Iraqi Envoy Reflects on Study Group's Report
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Reaction now to the Iraq Study Group's report from Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.
The panel had quite a bit of criticism for the Iraqi government and its prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The report says he has failed to control the Shiite militias responsible for much of the violence. Ambassador Sumaidaie says the commission's findings should not be viewed negatively, but as a road map for going forward.
Ambassador SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: If we are looking for criticism or blame, there is plenty to go around for everyone. But that's not constructive. The constructive attitude is to see how we together, the Iraqis and the Americans, can move forward?
BLOCK: Well, what would you say should be done, then, in a constructive way to disarm, disband the Shiite militias then?
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: Well, you remember the prime minister of Iraq was here in Washington in December. And he declared that he intends to dismantle the militias indeed. It is an article of our constitution.
However, this is easier said than done and we need to approach it not only in security and kinetic terms but also politically and economically. We have to devise a strategy which will help us to do this effectively, not in a sort of unidimensional way.
BLOCK: And do you think the prime minister has the will and the backing to do that?
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: Well, he certainly has the intention and the conviction. He needs to be supported and he needs to be enabled, both of which are outside his own personal domain. And the message here is that both in Iraq and outside Iraq, it is imperative that he gets the right support. Otherwise, he will not be able to do it.
BLOCK: I'd like to get your view of the idea of including Syria and Iran in talks on Iraq. Many in your country, especially Sunnis, are alarmed by that prospect.
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: On this point, the Iraqi government was in fact ahead of the report. Because you'll remember, a couple of weeks ago, the Syrian foreign minister visited Baghdad. And during that visit, it was agreed that diplomatic relations should be restored and that Syria starts to cooperate on specific security issues. We will watch very carefully to see if our Syrian brothers will deliver on their promises.
On Iran, likewise. Our president was in Iran a short time ago, and we had a similar dialogue with them. And we will be watching on the ground how they behave.
BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about comment in the report of the Iraq Study Group, this from a - they described this as a leading Sunni politician who told them, if you turn over any stone in Iraq today, you will find Iran underneath. How would you describe Iranian influence in the country right now?
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: Well, it sounds to me like reds under the bed. There's a lot of fear and apprehension in Iraq about interference by Iran. It is not helpful to underplay or overplay this. We have to deal with it as an objective reality and deal with our Iranian neighbors to persuade them to curb that.
BLOCK: On the question of U.S. military forces in Iraq, one thing the Iraq Study Group said was that the Iraqi army actually lacks equipment, logistics and support, and that the United States is going to be turning over more and more responsibilities to the Iraqis than more needs to be done. Would you say, then, that the United States needs to be paying more to support your army than it's doing now?
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: I think the support of the army, support of the police has been a sore point with us Iraqis for the last three or so years. But we should not only think in terms of equipment or even training. We should work very hard to build these institutions so that they become an impartial instrument of the state.
BLOCK: And how do you do that?
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: By reforming them, by weeding out elements who should not be there. We have to have impartial panels of professional police because without that and without the trust of the general public, they cannot function. They become part of the problem instead of becoming part of the solution.
And of course, without effective security forces, the prime minister and the interior minister as well as the defense minister will not have instruments to control the security.
BLOCK: And why is this not happening now?
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: Well, it's happening but perhaps too slowly. We need to accelerate that.
BLOCK: Ambassador Sumaidaie, thanks very much for coming in.
Ambassador SUMAIDAIE: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.