NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last week, President Bush announced new policies for Iraq on primetime television to the American people. He plans to increase the number of troops and establish security benchmarks for Iraq. The plan cannot succeed without the cooperation of the Iraqi government, and questions have been raised about its willingness to crack down on Shiite militias connected to important political parties and about its willingness to vote in a new law that would share the country's oil wealth more equitably.
Amid spiraling violence that looks more and more like civil war, is Iraq's government non-sectarian, or does it take sides? The administration's new policy comes at a turning point for Iraq. The nation saw the brutal images of Saddam Hussein's execution only a couple of weeks ago. Just this morning, two more individuals from Saddam's regime were put to death: Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half-brother, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former head of Iraq's revolutionary court.
Today, we'll talk with an Iraqi diplomat - deputy United Nations Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi - about reactions to President Bush's plan. Later in the program, The Opinion Page, and on Martin Luther King, Jr., day, we'll talk about the lack of integration in many people's lives.
But first, Feisal Istrabadi. If you have questions for Ambassador Istrabadi about the Iraqi government's reaction to the plan or its willingness or ability to act decisively, give us a call - 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: email@example.com.
And joining us now from our bureau in New York City is Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy representative to the United Nations. And ambassador, nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Ambassador FEISAL ISTRABADI (Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations for Iraq): My pleasure. How are you?
CONAN: I'm well, thank you. President Bush and his advisors present this plan as an Iraqi proposal presented to them at the meeting with Prime Minister Maliki in Jordan. How much of this is the prime minister plan, and how much of it is the president's?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, very clearly, I mean, Iraq has a sovereign government, which we have had since June 28th of 2004. So clearly, there is negotiation between two sovereign governments. Obviously, the United States is the leading nation in the - that contributes to the multinational forces. But very clearly, there has to be a cooperative plan worked out between both sides, and both sides will have to do their part.
CONAN: The president's - the plan as outlined, the combined plan, presents a number of timelines for the Iraqi government to follow and to meet certain security goals. Does Prime Minister Maliki believe those are realistic?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, as a matter of fact, the Iraqi government - and I know this firsthand from negotiations that were occurring here in New York over the extension of the multinational forces mandate at the end of 2006. The Iraqi government is very anxious to assume a greater and greater role for security in Iraq, fundamentally.
Once we get past the problems of training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, fundamentally, the problems in Iraq will have to be - and ultimately will have to be solved by the Iraqis themselves.
In the meantime, we obviously need the assistance of our friends and allies, but ultimately, they are problems for Iraqis to solve. And we have to all work for the day when that can become a reality.
CONAN: Obviously, as we talk about the number of American casualties in the War in Iraq, the number of Iraqi casualties is vastly greater than that, certainly the number of Iraqi civilians killed. This is fundamentally an Iraqi problem.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Yes, that's right. I mean, unfortunately, there have been periods when the monthly Iraqi casualty rate has equaled the total number of Americans killed. There are reasons for this. We have insurgents, terrorists -whatever you want to call them, now a relatively new phenomenon, that of death squads - intentionally targeting civilians. It's an unfortunate - it's, in fact, rather a horrific situation that has to be dealt with.
CONAN: And the question of death squads gets to one of the central questions about the plan for stability in Baghdad. The death squads - at least on one side - are believed to be formed by militias, sometimes formed inside various government ministries, various government offices, wearing government uniforms.
They may be acting as rogues, but they certainly look like representatives from the Iraqi government.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, this is a problem, and this is a problem that the government - my government, has acknowledged, that there has been some infiltration of Iraq security forces by these, as you correctly call them, rogue elements.
Now, it doesn't take very many people to be able to cause a tremendous amount of chaos, heartache and grief. I mean, again, here in New York City, we know that 19 people were able to kill 3,000 in one day. So unfortunately, with the sort of availability of weaponry and technology, it's possible for a relatively small number of people just to create just massive suffering, and this is the problem that confronts us now.
