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Iraqi Government Faces Increasing Pressure on Benchmarks

July 13, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Yesterday, the Bush administration issued an interim report card on how the Iraqi government was meeting a series of benchmarks for political and military progress in the war. The Iraqi foreign minister responded that his country was being held hostage to timelines set by the United States.

For more on the Iraqi response, we begin with that country’s ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE, Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: The report from the government on the benchmarks finds that your government is meeting only half these goals. What’s your response?

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: My response is that my government is doing all it can to meet these benchmarks, under fire, under very difficult conditions. The timeline was not set by us; it was set outside the framework of my own government structure. And we have to deal with the realities on the ground.

And there’s only so much progress you can make when you are dealing with the situation we have, with interference from our neighbors, with the results of all the errors that were made and compounded the problem in Iraq. We are making progress, but maybe not as fast as it is desired.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, one thing that people on the Hill, on Capitol Hill, picked up on yesterday and disturbed some of the critics of the administration is that not only is your government only meeting about half of the 18 guidelines, but you’ve been given an unsatisfactory grade on the most important ones: drafting a new law for the distribution of oil revenues, a new law addressing people who belong to the Baath Party before the fall of Saddam Hussein, the arrangement of provincial elections. These were all given unsatisfactory grades.

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: Well, I’d like to ask the same people, how long on average does it take to promulgate a law in this city by a parliament which is fully experienced and is working under tranquil conditions? It takes time, especially on issues which are so existential. These issues will influence not only our lives now, but the lives of the next generations to come.

We have to — we much prefer to take our time and produce good laws than to rush them according to a Washington timetable and produce bad laws.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you mentioned that you would much prefer to take your time and produce good laws, but outside of Iraq, outside of Baghdad, do you feel that the situation is changing in a way that lends a sense of urgency to your government’s deliberations, the climate here in Washington, for instance?

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: Yes, but we are much more sensitive to the climate in Iraq, and we believe it is changing. There’s a lot more pressure applied to our leaders by our people than the pressure which is coming from Washington. Our people are demanding solutions; our people are demanding progress.

There is some change on the ground. Take al-Anbar, for example. People have changed their position. They are driving al-Qaida and terrorists out of their towns. There is a lot of change politically that seems to — well, I can’t say it goes unnoticed, but not given sufficient weight here. In my opinion, these developments are more crucial and more important than the logistic of progress.

RAY SUAREZ: Are members of the cabinet watching the deliberations here in Washington with concern that there is a greater chance that American forces may leave Iraq soon?

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: Absolutely. We watch the scene very carefully. We understand the debate. We respect the debate. But we try always to persuade our American friends that a hasty retreat would give the wrong signal. It would indicate victory for al-Qaida and for the terrorists. And the consequences would be very damaging to, not only Iraqi interests, but also American interests.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, two prominent Republican senators, Senators Warner and Lugar, are drafting a bill now that would take American forces in Iraq not out of the country, but take them away from daily combat duties and put them in charge of policing the borders, protecting American assets, and similar duties. Would you still be able to carry on with the work of meeting these goals if Americans redeployed inside the country?

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: Well, I have great respect for the senators, and I understand where they are coming from. But in my opinion, this is unrealistic. You cannot separate security issues. You cannot, how shall I say, you cannot cede territory to the terrorists. If you do, then it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to separate who is a terrorist and who is an ordinary citizen, because everybody would come under the influence of terrorists.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie, thank you very much.

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: Thank you.

Time alone will not bring change

Laith Kubba
Former Government Spokesman, Iraq
Time is not going to bring any results different from what we are seeing now. Neither more money, because Iraq has enough money, neither more soldiers.

RAY SUAREZ: Now we get some non-official Iraqi reaction to the president's report and the ambassador's view. Laith Kubba served as spokesman for Iraq's previous government from April 2005 until January 2006. Adeed Dawisha is a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. He's now an American citizen.

Laith Kubba, you heard the ambassador. What do you make of his remarks?

LAITH KUBBA, Former Iraqi Government Spokesman: I understand the conditions, but my biggest reservation is time is not going to bring any results different from what we are seeing now. Neither more money, because Iraq has enough money, neither more soldiers.

I think the only thing, we need to change the settings. The Iraqi politicians who are functioning under current settings will not deliver. And unless something fundamentally changes in the way we deal with them, Iraq will continue to suffer.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dawisha, do you agree with the ambassador that, if there was more time, and that he feels very keenly the pressure that's coming from Washington, it's better to make good laws slowly than bad law quickly?

ADEED DAWISHA, Miami University of Ohio: Well, the laws that have been kind of tried to be implemented have been there for some time now. I actually tend to agree with Laith Kubba. I think the problem lies with the politicians that we have, and probably even with the structure of government that we are supporting.

We tended to focus on a centralized government, on Prime Minister al-Maliki. We're trying to build an army, an army for Iraq. Yet all of this is in complete contradiction to what's happening in reality on the ground, which is a country that is slowly disintegrating into three or four or five groupings here and there, where militias and irregulars are taking over. And I think that is the disconnect that we have to address; otherwise, no matter how much time is given, no results are going to be seen.

