We stand at the threshold of a monumental juncture in the Iraqi-American relationship. A great many sacrifices by the Iraqi and the American people have enabled Iraq to discard the squalid regime of Saddam Hussein and establish a free and democratic society. As American troops depart in accordance with the Troops Withdrawal Agreement of 2008, we begin a new chapter based, as President Obama noted, on “mutual interests and mutual respect.” The decision to implement the agreement came after negotiations held with respect for each side’s sovereign and political decisions.
Solidifying a durable relationship between our two countries is vital. In the coming months, we must mutually focus on economic growth as well as culture, education and the sciences. Iraq has progressed to the stage of state building. We are building more than a million homes for low-income families, and I look forward to seeing construction cranes and high-rises dotting the Baghdad skyline. The struggle for reconstruction is no less daunting than the struggle for security. We are working to breach barriers that impede investment so this vision can become a reality. I am working diligently with our Investment Commission to ensure the rights of foreign investors and to create an environment conducive to investment.
While we have strived to put Iraq’s new democracy on the right path, challenges remain. The political process and relationships between the various political parties continue to develop. Fundamental disputes still surround the political composition of the Iraqi state. I believe these can be solved by combining and expanding the powers of the provinces while adhering to the unity of the state. Disputes concerning our constitution need to be solved through political means.
A solution to the debates surrounding hydrocarbon is paramount to Iraq’s economic growth. I have supported legislation, which has been sent to the Council of Representatives, that would regulate this vital industry and resources commensurate with national partnership and the equitable distribution of wealth. We held three rounds of bidding last year and are preparing for a fourth.
The stability of Iraq after the withdrawal of American forces has been a major concern of both our nations. I believe in the capabilities of our security forces and in the necessity of U.S. assistance.
There are still some who seek the destruction of our country. The Baath Party, which is prohibited by the constitution, believes in coups and conspiracies; indeed, these have been its modus operandi since the party’s inception. The Baathists seek to destroy Iraq’s democratic process. Hundreds of suspected Baathists recently were arrested; some of those detained have been released while others are awaiting trial. Those still in custody will receive due process and equitable treatment under Iraqi law. These detainees come from all over Iraq, and I refute characterizations that the detentions were a sectarian action based on political motives. These steps were taken to protect Iraq’s democracy.
Another factor detrimental to Iraq’s stability has been the actions of foreign powers. Iraq is a sovereign country. Our foreign policy is rooted in the fact that we do not interfere in the affairs of other countries; accordingly, we oppose foreign interference in Iraqi affairs. Iraq does not aspire to unduly influence any state but looks to cooperate with all countries to help maintain regional security. Iraq will not allow itself to become a source of disruption to friendly countries.
The residents of Camp Ashraf have caused a great deal of controversy here and in the United States. I would like to see this complex issue resolved peacefully and with the help of the United Nations. The camp’s residents are classified as a terrorist organization by many countries and thus have no legal basis to remain in Iraq. No country would accept the presence of foreign insurgents on its soil, but we will work hard to find a peaceful solution that upholds the international values of human rights.
This year, the Arab Spring has brought a great deal of change to this region. Iraq rejects dictatorships and one-party governments. We hope that these movements succeed in bringing freedom and democracy to the millions who seek it and that the region achieves a newfound stability as a result. This is in the interests of not only our region but the entire world.
Iraq has experienced terrible hardship over the past several decades. Today, however, I am confident about the future of my country and the capabilities and resilience of our people. We seek comprehensive redevelopment: the creation of legislation and institutions, the strengthening of freedoms, and the reinforcement of our democracy. We want to build a state of citizens and not sects. We want to create a healthy environment conducive to investment and provide vital services to citizens, including access to a proper education. Iraq seeks to build a strong army and security forces that have the capacity to protect our sovereignty and interests. We are able to do this with the help of the United States.
The writer is prime minister of Iraq.
By Nouri al-Maliki,