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Departing US Envoy Says Iraq Moving in Right Direction

The departing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in farewell remarks that Iraq is headed in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. From northern Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Ambassador Khalilzad leaves Iraq after a challenging 21-month tenure.

What started with the promising achievement of a new Iraqi constitution, has ended with a stalled political reconciliation process and rampant sectarian violence in the capital and surrounding areas.

Instead of seeing the withdrawal this year of some American forces, President Bush has authorized the deployment of 30,000 more troops in a bid to stop the violence.

Ambassador Khalilzad told reporters in Baghdad that the recent surge in American troops conducting security operations in these volatile areas provides an opportunity for Iraqis.

"I believe it is very important for the Iraqis to take the opportunity that the presence of these forces provide, to make the decisions and the compromises that are necessary," he said. "And I believe that as long as that is the case, the United States will stay and support Iraq, although the size and composition will vary because our goal is as soon as Iraqis can take matters into their own hands and can stand on their own feet, look after their own security, the better."

The ambassador confirmed a U.S. news report that he and members of his staff have had contacts with representatives from Sunni insurgent groups. He said the talks are aimed at isolating al-Qaida in Iraq.

A few days ago, Ambassador Khalilzad said his good-byes to the people of northern Iraq's Kurdistan region.

At the inauguration of a $200 million water treatment plant financed by the United States, Ambassador Khalilzad pointed to political and reconstruction successes in this part of Iraq as an example of what is possible for the rest of the country.

"The road ahead for the Kurdistan region is one filled with great opportunities and I am excited and invigorated by what is happening here," he said. "I want to assure all my Kurdish colleagues here that the United States will stand with you as you move forward."

On Sunday, Iraqi officials wished the ambassador well in his next post. President Bush has nominated him to be the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki thanked Ambassador Khalilzad for his dedication to the Iraqi people and his efforts for Iraq and said he hoped that work would continue.

Ambassador Khalilzad's successor, Ryan Crocker, has had a long career as a diplomat in the Middle East, having served as the top U.S. diplomat in Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria. He leaves his post as ambassador to Pakistan to come to Baghdad.