As U.S. Special Forces start to pack their bags to leave Iraq in compliance with President Barack Obama’s election-year promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end, Iraqi leaders are petitioning the White House to reconsider that decision.
“It’s quite important for there to be U.S. troops in 2012 because there’s a long way to go to ensure a stable, secure, and peaceful country,” said Qubad Talabani, the U.S. representative of Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Speaking to Newsmax TV during a trip to Florida to address the World Affairs Council, the younger Talabani said the United States should consider a longer-term commitment to Iraq.
“It certainly won’t be like the type of commitment we’ve seen until now,” he said. “We know Americans want their sons and daughters to come home. We very much appreciate the sacrifice of Americans in Iraq. But we’ve come so far; we’ve made such progress. We’re almost there. We’re almost at the light at the end of the tunnel.”
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Talabani is the son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, is married to an American, and believes he needs to take his message not just to Congress and the media, but also to the American heartland.
He is urging the Obama administration not to make decisions such as a total troop withdrawal “that would jeopardize the progress Iraq has made over the past few years.”
A total U.S. troop withdrawal must be avoided, he said, because “we all know on the Iraqi side and on the U.S. side that there’s still a lot to do” to make sure Iraq does not plunge backwards into sectarian strife.
“We just recently formed our government and we’re trying to build institutions from the ground up. Iraq has made progress, but still has a lot of progress to make. What we’re trying to build in Iraq is a stable, federal democracy, to be a model for the region,” he said.
The threat of sectarian strife is very real, as “different communities try to use the system to maximize the returns for themselves. But we have a constitution.” If Iraqis abide by the constitution, “we can build a country that is a mosaic of different communities. Diversity within Iraq can ultimately be strength.”
The younger Talabani reiterated concerns expressed last week by Wrya Saeed Rwandzi, a top adviser to his father, about interference from Iran after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Read: Iran Eyeing Power-Grab in Iraq
“What would be a tragedy is if the security situation were to degenerate after your troops pull out. And whether it’s regional interference, or the re-emergence of al-Qaida and others trying to destabilize the country, that would be a terrible scenario.”
Nevertheless, he said he felt that the “prognosis is good,” because Iraq has come such a long way since the U.S.-led effort to topple the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
“We have a national unity government right now. It’s messy. But democracy is messy. I think we’re plying our trade here, we’re learning the ropes, we’re making mistakes but we’re learning from those mistakes. We must avoid a return to the centralized tyranny of the previous years. “
Newsmax asked the younger Talabani if he felt Iraq would succumb to the type of mass protests that have rocked Egypt and many other countries in the region.
“Iraq has a democratic government that is being built from the ground up, where people have participated. They have chosen their elected leaders. We have seen a few transitions of power now, some smoother than others. Prime ministers have come and gone. Presidents have come and gone.”
In contrast, the unrest elsewhere in the region has come “because many of the governments . . . have been dictatorships,” he said.
“Thankfully, Iraq is ahead of the game on that front.” Most of the protests that have occurred in Iraq so far have been over “better services and improving governance, rather than other countries where they’ve been trying to bring the system down.”
If the United States stays the course and continues to play an active role in Iraq after the scheduled troop withdrawal this year, Iraq could become an example for the rest of the region, the younger Talabani believes.
“People have seen Iraqis go to the polls, vote for their leaders, and participate in building this new country . . . so I think this climate is positive for Iraq, and it has sent a powerful message that it can happen in the Middle East, that democracy is not a concept that is purely a Western concept, that it can be applied in the Middle East. It’s been happening in Kurdistan since the mid-1990s, but now it’s happening in the rest of the country.”
The United States can always do more to help the people of the region to learn about democracy and self-government. “But democracy is not something that could be implanted, something that could be bought, something you could just put in place or impose on people. People have to want it.”
Talabani said the U.S. intervention in Libya reminded him a bit of what happened to Iraqi Kurds in 1991, when a brutal onslaught by Saddam Hussein’s forces against a Kurdish uprising forced millions of people to flee into the mountains of neighboring Turkey and Iran.
“It was only when there was sheer devastation in Kurdistan . . . that the international community got into gear and acted on their morals and put in place a no-fly zone that secured the Kurdistan region and allowed us to come back from the mountains.”
Under U.S. and international protection, Iraqi Kurds held their first democratic elections in 1992, “and we’ve been building the foundations of democracy ever since. Here’s an example of an intervention that directly or indirectly created a situation 20 years later where there is the Middle East’s most thriving, secular, and relatively democratic society,” he said.
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