For immediate release
October 3, 2006
Emily Lenzner, NPR



Washington, D.C.; October 3, 2006 - U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad says a "balance of terror" persuaded warring Iraqi groups to attempt a new means of ending sectarian violence in Baghdad. Ambassador Khalilzad described the plan in an interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR's Morning Edition, saying that a new approach might be possible because all sides understand there is a "mutual vulnerability to violence along sectarian lines."

A complete and rushed transcript of the interview, which is airing this morning on Morning Edition, is below. All excerpts must be credited to NPR's Morning Edition. Audio of the interview will be available at this morning after 10:00 AM ET.

STEVE INSKEEP: The prime minister of Iraq says he's trying a new way to limit sectarian violence. Nouri al-Malaki has been struggling to cut back on the killings among Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. Previous plans to flood Baghdad with Iraqi and American troops haven't worked. So this time the warring sides will try talking. They're setting up local committees to settle grievances between groups. That is one part of the prime minister's plan. To learn more, we reached the U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: This plan is focused on Baghdad and what makes it significant is that the people involved in the sectarian violence - the various militia leaders as well as people from the Sunni side, some of whose groups have groups who are involved in sectarian violence - come to an agreement with each other after very frank and detailed discussions, taking responsibility for what their groups or people under them are doing and committing themselves to ending sectarian violence

INSKEEP: And just to understand, Ambassador, are there people in these discussions who will overtly say, I'm a leader of one of the groups that has been killing Shiites, or killing Sunnis, or blowing up mosques, and I am going to instruct my people to stop. Are those kinds of people actively involved in these discussions?

KHALILZAD: Absolutely. They did say also that while they can control most of the forces involved, that there are forces that are not under their control that are also involved. There is, of course the al Qaeda folks who want to provoke sectarian violence. So there will be instances of violence even with the cooperation of those who control the main forces. But if they implement what they've agreed to, there should be a significant decrease in the level of violence in Baghdad.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, how do you avoid a situation that might be comparable to the Palestinian-Israeli situation, where you have truces and ceasefires which turn out to be temporary and tactical, and something always seems to happen to bring the violence back as bad or worse as it was before.

KHALILZAD: I don't want to minimize that possibility but I believe that in terms of Iraq this has been the most serious discussion among Iraqis. Generally the style of the Iraqis is to be very nice to each other in the meetings and not to face the issues directly and deal with it directly. They would rather deal with regard to those kinds of issues through me, or through someone else, but they did it themselves. So it's a positive development. I don't want to minimize the importance of what they've achieved.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, is there a connection between this announcement and some news that you made a few days ago, telling the New York Times that the United States might actually cut off assistance to the Iraqi police if they did not clean up their act and stop being involved in sectarian killings.

KHALILZAD: I think there are a lot of reasons for why they have done it. The most important is that the level of violence has been such that the people of Iraq are demanding an end to this kind of violence. And second, I believe that both sides have come to believe that they have to come to an agreement to live with each other because there is a kind of balance of terror that has been established. Neither community can get all what it wants, it needs to accommodate the other.

INSKEEP: What does that mean, balance of terror?

KHALILZAD: Well, what I meant by that was that they each recognize that the other can hurt it, and therefore there is this mutual vulnerability, if you like, to violence along sectarian lines.

INSKEEP: Does a balance of terror mean that each side will remain heavily armed and ready to inflict damage if they feel that they've been threatened or damaged?

KHALILZAD: There is also an agreement among them and that there will be a de-commissioning, demobilization and reintegration of the militias and these unauthorized other military formations, and it will take some time, in fact, to do away with these militias. It will be a difficult challenge, and the most important part will be the reintegration part, what happens to these people who are currently armed and part of militias.

INSKEEP: Zalmay Khalilzad is the United States Ambassador to Iraq. Ambassador, it's always good to speak with you.

KAHLILZAD: It's good to speak with you.