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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
United States Ambassador to Iraq
October 26, 2005

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
President George W. Bush meets with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad in the Oval Office Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005. White House photo by Eric Draper I am honored to be here to participate in Ask the White House. I am here to get guidance and consult with our leaders. I met with the President this morning. Also present in the meeting were Vice President Cheney and senior advisors including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. Separately, I will be meeting with Secretary Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later this week.

Next week, I look forward to meeting with Congressional leaders. I am also participating in a number of press events to explain to the American people what we are doing in Iraq and the progress that we are making and the challenges that lie ahead. Also, a distinguished Iraqi is visiting Washington this week, President Barzani of the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq, and I am participating in meetings with him while he is here. With that, I look forward to taking your questions.

Jack, from Stanford, CA writes:
Some, including the Hoover Institution's Larry Diamond, have said that only by bringing the Sunni population into the political process will the violence stop. Given the fact that the Sunnis have boycotted elections, what is your view? How did your experience in Afghanistan prepare you for Iraq?

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
In order to defeat the terrorists and the insurgents, the following is the political part of our overall plan. We want to isolate the foreign Jihadists, the terrorist extremists and Saddamists in the Sunni Arab community from the rest of the population.

The United States and Iraqi leaders are pursuing this objective by reaching out to Sunni Arab leaders encouraging them to participate in the political process and we have made significant progress.

Many Sunni Arab concerns were dealt with in the Constitution with our encouragement and support. Several prominent Sunni leaders and organizations supported the draft Constitution. Sunnis also participated in the referendum in large numbers. This was different than what happened in the January elections, so there is progress.

Although many Sunnis voted against the draft Constitution, they have the incentive to participate in the upcoming elections in December because the next Assembly will have the opportunity within the first six months to propose necessary amendments to the Constitution to be presented for another referendum.

Also, more than fifty articles in the Constitution require action by the next Assembly for legislating implementation laws. And, of course, the next Assembly will select the next government. I expect Sunnis to participate in the vote and to be present in the next Assembly in significant numbers and they will have the opportunity to advocate for adjustments to the Constitution that has been ratified into a general national compact.

And this participation in the political process can help separate them from the terrorists and Saddamists who not want Sunni participation are advocates for civil war.

We successfully pursued a similar strategy in Afghanistan in isolating the Taliban extremists from the population.

Khaled, from Fort Bragg, NC writes:
First, Thank you for your great and distiguished service. My question is in regards to what is being circulated in the media about the Iraqi constitution breaking the country into little states and that Oil revenue will eventually be denied the Sunni areas due to their lack of influence on the central government. Such allegations are increasing the legitimacy of the insurgent in these areas. First, would you say these fears have validity (or could be valid under what circumstance?) and how would you as the senior diplomat address this situation? What would your approach be?

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
Khaled, thank you for your question. With regard to the first part of your question, Iraqis disagree on the issue of federalism. Some see it as a necessary means for keeping Iraq together as a single country. Others fear that federalism could lead to fragmentation.

The compromise that was struck in the Constitution was to accept the principle of federalism for Iraq, recognize that the Kurdish region of Iraq, which has been de facto outside of Iraqi control for more than a decade, to be brought back into the Iraqi fold as a federal unit and to decide on the formation of additional federal units during the six months of the new Assembly.

I anticipate that this issue of federalism will be an important election issue and the election will decide whether and how many additional federal units will be formed.

With regard to the oil question, the Constitution calls for the federal government, along with regional and provincial governments, to use Iraq's oil resources for the benefit of all Iraqis, including, of course, Sunni Arabs. It also calls for the development of a plan, by the same parties, for the future development of oil and gas resources taking market principles and investment needs into account. It stipulates that this plan be regulated by law and therefore, it should encourage Sunni participation in the next election. The next Assembly will decide.

Sam, from Washington, D.C. writes:
Ambassador Khalilzad, Would it have been possible, or will it become possible, to have Iraqi Army regiments that are not entirely Sunni, Shiite, or Kurdish, but rather a mixture of all three ethnicities?

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
Another key element for our plan for success in Iraq is for Iraqi security institutions to take responsibility and for U.S. and coalition forces to reduce and ultimately withdraw. For the Iraqi forces to perform their mission of securing Iraq, they need to be trusted by all communities. Many current Iraqi police and military units are composed of people from all communities across Iraq and efforts are underway to make sure that the Iraqi military and police forces reflect the diversity within Iraq.

Justin, from Indianapolis, IN writes:
Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, if you would, please describe what the new constitution does for freedom of religion, and along the same lines, what kind of rights do women now have? Thank you.

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
The new Constitution is the most enlightened Constitution in the region with regard to freedom of religion and the rights of women. It stipulates that Iraqis have the freedom of worship, thought and conscience. It also recognizes equality of men and women before the law and stipulates that at least 25% of the seats in parliament be filled by women.

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad
I would like to be able to answer more questions, but at the moment, I need to leave to participate in a White House press briefing on the forward progress the Iraqis are making. Thank you so much for your thought provoking questions.