Iraq has begun taking over control of the country’s armed forces from the U.S.-led coalition, paving the way for the withdrawal of about 150,000 foreign troops. Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaida’ie, says the move is both symbolic and substantive. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Ambassador Sumaida’ie points out that it is part of a “process” that will take time. The U.S. military estimates that the process will probably take 12 to 18 months will depend on the “realities on the ground,” the Ambassador says. He believes coalition forces should not be withdrawn until the situation is stabilized.
Ambassador Sumaida’ie says he is confident that the American public – “if well-informed” – will arrive at the “right conclusion” concerning the timing of U.S. withdrawal, but he blames the media for not recognizing the negative consequences of a premature withdrawal. He calls Iraq the “frontline of an international war” between freedom and democracy on one side and despotism and terrorism on the other. Furthermore, he says, withdrawal would mean a “de facto victory for the terrorists.” He acknowledges there were “mistakes made” in the immediate aftermath of the removal of Saddam Hussein, but he adds, “We must deal with the situation as it is.”
The Iraqi Ambassador says that the violence we are now witnessing is perpetrated by a “small percentage of extremists,” although the majority of Iraqis favor democracy. And the challenge is to bring those extremists “under control.” He says that some of Iraq’s Arab neighbors, largely because of Saddam Hussein’s successful propaganda campaign, were initially skeptical about Iraq’s new democratic government. Syria, for example, has supported “people … who want to destabilize Iraq.” He adds that Iraq has made serious efforts at improving relations with its neighbors. Ambassador Sumaida’ie acknowledges that in the aftermath of Saddam’s fall, Iraqis organized themselves along ethnic lines, but he suggests that is a “transient” phenomenon that was a reaction to the “years of oppression.” And he predicts that in the future, Iraqi politics will be issue-driven rather than determined by ethnic alliance.
The Iraqi Ambassador notes that Iran was the “first of our neighbors after liberation” to recognize Iraq’s Governing Council and send high-level delegations to Baghdad. But he adds it is “unfortunate” that Tehran’s policy has several dimensions – a “public policy” as well as some “practical aspects that do not match all the time,” and he says there are indications that Iran may be “encouraging some violent elements in Iraq.” Ambassador Sumaida’ie says he thinks it is in everybody’s interest to foster a “positive and peaceful” relationship with Tehran and to find “solutions to the crisis” that exists between Iran and the West. He also notes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki has launched an initiative to begin a long “process of reconciliation” among Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic factions. And he says he hopes that Iraq will not “go the way of Lebanon.”
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.