Ambassador: No Majority Outcome Likely in Iraq Vote
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
With Iraqis voting all day today to elect a permanent government, we turn to US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. We reached him in the Green Zone.
And, Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (Iraq): Thank you very much.
MONTAGNE: Now there are some who say that the best possible outcome for today's election would be that no group captures a majority of the seats. What do you think?
Amb. KHALILZAD: I think the likely outcome is that no single party or list will have a majority and that's a good thing. It will produce the necessary environment for coalitions to be formed and one outcome that is likely is that there will be a national unity government. That's what people are talking about now. That will be good in terms of participation and in building confidence across communities. But it will produce a government that may not be very efficient, so there has to be a balance between efficiency and participation and in this case I think the greater emphasis will be on a broad-based, moderate, cross-sectarian government.
MONTAGNE: Inefficiency could be a real problem in Iraq, though, which is trying to fight a pretty virulent insurgency.
Amb. KHALILZAD: But on the other hand, if you don't have national unity, you will fuel the insurgency even more. I think if there is unity, it will be of great help against the terrorists and the Saddamist insurgents because to succeed, we need to separate the Sunni population from the terrorists and the Saddamist insurgents and that requires Sunni participation in the political process and that's why today's election is such a positive development because Sunnis are participating. But it's a first step and they need to be also part of government and there may be a price to be paid in terms of efficiency, but it's a price that's worth paying.
MONTAGNE: One of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge, once a president and a prime minister are in place is rewriting the new constitution to address important Sunni concerns and some very large questions about the power of the central government, the distribution of oil, women's rights and the role of Islam in the state. Mr. Ambassador, the stakes are so high, could not this election do the opposite of what the administration wants, that is set Iraq on a course of dividing along regions and ethnic lines?
Amb. KHALILZAD: What they need by--the Shia and Kurds, are the Sunni support for the formation of government, for passing legislation, that they will make necessary compromises to accommodate legitimate Sunni concerns. But for this political success, the first step today besides the government, there will have to be accommodation made on the constitution, on the federalism and on de-Baathification, on a number of other things in the constitution.
MONTAGNE: What is the incentive for the Shia or Kurds to give back any of the power that they now have in the constitution? This is the constitution they want if they could keep it.
Amb. KHALILZAD: Well, their interest is in an Iraq that can work, for violence to end as soon as possible, and we would seek to facilitate and help and encourage them to make the necessary compromises where everyone's interests is respected.
MONTAGNE: I want to ask you about the insurgency. President Bush now divides insurgents into three groups: rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. Which of these have you met with?
Amb. KHALILZAD: Well, we have had quite a lot of meetings with rejectionists and our goal is to integrate those people into the political process. Our objective is to isolate Saddamists since we cannot accommodate them since they want Saddam Hussein's regime to come back. And certainly not the terrorists because their goal is to make the situation as bad as they can in Iraq and ultimately provoke a war of civilization. But I think those two groups are small in number and if we can integrate the rejectionists into the political process, we will reduce the level of violence and take a big step in terms of the defeat of the two remaining groups.
MONTAGNE: Will you meet with any of these groups or individuals after the election? And what kind of leverage would you have?
Amb. KHALILZAD: Our leverage is we can be an intermediary, we can be a sort of idea for bridging differences. But ultimately, of course, decisions will have to be made by Iraqis themselves.
MONTAGNE: US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad speaking to us from the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Thanks very much for joining us.
Amb. KHALILZAD: Well, thank you.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.