Condoleezza Rice says world needs to be patient with Iraqis, that they don't want civil war

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged patience as Iraqis work through political differences and said the United States will be "more than pleased to stand down" and leave the country once it can safely stand on its own.

"I think it's time we stop saying that the Iraqis want to devolve into civil war. That's not what they want," Rice told Indonesian parliamentarians and policy makers, wrapping up a two-day visit to the world's most populous Islamic nation.

She faced a series of small but noisy protests outside the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and tough questions about foreign policy, including when the United States planned to pull its troops out of Iraq .

"I believe that they are going to form a national unity government," she responded.

When that happens and there are sufficient Iraqi security forces to defend the country "you can be certain that we will be more than pleased to stand down and to have the Iraqis do it themselves."

Rice accused "foreign terrorists" of fomenting violence in Iraq and said the world owes Iraqis patience and confidence that they can succeed.

"It is hard, there is no doubt about it," she said.

"These are people who have resolved their differences for most of their existence by force and coercion or oppression. Now they are trying to resolve their differences, to bring together these various sectarian groups on the basis of compromise and politics."

Rice praised Indonesia for its own transition to democracy from authoritarian rule but warned that it like other Southeast Asian nations would also continue to face challenges in the years ahead.

Al Qaida-linked militants blamed for a series of suicide bombings in Indonesia and failed plots elsewhere threatened to turn the vibrant region into "a ring of fire," she warned.

"Groups like Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah want to destroy this region's dynamism and its traditions of tolerance," she said, promising continued U.S. anti-terror assistance.

"Asians know this all too well, especially Indonesians," Rice added, noting that four suicide bombings since 2000 have killed more than 240 people, many of them Muslims.

Rice's visit was partly an effort to present the best face of the United States to Indonesia , which has gained strategic importance for Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001 , terror attacks.

She repeatedly praised the mostly moderate, secular country for the giant strides it has made toward democracy since the ouster of former strongman Suharto in 1998 amid massive street protests.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a U.S.-educated former general, became the country's first directly elected head of state in 2004 and has been widely praised for instituting political and economic reforms.

He is also seen as a close U.S. ally in the war on terror.

Rice's visit included a tour of an Islamic grade school, where she chatted with pupils, and promises to help the sprawling archipelago fight its widening bird flu outbreak and maritime piracy.

But Rice also urged Indonesia to push for full reforms of its military the main pillar of Suharto's 32-year dictatorship.

The United States cut all military ties with Indonesia in 1999 after the army and militia proxies devastated East Timor during its break from Jakarta .

But Rice lifted the arms embargo in November, partly to reward the country for cracking down on Islamic militants. Hundreds have been arrested in recent years.

Human rights groups criticized the decision Wednesday as premature, saying the powerful army remains a threat to the country's nascent democracy.

"We look for continued progress toward greater accountability and complete reform in the military sphere," Rice responded.

"A reformed and effective Indonesian military is in the interest of everyone, because threats to our common security have not disappeared", reports the AP.


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