ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Joining us now is Samir Shakir al-Sumaidaie, who is Iraq's ambassador to the United States. Welcome to the program once again.
Ambassador SAMIR SHAKIR AL-SUMAIDAIE (Iraq's Ambassador to the U.S.): Thank you.
SIEGEL: Just over six months ago when President Bush announced the surge in Iraq, you were on our broadcast by telephone. And you may recall I asked you then what would be different in six months, and apart from the legalistic benchmarks that eventually became adapted into legislation, here's what you said.
(Soundbite of past interview)
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Well, about two or three benchmarks: number of schools, which are open, students attending normally; number of shops and businesses, which are open and people shopping at them; and number of vehicles, which are moving about early evening or late evening.
SIEGEL: So if we see normal life, in effect, on the streets of Baghdad in six months.
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Exactly. Normal life returning to Baghdad of which I'm hopeful it will, then we would know that we are beginning to succeed.
SIEGEL: Well, it's six months later. Would you describe Baghdad today as normal?
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: No. I cannot describe it as normal, but I think it's also true to say that many areas of Baghdad are much better now than they were six months ago. There are areas in Baghdad that have returned to normality or something approximating normality. It's a gradual process.
SIEGEL: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, in testifying at long distance from Baghdad before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today the one word that sums up the atmosphere in Iraq today in the neighborhoods of the nation is fear, he said.
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Alas, that is true. We are subjected to a ruthless onslaught by terrorism that is unprecedented. Imagine a thousand suicide bombers over the span of two or three years attacking the United States - this great stable democracy. What would the effect be? Iraq is a small country. The attack is relentless. It is natural, therefore, that there is fear.
SIEGEL: I want to get your sense of what you think the role of the U.S. troops is today in Iraq and how it relates to violence in Iraq. One view is that U.S. forces are able, to some degree, reduce the level of violence in the country and be a catalyst for political developments that Iraqis must undertake. Another view is that we, by being there, are stimulating extremists terrorist groups attracting people and prolonging the conflict. Or that we're giving Iraqis too much time, that the sense of urgency is not there because the U.S. is there. What's your view? How significant is the presence of U.S. forces?
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Well, I don't buy the idea that the American troops are causing violence. I think there is almost unanimity amongst all Iraqi leaders that we absolutely need the help of American troops - who, by the way, created the situation in the first place by intervening - to remain with us until we build up our new security forces.
They are very important in standing up with our security forces who are fighting and giving casualties every day. I think it's also important to make the point here that we have expectations from the United States to supply weapons to our security forces, equipment, there's been a great deal of delay. To have delays in supplying our armed forces, I find very hard to understand.
SIEGEL: I'd like you to return to one thing you said. You said, American forces, which after all brought this situation, in Iraqi eyes, however dire the crisis in Baghdad or the country might be, it began after the U.S. invasion, you say.
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Well, let us make absolutely clear that it was not fun to be in Iraq during Saddam's time. However, the decision was made to intervene. We are grateful for the intervention of the Americans to remove Saddam Hussein and we are grateful for every sacrifice that has been made by this country. And we hope that once things are resolved, you will have a loyal and long-term ally in the Middle East in the form of Iraq.
SIEGEL: What do you say to an American who's listening and following the news who says, we went over there on some very bad intelligence, it hasn't worked out the way our leaders said it would, the time pressures on our military and the time pressures on your political leaders do not square, we're going to run out of strength before you've got enough of a reconciliation going, and it might be best for Iraqis as well for Americans to just get out of there?
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: This is superficial thinking. Let's be fair. Historians will argue about whether it was justified or not justified to go into Iraq. However, we are now dealing with the situation, which was created to a large extent by this intervention.
Now, to have created a mess and to turn around and walk away from it, apart from the fact that it is immoral in my view, it is not without a price. The price will be a destabilized Middle East, rampant international terrorism, which is bound to visit you here at home sooner or later. So some clear thinking has to be made about the price of these decisions.
SIEGEL: You're saying both self-defeating and immoral.
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: I believe shortsighted, self-defeating and immoral. In fact, I don't see much appetite for it talking to people here in Congress on both sides.
SIEGEL: But when you talk to their constituents out in the country, you'll hear it.
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Because their constituents see the immediate thing. This is the role of leadership. The role of leadership is to examine choices and to weigh the pros and cons of each choice. And I think any responsible leader will see it very clearly that Iraq is a situation that's got to be stabilized and the United States must not walk away from it.
SIEGEL: Well, Ambassador Sumaidaie, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ambassador AL-SUMAIDAIE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Samir Sumaidaie is Iraq's ambassador to the United States.
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