CONAN: Yet, there may be rogue elements as far as the ministry of the interior is concerned, but they've been identified by various sources as members of the Mahdi Army - which is, of course, a militia attached to Moqtada al-Sadr, a major political backer of the prime minister. They are members of militias attached to the Badr Brigade, which is attached to SCIRI, which is another political party closely aligned with the prime minister.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, first of all, we have to be careful in terms of assuming that because certain affiliations may or may not exist, that operational control or command exists. It is possible to have individuals who identify themselves or who can be identified as belonging to this or that group without the political or even security structure of these groups being able to control the individuals, number one.
Number two, the more important point is that the prime minister and the government of Iraq have made it clear that militias of any stripes will not be tolerated.
CONAN: The last time the United States put checkpoints around Sadr City and put pressure on Moqtada al-Sadr, those checkpoints were removed at the order of the Iraqi government.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, we have to be careful that in whatever tactics are used, that we - you know, every time you take an action, be it security or otherwise, but - you're doing, obviously, a cost-benefit analysis. There are -I mean, you could impose a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 30-day-a-month curfew on Baghdad. Now, that might be effective, but the cost is so high as to be absurd.
So you always are in a position of having to balance a particular tactic versus the strategic objective of disarming militias against the risk of harm that that activity engenders. And it is possible, therefore, to have differing views about that between any two governments.
In the end, the government of Iraq is the sovereign government of Iraq that ultimately has a responsibility to the people of Iraq, and therefore must have a significant hand in making that decision. To me, that seems fairly obvious.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. Our guest is Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's begin with Tim, Tim's calling us from Denver, Colorado.
TIM (Caller): Hello, sir, and thank you for taking my call. My question to the ambassador is that all this - first of all, let me mention that a lot of the death squads taking place in Iraq are identical of what the Muslims have done inside Iran. And with Iran's role being non-documented with recent arrests and everything, and I truly understand that the majority of the Iraqi government top-ranking officials used to be like (unintelligible) in Iran, and maybe that's why they want to (unintelligible) about the reviewing of the Iran's destruction role in Iraq. But my question is that for how long do you want to not to send a signal to Tehran or take a stand against Iran for meddling inside Iraq. Thank you.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, we have made it very clear as a matter of our government policy, as a government of Iraq - and this has been proved since the transfer of authority in June 2004 - that we will not countenance interference in our internal affairs by any of our neighbors. So we have worked very hard in a cooperative spirit with all the regional powers - certainly with our six neighbors and others in the region - to attempt to effectuate a policy of amity between us and all our neighbors, while at the same time fostering the principal of international law of the noninterference in our internal affairs.
We have frequently reminded our neighbors of their obligations under Resolution 1618 passed by the Security Council on August of 2005 to refrain from supporting those who are committing acts of violence within my country. So that is very much a part of our policy. If I could very briefly also say that the idea that a majority of the high-ranking members of our government were in Iran is not true. A majority of our government at some point or another probably sought refuge somewhere, ranging from the United States to virtually every other country around the world. But to say that the majority sought refuge in Iran is simply not true.
CONAN: The United States, for example, is where you sought refuge for much of your life growing up.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Exactly. I spent 33 years in exile here.
CONAN: And achieved quite a distinguished academic record along the way before returning to your country to take up a diplomatic role.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: That's very kind, thank you. Thank you.
CONAN: We're going to take a short break and when we continue, Admiral Feisal Istrabadi will take more of your calls. If you would like to join us, our number is 1-800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And e-mail address is email@example.com. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after a break. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're discussing Iraqi reaction to President Bush's new strategy for the war, and if the government in Baghdad can or will follow through on its commitments. Our guest is Faisal Istrabadi, Iraq's Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations. If you have questions for the ambassador, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's go on to Hussein. Hussein's calling us from Chicago.
HUSSEIN (Caller): Thanks for taking my call, and (unintelligible). I was wondering - I have two questions. One is, this organizations called themselves, Mujahideen al-Khalq, that they've been exiled from Iran in Iraq, and they've been giving refuge by United States…
CONAN: This is Mujahideen al-Khalq, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. It was based in Iraq during…
HUSSEIN: They call themselves Mujahideen. And right now they have a couple of places in Iraq, and they're being pretty much protected by the U.S. government and U.S. Army. And my second question is I want to know about those five - and five diplomat - the Iran diplomat that they were been taken.
