By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
Iraq is facing grave challenges as it transitions into a democratic society, but Iraqi leaders are committed to the country's success and are working hard to create a political situation that will allow the terrorists to be defeated, Iraq's deputy prime minister said here today. Barham Salih held a news conference at the Pentagon during a visit to the U.S. to meet with Defense Department, congressional and business leaders. Salih said he follows the U.S. news from Iraq, but was surprised to see firsthand the intensity of the debate about U.S. involvement in Iraq.
"No matter what criticism (is) here and there about the policy, ... one thing fundamental for us Iraqis is that the United States has helped us overcome tyranny and gave us the greatest gift of all -- freedom," Salih said. "We all have to acknowledge that Iraqis are a lot better off without Saddam Hussein, the region is a lot better off without Saddam Hussein, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein."
Iraq's transition to democracy comes at a difficult time, when the country is facing a fight against international terrorism and numerous changes and tensions in the Middle East, Salih said. These challenges make Iraq's situation more difficult, but government leaders are aware of the problems and are working hard to overcome them, he said.
"At the end of the day, it will be about Iraqi leadership It is not about American leadership," he said. "American support is crucial, but at the end of the day, Iraqis will have to make the tough decisions in order to make their country more peaceful and deal with the problems that we have."
The Iraqi government is making progress in forming an inclusive, balanced political process, Salih said. Last week, the country's national security council agreed on a timetable to enact important legislation from now until March 2007. This legislation will begin to implement the national reconciliation plan announced by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in June, he said.
This month, the Iraqi government will set up a constitutional review committee and pass investment law, Salih said. By the end of the year, the government plans to pass a hydrocarbon law that will turn oil into a resource that unifies Iraqis, he said. This fall, the government will also be presenting legislation dealing with the disarmament of militias and reforming the de-Baathification commission, he added.
"The reason I'm explaining this to you is that, despite the images of carnage on television that focuses on the car bombs day in, day out, there is a lot of work going on in very tough circumstances," Salih said. "Iraqi leaders are trying to make it happen."
There is too much violence happening in Iraq, but it is important to note the progress Iraqi security forces have made, Salih said. Iraqi security forces now number almost 300,000, and by the end of this year, nearly half of Iraqi provinces will move to Iraqi security control, he said.
While there are military aspects that need to be dealt with in Iraq, the ultimate solution will be a political process that includes the entire population of the country and denies terrorists and extremists the ability to operate, Salih said.
"Ultimately, this cannot be dealt with just by military means," he said. "Iraqis need to come up with the political bargains and the political compromises that are needed. We need to make ... the neighbors of Iraq more cooperating with us to defeat the terrorists and to create the regional dynamics that will make it more conducive to security in Iraq."
Iraq's future is key to the stability of the Middle East, Salih said, because the region has never known anything close to representative government or democracy. Iraqi leadership is committed to overcoming the challenges facing the country, and continued U.S. commitment will ensure success, he said.
"At the end of the day, failure in Iraq will be catastrophic to the region," he said. "Success is not only possible, but it is a must to turn around the course of events in that part of the world."