By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
ATHENS, April 25 -- The establishment of a permanent Iraqi government will provide the framework to eliminate militias that have terrorized Iraqi citizens and help curtail Kurdish attacks against Turkey, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday.
Rice, who is traveling this week to Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, told reporters flying with her that the end of the four-month impasse over Iraq's political leadership -- achieved over the weekend -- would open a new phase in the country's reconstruction. And while she said the United States would increasingly step back from the process, she cautioned against any expectations that the shift would be dramatic.
There will be continued violence, Rice said, and the progress will be political in nature.
Progress "doesn't come in great flashes, it doesn't come in great outbursts of another election," she said. "This is now going to have to be steady progress toward building the infrastructure of governing, and then governing."
A surge of violent attacks perpetrated by sectarian militias has emerged as an increasingly destabilizing influence in Iraq, with some analysts saying the militias have become an even larger problem than insurgents.
The elimination of militias is "an important element of establishing trust between the Iraqi government and Iraqi people as a whole," Rice said.
"The best thing we can do is to make sure that our training helps them to create truly national military forces and truly national police forces, because that then takes away any sense that one needs militias to provide security," she said. "That I think will be our principal role."
Rice also said the creation of a permanent government would allow the United States to "redouble our efforts" to battle a resurgence of attacks against Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), operating from a base in northern Iraq. The group fought a separatist insurgency in which more than 30,000 people were killed between 1984 and 1999, when a cease-fire was declared. Hardened elements of the group have resumed attacks in the past two years, and some Turks have blamed the United States. They say the Iraq invasion gave the PKK a sanctuary in Iraq's largely autonomous north, which is run by two Kurdish parties with closes links to the United States.
"I want to emphasize how important we view this issue," said Rice, who will hold talks on the PKK and other issues this week in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "No one, especially the Iraqi government, wants to see Iraqi territory used for terrorist activities against Turkey. I know that is of considerable concern to Turkey."
In Athens, critics of the Iraq war have promised large demonstrations against Rice, who arrived early Tuesday hoping to improve relations with a country that fiercely opposed the invasion. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell canceled a planned stop during the 2004 Olympics because of the possibility of protests.
U.S. officials hope that the establishment of Iraq's permanent government will be seen as a pivotal moment, one that helps convince opponents overseas and in the United States that the situation can be improved.
Rice rejected suggestions that the newly named prime minister, Jawad al-Maliki, is a weak and largely unknown figure. Rice, who has not yet met or spoken with Maliki, said he has the support of Iraqi citizens and much of the political leadership to form a unity government.
"He comes to this as the strongest political figure really ever now since the liberation of Iraq," Rice said.