CONAN: And why don't we take those…
HUSSEIN: I want to know if there are (unintelligible).
CONAN: Excuse me, Hussein, why don't we take - why don't we take these one at a time? Mr. Ambassador, the Mujahideen al-Khalq.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Yeah, first alaikum salaam, Hussein. I know that this is something that has been discussed between my government and the government of Iran as well. We've made it very clear that we will not tolerate Iraq being used as a base or in any way as a transit point to threaten any of our neighbors. We want to have - after 25 years of upheaval, we want to have pacific relations with all our neighbors and concentrate on the rebuilding of our own country and our own economy. There are, sort of, technical legal problems as to what happens with these individuals, however, and I'm not sure that has ever been adequately - or it has not been resolved, I think, finally. But in any event…
CONAN: Does this group have bases in Iraq?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, they had bases in Iraq under the prior regime. My understanding is that they've in fact been - if they were ever armed during Saddam's period, in any case, they're not armed now. So I don't know if you'd want to call it bases or, you know, some sort of camps where they're living now, akin to refugee camps or something. I'm not sure. But in any event, we made it very clear that we're not - we want to be - this is an introspective phase for us. We have our own problems which we need to resolve. And so we're not interested in being used as a vehicle in any fashion in respect to interfering in our neighbor's internal affairs.
CONAN: And just to be clear, this was an anti-Iranian government group. The five men arrested in Irbil last week is I think what Hussein is referring to. These were men working at a - in an Iranian government facility. Whether it had diplomatic status or not remains to be seen.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, the foreign minister of Iraq has said that these five individuals were part of a diplomatic mission in northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, which was in the process of - as I gather, was in the process of obtaining consular status. And as I also understand it, the foreign minister has asked for their release.
CONAN: These gentlemen, to quote General George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, "these gentlemen were not diplomats that we're holding. All of them, by discussions that I've had with people," he said, "are members of the Revolutionary Guard up in a Kurdish area of Iraq. These folks that we've captures are foreign intelligence agents in this country working with Iraqis to destabilize Iraq and target coalition forces that are here at Iraq's request. I don't think there's any disagreement with that," General Casey said. You take issue with that?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, I'm not in the position to take issue with it, but what I can say is that it certainly - that they may be intelligence agents is not inconsistent with their being diplomats, number one. Number two, you know, as far as any other activities that they're alleged to have engaged in, obviously, we're not interested in harboring anybody who is targeting either coalition or Iraqi forces. But there seems to be some disagreement as to precisely what their status was or is.
CONAN: Okay. Hussein, thanks very much for the call.
HUSSEIN: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get - here's a question by e-mail from Dianne(ph) in Intervale, New Hampshire: Why is Ahmed Chalabi in charge of the deBaathification process, and why does he insist that he may proceed with this process on his own timetable? Ahmed Chalabi, of course, one of the controversial Iraqis who was in this country before the war and then took up a position in the government after the conflict. And deBaathification, of course, an issue of some contention as well. Ambassador Istrabadi?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, as far as any specific individual, you know, I hope your listeners will understand that I'm a humble ambassador and that decisions of the appointments of the chairmen of various commissions are not within my purview. I mean, so he has been - Dr. Chalabi has been appointed as the head of this particular commission. He always oversaw the commission, incidentally, from the days of the governing council. It was one of his duties - again, dating back to 2003 - that he undertook to oversee the work of this commission, and ultimately, was responsible for it. So, I mean, why not Dr. Chalabi? I don't quite follow the train of the question.
CONAN: He was a man of some suspicion in his dealings with this, I thought, to have been given…
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Be that as it may…
CONAN: …incorrect information about things like weapons of mass destruction, for example.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, be that as it may, I mean, those are two very different issues. He was an elected member of the Iraqi parliament. He was deputy prime minister for over a year, and has - I think he's a very capable and talented man and has a role to play.
