Ambassador Faily's speech on “US-Iraq Relations: A View from Baghdad"

His Excellency Lukman Faily
Ambassador of Iraq to the United States
“US-Iraq Relations: A View from Baghdad"
National Council on US-Arab Relations
Washington, DC
October 15, 2015

Thank you, Dr. Anthony, for the kind introduction. And thank you all for coming here this week for the 24th annual Policymakers Conference.

I have been asked to discuss the state of relations between Iraq and the United States, and I will address this issue in the context of the theme for this year’s conference.

Much like the broader Middle East, the US-Iraq relationship is at a crossroads, and the path forward begins with our military and security cooperation to defeat Daesh. Our cooperation must continue to be swift so that we can achieve our broader, long-term goal of a unified, secure and democratic Iraq within a safe and stable Middle East.

During my more than two years as Ambassador to this country, I have found that, here in Washington, there are two schools of thought about how the United States can best achieve its objectives and pursue its interests in Iraq.

The first believes – correctly in my view – that the United States should bolster its engagement with Iraq, understanding that our common interests, common enemies, and common values will inevitably increase the cooperation between our countries. As the US and Iraq work ever more closely together, Iraq will emerge as a stronger, more self-reliant partner, and other actors will find their roles diminished.

In contrast, the second school of thought believes that American support to Iraq should be reduced in order to coerce Iraq into reducing its dependence on actors that are in competition with the United States.

I firmly believe that this second approach is fated to fail because, in geopolitics as in physics, vacuums will always be filled by others.

At this critical moment, Iraq is on the frontlines of the fight against the best-funded, best-equipped and best-organized transnational terrorists on Earth. We are not in a position to take half measures; and we are not in a position to turn away potential allies.

With each passing day, Daesh kills and tortures more of our innocent people – among them are those who are targeted by car bombs in the busy markets and streets across Iraq; and those who are held hostage and subjected to medieval rule that has no resemblance to Islam.

So we will welcome whatever help we can get that degrades Daesh’s ability to inflict harm on our people, provided that it complements, not hinders, our existing efforts. The struggle against Daesh is humanity’s struggle, and we must not allow regional or international disagreements to divide or delay us.

Now let me be clear: The United States is our military, economic and diplomatic partner of choice. And there is a clear path for the United States to broaden and strengthen its cooperation with our country:

First, step up your efforts to defeat Daesh. To those who still entertain the thought: there is no containing Daesh. That is not a policy that we could ever live with. We must defeat Daesh, and we must do so together.

And, second, increase your investments in rebuilding a unified, secure and democratic Iraq as a cornerstone of a peaceful and prosperous Middle East that will never again give rise to violent extremists so powerful that they threaten our region and our world.

In that spirit, let me address our full range of challenges – from the military and security fronts to the political, social and economic horizons.

On the military and security fronts, there are currently two key battles that are being waged in the fight against Daesh.

In the northern province of Salahadin, the town of Baiji is strategic in many ways.

Situated some 130 miles north of Baghdad, on the main road to Mosul, Baiji is a major industrial center, with the largest oil refinery in Iraq.

For more than a year, this terrain has been closely contested. Iraqi special forces have paid a heavy price defending the refinery, but as I speak before you today, security forces backed by volunteer fighters are making encouraging and significant gains that could mark another major milestone in the effort to liberate Mosul.

To the west of Baghdad, Iraqi forces have surrounded the city of Ramadi – the provincial capital of Al Anbar province. Some 6,000 local Sunni volunteers that joined the Popular Mobilization Forces have been trained by US and Iraqi forces and are fighting alongside the Iraqi Army, and federal and local police.

Together, these troops are gradually edging closer towards the center of the city and US air support has been vital throughout these operations.

As our counter-attack against Daesh reaches a crucial point, now is the time for the US-led coalition and the broader international community to double their efforts.

We are fighting Daesh on behalf of the world under difficult financial constraints, with world oil prices hovering around 50 dollars a barrel, much of our country is still occupied by the terrorists, and our government is bearing the burden of assisting the more than 3 million displaced persons.

The financial burden on our defense budget has been immense. In September alone, Iraq purchased more than 2.5 million rounds of ammunition from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales program, in addition to armored Humvees, ambulances and mine-resistant vehicles.

Our soldiers are sacrificing their lives and limbs in the struggle against the transnational terrorists. Would it be unreasonable if our international partners contributed the bullets that are so sorely needed by our fighters on the ground?

