View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department
January 26, 2006
Thank you for joining the discussion, and I look forward to your questions.
How can we escalate the removal of US troops in Iraq to a one year time frame?
Dear Alan -- Your question is an important one, because it gets to the core of the US commitment in Iraq . The President has made clear that while we expect U.S. and Coalition troop levels to decline as Iraqi forces are stood up, we will set no artificial deadlines for keeping American troops in Iraq . To change our deployment prematurely would embolden our enemies and send a signal that America does not honor its commitments to its friends. Adjustment of the level of American troops in Iraq will be conditions-based, and made in consultation with the government of Iraq and on the recommendation of our commanders in the field.
Judd in Washington writes:
I don't understand why there have been so many car bombings in Iraq . I'm sure that the bulk of the Iraqi population also wants the suicide bombings to stop. How can the U.S. increase stability in Iraq so that the sooner coalition forces can return home?
Dear Judd -- your intuition is right ' Iraqis do not want to be the victims of suicide bombings or of any terrorist violence. President Bush 's strategy to increase stability in Iraq and thus eliminate terrorist acts like car bombs follows a three-part plan: one political, one military and, one economic.
On the political side, more democracy including increased Sunni Arab inclusion in Iraqi institutions will give a greater stake in the stability of Iraq to all Iraqis, including those who had once boycotted the political process, and will isolate extremists and terrorists. Although terrorists in Iraq have attempted to intimidate Iraqis from participating in the political process, their strategy failed. Almost 12.2 million Iraqis, some 75% of those eligible, participated in the December election.
On the economic side, the our reconstruction program ' which is helping restore neglected infrastructure, reform the economy, and build the capacity of institutions ' will demonstrate to the Iraqi people that democracy is a success in bettering their lives.
Finally, to support the development of Iraqi security forces, we and our international partners are training the Iraqi Army and Police so that they can assume responsibility for security in Iraq . This training has been difficult, but the Iraqis are progressing, increasingly taking charge of security in their country, and playing a key role in the "Clear, Hold, and Build" strategy to deny territory to the enemy. As the President has said, as Iraqi troops stand up, Coalition troops will stand down.
Although the U.S. has advocated the rise of the Shiite groups to power in Iraq and continued to apply pressure on the Sunni groups as supporters of the insurgency, now there is a new direction to allow the Sunni groups to participate in the political process as well as added pressure on the principals of Shiite Islam ( Iran - Syria ). Do you think that this approach may compromise the US position in Iraq if the Shiites feel betrayed by US policy?
Dear James -- The United States has not advocated the rise of Shia Arabs or any other group to power in Iraq , but rather the rise of representative democracy in Iraq . A Shia-based coalition won the most votes in two elections last year. That is consistent with our understanding that they make up the majority of Iraq 's population, and they could form a majority in a representative Iraqi government. However, for the Iraqi people to move toward an Iraq that is federal, pluralistic, unified and, in particular, democratic, as called for in several UN Security Council Resolutions, Iraqis of all ethnicities and religious beliefs, such as Sunni Arabs, must be included. Eventually, Iraqis will have to move away from political identities based on religion and ethnicity. In the wake of the historic December election, the Iraqi people are working to form an inclusive government encompassing the diversity of Iraqi society which will advance our shared goals and isolate extremists and terrorists
Is there a projected timeline yet on when the rebuilding process will be complete for Iraq ?
Thank you, Luciano -- First, it 's important to put Iraq 's reconstruction in context. Iraq 's development potential was wasted over a generation of wars and bad governance. Saddam devastated his country's infrastructure for years, particularly for essential services: electricity, potable water, sewage, education and health. Rebuilding Iraq 's economy will take considerable effort, but Iraq has already made progress. The U.S. has pledged a total of $20.9 billion through its assistance program the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, which supports wide-ranging programs to rebuild Iraq 's electricity, water, oil, education and health sectors, as well as helping train the new Iraqi Armed Forces. Most of our large infrastructure projects will be completed over the course of 2006, and we will also spend most of the yet undisbursed assistance money (around $8.4 billion of the total) over that period. Iraq will still have enormous development needs, but it must increasingly take on the burden of its own development. International partners such as Japan, Italy, the UK and Canada have also offered significant support to rebuild Iraq and are also disbursing funds and undertaking projects.
I support U.S. views for Iraq . I also feel that educating youth and helping them realize that there are alternatives to becoming terrorists will help reduce the threat of terrorism. What is the U.S. doing to improvement the educational system in Iraq ?
