What must the Iraqi government do in order to meet the benchmarks in President Bush's new strategy for Iraq? In a telephone interview from Baghdad, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih discusses the plan with Steve Inskeep.
In your conversations with American officials, what have they told you about these benchmarks? What do they want you to do?
It's not what the United States wants us to do. To be fair, the president's strategy is supporting the program that we have committed to ourselves. We have committed to national reconciliation. We have committed to improving the security of the country, to developing our own indigenous capability, reforming the security services. These are important commitments. We need the support of the United States, and it think it is right for the United States to support us, to achieving those benchmarks.
Although, American officials have said their patience is not unlimited. They seem to be pushing you ever so gently to show progress.
I think as an elected official here in Baghdad, I can tell you the patience of Iraqis is running out as well. Three and a half years on from the liberation of Iraq, Iraqis deserve a better quality of life, and deserve better security. We in the political leadership of this country need to deliver for our own people, as well as to our friends who have committed resources and lives in supporting our liberation. We understand that this support cannot be open-ended. Our credibility is on the line, and we have to deliver for our own people.
Did the Americans give you any kind of timeline?
Not really. I have not seen any specific timeline, but I think the important thing is to focus on the trend. What happened in 2006 is that the trend is not good, especially after the terrible attack on the shrines in Samarra which led to a breakout in sectarian violence, the trend became from bad to worse. We all have to recognize that the situation in Iraq is serious, it's dangerous and this dynamics of violence cannot be sustained. It must be the political will by us to do it. That is, I think, the strategy of President Bush. I think in that context it's a very good strategy and it puts responsibility where it lies, namely the elected government of Iraq, and that needs the support of the international community.
President Bush also tried to explain what the added troops he's sending to Iraq will be doing that is different. He said they will have more freedom to operate in Baghdad. That there were political and sectarian differences that kept the Americans out of certain neighborhoods. What, if anything, is different about that situation now?
I think this time the political environment is different. We have to succeed at this juncture; otherwise, we will have to review some very, very basic assumptions that have governed the political process in this country.
Are you saying that up until now, many of your fellow Iraqi leaders have not quite grasped the gravity of this situation, and have gone after their various political and sectarian differences, but now they do realize?
I think, to be fair, Iraqi politicians are like politicians anywhere in the world. People have their own interests and all politics is local, and probably most politicians will reflect the immediate interests of their constituents. I think now, given the level of violence, given the gravity of the situation, my hope is that we all realize that this cannot go on. The time has come for us to take initiative, and utilize the American support that has been offered to us to really turn the corner. If we don't do that, regardless of American support, I know that we would lose credibility in the eyes of our own people. We cannot go into the next election and tell people, "Re-elect us."
Can you clarify for us whether your government does support the plan to send more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq?
The prime minister has been in constant dialogue and consultation with the U.S. side, including the president, and the security plan of Baghdad is in the process of being finalized. That involves utilization of additional American troops, when and if necessary. Exact deployment where and how, these are matters the military commanders will decide on, not the politicians.