Now let me address an important recurring issue. Some people prefer to characterize the rise of Daesh in Iraq as merely a symptom of our country’s domestic problems. This is a conveniently oversimplified narrative. It is a narrative that overlooks the fact that Daesh is a global phenomenon. Its international financial and recruitment networks, in addition to its abhorrent ideology have been recognized by two United Nations Security Council Resolutions: both Resolutions 2170 from August last year, and 2199 from February this year, bind all member states, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, to meet their obligations in tackling this global menace. In other words, Iraq can do its part, but there are key external factors beyond Iraq’s control that require concerted action by the international community, and specifically Iraq’s neighbors.

We know that extremist, sectarian ideologies that are openly propagated in many parts of the Muslim world must not be tolerated.

Coalition members from North America and Europe must also continue working with our neighbors to halt the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq.

Together, we can and must make sure that the terrorists’ crimes, which harken back to the most barbaric eras in human history, must not yield payoffs through keystrokes on Twenty-First Century technology.

The struggles that we must wage will be won on not only the battlefields and not only at the screening centers in airports nor even on the high-tech frontiers of cyberspace.

We must also defeat Daesh on the political, economic and diplomatic fronts. Progress on these fronts is also part of the “paths forward” that we are charting together at this conference.

Because terrorism appeals to those who are filled with hatred, not hope, we all need to work together to counter the murderous messages that Daesh disseminates and to solve the social and economic problems that can be conducive to violent extremism.

To return to the observation with which I framed this talk, there are two schools of thought about how the US can best advance its agenda. Some strategists call for increased engagement with Iraq; others argue for tactical withdrawals of support, even at critical points in our common struggle.

Since I addressed this annual conference last year, Iraq has been reforming its governmental and economic systems. And our progress points to the importance of America and all our allies working with the people of my country and their elected leaders, understanding that, for all our difficulties and differences, Iraqis want to move forward together, as one country.

And, for the past year, our government has been adopting reforms that would strengthen us in the struggle against Daesh, from the battlefront to the home-front.

This was apparent during what could have been polarizing protests this summer in Baghdad and other major cities.

Those of you who looked at the photographs of these protests must have been impressed, as I was, by the sea of Iraqi flags. These demonstrators were patriotic and peaceful, and our government responded by respecting their rights to make their voices heard and their views known.

Throughout the demonstrations, the security forces were deployed to protect the protestors, rather than suppress them. In several cities, on many days, the police were seen distributing bottles of water to the protestors.

These iconic images bring home a basic and inescapable truth: Iraqis do not want a revolution that overturns the democratic system that we have been building together since 2003. Iraqis want reforms that will strengthen the unity of our country, the inclusiveness of our democracy and the effectiveness of a government that is not hamstrung by sectarianism and corruption.

This new dynamic between the citizens and their government represents a paradigm shift that is emblematic of the new Iraq. If you ever speak to anyone who questions whether life was better under Saddam, just ask them how his security apparatus would respond to even the suspicion of dissent.

Make no mistake: Even in the midst of a terrible war and a troubled economy, Iraqis really are moving forward together.

After barely a year in office, after free elections and a peaceful transition of power, Prime Minister al-Abadi’s government is doing something that governments everywhere have difficulty doing: streamlining itself. We are eliminating costly ceremonial positions and divisive sectarian quotas. We are decentralizing decision-making to the provincial level so that local communities can determine where resources are most needed. And we are also addressing the fiscal crisis that was worsened by bloated bureaucracies and an over-reliance on oil revenues.

Together, these reforms will make our society more democratic, more stable – and more secure. Democracy enhances stability, and stability enhances security.

Yes, there are those who say we must choose between democracy, on the one hand, and stability and security, on the other. But that is a false choice that we must move beyond.

Iraq also cannot achieve stability and security in isolation from our neighbors. We are restoring our relations with nations throughout the Middle East, within a framework of mutual respect for sovereignty and a concerted effort to explore deepening economic and security ties.

As we move towards national and regional reconciliation and reconstruction, the US and other coalition countries can continue to help us stabilize Iraq and assist us in facilitating the safe return of IDPs to their liberated towns.

You can provide us with technical assistance in streamlining our government, combating corruption, improving our public services, and restoring our infrastructure. And you can provide private investment in building and rebuilding highways, housing hospitals and schools.

Iraqis and Americans have shed blood together in defense of our common values. That is not something that should be taken lightly. The relationships that were forged throughout those difficult years are enduring, and no matter how hard some will try to dismiss Iraqi democracy as a failed project, the sacrifices that were made by our two countries in pursuance of this ideal will continue to shape the path that Iraq chooses to take for generations to come.

My American and international friends, I have given you “the view from Baghdad.” Our journey to this moment has been rocky. But our path to the future leads forward and upwards. And we want to walk it together, for the sake of our country, our region and the better world that we will collectively build.