By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 14, 2007 – The Iraqi people have a "renewed sense of hope," a senior U.S. diplomat said in Baghdad today. At a news conference, Daniel Speckhardt, charge d'affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, said he has been assigned in Iraq for almost two years, and that part of the sense of hope is due to increasing confidence in the Baghdad security plan.
Speckhardt added that this sense of hope goes beyond Baghdad, noting that people in Anbar province are getting this sense from local tribal sheikhs who are joining Iraqi security forces and banding with coalition forces to fight al Qaeda. He also pointed to Karbala, where an estimated 6 million Shiia pilgrims performed religious rites tied in with the religious holiday of Arbaeen.
"The last 30 days have seen important developments in the history of Iraq," Speckhardt said. The Iraqi government has taken steps to improve security, governance, economic development and economic opportunities, he noted.
"At the end of February, the Iraqi parliament's Council of Ministers passed a hydrocarbon law that outlines the equitable sharing of Iraq's oil wealth," he said. This is the first of five laws that must be passed. Varying estimates say Iraq has either the second-most or the most proven reserves of oil and gas in the world.
"Not only does this lay the groundwork for the future prosperity of all Iraqis, it is notable that in the midst of violence, Iraqi leaders are crossing sectarian and ethnic lines and continue to come together to in support a unified, democratic and inclusive Iraq and the development of its resources and the sharing of its wealth," Speckhardt said.
The Iraqi government also showed how it has grown by hosting the Neighbors' Conference last weekend. "This is the first international conference here in Baghdad since 1990," Speckhardt said. "The conference ended with regional and international partners issuing a pledge to fight terrorism and enhance security in support of the goal of peace and security for the people of Iraq."
Iran and Syria -- along with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- attended the conference. "This was an important first step in the government of Iraq building cooperation from all neighbors, stemming the violence, supporting reconciliation and addressing economic concerns," he said.
Speckhardt said terrorists are getting "more frantic" in their efforts to disrupt progress.
While he said is encouraged, Speckhardt acknowledged there is no magic bullet to solve all of Iraq's problems. "These challenges will require Iraqi solutions, and from what we've seen in the past month, this government is honestly facing these problems," he said.
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