Dear Samantha -- As I explained in my response to Judd, the President 's strategy for stabilizing Iraq has three mutually reinforcing tracks: one political, one military, and one economic. Modernizing the education system in Iraq falls in the economic track, and it is critical for Iraq 's long-term development. So far, we have rehabilitated or built more than 4,500 schools. In 2005 alone we succeeded in training more than 50,000 teachers in modern education techniques. We have also built 72 model schools that showcase modern techniques and equipment, and we expect that Iraq will use these schools to design its own next generation of schools. We also started a program this last September to enroll 11,500 out-of-school teenagers in an accelerated learning program that condenses a two-year primary school curriculum into one year. Rehabilitating and modernizing the education system will address a critical need in Iraq, and will provide job skills, particularly for those in great need of such skills.
With regards to militias like Sadr's Mahdi Army, who's loyalty is to Iran , and the premise of Iraqi sovereignty, does not this situation constitute a violation on the Iranian government's part of UN resolutions regarding Iraq ?
Dear Ellen -- Interesting question. First of all, we support the new constitution 's ban on military militias. The existence of these militias undermines security in Iraq and poses a threat to the Iraqi people, Iraqi Security Forces, and Multinational Forces-Iraq that cannot be tolerated. Regarding the possible violation of UN resolutions, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 requires Iraq 's neighbors to respect the sovereignty of Iraq and also encourages its neighbors to do what they can to assist in the development and reconstruction of the country. Those countries that are found to undertake actions that do not respect Iraq 's sovereignty or that contribute to undermining stability in Iraq risk reaction by the international community. We have significant concerns with Iran in this context and are prepared to discuss them with the incoming government in the proper forum.
I wonder why the Administration is not alarmed by Islamisation in Iraq . Both Shiite and Sunni Arab groups are in fact working systematically to create, though different and contradictory, theocratic political order. Is it the case that the U.S. military will be expected to return in 10-15 years to liberate Iraq from religious tyrants?
Khaled, thanks for your question. The new Iraqi constitution, which was drafted by the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly, recognizes Islam as the official religion of the State and a source of legislation, but, importantly, it also specifies that no law may be established that contradicts the principles of democracy or the provisions of the constitution. The new constitution also guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals regardless of their beliefs. We will continue to work with Iraqis as they implement the Constitution in a way that enhances their democratic rights.
I am a student at a U.S. university and I was wondering your thoughts on the realistic possibility that Iraq can become a flourishing democracy.
Professors here say that all true democratic revolutions must start from within the country, not from outside forces. I disagree with them, but was wondering your thoughts on that theory as it applies to the developing democracy in Iraq . Thanks for your service sir.
Dear Randall -- Since their liberation from Saddam, Iraqis have taken the lead in pushing for more democracy, more quickly. They have demonstrated this in their overwhelming willingness to vote, even in the face of intimidation, and in the desire of all communities at the national and provincial levels to participate in a political process that the Iraqis themselves have defined. This indicates to me an inherent Iraqi desire for democracy. The United States is offering the Iraqi people the benefit of our own experience in building an effective system of democratic governance through mentoring and consultation with Iraqi leaders, but the system itself is being built by Iraqis and will reflect Iraqi cultural and political values.
How much money has the U.S. government spent for improving conditions for people in IRAQ ? What is the total cost for the Iraq war? What are future plans for spending money in Iraq for development, democracy building, and other improvements?
Dear Monte -- Since the Liberation of Iraq , the U.S. Congress appropriated a total of $20.9 billion to assist in Iraq 's economic reconstruction. The vast majority of these funds have already been spent or committed to programs, and are being used to help rebuild Iraq's electricity and oil production infrastructure, construct schools and health facilities, restore agricultural systems, and train teachers, health workers, and government officials in modern techniques. Our goal is to lay the foundations for a stable, prosperous, democratic, free-market-oriented, nation that respects the rights of its citizens and is a constructive force in the region and the world ' all the things that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not.
In 2006, Congress appropriated an additional $61.7 million for assistance programs in Iraq , chiefly on democracy building activities. The President is still formulating his budget for fiscal year 2007, including possible further assistance needs for Iraq . Iraq's reconstruction needs remain enormous ' the World Bank estimated them at $55 billion in 2003 ' but we expect assistance from other countries (who have pledged over $13 billion to date to assist in Iraq's reconstruction), and Iraq's own funds (as it continues to restore its oil production capability) will play an increasingly important part in this effort. The above costs of course do not include the Department of Defense expenditures for Iraq , which are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the facts about which are available from that Department 's Public Affairs Office.