By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 11, 2008 - Without American sacrifices in Iraq, the country would still be under the rule of a brutal dictator, said Dr. Ali Al-Dabbagh, spokesman for the Iraqi government. Al-Dabbagh spoke with Pentagon reporters today and said the sacrifices of American servicemembers made it possible to overthrow "a brutal government for 35 years which destroyed Iraq and the region. We never dreamed we would get rid of Saddam, because Saddam was planning even his grandson to rule Iraq."
The spokesman said that "all the expression of thanks to the Americans to appreciate what they did was not enough."
The other thing to realize is that Americans fighting in Iraq are also defending their homeland and making the region safer, Al-Dabbagh said. Al-Qaida is a danger not only in Iraq, but throughout the region and internationally.
"As an example, what happened in Afghanistan made an attack on New York," he said. "Iraq could slip down and then a group could attack London or Washington."
Al-Qaida terrorists are "devil enemies" who have attacked the length and breadth of the Arab world and internationally, Al-Dabbagh said.
"All the region needs to be united in fighting such devil enemies," he said.
Al-Dabbagh addressed a suicide bomb in Kirkuk today that killed at least 45 people. "We do need to work on the Kirkuk issue in a wise way and a quiet way," he said.
Kirkuk is a complicated mix of people and an oil-rich area. Every ethnic background and religious sect needs to buy in to any settlement in the region, Al-Dabbagh said.
"We do need to give ourselves more time to eliminate sources of tension, so we can have a census in the region," he said.
Al-Dabbagh said Iran has been cooperative and seems to have stopped sending ordnance and fighters into Iraq.
"Iran has shown a positive stance since last year even," he said, adding that the assurances that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave Iranian leaders seems to have made a difference.
He said the Iranians "finally realize" that the status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq poses no threat to Iran.
"The Iranians should be our good neighbor and should not interfere in our affairs," he said.
The Iranians also have expressed an interest in solving long-term problems between the two countries such as disputes over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway that is Iraq's sole access to the Persian Gulf.
Al-Dabbagh called for the new U.S. administration to engage in "deep dialogue" with Iran, but he called on Iran to respect international law.
"In order for Iran to be a good partner in the region they should respect international law and refrain from interfering not only in Iraq, but the region," he said.
Al-Dabbagh also clarified the Iraqi position on the status of forces agreement. He said that the Iraqis understand that building the security forces will take longer than the three years covered by the current agreement, which goes into effect Jan. 1, and runs through the end of 2011. At that time, all U.S. troops should be out of the country. However, there still will be a need for trainers, logisticians and so on, which will be negotiated in an agreement in 2011, Al-Dabbagh said.
On Jan. 1, the U.S. rules of engagement will change. In the first six months of 2009, U.S. combat forces will move from the cities and towns into camps outside them, Al-Dabbagh said. The Iraqi police and army will have the lead for operations in these urban areas. They will set up operations in the areas and sometimes those operations will include U.S. servicemembers and sometimes they will not, he said. Sometimes, the operations will comprise mostly Americans, but still only with the permission of Iraqi authorities. The U.S. forces will not have the permission to kick down doors as they do now, he said.
With Iraqi forces in the lead and handling most of the operations, this will reduce friction between the coalition and the Iraqi people. "It will be better for the American troops and better for us," he said of the agreement.