WASHINGTON – President Bush's choice to be the next ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad (search), earned high marks Tuesday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just as a bloody day in Iraq was coming to an end.
After a few days of relative calm across the troubled Mideast country, four apparently coordinated bombings were launched in seven minutes. At least 18 Iraqis died in one northern town while in Baghdad, a car bomb that detonated next to a police patrol wounded 28 civilians and two policemen.
Iraqi commanders insist that Operation Lightning is having a positive effect on the security situation in the capital city. More than 900 arrests have been made since the operation started two weeks ago. Before it began, the Iraqi army controlled only eight of the 23 main entrances. Now it mans them all.
As the country tries to right itself, Khalilzad, who would follow John Negroponte to become the second U.S. ambassador to Iraq since its liberation from Saddam Hussein, laid out a seven-point approach to help the Iraqis transition to a constitutional government. In brief, Khalilzad outlined that he would:
— help Iraqis develop a "common and unifying vision, a national compact for the nation's political future";
— "work with Iraqis to break the back of the insurgency," improve military and intelligence services' understanding of "the enemy," increase capabilities of Iraqi security forces;
— improve the regional environment for rebuilding Iraq, including "neutraliz[ing] unhelpful activities" by some neighbors;
— put more emphasis on cooperating in building Iraqi institutions;
— accelerate reconstruction and give more "ownership" of the process to Iraqis;
— be more proactive in using diplomacy and public diplomacy to clarify American goals in Iraq; and
— work to set conditions for a "successful election under the new constitution."
"With successful implementation of this approach, the back of the insurgency can be broken within a reasonable period of time," the nominee told senators.
Khalilzad, who was responsible for overseeing elections and reconstruction in Afghanistan (search) and served as an aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was also pressed about possible permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, a notion he cautiously rejected.
"I can say with total confidence that we will not stay in Iraq, militarily, if we're not needed or not wanted. We have no plans for permanent military bases in Iraq," he said.
Asked later by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., what a reasonable period of time would mean in terms of staying in the country, Khalilzad said it would be shorter than the 10- or 20-year suggestion offered by the senator.
"If we do [the] right thing together with the Iraqis than the back of the insurgency can be broken in a much shorter period of time than 10 years," he said.
Closing the hearing, committee chairman Dick Lugar, R-Ind., said he expected a vote soon on Khalilzad's nomination. Without exception, senators spoke supportively of Khalilzad, suggesting that his confirmation is certain.
FOX News' Bret Baier and Teri Schultz contributed to this report.