Speaking to reporters today at a press conference in Baghdad’s Green Zone, John Kerry said “2006 will be “crunch time” for Iraq’s new government.
“This is crunch time for everything we’ve invested and for everything they’ve invested,” Kerry told reporters in Baghdad’s Green Zone, adding later: “I’m confident that, providing the government makes the choices that are available to it, provided we continue to leverage that, that we will be in a position to see very significant numbers of forces return [home] over the course of this year.”
Kerry spent the day today, meeting with top Iraqi officials, including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The night before, he had dinner with more Iraqi officials and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Kerry said the “results of the Dec. 15 parliamentary vote were expected to be released on Friday and that the parties elected must form a national unity government that includes representatives of its three main groups, the Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Sunni Arabs.” He also stressed that the “responsibility belonged to the Iraqis themselves and the U.S.-led coalition could only do so much.” This is a position that Kerry has stressed for some time. (see Kerry’s speech: The Path Forward, Oct. 26, 2005)
“This will not be resolved by our military,” Kerry said. “It will be resolved by the Iraqi political process and by their ability to put this democracy, which they’ve now been given an opportunity to exercise, in place.”
Kerry said he believed that if the government can accomplish the task before it, “there will ultimately be no place in Iraq for jihadists,” and the insurgency would weaken.
He made clear that the “withdrawal of U.S. troops would only happen if Iraq’s government functions effectively and Iraqi police and army units are trained properly.” Again, a long held position by Kerry. Yet he said that in a meeting with Talabani on Wednesday, the president had told him his expectation was that “tens of thousands” of U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year.
AFP News Service reports more: US Senator cautions against Iraqi government sectarianism —
“It is going to be essential that those key ministries, particularly defense, interior and finance put people in them who will lead the ministry without regard to the sectarian influences that have so often guided decision-making,” he said.
If politicians can overcome sectarian problems, particularly the Sunni-Shiite divide, major US troop withdrawals could take place this year, he added, describing the upcoming period as a “make-or-break time” for Iraq.
“If those issues can be resolved, as I believe they can politically with our help as well as their own, then I believe you can withdraw a very significant number of troops,” he said.
“I suggest that the vast majority of our combat troops could be out of there by the end of the year under those appropriate circumstances,” he said.