WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Dec. 19, 2006) - The Iraq national reconciliation conference held Dec. 16 in Baghdad was only the first of many such meetings that will serve to "enlarge the circle of reconciliation," said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

Al-Dabbagh and the coalition spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, discussed the reconciliation conference among other topics during a joint news conference in Baghdad on Dec. 17.

The conference brought together representatives from all ethnic and sectarian factions in Iraq.

"There will be more conferences which will include the groups and individuals who didn't have the opportunity to take part in reconciliation," al-Dabbagh said through an interpreter.

The Iraqi government will only exclude those people who have committed crimes against the Iraqi people, he said.

"This country is open for everybody, and Iraq does not belong to any particular group or particular party," he said. "It belongs to all the Iraqis, and this is our fixed principle."

Caldwell said the conference, "is a clear example of an important step that your prime minister has taken forward."

But even with political moves, building Iraqi security forces are key to the future of the country, Caldwell said. Iraqi forces have become more capable and proficient, and the effort to put coalition military teams in Iraqi units is paying off, he said.

"We would predict by the middle of next summer all the Iraqi security forces in this country will be under the control of the prime minister," Caldwell said. Currently, about 30 percent of Iraqi security forces are already under Iraqi government control.

Equipping the Iraqi forces also will continue, the general said. For example, the Iraqi 9th Division has just received 100 BMPs - small, armored track vehicles. "Each month over the next seven months, there's more equipment coming in," he said. This includes helicopters, more armored personnel carriers and up-armored Humvees.