Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit Tuesday to Kirkuk in the oil-rich Kurdish region, where the U.S. administration has emphasized what it sees as new signs of cooperation and progress, and then flew to the Iraqi capital for meetings with national leaders.
At Rice’s first stop in Kirkuk, she met with members of a civilian-military reconstruction unit and with about two-dozen provincial politicians of all stripes.
“It is an important province for the future of Iraq, for a democratic Iraq, an Iraq that can be for all people,” she said at the start of the meeting with the provincial leaders.
Sunni Arabs ended a yearlong political boycott earlier this month in Kirkuk _ the hub of Iraq’s northern oil fields _ under a deal that sets aside government posts for Arabs. It was the biggest step yet toward unity ahead of a referendum on the area’s future.
Rice was highlighting that development, although a separate ethnic group is still boycotting the provincial governing council, and the new role of the United Nations in resolving the future of disputed Kirkuk.
“It truly is the crossing point for every one of Iraq’s ethnicities, every one of Iraq’s religions and sects,” said David Satterfield, Rice’s top adviser for Iraq. “Kirkuk is often identified as a flashpoint for the future of Iraq.”
Read the whole thing. The progress in Iraq in 2007 has been astonishing. As Fred Kagan said on my program yesterday (transcript here):
[T}he security situation in Iraq has improved amazingly, and on a very broad basis. Frankly, much more dramatically and broadly than I ever anticipated when we initially proposed the surge at the end of last year. And it appears that life is actually returning to something like normal in Baghdad, people going to parks, and letting their children out on the street, and sending their kids to school, and people actually starting to move back who had fled the violence. So it’s really been quite a dramatic reversal.
Kagan also blasted Mike Huckabee’s statements about Iran:
HH: In a speech that’s getting a lot of attention in a Foreign Affairs article that’s getting a lot of attention, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been talking about Iran and the failure to establish diplomatic relations with them, as though this is a failing on the part of the Bush administration. Is he right? Is Iran’s behavior in response to our inability to sit down with them, or our unwillingness to sit down with them?
FK: Well, absolutely not. The Iranians are doing what they’re doing for a variety of reasons, having to do with their own interests. We can have a conversation about whether we should talk to them or not, and at what level, but the notion that if we would just sort of sit down with them, we could clear this whole thing up, is absurd. The Iranians know perfectly well what our positions are. We know what they are, and we are talking to them. The American ambassador in Iraq has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart and other Iranian officials. We were about to have a fourth meeting, and the Iranians cancelled it. So you know, the question is, would it make a difference if it was ambassador to ambassador, would it make a difference with president to president? Diplomatic negotiations like that can help when you have misunderstandings. But when you actually have interests in conflict, then that’s not going to be the solution.