LYNN NEARY, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary sitting in for Scott Simon. Coming up, Hoovermania in Belgium - that's mania for Herbert Hoover. But first, this week's election results followed by the departure of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld signal a possible shift in U.S. policy on Iraq. And during the campaign there was much talk about timetables and benchmarks and ways for American troops to be pulled out. But Iraqi social scientist Isam al-Khaffaji believes Iraq needs more, not fewer, troops, though he says they do not necessarily need to be American troops. Khaffaji left Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime but now travels frequently to his homeland. He joins us from Amsterdam for the latest in our series of conversations about how the U.S. leaves Iraq. Thanks so much for being with us.
ISAM AL: Thank you.
NEARY: Now, who would these new troops be and what could they do that would make a difference?
AL: No country is willing to send troops just to take orders from the Americans, but I do feel that a new approach by the U.S. administration can change that, if they are willing to share decision-making with other countries, especially those whose reputation among Iraqis are not that bad. For example the Japanese, who were - until a few months ago were in the southern province of Samawah. Not a single shot was shot against the Japanese forces throughout the three years they spent there. The governor of the province in a rare speech, a goodbye speech, thanked them and said that he wished that they would stay for more time in Iraq. So that shows that it's not any foreign troops that are unwelcome in Iraq. It's unfortunately the way the Americans have handled Iraq that left this unwelcome reputation by Iraqis towards the Americans.
NEARY: So you're saying that first of all, any changes in policy in part should be directed at convincing other countries around the world to begin to help - to come and to send troops into Iraq?
AL: Yes. What I would say is to separate the policing mission and the mission of the armed forces. Armed forces have proven historically, and now in our tragic experience in Iraq, they cannot do the policing job. The armed forces can defend our borders in the face of terrorists who are creeping inside Iraq, and the hundreds if not in the thousands. And the policing inside can go to the Germans, to the Canadians, to the Japanese, the Scandinavians - whoever is willing, with the exception of our neighbors, who are not welcome by the vast majority of Iraqis.
NEARY: And the U.S. troops would patrol the borders?
AL: That's one major issue. The air force - we don't have an Iraqi air force. Now they can do the air jobs, the border, etc.
NEARY: Do you think that Iraq has moved too quickly toward democracy, that...
AL: Democracy cannot be built if you don't have impartial state institutions. But we still don't have these state institutions. We don't have an independent judiciary up till now. We do not have independent media. We do not have a police force that is seen as impartial by the different sections of the population. Unless and until they build these institutions, democracy is a recipe for civil war.
NEARY: To what degree is it the U.S. responsibility to rebuild these institutions and to what degree is it the Iraqi government's responsibility?
AL: Well, remember, Iraq is not Afghanistan. Iraq has its bureaucracy since the 1920s. That's almost 90 years. We have had these state institutions. Now were they corrupt, were they inefficient? One might argue about that and I might agree with you. But we did have the bureaucracy. We have the traditions of that bureaucracy. The responsibility of the first is that of the Iraqi government. But the Iraqi government has been in place thanks to the American war, to the American occupation. And the Iraqi government still needs U.S. funding and assistance.
NEARY: Are you concerned at all that the elections this week in the United States, which seem to a no confidence vote on the government's policy on Iraq, that it could bring about changes that would do more harm than good?
AL: Yes, I am. I have to say that. I mean I was never a friend of the neo-cons or the Republicans, but this vote as I see it is a no vote to the Republicans rather than a yes vote to the Democrats. And I'm afraid that in the haste to find solutions, we will hear many knee-jerks like let's pull our troops immediately. And this will cause a real disaster to American interests in the world and to American security, and to Iraq and the region.
NEARY: Isam al-Khaffaji is an Iraqi social scientist. He joined us by phone from Amsterdam. Thank you.
AL: Thank you.
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