Political Inclusion the Key to Stability in Iraq

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Robert Siegel discusses the security situation and political landscape in Iraq with Barham Salih, minister of planning in the transitional government and one of the country's leading Kurdish politicians. Salih says that an inclusive political process will help create a more stable Iraq.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

And talking with us today about developments in Iraq is Barham Salih. Mr. Salih is currently minister of Planning in the transitional government in Baghdad. He's one of Iraq's leading Kurdish politicians.

Welcome once again to the program.

Mr. BARHAM SALIH (Minister of Planning, Iraq): Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Today's news from Baghdad includes a report of a car bomb at a restaurant, a drive-by murder of a top national security official and his driver, which was carried out by two car loads of gunmen. When will such attacks subside, and when will Baghdad be a city of peace?

Mr. SALIH: Well, we are making progress. And it's quite easy for people to think of Iraq as nothing but the carnage and nothing but the terrorist mayhem that is being inflicted upon the people of Iraq. But we are working hard to develop Iraqi capabilities. And with the elections, now we have an elected government in Iraq, and we have important tasks ahead of us, including the constitution and organizing next elections. Terrorism is a plague. We have to be patient. We have to be dedicated and determined. We will defeat the terrorists, but it will take some time.

SIEGEL: But while Iraqi and American officials speak of progress, there've been more than 500 deaths in the past month, or since the new government took office. That is worse than what was happening before.

Mr. SALIH: Well, again, you have to put things in context. This is the first time that we have an elected government in Iraq, and part of the escalation by the terrorists may well be that they want to defeat this government, this elected government, and to show that democracy cannot work in Iraq. And we have to accept the challenge. We have to deal with it. And I cannot say that things will change very quickly because international terrorism, the remnants of the former regime is a lethal combination, and we are talking about transforming Iraq from tyranny to democracy. This is not an easy transition, but I can assure you, we are serious, we are determined, and we are committed, and we are going to win.

SIEGEL: Let me ask about a very specific security objective and when we might see that achieved. There's been a big joint US-Iraqi military offensive over the past few days in west Baghdad. And one of the objectives, we read, is to root out the people who attack, not just the Abu Ghraib prison site, but also the road that links downtown Baghdad with the international airport. That road does not seem to be secure yet. That's a dangerous road. When will it be safe for people to...

Mr. SALIH: Well...

SIEGEL: ...simply get in a car and drive to Baghdad?

Mr. SALIH: That road, I just traveled that road about a week ago on my way here to the United States, and I understand the security challenges involved with that road. Basically the terrorists target that area, that particular stretch of the road because of the significance it has and because of the news that it can make usually in international media. But we are putting a lot of resources in terms of weeding out these terrorists. We will do it, and I hope sooner rather than later.

SIEGEL: What is your definition of sooner rather than later?

Mr. SALIH: Well, we have learned to be patient when it comes to the issue of terrorism. Your own country, the United States of America, the most powerful nation on the planet, has difficulty with the weeding out--international terrorists. I remember few people managed to inflict that terrible crime against New York City and against the Pentagon. These are evil people who are resourceful, who are fanatic. And it takes determination, commitment.

I can assure you once again, we are building Iraqi security organizations with the help of the international community, with the help of the United States. We are developing our intelligence. We are getting more and more cooperation from our population. And I cannot tell you that sooner means tomorrow or next week or next month, but as long as it takes, but we are working hard to make it as soon as possible.

SIEGEL: Some Sunni Arabs who boycotted the election now seem willing to participate in government. Does this...

Mr. SALIH: That is a welcome sign.

SIEGEL: A welcome sign. What is the link between that development and the insurgency? Do you think that it will actually diminish the insurgency, or is the insurgency all about, as you first mentioned, foreign fighters or former regime elements who aren't going to join in the process?

Mr. SALIH: Primarily, the insurgency or the terrorist threat comes from isolated groups, foreign fighters as well as former regime elements, who are trying to create sectarian strife in Iraq and create a scenario for a civil war. The fact that the Sunni community is organizing and is asking to be taking part in the political process is a welcome sign, because that will deny the terrorists the oxygen and deny them the political environment in which they can sustain this situation. And I believe with more Sunni participation, with an inclusive political process, we will have a much better chance at defeating the terrorists and weeding them out.

SIEGEL: Are you talking, though, about a sociopolitical dynamic, or do you mean that if the Sunni leaders are helping you find the people who are doing these things in their communities, that will help root out the insurgency?

Mr. SALIH: All of the above, because at the end of the day, the terrorists do not distinguish between Sunnis and Shias, between Kurds and Arabs. And if you look at the pattern of attacks, they have been taking place across the country, and they're ending in killing Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. And the point is that Iraq needs national unity in the face of the evil of terrorism and in the face of the legacies of the past of the Saddam Hussein tyranny.

SIEGEL: I've been asking you questions about security and legitimacy of the government. You're the minister of Planning. Is anything getting planned nowadays in Baghdad?

Mr. SALIH: Well...

SIEGEL: Are things being developed?

Mr. SALIH: This is...

SIEGEL: Is a new country being built?

Mr. SALIH: This is the challenge. I spent two hours just now with the deputy secretary of State, Sir Zoellick, talking about construction, talking about donor assistance to Iraq and how to make sure that Iraq's economy will be improved and the quality of life of Iraqi citizens be improved and having...

SIEGEL: We're still mostly talking about these things, though.

Mr. SALIH: No, we're talking but we are doing a few things as well.

SIEGEL: You are doing?

Mr. SALIH: There will be a conference in June attended by 80 countries in Brussels. The focus will be Iraq's political transition as well as economic needs. And you cannot defeat the insurgents, you cannot accomplish the political mission at hand--namely, building a democracy in Iraq--without attending to the more important issue of construction and creating jobs for Iraqis, and that is why it's a challenge. We are making history. There are so many challenges that we have to deal with. But I can assure you, despite the odds, despite the difficulties that we have, we're working hard at it, and we are blessed to have the support of the United States, and we're blessed to have the support of many in the international community who understand the imperative of success in Iraq.

SIEGEL: But how do you break what appears to be a vicious circle, which is that you can't build a democracy without literally constructing a new country? And on the other hand, if I'm going to be kidnapped when I go off to work on a development project and then decapitated online by some group, that's a real disincentive to...

Mr. SALIH: Of course.

SIEGEL: ...countries sending development personnel there.

Mr. SALIH: Of course. But I can tell you, by the same token, much of Iraq is doing well. Much of the south is secure and stable and is ready to receive aid and receive investment. Kurdistan is doing very well. I mean, yes, there are trouble areas, and we should try and work hard at solving those problems, but we should also start in areas that are ready to receive investment and receive aid.

SIEGEL: Barham Salih, pleasure to talk with you once again.

Mr. SALIH: Pleasure mine.

SIEGEL: Barham Salih is the minister of Planning in the transitional government in Baghdad.

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