Iraqi Envoy Says Progress Can't Be Rushed

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From the Interview

Renee Montagne asks whether the threat of a U.S. pullout is needed to force Iraq to make political progress.

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White House Report on Iraq

The White House released Thursday its assessment of Iraq.

Amid growing pressure from Congress to begin drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, that country's ambassador to Washington says doing so would open the floodgates to even more violence.

Samir Sumaidaie says that despite the "great impatience" in Washington, now is exactly the wrong time to give up on Iraq.

"The military in Iraq, the American military and their allies and of course the Iraqi security forces, are dealing with the situation with a new attitude, with a different approach," Sumaidaie tells Renee Montagne in an interview. "Now, that is creating substantial change on the ground. But this needs to work out. It needs time to actually bear fruit.

"The situation here in Washington, however, is one of great impatience, wanting either instant gratification or getting out. And life is not like that."

But Ambassador, with all due respect, you are saying instant gratification is what's being asked for. It doesn't seem to many Americans that there's anything instant about this. It's been going on badly, from the American point of view, for over four years.

That's right. But it was going badly because there were bad decisions. I would argue that it's only recently, with the change of approach and change of some personnel at the top, that things started to move in the correct direction.

The president has to report to Congress by the end of this week on political progress in Iraq. It's being reported that the president will conclude that the Iraqi government hasn't met its targets for political reform. That would be everything from an oil law to sorting out de-Baathification to resolving aspects of the constitution. Why haven't these targets been met?

I am puzzled by the amount of attention given here in Washington to the promulgation of certain legislation in Iraq. Legislation by [itself is] not going to solve the problem. We have already [a] reasonably good constitution in place, but it is totally ignored by armed gangs who go around killing people and by some leaders who do not believe in the tenets of the constitution.

Now, promulgating more laws will be helpful, but only in the context of a political adjustment that people buy into. Some of these laws deal like with the oil-revenue distribution in Iraq. These are extremely important. They will affect generations to come. There is a lively national debate up and down the country, and this needs to take its course. I mean, to be ordered to pass a law through parliament in days or a week or two is not realistic.

It is not just that there is little political progress or that there is political progress but it's going slowly and subtly, but from outside Iraq it appears that there is little political will. And there are some who would argue that the threat of withdrawal of American troops or the withdrawal of American troops is exactly what's needed.

It's a respectable argument. I understand it. But it's not true. First of all, there is genuine effort being made. Yes, this government has a lot of problems, has a lot of deficiencies. We are criticizing it all the time ourselves. But putting this kind of pressure first encourages the terrorists and the insurgents because it's telling that they just have to wait, the Americans have lost their will to stand firm in the situation, and Iraq is already lost.

It does not help the government accelerate its progress. It creates a sense of panic amongst those who are trying to do good. I don't see that it is helpful.

Does it then boil down for you that these benchmarks make no sense, that there shouldn't be these expectations?

No, they do make sense. There should be these expectations. We expect them of ourselves. They [were] our benchmarks before they became American benchmarks. But, you know, it takes nine months for a baby to be born and there is no use wishing it to be in three months. Nature must take its course. Reality on the ground must take its course. We are doing everything that we can. We are bleeding, we are giving human losses every day. But under fire, we are making progress.



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