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Debate Continues in Washington Over US Role in Iraq

The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq says a complete pullout of American troops from the country before the end of this year is unrealistic. His comments come in response to recent calls by a prominent Senator for the U.S. military to withdraw from Iraq if Iraqi leaders do not form a unity government by May 15.

Washington's Ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the point holding up the formation of Iraq's new government is the nomination of Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be prime minister. The diplomat told CNN's Late Edition program that Jaafari's name has been put forward by the largest parliamentary bloc, a Shi'ite group known as the United Iraqi Alliance.

"Other parties have had objections to his nomination, and they are talking about the way out," said Zalmay Khalilzad. "They are doing that today, and hopefully, they will solve that in the next day or two."

The delay in forming the Iraqi government is also an issue in the United States, as American politicians become impatient for results.

The latest opposition comes from Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic party's candidate for president in the 2004 election. Although Kerry voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, he proposed in a New York Times article last week that Washington should urge Iraqi leaders to form a unity government by May 15 or face a U.S. military withdrawal.

Speaking on the NBC television program, Meet the Press, he said he feels Iraqi politicians have had enough time to put together a government, since their parliamentary elections in December.

"It's unconscionable that any young American is dying because Iraqis, five months after an election, are dithering and squabbling," said John Kerry. "They cannot find the ability to compromise and come together in a democracy."

He added that setting a deadline may also sharpen the attention of and attract greater support from neighboring countries.

"If the Jordanians, if the Saudis, if others, are truly concerned about the region, and they are, if they are concerned about chaos, and they ought to be, then the threat of our withdrawal is what is going to finally get them to step up and be involved," he said.

Ambassador Khalilzad agreed that Washington also would like to see an Iraqi unity government formed as quickly as possible. But he told Fox News Sunday it is more important that the new government be, in his words, a "good" government.

"This is the first time that you are getting a democratic government, authoritatively elected people from different communities, compromising, coming to agreement," he said. "So, we need to press them, but also, in my judgment, we need to be patient to make sure we get the right government."

And, speaking on CNN, he repeated President Bush's position that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. troops in Iraq will stand down.

"As the Iraqi capabilities increase, as the situation changes, the circumstances are likely to allow for our forces to reduce in number and change our mission, ultimately leading to a complete withdrawal," said U.S. ambassador to Iraq. "But I believe that total withdrawal by the end of this year is unrealistic, given the size of our forces, given the circumstances right now in Iraq. That is an unrealistic timetable, in my view."

Meanwhile, amid ongoing violence in Iraq, debate continues as to whether the country is embroiled in a chaotic civil war. Some say yes, but Ambassador Khalilzad says no, not yet. But he acknowledged, what he described as, "increased sectarian tensions and conflict" since the bombing of a Shi'ite mosque in February.