- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush’s choice to be the next ambassador to Iraq, vowed yesterday not become “a prisoner in the green zone” and said Iraq’s Arab neighbors must do more to help Baghdad succeed.

Mr. Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for the past 18 months, said at a Senate confirmation hearing that he remained optimistic Iraq’s transitional authority can meet a year-end deadline to draft a constitution and elect a permanent government.

He also said he would work to unite the country’s warring ethnic and religious factions.

“I don’t intend to be a prisoner in the green zone,” he said, referring to the heavily fortified base of U.S. operations in central Baghdad. “I’ll be out there talking to people” despite the difficult security situation in Iraq.

Mr. Khalilzad’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came on another day of violence in Iraq.

A series of coordinated bombings around the northern city of Hawija left at least 18 Iraqi soldiers and civilians dead and 39 wounded, even as U.S. and Iraqi forces pressed a combined offensive against insurgents in the city of Tal Afar along the Syrian border.

U.S. military officials said that two Marines were killed Monday in separate roadside bombings.

All told, at least 860 persons have been reported killed since the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was announced in late April.

Mr. Khalilzad told Senate lawmakers that regional support for Iraq’s security and reconstruction needs was critical. He said the failure of a number of Sunni Arab states to send ambassadors to Baghdad or to forgive Iraq’s Saddam-era debts was troubling.

“With regard to the countries that are our friends, they could do more, in my view, to support the transition in Iraq,” he said.

He said the United States has “no plans” for permanent military bases in Iraq and U.S. forces would remain in the country only as long as the Iraqi government wanted them.

Committee members gave the nominee a warm reception and most expect a quick and easy Senate confirmation vote.

But a number of senators warned that the administration was understating the problems in Iraq and the task facing the U.S.-led mission there.

The ranking committee Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who just returned from a trip to the country, said U.S. military officials complain privately they have too few troops in Iraq and that progress has been slow in training Iraqi forces to take their place.

Mr. Biden added it would be a “miracle” if Iraq’s new parliament were able to meet the current timeline to produce a constitution, have it approved by voters, and stage national elections — all by Dec. 15.

Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, said that only $7.5 billion of the $21 billion in U.S. aid money for Iraq — about 36 percent — has been spent, with much of that money going for security, not development.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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