US President George W. Bush said yesterday the formation of a
government in Iraq marked a "new day" for the country but Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice said it was too early to make commitments
on withdrawing US troops.
An Iraqi diplomat said it would be "cataclysmic" for his country
if troops left too soon.
Bush said he had called Iraq's president, prime minister and
speaker on Sunday to congratulate them on bringing together a unity
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has put together a cabinet
of Shi'ites, minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds that was sworn in on
Saturday, more than three years after a US-led invasion that
toppled Saddam Hussein.
"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 to
reporters at the White House with his wife, Laura, by his side
after attending church.
Bush is eager to show signs of progress in Iraq. His approval
ratings have fallen to the lows of his presidency partly on growing
public discontent with Iraq, where violence persists and more than
2,400 American troops have died.
Bombs killed at least 19 people in Baghdad on Sunday as the new
government met for the first time, in a reminder of the task Maliki
faces to reduce the bloodshed.
Bush repeatedly has refused to give a timetable for troop
withdrawal, saying Iraqis must first take over security for their
country. US military commanders will meet with the Iraqi government
over the next few weeks, Rice said.
"They will come up with plans that include what remains to be
done, what role Iraqi forces can play in that, what role coalition
forces still need to play," she said.
"It is premature before we've even had this discussion with the
Iraqi government to start giving firm commitments on what the
drawdown will look like," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."
Americans and Iraqis do not want a long-term presence of US
troops but they need to stay until Iraqis can provide security,
Iraqi Deputy UN Ambassador Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi said on CNN's
"A short run or immediate withdrawal of the multinational forces
in Iraq would be cataclysmic for us and I think there is universal
acknowledgment of that," he said.
Two key security positions in the Iraqi government, the defense
and interior ministers, have not been filled due to a lack of
Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Iraq, said on CNN's "Late
Edition" that Maliki had narrowed the list of candidates and
expected a decision on those posts within a week.
He said it would take months to develop a plan to disband
militias and years to implement it but Maliki understood that only
authorized people should carry weapons.
"This will take political decision and at the same time it will
take resources and it will take time because these unauthorized
forces, including militias, are the infrastructure of a civil war,"
Khalilzad said. "They need to be brought under control."
Rice expressed confidence in Maliki, saying: "This is a strong
leader. "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."
Bush said he assured the Iraqi leaders that the United States
would continue to help their country establish a democracy 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."
Bush, who has made spreading democracy overseas one of the goals
of his administration, said a democratic Iraq "will serve as an
example for others in the region who desire to be free."
(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, May 22, 2006)