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Iraq After President Bush’s Visit: Some Journalists Are Optimistic About Long-Term Prospects  

In the wake of President Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq this month, some reporters have described the mood as representing a “psychological shift” in the political environment. During his visit to Baghdad, which coincided with the completion of the Iraqi cabinet and the death of al-Qaida terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, President Bush expressed optimism about the long-term prospects for Iraq and encouraged the Iraqi people to “seize the moment.”

Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh shares President Bush’s confidence. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Nourizadeh says he agrees with President Bush that the recent appointment of the new Iraqi ministers of Interior, Defense, and National Security augurs well for the future, despite the continued violence.

But British journalist and UN reporter Ian Williams describes the situation on the ground in Iraq as “abysmal.” He calls President Bush’s visit, which was confined to Baghdad’s Green Zone, a “publicity visit” rather than one directed toward “fact-finding.” On the other hand, Mr. Williams calls Zarqawi’s death and Prime Minister al-Maliki’s appointment of the three key cabinet ministers as a step forward in an otherwise precarious situation. He argues that what is needed is for the new Iraqi government to demonstrate its independence of the United States.

However, Laith Kubba, former spokesman for former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and currently program director at the National Endowment for Democracy, says he thinks the recent political developments in Iraq are encouraging. Not only is the killing of al-Zarqawi important, he says, it also implies cooperation between factions of the insurgency and the Iraqi government. Nonetheless, Mr. Kubba does not go so far as to say that Iraqis are optimistic because many times in the past they have been “let down.” He describes the mood instead as one of “caution,” and the reality on the ground as a “lack of security.”

In another development, British Defense Secretary Des Browne said earlier this week that a new security plan is being developed for Basra to prepare for its eventual handover to Iraqi security forces. According to Ali-Reza Nourizadeh, who is based in London, British and other foreign troops in southern Iraq will gradually be able to scale back. But Ian Williams says he remains skeptical, as does much of the British public, about the coalition’s long-term success in restoring order.

Despite their differences, the journalists agree that it remains to be seen whether the security situation will improve as the new government takes charge and as Iraqi forces begin to replace those of the coalition.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.