Sun Oct 1, 3:47 PM ET
Iraq's continuing insurgency, while still a major concern to US officials, has taken a back seat to sectarian violence, Washington's ambassador to Baghdad said.
"I believe that a main part of the violence now is sectarian violence, violence between death squads associated with militias," US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said.
"It is true that the insurgency is still there and targeting us. And the terrorists are there, although I believe that Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq are weaker now than they were a while back, and that they are under pressure," he said, speaking on CNN television's "Late Edition" program.
"But there is the sectarian violence that has increased."
But Khalilzad also said that it seemed "plausible" that Sunni-Shia violence could diminish in coming months.
"I believe with the reconciliation program that the prime minister has put forward, and with the Baghdad security effort that we and the Iraqis are making, it is very plausible in my mind that next year the level of violence will be lower than this year," he said.
The US ambassador added that the next two months will be critical for success in establishing a functioning civil society in Iraq.
"The government, in the course of the next two months, has to make progress in terms of containing sectarian violence. And the government is working hard," Khalilzad said.
He also said he was confident that Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would succeed ultimately in containing the violence.
"I have full confidence in him," Khalilzad said.
"He has authorized moving against death squads. He has moved forward in terms of the reconciliation," the US ambassador said.
"He believes, and I agree with him, that there has to be an integrated plan that (is) political to begin with to convince the political leaders who have militias to agree to a decommissioning and demobilization and reintegration," Khalilzad said.
"He has agreed that all of Baghdad, no matter who is in charge of which parts of it, ultimately has to come under the control of the government ...that is willing to use force if that becomes necessary," the envoy said.
"I think he is a strong leader. He is a good decision-maker. He sets priorities and he follows through."
But, Khalilzad added, "the situation remains a difficult one. I don't want to sugarcoat it in any way."