When President Bush announced the troop surge in January, Samir al-Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., said he believed that normal life would start to return to Baghdad within six months. He predicted that students would be attending schools, business would be open, and vehicles would roam the streets freely in the evenings.
Now, al-Sumaidaie speaks with Robert Siegel about the progress that has been made over the past six months.
It's six months later. Would you describe life in Baghdad today as normal?
No, I cannot describe it as normal, but I think it's also true to say that many areas of Baghdad are much better now than they were six months ago. There are areas of Baghdad that have returned to normality or something approximating normality. It's a gradual process.
[U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Ryan Crocker, in testifying from Baghdad, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, the one word that sums up the atmosphere in Iraq today in the neighborhoods of the nation is "fear."
Alas, that is true. We are subjected to a ruthless onslaught, by terrorism that is unprecedented. Imagine a thousand suicide bombers over the span of two or three years attacking the United States, this great, stable democracy. What would the effect be? Iraq is a small country and the attack is relentless. It is natural, therefore, that there is fear.
I want to get your sense of what you think the role of U.S. troops is today in Iraq and how it relates to violence in Iraq. One view is that U.S. forces are able, to some degree, to reduce the level of violence in the country and be a catalyst for political developments that Iraqis must undertake. Another view is that we by being there are stimulating extremists, terrorists groups, attracting people and prolonging the conflict. Or that we're giving Iraqis too much time – that the sense of urgency is not there, because the U.S. is there. What's your view? How significant is the presence of U.S. forces?
I don't buy the idea that the American troops are causing terrorism or causing violence. I think there is almost unanimity amongst all Iraqi leaders that we absolutely need the help of American troops – who, by the way, created the situation in the first place by intervening – to remain with us until we build up new security forces. They are very important in standing up with our security forces who are fighting and giving casualties every day. I think it's also important to make the point here that we have expectations from the United States to supply weapons to our security forces, equipment, there's been a great deal of delay. To have delays in supplying our armed forces is something that I find very hard to understand.
I'd like you to return to one thing you said. You said, American forces which after all brought about this situation. In Iraqi eyes, however dire the crisis in Baghdad or the country might be, it began after the U.S. invasion.
The situation was dire before the military intervention. Let us make absolutely clear that it was not fun to be in Iraq during Saddam's time. However, the decision was made to intervene. We are grateful for the intervention by the Americans to remove Saddam Hussein and we are grateful for every sacrifice that has been made by this country. And we hope that once things are resolved you will have a loyal and long-term ally in the Middle East in the form of Iraq.
What do you say to an American that is listening and following the news, who says, we went over there on some very bad intelligence, it hasn't worked out the way our leaders said it would, the time pressures on our military and the time pressures on your political leaders do not square – we're going to run out of strength before you've got enough of a reconciliation going – and it might be best for Americans, it might be best for Iraqis, as well, for America just to get out of there.
This is superficial thinking. Let's be fair. Historians will argue about whether it was right or wrong, justified or not justified to go into Iraq. However, we are now dealing with a situation which was created to a large extent by this intervention. To have created a mess and to turn around and walk away from it, apart from the fact that it is immoral in my view, it is not without a price. The price will be a destabilized Middle East, rampant international terrorism, which is bound to visit you here at home sooner or later. So some clear thinking has to be made about the price of these decisions.
You say that it is self-defeating and immoral.
I believe so. I believe short-sided, self-defeating and immoral. In fact, I don't see much appetite for it talking to people in Congress on both sides.
But when you talk to their constituents out in the country, you'll hear it.
Because their constituents see the immediate thing. This is the role of leadership. Any responsible leader will see it very clearly that Iraq is a situation that has got to be stabilized and United States must not walk away from it.