CONAN: Speaking of which, are the interests of Iraq identical to the interests of the United States? In the United Nations, for example, does Iraq recognize the State of Israel?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: It does not. We have - there are regional issues that Iraq does not - where Iraq's interests are distinct from those of the United States. And the Arab-Israeli issue is certainly one of those issues. We've made it very clear that our policy in respect to the State of Israel - with whom we share no common border and have no particular common issue - our position is in line with that of the Arab League.
CONAN: See if we can get another caller on the line. And this is David. David's with us from Tempe, Arizona.
DAVID (Caller): Hello. Ambassador, what do you think about Senator Biden's plan for Iraq, the five-point plan that would confederate Iraq into three sectarian regions?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, I - let me not speak in terms of any one person's specific plan. Let me talk, however, about your larger point, which is this issue of the division of Iraq into three sectarian regions, as you put it. I think it's a nonstarter. Iraq, first of all, does not consist of three groups. As the late Professor (unintelligible) used to say, Iraq is a country of minorities consisting of 27 separate ethnic and confessional groups. You can't so easily draw a map and say ah, well, the Shia are here. The Sunni are three. The Kurds are there. The largest Kurdish city in Iraq is Baghdad. I suppose as far as that's concerned, the largest Shiite city is Baghdad. The largest Sunni city is Baghdad.
In the supposed Shiite south, in the city of Basra, fully one third - one million people of the inhabitants of the City of Basra are Sunnis. How do you begin to draw these maps, and is it really the case that in the 21st century civilized men and women want to be on record advocating essentially, you know, ethnically cleansing various areas of Iraq or any other place? It's an absurd idea, I think. And more importantly, it is not the Iraqis who are advocating this position. I mean, the people who are advocating this position are not named, you know, Maliki and Talabani and Hashemi or Stodabadi(ph). This is the point.
DAVID: (Unintelligible) allow confederation of states and not necessarily a long sectarian lines.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: That's very different. The idea of a federated Iraq has been accepted almost universally. Now, there's disputes as to what that means, although much of that dispute was settled in the permanent constitution. But there is very little disagreement about a federated Iraq. But that's not the question you asked me. You asked me about dividing Iraq into three sectarian…
DAVID: That was Senator Biden's plan.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, it isn't only Senator Biden's plan. There are others who are advocating this. That's a very different proposition. I personally - as well as an ambassador - have favored and do favor a federated Iraq. And there are historical reasons that I can get into if you'd like, for why that is. But, the Iraqis have themselves decided that a federal structure ought to be based on geography. And I think that that is fundamentally a decision for the Iraqis to make.
CONAN: David, thanks very much.
DAVID: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to - this is Joe. Joe is with us from Louisville in Kentucky.
JOE (Caller): Yeah. Thank you for taking my call.
JOE: You know, this whole thing that we hear here on the states is all about sectarian divide and religious conflict and the history of all that above with the Shiites and the Sunnis. You know, I was curious when this all started, and we went into Baghdad and into Iraq, there was a religious figure there. His name was Sistani, and he was old man. He was very much revered. And a lot of people gave him a lot of respect.
And at the same time, this al-Sadr character was considered a thug, and kind of an ignorant thug. And he supposedly murdered some people at that time. I guess my question is, you know, what happened to Sistani? And if he still have any power behind the scenes, and if there are people like that who do believe in peace like the Koran preaches, then is there another fellow on the other side, on the Sunni side that could get together with Sistani and try to bring some of this chaos to some kind of order?
And why did they allow al-Sadr to escape back then two or three years ago when they thought he was a murderer? And they were going to arrest him, and they just let him go.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, as far as the Ayatollah al-Sistani is concerned, he's certainly still a hugely relevant and important force in Iraqi life, generally, and in certainly amongst the Shia of Iraq. And he has played, I must say, a very positive role in - over the last three years, almost four years now - in calming tensions. Although since the bombing of the Samarra shrine nearly a year ago, those tensions unfortunately have escalated rather than declined.
