On a trip to Chicago Monday, President Bush was expected to hail the political progress in Iraq. In a statement released Saturday - the day Iraq's new government was inaugurated -- Bush said the formation of the unity government "begins a new chapter in our relationship with Iraq."
A U.S. State Department spokesman said on Monday the important thing about the new "national unity" government is its inclusion of "large groups of Sunnis."
Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Erli told Fox News, "What you have for the first time in Iraqi history is a parliament and now a government that is representative of all Iraqis -- Sunni, Kurd, Shia. That's enormous progress and something that I think we should all be very pleased to see."
Erli said the Iraqi government is now is a much stronger position to deal with the insurgency -- "because the Sunnis who were feeding the insurgency are now part of the government."
He called the formation of a new government a "strategic defeat" for the insurgency.
As for the continuing violence (there were more bomb attacks on Iraqi civilians Monday), Erli said the insurgency "still has a lot of life in it," but he added that the balance of power is shifting against the terrorists, and the new prime minister has promised to focus on security.
Erli called the emergence of a "serious committed partner" in Iraq a good sign for the United States and the troops.
During his surprise visit to Irag on Monday, Blair called the new government a "new beginning" for the country. He also said the effort to get to this point has been "longer and harder than any of us would have wanted it to be."
At a joint news conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Blair said Iraqis can now "take charge of their own destiny."
The Iraqi prime minister promised to use "maximum force against terrorism," and he said Iraqi troops will start taking over for coalition forces in many areas of the country.
Press reports quoted Maliki as saying he would set an "objective timetable to transfer the full security mission to Iraqi forces, ending the mission of the multinational forces." He said it would happen province by province, with Baghdad being one of the last areas to be brought under Iraqi control.
President Bush on Saturday said he had assured the Iraqi government the U.S. will continue to assist them in forming a free country.
Bush said a free Iraq "will be an important ally in the war on terror, will serve as a devastating defeat for the terrorists and al Qaeda, and will serve as an example for others in the region who desire to be free."
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