How can we synchronize the expectations for Iraq in the United States and the reality of the situation on the ground? We've heard clashing American perspectives loud and clear and most Americans point an accusing finger at an Iraqi government moving at a tortoise's pace. Yesterday, at a discussion hosted at The Nixon Center by Geoffrey Kemp, the center's director of regional strategic programs, Iraq's national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, provided the Iraqi perspective.
"This is a long, long struggle. This is a continuous process. . . .We're talking about [moving from] one thousand plus years of an ossified regime and set of rules [to] a completely different order", Rubaie stated. The impatience of the United States and the international community demonstrates the unrealistic expectations held by many and the need to understand the nature of the obstacles Iraq has been facing-and how the Iraqi government, along with its valued strategic ally, the United States, has been working to overcome them. "We cannot build a new country overnight. . . .The Iraq government is working day and night", he emphasized.
One of the greatest obstacles for the Iraqi government is the "enormous" meddling of Iraq's neighbors. Rubaie purported that more than 90 percent of the violence in Iraq originates from the neighboring states. The importance of this fact cannot be overlooked, as "national reconciliation is directly connected to regional reconciliation", Rubaie declared. Much of the most severe violence can be attributed to suicide bombers from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and Europe, although "Damascus is the hub." Of the 90 percent, Rubaie roughly estimated that more than 25 percent of the attacks in Iraq can be attributed to Al-Qaeda. Although Al-Qaeda is a major threat to Iraq's security, Rubaie declared the group to be "defeatable" and described the organization as "incompatible" with Iraqi society.
Rubaie also explained that the United States is the major player in the Middle East and U.S. policy towards countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria hold considerable weight. He described a need to unify the Iraqi position with the American position on regional issues-particularly Iran-because "the United States is our strategic ally, and that's it-there is nothing else." Rubaie noted that in Iran, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Quds Force (QF) train "specialist groups" to use explosively formed projectiles (EFPs)-brutal weapons used to destroy armor from a distance. Additionally, Iran is attempting the "Hizballah-ization" of southern Iraq. Rubaie noted that it is important to try to understand what Iran's objective may be: Does it want to be a regional superpower? Does it want to be a major player in Iraq? "The Iran issue needs to be tackled in its totality and comprehensively", Rubaie asserted.
When pressed on specifics and logistics on dealing with Iran, Rubaie elaborated that both diplomacy and aggression should be used to deter the country from meddling in Iraq. However, he emphatically declared that there should be "absolutely no-big fat no, N-O-bombing of Iran", as Iran would retaliate against Iraq-not the United States-and Iraq is not yet prepared to handle that situation.
So what is in store for Iraq? According to Rubaie, the country has made significant progress in terms of security. Overall, the number of attacks has gone down even though security forces are not as large, he added that the need for security forces will continue to go down. "We are observing a true turning in the security sector", Rubaie said. This applies to the American presence as well. Troop levels will be back to pre-surge levels by early April of next year and by November 2008 the troop levels will be under 100,000. Rubaie attributed much of this success to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's National Reconciliation Program, adding that the troop surge also helped. In response to a question regarding the controversial Blackwater security forces, Rubaie warned: "We should be extremely careful not to [allow] the Blackwater issue to create animosity and friction between the government of Iraq and the people of Iraq, and the U.S. government and the American people. This is extremely important." He added that any detrimental relations between the governments and their respective constituents could strain the relationship between the two governments.
In terms of building democracy, Rubaie recommended a "decentralize [yet] strong central government with strong federal units." He enthusiastically embraced federalism and warned against partitioning: "Every partition-soft or hard-is going to be written in blood." He inferred that it was not a battle worth fighting, since "enough blood has been spilled." In regard to a timeline, Rubaie pointed out that the U.S. immigration bill has been taking a comparable amount of time-"that is democracy", he remarked. Rubaie also emphasized the need for politicians to see the greater national interest, rather than the next election cycle: "Iraq is not a small piece in the Middle East. If we get Iraq right-stable, secure, prosperous-the whole region will be different."
In concluding his remarks, Rubaie declared: "Everybody, I think, wanted to win; nobody wanted to lose. But you cannot win free of charge. Nobody wanted to fail in Iraq, even those who were anti-war. But you must pay the cost-with blood and sweat. We, the Iraqis, are paying heavily-for every American soldier, we are paying three lives-and we value that . . . and we value the American sacrifice."
Caitlin B. Doherty is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.