Iraqi envoy urges US not to abandon his country

The Iraqi ambassador to the US pleaded with Obama not to abandon his country as it would pose huge risk to security.

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WASHINGTON // Iraq's US ambassador urged Washington this week not to "abandon" his war-torn country, citing progress in security, reconstruction and economic development but warning that past successes are not a guarantee of future ones.

"If Iraq is abandoned and it falls into chaos and becomes, God forbid, a failed state, it would be a huge threat for the security and stability of the region and the world," Samir Sumaida'ie, the ambassador, said during remarks to the National Council on US-Arab Relations. "We believe it will not fail, but we should not take that for granted because we are facing really vicious, resourceful and determined enemies," he said. "We should not be any less determined ourselves."

Mr Sumaida'ie hailed the new security agreement between the US and Iraq as a sign of his country's "zeal for independence", despite opposition to it that manifested itself in mass street protests. At the same time, he offered a blunt appeal to Barack Obama, the incoming US president: "Don't abandon Iraq, and let's build success upon success." Mr Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to withdraw US forces from Iraq on a firm timetable - within 16 months of his inauguration - which Iraqi leaders had themselves expressed support for. The new Status of Forces Agreement requires withdrawal of combat troops in cities, towns and villages in Iraq by June 30 and complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Still, there are widely differing views of how fragile the gains in Iraq are; Robert Gates, the defence secretary, who has been asked to stay on in the Obama administration, had opposed a timetable on the grounds that such gains were fragile indeed, and could be reversed. A massive amount of reconstruction work lies ahead, at a time when Iraq's economy could face serious problems given the steep drop in oil prices.

Mr Sumaida'ie said the fall in the cost of oil, combined with the global economic downturn, would strain the Iraqi budget, potentially severely, and slow the country's reconstruction plans; next year's budget assumes a price of US$80 (Dh293.8) a barrel, and it is currently selling for about half that. He said Iraq needed to double its oil production, which would require huge investment in infrastructure, including pipelines.

Also in his remarks on Tuesday, Mr Sumaida'ie urged Mr Obama to seek a solution to the "festering" Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying it was the key to undermining extremists everywhere. "If this problem is solved it will not only be in the interest of Israel and the Palestinians, it will defuse a lot of the bitterness and the hatred that fuels much of this terrorism around the world," he said. But in speaking about a broader international struggle against terrorism - he cited the September 11 attacks as well as those in London, Madrid and, most recently, Mumbai - he also called Iraq the "front line" in it. He said, as George W Bush often has, that the struggle was one of ideologies, between freedom and dictatorship. After the US invasion of Iraq, some of "our neighbours" felt threatened, he said. "They wanted to take measures to protect their interests, and in Iraq they found the vacuum and the space to do that.

"Our Arab friends and neighbours are slowly coming around to realising that Iraq is going to be a successful project, Iraq has been reinvented in the new form and they will have to accept it and live with it," he said, mentioning the opening of embassies in Iraq. "We have defeated al Qa'eda for the first time on Arab Muslim territory. And I think that's a significant, that's a historic, achievement. They are on the run. They are not finished, but they are on the run."

Asked about Iran, Mr Sumaida'ie cited a complicated relationship between two countries that, in addition to their shared border, have a shared culture and history. He stressed that Iraq had no intention of "exporting" its democracy to Iran, and only peaceful intentions, but would not tolerate security threats from its neighbour. "They have one way of doing things we have another," he said, adding that the US had done Iran a great favour by removing Saddam Hussein from power. "But our attitude is, well, let everybody decide for themselves. Let Iraqis decide what kind of government they have, and we are happy for our neighbours to decide what kind of government they have."

He urged the US and Iran to engage in dialogue. He called the election of Mr Obama "inspiring", saying it had "re-established the United States as the true leader of democracy in the world". "It cannot be exaggerated, the influence or impact of this last election? in the world," he said. "We have come through a long journey together," he remarked of the US and Iraq. "Mistakes were made. Not everything was handled the right way by the Americans or by the Iraqis. But we've learnt a lot. We should not waste the lessons that have been learnt. The new administration should not start from zero; clearly, they cannot. They should start by building on the positive and learning from the negative. We need the new administration to succeed, because we need to succeed."