The period that we are in, in fact, going through now is the first time in our history - certainly in our modern history - in which there have been such sectarian tensions. You know, I must say I heard Senator Gordon Smith yesterday on CNN saying that the Shia and Sunni have been - I think, he said, if - I believe this is a quote, "butchering each other for four times longer than we," meaning the United States, "have been a nation," end quote.
And that's just not true. It's certainly not true in Iraq. This is the first time that we have had this problem in Iraq. And that's why I believe that it is possible to resolve these tensions long before we descend into civil war.
JOE: Could Sistani and someone on the Sunni side - a religious cleric on that side - could they have any kind of effect if they actually did step up and try to take a row, or to pass all that?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Oh, well, I certainly think that the grand Ayatollah al-Sistani will have a role to play in calming passions. The difficulty on the Sunni side arises because there is not an institutional infrastructure which allows a person or even a small group of people to rise sort of the to the top of the, if you will, clerical ranks, as there is in the Shiite branch of Islam.
So it's a bit more difficult to have someone rise with the same stature as you have in the Shiite world. But I must tell you that I think ultimately, the problems will be resolved by Iraq's politicians sitting around the table and making some very hard bargains and compromises, and making tough decisions. There's a problem in - the way we were ruled for 35 years prevented any political class from developing.
We had an absolute despot, an absolute tyrant who ruled with absolute authority make - politics is a learned art. It's not genetically, you know, inculcated in us. It's a learned art. And the opportunity to engage in politics was interrupted in - in Iraq - was interrupted in 1968 and not allowed to go on for 35 years. So you have almost two generations of people who have grown up away from the art of politics.
So we are sort of in a learning curve now, and I know that's not a satisfactory state of affairs, but it's a fact. So as we are growing into our positions, as we are, you know, doing so under far less than ideal circumstances, hard deals are being made every single day. As those deals continue to be made amongst Iraq's political class, that's, I think, where the solution lies to this problem. And I'm convinced that that will occur.
CONAN: Our guest is Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And an e-mail question, this from Dave in Berkeley, California. If all U.S. and coalition forces withdrew from Iraq within one year from today, do you believe that any region in Iraq would become a safe haven for radical Islamists such as al-Qaida?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: We'll, it certainly - yes is a short answer. I mean, I don't - I mean, I understand the impetus that Americans have for withdrawing their forces. And let's be very clear. We know that the American government and the American people don't want American forces in Iraq any longer than is necessary. You should also know that the people of Iraq and the government of Iraq don't want foreign forces in Iraq any longer than necessary.
But at this moment, the - as we begin to assume greater and greater responsibility for our own security, which the United Nations' Security Council resolutions contemplate. But until we're ready to do that, what stands between us in this kind of chaos where al-Qaida in Iraq may well have strong - I mean, large swathes of Iraq that would be able to operate in with impunity. We need the United States there. And I cannot tell you that in X amount of time, the U.S. will be able to withdraw.
It's in my judgment, wrong to think purely in terms of the calendar - rather, you have to think in terms of capacity. What can the Iraqi forces do? How much of the multinational forces responsibilities can they take over? As our ability increases, obviously, the need for the multinational forces decreases.
CONAN: Mr. Ambassador, can you stay with us a little over the break for a couple of more questions?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Sure. I'd be happy to.
CONAN: Our guest, Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. He's been kind enough to agree. We'll have a couple of more questions for him after the break. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. Also, on the opinion page, racism and integration on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I'm Neal Conan, back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
In just a few minutes, the Opinion Page. But first, let's continue our conversation with Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. He's on their bureau in New York. And wanted to ask you just to follow-up on the executions today of the two aides to Saddam Hussein. Again, this has come under tremendous criticism, particularly in Europe. And from - as we mentioned, the United Nation's human rights ambassador who said, quote, "The imposition of the death penalty after a trial and appeals proceedings that do not respect the principles of due process amounts to a violation of the right to life."
