On their second day in Iraq, the American secretaries of state and defense met with coalition troops advising Iraq's army and police forces and restated the U.S. commitment to helping those forces and the new government build a peaceful, democratic society.
At a brief news conference at the U.S. Embassy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said her meetings on Wednesday and a dinner with Iraq's newly designated prime minister and other senior leaders that evening, convinced her they will work to establish a competent, diverse government and that they will try to move quickly to tackle the country's many problems.
"These Iraqi leaders recognize the challenges before them and the Iraqi people expect their government to meet these challenges," she said. "It is obviously going to take some time to do this work. We found government representatives who are focussed, who are inspiring - in listening to them - and, I think, who understand the work before them. Our message here was that the United States wants to be a supportive power in that work and that we are prepared to do whatever we can to help Iraq meet the challenges before it."
Standing with her, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the new leaders' first job is to form their government, which they must do within a month, and to work to finish the job of building the new Iraqi security forces.
"I think that the impression the people of this country have of the government will be the impression that Secretary Rice and I garnered from the meetings," he said. "They are serious people. They realize the difficulties of the task they are facing. They intend to get about the task of governing this country in a responsible way."
As the two senior U.S. officials spoke, marking the end of their unprecedented joint visit, officials of Iraq's Interior Ministry reported that gunmen killed a sister of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Thursday morning. Violence against Iraqi officials, members of the security forces and their families continues, as well as attacks on ordinary Iraqis and coalition troops. American officials say they hope the expected formation of Iraq's first democratically-elected, four-year government will help turn the tide of the fight against insurgents, will convince militia leaders to disband their forces and will stimulate much needed economic growth.
But officials acknowledge all that will be difficult. Wednesday, the top U.S. general in Iraq said he wants to see more progress toward stability before he will be willing to recommend substantial American troop withdrawals. But General George Casey says the selection of the prime minister and other top officials is an important first step and he still expects to be able to make such a recommendation to President Bush soon.