Iraqi Ambassador: 'In Iraq Now, You Have A Thousand Bin Ladens'
Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., speaks to Melissa Block about Iraq's hopes for the American response to recent turmoil, as well as the conditions the U.S. has placed on its possible intervention.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
So far, the U.S. has made any military help for Iraq contingent on serious political reform by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. I asked Lukman Faily about that earlier today. He's Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. He claims changes within the Iraqi government are already underway, and he says the threat of the extremist group, which he refers to by its other common name, ISIL - or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. That threat, he says, far outweighs politics.
LUKMAN FAILY: Please bear in mind that we have a democratic process where representatives of parliament who have checks and balances, we have separations of powers. The image of trying to make this a problem with the prime minister alone is a wrong image. It's definitely a wrong message to convey because of the threat - let me repeat that - the threat is imminent to everybody in the region. If ISIL have the wealth of the Iraqi oil or the threat to the global impact on shortage of oil from Iraq, that's a significant impact on everybody.
BLOCK: Are you saying, Mr. Ambassador, that the Iraqi government does not need to reform any further, that everything that the Iraqi government has done is enough?
FAILY: No, no. This is nothing to do with the government, per say. The political process is a collective. The issue is not whether it's the Prime Minister Maliki or not. The issue is the threat is imminent to all. The reform is already going on, politicals. If we think that there is a need for further reform - which definitely, nobody is saying we don't. We do need that.
BLOCK: And what kind of reform would that be?
FAILY: We may even talking about the constitutional change, other type of change. But what I'm saying is, this conditionality is the wrong way of viewing it.
BLOCK: I want to get to the question of the Iraqi army. How do you account for the fact that the Iraqi army dissolved in the face of what appeared to be a very small numerical threat?
FAILY: This a serious issue which you are reviewing. Majority of the army worked with the United States Army and others. So you're saying, where did we go wrong here? We're also looking at the capabilities, lack of training. These are all factors. Nobody is denying that it was...
BLOCK: Let me ask you about the...
FAILY: The threat is an immediate.
BLOCK: You blame a lack of training here. The United States spent billions on training and equipping the Iraqi army...
FAILY: No, no, no...
BLOCK: ...Why should we not see this as a repudiation of the Iraqi government and its failure to solidify gains?
FAILY: The issue we have is that this army is new. We haven't had the full capabilities. This is a long-term process, United States was our partner, is our partner, will be our partner. That's why we came to United States and saying we need to activate what we agreed on this regime - we need to embrace that partnership. To do that, we need the United States to take full understanding of the emergency on the ground.
BLOCK: And when you hear renewed talk, Ambassador Faily, of the partition of Iraq effectively into three states - Kurdish, Shia and Sunni - how do you respond to that? Do you see that as a reasonable scenario going forward?
FAILY: That society has been there for thousands of years. It's the cradle of civilizations. So however - let me put it this way - even in the best-case scenario, with the current projectory of things going on - even if we're talking about the separations of Sunni, Shia, Kurds - which doesn't mean anything to the Iraqis, by the way. But let's stay this current discourse - even if you do that, you need to have control of how things are developed. At this moment, if they are out of control because of the strength which is being provided to the ISIL by whomever, that will not help. So what I'm saying is a test is in place now to the international community to stand by our democratic government, our democratic processes, in our common fight against international terrorism. If you had one bin Laden in Afghanistan and Iraq now you have 1,000 bin Laden. That's the size which we need to talk about.
BLOCK: Taking those numbers at face value, if that is the case in Iraq now, how big of a robust U.S. response - military response - do you think the Iraqi people would stomach?
FAILY: We have said the fight is ours. We are, we have, we will, do this fight. We need support and training. We need support and logistics. We need support and air supremacy. We definitely do not need two combat forces. We definitely do not need boots on the ground from the United States. So that's the level of the support we have requested.
BLOCK: If there's such a desire for support and training, why did the Iraqi government stand in the way of a status of forces agreement that would've kept U.S. troops in your country?
FAILY: My memory serves me right, if it does, 2008, that administration added on their agenda to pull out of Iraq.
BLOCK: They wanted immunity for U.S. troops in your country.
FAILY: I was not part to it. What I would say is, I think that's a historical question. We have an immediate threat now which we need to have that discussion.
BLOCK: Lukman Faily is the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Faily, thanks for coming in.
FAILY: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.