Ambassador ISTRABADI: You know, the previous regime ruled Iraq for 35 years, and is responsible for the deaths of somewhere between a million and two million Iraqis. The United Nations Human Rights Office did not make a single comment about the abuses of human rights in Iraq until Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Now I want you to think about that, because in 1988, the government of Saddam Hussein was responsible in 1987 and 1988 for the Anfal campaign and for the use of chemical weapons against its own population. And yet, the United Nations was not moved to say one word about Iraq's human rights abuses, or the previous regime's human rights abuses until Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
I think that when the process, when the processes of the human rights community are subordinated to a political agenda - perhaps an anti-war agenda, an anti-death penalty agenda - even though the majority on the member states of the United Nations probably have the death penalty, certainly, majority of the populations of the world live in countries that have the death penalty. And certainly, there is nothing in international law that prohibits the death penalty.
But yet, one good agenda is opposition to the death penalty. When the agenda is opposition to state trials in favor, and in favor of international tribunals. And when that overarching agenda begins to interfere with objective criteria -a human rights criteria - international standards of human rights suffer. And I wish the United Nations would consider that before saying some of the things that it does.
CONAN: Let's see if get Christopher on the line - Christopher, with us from Spokane in Washington.
CHRISTOPHER (Caller): Yes. Hello?
CHRISTOPHER: Hi. Thank you very much for taking a time to be here today, ambassador. My question is, are the U.S.'s future plans after withdrawal from Iraq addressed in a new plan that's been put out? Does our country expect a regular ambassadorship-level presence in your country, or are we building permanent bases for regular military presence after the withdrawal? And what does your government want from us afterwards?
Ambassador ISTRABADI: Well, I cannot imagine that anyone truly expects for there to be a long-term presence of United States forces in Iraq. I mean, look. I mean, obviously, it's conceivable that a future Iraqi government might negotiate. I can't predict that. But as I said here in January 2007, all I can tell you is look back at our history. The British weren't able to pull it off 80 years ago. I don't think it's going to be possible now.
CONAN: Just a follow on to Christopher's question, the Iraqi forces, as they're constituted now have very little logistical capabilities. They're trying to get combat forces, police forces up and running, not necessarily logistical forces. Those are being handled by primarily the United States. The Iraqi armed forces has very little underway of an air force or a navy at this point. Those are all being provided by the United States and other coalition forces.
Even if the Iraqi government wanted the United States out under these current arrangements, those sorts of services would have to continue for some number of years.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: I don't know how long. I'm not an expert on security, but I'll tell you this, that the presence of the multinational forces - and obviously the lion's share of the multinational forces - come from the United States.
The presence of the multinational forces in Iraq is pursuant to now three - to the request of now three successive governments. Prime Minister Alawi requested it, Prime Minister Jafari requested and Prime Minister Maliki, the current prime minister, requested it.
But you're absolutely right. Logistics support lags behind, and that's exactly right. The emphasis now is on attempting to train and equip combat-ready troops.
CONAN: Christopher, thanks for the call, appreciate it.
CHRISTOPHER: …very much.
CONAN: And let's get one last question in, and this is by e-mail from Kathy. Could you please talk about the kinds of deals given to U.S. and British oil companies in the law that's being considered in the Iraqi congress? How do they compare to agreements oil companies have with other oil-producing nations? I've heard U.S. companies are getting very good considerations and for a long period of time. If true, this is very significant.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: I think that, you know, a lot of these rumors are, you know, sort of hearsay and exaggeration. The oil law has been - is in the process of what they call hydrocarbon laws, and is being negotiated and is probably getting close to ready to passage. But it is - obviously, oil is our main asset, I suppose, other than water in terms of our mineral assets.
And this has to be considered very carefully, as does the fact that the previous regime did a tremendous amount of damage to our existing oil fields in the manner in which it chose to extract the oil.
So we have to be very careful in assessing how to address those kinds of situations in which companies can best help us extract maximum amounts of oil without further damaging the fields. And I think that those kinds of considerations are going to be much more important - the technical considerations are going to be much more important than any other. It's, again, our major resource.
CONAN: Ambassador, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Ambassador ISTRABADI: My pleasure, thank you.
CONAN: Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, joined us today from our bureau in New York. When we come back, The Opinion Page.
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