By Steven Donald Smith
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2006 – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is working hard to quell sectarian violence and pave the way for the reconciliation of his country's people, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday. "We have been impressed with Prime Minister Maliki. He has opposed militias. He has favored reconciliation. He was determined in resisting the appointment of people to the key security ministries who were more political than substantive," Rumsfeld said after meeting with the Senate Armed Services Committee here.
In the relatively short time the prime minister has been in office, Rumsfeld said, Maliki has moved his government in the right direction. "That's not to say it's not going to be tough, because it's a lot easier to talk about a reconciliation process than to achieve one that has a unifying effect in the country," Rumsfeld said.
Maliki has made headway with his unity government despite the best efforts of those who oppose it and those who foster terror in the country. "There are people who have announced that Iraq is the center of the war on terror and the main battle in that war, and they're determined to incite sectarian violence and they're trying to do it," Rumsfeld said.
The bulk of sectarian violence is confined to a few provinces and Baghdad, and because the government and media are concentrated in those areas, the violence has had a particularly negative impact, Rumsfeld said. "They (terrorists) design their attacks to have an impact," he said. "When they went after the Golden Dome shrine (a holy Shiite mosque in Samarra), it was because they knew it would have an impact, and indeed it did."
According to his commanders on the ground and Iraqi government officials, the situation there is not a civil war, Rumsfeld said. "There's a high level of sectarian violence, to be sure, but it's not for me to announce something like that," he said.
The secretary said he sees a lot of determination in the Iraqi people to form a peaceful and stable democracy. "Twelve million people went out and voted for a constitution and for (an) elected president and a parliament," he said. "They don't want sectarian violence. They want a country that's peaceful."
There are 302,000 trained Iraqi police and security forces, but the problems Iraq faces cannot be solved by the military alone, he said. Politics is the ultimate solution to Iraq's woes, he added.
"What it's going to take is a recognition that it is not simply security forces," Rumsfeld said. "It's going to be won by the Iraqi people over time as they are able to move forward on all three fronts -- the political front and the governance front and assurance of people that in fact it's a fair system."