With those sort of general comments I would like to move on to talk about Iraq.  The Newsweek this week if you have seen it says, victory at last and I think there should be a question mark there, it is devoted to Iraq and obviously a play on mission accomplished and in my view the article if you get a chance is a little overly optimistic and let me describe to you what I think the situation is in Iraq today.  Great progress has been made, violence is down substantially by all measures, even though there are periodic spikes and most people are confident that during the election period violence will continue at much lower levels than 2006, 2007 and this generally very chaotic period.  One of the reasons is that the malicious have generally been banned, but also there is the coming to the fore of political class, some three or four hundred politicians that are somehow wanting to work together.  From the US point of view, Iraq is the bright spot.  Maybe it is all in contrast to the Middle East peace process to Iran and Afghanistan, but Iraq is the bright spot where things are going relatively well.  The President has set policy, he did this a year ago at his speech in which he announced, started [???] plans and things are on track.  Despite the fact the election was postponed for a couple of months we now have less than 100,000 troops in Iraq and there is every reason to believe that by August we will be down to 50,000 less that the President has mandated and all combat forces will be out of the country.   With this, however, comes a greater transferring of responsibilities to the Iraqis and also to the Department of states and what is happening in the next year is that the department of state will double the size in its embassy to take on all sorts of training responsibilities established in two or maybe three consulates and generally normalize the relationship.  What happens on the Iraqi side is a little more difficult I think to project, but we can sort of give you some of the parameters.  One is the elections.  So far the elections have gone relatively smoothly, but they have certain peculiarities about them.

First of all it is the new system.  The previous elections in 2005 were done in what was called one whole district and with closed list meaning it was proportional representation and parties nominated a list of candidates and then they went down the list from the top according to the proportion of vote that they got nationally.  Well this time it is open list in districts or provinces and there is a list of candidates, but they have to be elected locally.  What has happened here is a great focus on local issues, a great focus on personalities and a great focus on party maneuvering and so you would think at a time like this that there would be major issues such as what is the future of [???] the disputed territories, the hydrocarbon law, the constitutional reforms, federalism, you can go on down the list, these were not the significant issues.  There is one sort of issue that has risen to the top when it is a product of Ahmed Chalabi.  Ahmed Chalabi as you may know was a favorite of the Bush administration in their early years, a man with whom I met weekly when I was Deputy Assistant Secretary of States.  He heads something called the justice and accountability commission, which is also called the De-Baathification commission and his group basically disqualified 500 of the candidates of the approximately 3600 and now this has been whittled down to only about 150 who have actually been prohibited for money.  But this was an issue in which he or this was an attempt by Ahmed Chalabi to establish a wedge issue, which would be De-Baathification and it is not clear that has happened.

Polls in Iraq are questionable as to the accuracy and just for the techniques in general, but poll done for Prime Minister Maliki and his party, the state of law party shows that Maliki’s party may get 30% that the second largest party, which is led by a man named Ayad Allawi was a secular party with Shia connections and Sunni connections both maybe get 22% and Ahmed Chalabi’s party the INA, the Iraqi National Alliance may get 17% and the kurds on them.  There was reason to think that this really overestimates the Prime Minister’s party and that the common theme is that no party was likely to get more than a quarter of the vote and therefore there is going to be have to be a coalition government and then this depends how the coalitions are put together.  The largest coalition, the party with the lowest votes will be asked to form a coalition first.  There is a good chance that this might be Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and he has already spoken out that he will ally himself with Allawi and also with the Kurds and the problem is that he has bad relations with both of these groups so it is not at all clear how this will happen. The other law with possibility is that there would be some coalition with the other major Shia party, which does include Ahmed Chalabi and they would ally too with some of the other groups. All of this is expected to take four or six months and result of new elections should be available, the elections clear on Sunday may take two or three weeks or roughly the end of the month until the results are known and then after that there will be a period of coalition building and last time it took about six months.  There is reason to believe that it will take at least four to six months at this time as well so it maybe the end of the summer before we have an Iraqi government in place.