U.S. Envoy Khalilzad Faces Hurdles in Iraq

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, earned praise as envoy to Afghanistan. Scott Simon and Bobby Ghosh, Time magazine's Baghdad bureau chief, discuss the challenges Khalilzad faces in Iraq.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Zalmay Khalilizad was the popular and affective U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. He's been U.S. Ambassador to Iraq for 10 months now. Bobby Ghosh is Time Magazine's Baghdad bureau chief, and he recently shadowed the ambassador as he made his rounds in Baghdad and interviewed him at length. Bobby Ghosh joins us from New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BOBBY GHOSH (Time Magazine, Baghdad Bureau Chief): Any time Scott.

SIMON: And of course as its been reported, Ambassador Khalilizad was apparently the man who delivered the message that the U.S. Government would like to replace Iraq's current Prime Minister. But a couple of weeks ago, you wrote that the ambassador was reluctant for the U.S. to openly oppose him. What do you think changed? Was it the ambassador's attitude? Was it events on the ground? Was it opinion in Washington?

Mr. GHOSH: As a consummate diplomat, his instincts, I think, are to nudge and push and cajole from the outside. So I can only speculate that he was under orders from the White House.

SIMON: There was I think it's safe to say some, even some open enthusiasm when Ambassador Khalilizad was tapped for this post by virtue of his experience in Afghanistan. By virtue of his own background. And he received very high marks from people for his diplomatic skills. To what degree does he have any, any room to use those skills independently?

Mr. GHOSH: Well, he's doing the best he can. He continues to be very highly regarded and perhaps just as importantly very well liked by most of the players in Iraq. They regard him as a man from the East like themselves, a fellow Muslim. He knows all the niceties and the diplomatic style of the East. Even the average Iraqi regards him as a much better American envoy than say his predecessors, Negroponti or Paul Bremer. They tended to be aloof and stand-offish, more viceroy-like.

He is much more, he's warm friendly, drinks the thousand cups of tea that you are required to do in any kind of discussion in Iraq. His problem is that he was brought into the situation much too late, is my judgment. It would have been much better if he had been the U.S.'s representative in Iraq from the get go. But at this point, the U.S. has no real leverage over any of the key players in Iraqi politics.

SIMON: What do you think Ambassador Khalilizad has been able to accomplish or at least handle differently?

Mr. GHOSH: His big success was bringing the Sunnis into the political tent. He made the rounds. He played every card that he had available to him, including the fact that he is himself a product of the Shiite and a Sunni cross sectarian marriage. And he brought the Sunnis into the political process, kicking and screaming no doubt, but without that no future of Iraq is even conceivable. The trouble now is that the Shiites may be willing to share room in the Parliament with the Sunnis, but they're not very keen on sharing the actual authority of the country with them.

SIMON: There was a Shiite Cleric this week who called for the Ambassador's dismissal. Do you expect people are going to pay attention to that?

Mr. GHOSH: No, I don't think so. No American Ambassador is ever, let's face it, ever going to be universally popular in Iraq. Ambassador Bremer and Negroponti had many different people calling for their dismissal. If Khalilizad has only one Shiite cleric calling for his dismissal, then I think that should be seen as a sign of success more than anything else.

SIMON: Bobby Ghosh has been Baghdad Bureau Chief for Time Magazine, speaking with us from New York. Thanks very much.

Mr. GHOSH: Any time.

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