A stalemate between groups

Adeed Dawisha
Miami University, Ohio
The deadlock that is occurring within the political circles among the politicians that we have now, in fact, reflects what's happening in the country as a whole.

RAY SUAREZ: No matter how much time is given, Professor? You heard the president yesterday saying wait for David Petraeus' report in the fall. Give the surge, which has only been fully staffed up for a very short time, some more time to work. Will things be better in the fall?

ADEED DAWISHA: The time limit is an artificial thing anyway. It could be three months, or six months, or two years. The problem is that what's happening in Iraq is a stalemate between the various groups. And what you see on the political arena, within the government or amongst the politicians, is actually a microcosm of what's happening in the rest of Iraq.

That's why, for example, the constitutional committee has done absolutely nothing over the last now five or six months. That's why we have not moved on the provincial elections. And that's why, of course, we're not going on this de-Baathification program. The deadlock that is occurring within the political circles among the politicians that we have now, in fact, reflects what's happening in the country as a whole.

RAY SUAREZ: Laith Kubba, yesterday the president also said that it's too early to make an assessment, to know whether the things that are in motion now are going to work. Do you agree?

LAITH KUBBA: Well, I think, of course, it's too early to make an assessment, but there are things self-evident. The fundamental issues that the Iraqi politicians seems unable to reach a compromise, share a vision, or lock themselves in a formula that will make progress. In fact, if anything, we have seen regress, in terms of working together.

But there has been progress in terms of the presence of American troops working with Iraqi army units, being less partisan, some development in Iraqi state institutions, the army and the police, that is making it a little bit more national, above ethnic loyalties, some progress, but this is not the fundamental problem of the Iraq, the fundamental problem. We need to have the politicians work out a vision and act in Iraq's interest, not in their own immediate self-interest.

Iraqi people watching debate

Laith Kubba
Former Government Spokesman, Iraq
The Iraqi people feel absolutely lost because there is no caretaker looking after their interests. They are worried extremely, if American troops pull out of Iraq, things will get worse.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the ambassador spoke just a moment ago of the growing concern inside the government, as it watches the deliberations in the American side. Do the Iraqi people watch those deliberations in the same way, in a different way? Are they aware that there's now debate in Washington about setting timetables for withdrawal?

LAITH KUBBA: I think they are, and it's very unfortunate. The Iraqi people feel absolutely lost because there is no caretaker looking after their interests. They are worried extremely, if American troops pull out of Iraq, things will get worse. They are aware that the current system, structure is not delivering results, and it's unlikely to deliver results. I think there is a call for help, and maybe time has come to review fundamentally how we address the Iraq problem.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree, Professor, that that's the mood of the Iraqi people? Because also there's public opinion polls that come out of Iraq that say most people would like to see the Americans leave.

ADEED DAWISHA: Well, I don't really put that much faith in opinion polls that are taken in conditions of war and conflict that we have in Iraq. Just in terms of my own personal contacts, I honestly don't know of a single Iraqi -- unless, of course, he's a militia or a terrorist -- who thinks that American troops leaving tomorrow will be better for Iraq. I mean, it's almost a guaranteed civil war situation if that happens.

And the horrors of the civil war, if it does happen, will make whatever is happening in Iraq now seem like child play. So they do follow what's happening in Washington. And I doubt very much whether they think that a precipitous departure of American troops is going to be good for Iraq.

The Lugar-Warner proposal

Adeed Dawisha
Miami University, Ohio
I honestly don't think the Iraqi security forces for the foreseeable future can do anything on their own. And they need the active participation of American forces in the streets of Baghdad and other cities.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what if we talked instead about the Lugar-Warner proposal, not a precipitous withdrawal, but a restaging of American forces inside the borders of the country of Iraq?

ADEED DAWISHA: Well, if the generals are now saying there are basically three battalions or so that can actually go to the streets and police and take positions on their own, then moving away from the streets of Baghdad, relocating to bases like Hamandiyah or Rashid in the Baghdad area or Shaibah in Basra, by the British, is not going to bring security back to the streets of Iraq.

I honestly don't think the Iraqi security forces for the foreseeable future can do anything on their own. And they need the active participation of American forces in the streets of Baghdad and other cities.

RAY SUAREZ: Laith Kubba, do you agree? Do you see anything promising in the Warner-Lugar proposal?

LAITH KUBBA: Well, redeploying just location of forces is not going to deliver security, nor it's going to solve Iraq's problem. Where I see untapped potential that has not been addressed is bringing in the neighbors in a more serious way.

This has been tasked to the Iraqi government to do, but for obvious self-interest reasons the Iraqi government had stalled and does not want the neighbors to come in. But I do believe time has come for the neighbors to share the burden, and the U.S. can make a direct approach to the neighbors and have their assets help bring stability to Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you take the same dim view that you just heard from Adeed Dawisha that the Iraqi forces as currently constituted are not capable of doing any of these jobs?

LAITH KUBBA: Absolutely. I think is really delusional to assume that, in six months' time, the Iraqis can fill the gap. I don't think they can.

RAY SUAREZ: Laith Kubba, Professor, thank you both.