Former Ambassador On Iraq Government

Robert Siegel speaks with Christopher Hill, dean of Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He was ambassador to Iraq from April 2009 to last August. He talks about the U.S. role in forming the new Iraqi government.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And for the U.S. perspective on that new government in Baghdad, we're joined by Christopher Hill. He was U.S. ambassador to Iraq from April of 2009 until August of this year. He's now at the University of Denver.

Ambassador Hill, welcome to the program.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And does this agreement satisfy U.S. interests in Iraq?

Mr. HILL: Well, first of all, this is a major step. And I think what's very important is the Shia worked this together with the Kurds, and then the two of them worked it together with the major Sunni party. And so the Sunnis are really full participants. We'll have to wait to see what (technical difficulty) ministries have been given, but Osama Nujaifi is a very kind of tough Sunni leader and the fact that he will be the speaker of (technical difficulty) I think speaks very well for this overall agreement.

BLOCK: We should explain we're having some connection problems with your line. This is not a problem with people's radios if they're listening. It's a problem with the line, and we'll try to soldier on through.

You had wanted Prime Minister Maliki's rival, Ayad Allawi, to be made chairman of the new council that we heard about, this council that will be overseeing national security. And it sounds like he has real concerns about how much power he will have in that role. He led the walkout today. Critics say this is just a move to save face, to satisfy the Sunnis. What teeth does it have, do you think?

Mr. HILL: Well, first of all, the walkout had to do with some specific issues, having to do with when they would rescind the de-Baathification orders against some of the Sunni (technical difficulty). So the real problem for Allawi is that he's a Shia. So for a Shia who's essentially representing Sunni to be one of the three leadership positions, the question is what box is he checking. Because as a Shia, that is Maliki's, the prime minister, who's Kurd is going to be the president, and then what would you do the Shia who's actually representing Sunnis.

So they went with a Sunni - that is Nujaifi. And so the question is there a fourth position and I think there's been a lot of work to gather this commission, the National Security Committee, and I think those of us who worked on this just a few months ago felt that he would be the perfect person to take this, and we (technical difficulty) accept it.

BLOCK: But does he have power? Does he have real power in that role is the question?

Mr. HILL: Well, that role, you know, they have talked about that (technical difficulty) committee some five years ago. This time, they're going to try to put it in legislation. And yes indeed, I think it will have power, plus the fact that, you know, the Kurds have made it clear, the Sunnis have made it clear that if they are unhappy with Maliki, they can move to a vote of no confidence, something like that. So clearly, all three parties are going to have to work together, and I think that committee will indeed have power.

BLOCK: The view of some Sunnis, though, is that their party, the Iraqiya party, got the majority of seats in elections in March. Nouri al-Maliki, they say, stole the election, and he's being wrongly rewarded by being allowed to keep his post as prime minister. Are they wrong in that?

Mr. HILL: Well, they are wrong because Allawi's party got 91 seats out of (technical difficulty). He needs 163 to be the majority. And the reason he was the strongest of the party is that as Maliki's party got 89 was that the Shia were split. Well, the Shia since came together. He was unable to move from 91 to 163. Indeed, he was unable to move from 91 to 92. So he did not get the majority. And I think what (technical difficulty) see is that as they fill out ministerial position, the Sunnis are going to do very well (technical difficulty).

BLOCK: Ambassador Hill, what has to happen for this power-sharing government in Baghdad to hold together?

Mr. HILL: Well, people are going to have to work together, and, you know, they're going to have to calm down. I mean (technical difficulty) emotional times as they've gone through and tried to work this through. I think it was very critical that President (technical difficulty) from the Kurdistan regional government came down from Irbil to work directly on it. I think that's a very good sign. And they're going to have to work together, and people are going to have to compromise, which is basically what they have been doing the last few days. So we have to see how they go forward.

There's some major issues on the economy. They need to make sure that oil that gets - starts getting pumped out and starts - and they get the infrastructure built. And most of all, you know, people in Iraq are looking for services. They're looking to get better water. They're looking to get better (technical difficulty). And I think this new government (technical difficulty) to deliver. Everybody is in that government and therefore has to play a role.

BLOCK: Ambassador Hill, thank you very much.

Mr. HILL: Thank you.

BLOCK: And our apologies for that bad connection. That's former ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill. He's now the dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

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