this plan is in the process of being implemented; not all the elements required are yet in place. I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic that the plan will produce positive results.

Progress made by Iraqi government

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
I believe that the plan, which is much more robust, is a better prospect, and I believe that the next three to four months is critical for this government to reverse the sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdad, and we will have to wait and see.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, this government has been in office for three months. And when you and I spoke in late May, you talked about both the political reconciliation and security, and you stressed that the next three to six months would be critical for the new government to make visible, substantial progress on both fronts.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: We're now into August. Has any measurable progress, though, been made on either of those or is it still in the planning stage?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: The initial plan for the security of Baghdad did not produce the results that were desired. They have changed that. This plan now calls for more forces, new tactics, moving neighborhood by neighborhood, clearing neighborhoods from the death squads, and the insurgents, and terrorists, and then turning it over to the police, and then going the economic revitalization and services effort.

And I believe that this plan, which is much more robust, is a better prospect, and I believe that the next three to four months is critical for this government to reverse the sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdad, and we will have to wait and see.

They are facing a difficult set of circumstances, but they are working hard. And I think we owe it to them to do what we can to help and give them the time that they need to implement their plan.

MARGARET WARNER: And, of course, part of this new, robust plan is bingeing a lot more, thousands more American troops into Baghdad. Today, there was a gun battle, a raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on a stronghold of one of the Shiite militias of Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City. Is that an isolated incident? Or is this the beginning of a more aggressive, assertive, even confrontational approach between the U.S. and Iraqi government towards these Shiite militias?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: As I said before, a joint effort is to make it risky for people who are involved in sectarian violence. And that means going after death squads, as well as going after the terrorists and the Saddamist insurgents who are involved in this.

And this is a change in the approach, increasing attention to the death squads that are tied to militias, some of whom are Shia, some of whom are also Sunni. To this particular incident last night, I don't anticipate that all of our efforts will be exactly like that, but that was one of the recent moves that the coalition and Iraqis have made against leaders of death squads.

Containing the Shiite militia

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
Militias have that potential to become a state within a state, but Iraq to succeed to become a successful country, militias have to be brought under control.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see a parallel -- and again, I'm referring to something that General Abizaid said -- between the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and these Shiite militias in Iraq? Could these militias become a state within a state in Iraq, just as Hezbollah has in Lebanon?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Militias have that potential to become a state within a state, but Iraq to succeed to become a successful country, militias have to be brought under control.

But I believe, in order to have the Shia militias demobilized, and decommissioned, and reintegrated into society, the Sunni insurgency needs to also be reduced. What has happened is the Sunni insurgency is seeing itself more as a protector of the Sunni community, and the Shiite militias see themselves as the protector of the Shiite community.

MARGARET WARNER: But Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is one of the leading Shiite militias here, his party is in the government. They've got something like 10 percent of the seats in the parliament. I mean, how do you explain that that condition persists? Is he playing a double game, essentially?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: He's not the only one with the militia that is also in the government. Several of the other political forces that are in the government also have militias. This is part of what has happened in the country in the aftermath of the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein, that the existing constitution got disintegrated.

New state institutions were being built, but at the same time, since those state institutions were weak, other militias that did not exist came about. And some existed under Saddam, they were opposed to Saddam. So the Muqtada case is not unique, and therefore a comprehensive plan for the decommissioning and demobilization and the reintegration of all of these militias are needed for the stability and success of Iraq.

Affects of Conflict in Lebanon

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
There is also the possibility that Iran may seek to encourage more instability here and more pressure on the coalition in response to what's happening in Lebanon.

MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, is the conflict in Lebanon having an impact on Iraq? Is it exacerbating the tensions in Iraq?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: It is having an impact here, particularly on the Shia community. There is also the possibility that Iran may seek to encourage more instability here and more pressure on the coalition in response to what's happening in Lebanon. But so far, the impact has been limited, but the potential for a greater impact is there.

MARGARET WARNER: And meaning what, exactly?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, for the Shia militias such as Muqtada al-Sadr's group or for Iranians recruiting or encouraging forces that are close to them to increase attacks against the coalition forces.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, thank you.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, thank you. It's good to be with you.