Iraq's U.N. Ambassador: The Path After Elections

Samir Sumaida'ie, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, talks with Alex Chadwick about the political climate in his country since last month's parliamentary elections, and the makeup of a future government in a nation fractured by civil and religious strife. He also adresses criteria for a pullout of U.S. forces.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Washington this morning, at the White House, President Bush heard comments on his Iraq policy from former secretaries of Defense and State, several of whom have publicly disagreed with him. After the briefing, the president said he would take their comments to heart.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We have a dual-track strategy for victory. On the one hand, we will work to have a political process that says to all Iraqis, `The future belongs to you.' And on the other hand, we'll continue to work on the security situation there. The main thrust of our success will be when the Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy that wants to stop their democracy, and we're making darn good progress along those lines.

CHADWICK: President Bush at the White House today.

The vote to determine Iraq's new government was last month. Final results from it are still weeks away. Preliminary results suggest the ruling Shiite coalition did very well but will have to share power with secularists and Kurds and Sunni Muslim parties. Meanwhile, international investigations of vote fraud complaints are beginning. As part of an ongoing series of conversations about Iraq, I spoke to that country's ambassador to the United Nations--he is Samir Sumaidy--to get a sense of his country's political mood.

Mr. Ambassador, what do you think the prospects are for forming a new government?

Ambassador SAMIR SUMAIDY (Iraqi UN Representative): I think the prospects are fair. The results are more or less known in general terms, despite all these questions about the validity of this or that particular voting station. I think it's quite clear that there are four major groups which have obtained the bulk of the vote, and between them there's going to have to be some serious political discussion to form the government. And this has already started, as you know.

CHADWICK: Let me recall events from more than a month ago when delegations of various groups in Iraq met at the Arab League in Cairo, and at that event the Sunni group managed to get onto the agenda and get people to agree to the idea that the insurgents who are fighting the government and certainly the occupation forces as well--that they have legitimate grievances and that their views and even their actions are legitimate. Do you expect to see that view represented in the Iraqi parliament?

Amb. SUMAIDY: Well, I don't agree with this characterization. What took place in Cairo was Sunni representatives, or people who alleged to represent the Sunnis at least, were admitted to the political process, and they themselves acknowledged that the political process is the right forum for airing grievances. They declared their readiness to be part of it.

The other thing is a general statement that a resistance of occupation is a legitimate activity. It was not linked directly to any specific activities in Iraq. It was a general statement; a statement in principle. So it is not a blanket legitimization of all activities, violent activities in Iraq.

CHADWICK: No, it said that it was wrong to attack innocent civilians, but...

Amb. SUMAIDY: Yes.

CHADWICK: ...it did not say it was wrong to attack the US-led forces that are there.

Amb. SUMAIDY: But it did not also say that it was right to do so. That was left ambiguous deliberately. The majority of those represented in that conference did not agree that it was legitimate, and the others wanted to legitimize it. So it was left deliberately ambiguous.

CHADWICK: You know when you form a government, when you form a parliament, you have all kinds of views represented there, all kinds of people may say anything. Well, it's one of the contradictions of democracy that you hear ideas that you don't like.

Amb. SUMAIDY: It's one of the benefits of democracy. It is the...

CHADWICK: But if--will it be a benefit of the Iraqi parliament that there will be views represented there legitimately that it's OK to attack the troops?

Amb. SUMAIDY: Yes, I think it would be better to say that in parliament than to translate this into violence in the street. And I believe the balance of views in parliament will clearly be that it is not right to attack the multinational force.

CHADWICK: There's an ongoing discussion in this country about the continuing presence of US forces in Iraq. Is there an Iraqi view, something like a consensus in your country, about the right time to withdraw them?

Amb. SUMAIDY: Yes, I believe there is a consensus and a very wide consensus that withdrawing the multinational forces from Iraq would create a very dangerous security vacuum, into which will step all kinds of very nasty people--terrorists, organized crime--and would be very dangerous for the country. There is consensus also that it is necessary to build up the capability of the Iraqi security forces at the greatest possible speed to take over.

CHADWICK: And when do you think that time would be?

Amb. SUMAIDY: I don't think we should be setting a date for that. It should be criteria rather than a date, and the criteria is the capability of the security forces in Iraq.

CHADWICK: You know, Mr. Ambassador, for family and personal reasons that the presence of US forces can create problems there. Your cousin, I believe, was killed by Marines last summer. His mother says that he was shot in the back room of their house--the family house. The Navy is investigating this, but there are no conclusions from that yet. You made strong statements last summer about this. We regret your family loss. How does it affect your work as a diplomat?

Amb. SUMAIDY: Well, I try to separate between my personal concerns and my official and patriotic duties. This is going on--the investigation is going on, and I do hope and trust that it will reveal the truth and any person found to be guilty would be punished through the proper legal system. I try to put that in a separate compartment and label it as a necessary cost of the situation that we are undergoing in Iraq and try to concentrate on what can be done to avoid similar situations in the future and to make it unnecessary for us in Iraq to have foreign forces on our soil.

CHADWICK: Mr. Ambassador, the phrase `a necessary cost'--it's something I can imagine a wise and restrained diplomat saying to a family member of someone who has suffered this loss, but it would be much more difficult to think of that term and to apply it to your own family. Wouldn't it?

Amb. SUMAIDY: Yes. I know that. We live in very difficult times and we take risks. The whole Iraqi people have taken risks on election day. Iraqis understand this. We know and understand and are ready to pay the cost, and we are paying it because we know the end result will be worth it.

CHADWICK: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for speaking with us, and good luck to you.

Amb. SUMAIDY: Thank you.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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