U.S. ambassador says Americans have left behind a young democracy

The U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, James Franklin Jeffrey, has said Iraq is no longer a threat to its people and neighbors, and is not pursuing chemical weapons, as was the case during Saddam Hussein’s time in power. (Al Arabiya)

The Americans left behind a fledgling democracy in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, James Franklin Jeffrey, said in an interview on Al Arabiya’s Point of Order.

Jeffrey, who became ambassador to Iraq in August 2010, said the country is no longer a threat to its people and neighbors, and is not pursuing chemical weapons, as was the case during Saddam Hussein’s time in power.

Instead, Iraq is holding elections and enjoys an active parliament, together forming the base of a democratic state, he added.

“We Americans, despite many years of direct engagement in Iraq, are not experts on the country, but we are experts for 65 years in helping countries develop,” Jeffrey said.

The ambassador said that Iraq cannot turn in a single day from a dictatorship to a fully-fledged democracy, citing Taiwan as an example.
Since U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011, Iraq continues to be marred by bombings.

Political crisis also plagues Iraq, with the Shi’ite-led government seeking the arrest of Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, after charging him with coordinating death squads. Al-Hashimi, who has sought refuge in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, has caused some tensions between the government and Iraqi-Kurdish leadership.

Al-Hashimi refused to stand trial in Baghdad, saying that the judiciary is not independent, and insisted he will stand trial only in Kurdistan. Meanwhile, the government of Kurdistan has not responded to requests from Baghdad to hand him over.

Asked if the U.S. has a vision to solve Iraq’s political crisis, Jeffrey said, “We talk with all Iraqis. The general consensus is that for this problem to be solved the root causes of the problems must be dealt with by the partners in this coalition government.”

In addition, we need to ensure the judiciary is independent and not a target of political debate, and we need to maintain constitutional procedures, and there is an agreement about that and the issue is how to implement it,” the ambassador said.

“We left because we thought Iraq could have a stable government and society without the presence of U.S. forces, and we still believe that,” he said, after being asked if the bombings in Iraq were caused by some sides being keen to prove that Iraq cannot survive without the presence of U.S. troops.
“Those attacks were planned in advanced and have nothing to do with the withdrawal or presence of U.S. forces,” he said.

He also rebuffed the claim that continuous bombings after the withdrawal were retaliation for the Iraqi government’s support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The ambassador said that violence has “dramatically” subsided since 2007-2008, adding that Iraq is similar to many other countries suffering from terrorist threats.

“It is not the issue of having a political dispute, as many countries have them, but it is the way of dealing with such disputes,” he said.

Another problem facing Iraq is that the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc urged a boycott of parliament, most notably after one of its prominent members said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a “dictator.”

People from the Sunni provinces are also demanding a federal region to alleviate what they called random arrests. All of this has put stress on the fragile coalition of Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties forming Maliki’s coalition government.
Meanwhile, the ambassador said that the U.S. supported U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483, which supports a unified, pluralistic and democratic Iraq.

“I believe most Iraqis support just that” he said. “Federalism is in the constitution of Iraq, and we as Americans, we have no position to be pro or against, it is up to the province to agree or not.”

Massoud al-Barazani, president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq, told Al Arabiya that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will pave the way for a civil war in Iraq.

“Iraq has many dangers that it faces every day,” the ambassador said, citing Barazani as a wise observer of the situation in Iraq and saying that “his word should be taken seriously.”

The ambassador said that a report in The New York Times stating that around $11 billion was transferred via the embassy to support the Iraqi army is not “correct”.

“We have run a program of over 100 police advisors and lawyers and other personnel working with the interior and justice ministries for less than a billion dollars this year.”

According to the New York Times, the figure mentioned is for “foreign military sales for the Iraqi military forces.”

The ambassador also rejected a claim that he met with Harith al-Dhari, an anti-U.S. cleric and chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars.

“I can confirm that I have not met with Harith al-Dahri and neither has any American of executive rank.”

He said that al-Dhari is considered to be a supporter of terrorism and does not have any solutions for Iraq.

The ambassador also said that reports that the U.S. embassy in Iraq had 15,000 personnel and was the biggest embassy in the world is false.

He said the number of personnel working in the U.S. embassy in Iraq is “not larger than China, Japan or Mexico,” adding staff were channeled from different countries, including Iraq, to work in areas such as logistics.

Asked if the trillion-dollar war against Iraq was worth it, the ambassador said: “I have a personal opinion on that; it is always justified for any American to die for his country. In terms of our activity, we let history to decide that … I am optimistic.”

(Written by Dina al-Shibeeb)

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