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'Iraq Is Not in Chaos'

Monday, September 25, 2006

Last Wednesday, Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth interviewed Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in New York. Excerpts:

Q. What happened in your meeting with President Bush?

A. We told him our progress in trade, the economy, training the army . . . and we asked him to provide the Iraqi army with the necessary arms for improving the capacity of the army. We also thanked him for his continuous support of Iraq. Don't forget, we were living under the worst kind of dictatorship.

What did the president say to you?

That he will continue to support the Iraqi people and will remain there until we ask him to leave.

Reportedly the U.S. government is losing faith in Prime Minister [Nouri al-]Maliki.

President Bush assured us that he will support the Maliki government. We assured him that all Iraqi political parties support Maliki. He has done many important things for Iraq. He has ordered all of the militias to stop their activities.

But they haven't stopped.

They are not operating as before.

When should the U.S. troops leave?

In seven provinces, the American army has withdrawn. The Iraqi army is replacing American forces in many cities. We hope that at the end of this year we will be able to control 12 provinces. We will remain in need of the American and coalition forces until we've trained our army and will be able to face terrorism and defeat it.

How long will that be?

I think within two years we will be able to train our army and have the capacity to face terrorism. . . . The presence of American forces -- even a symbolic one -- will frighten those who are trying to interfere in our affairs.

Are you talking about Iran?

Our prime minister just came back from Iran. He got good promises from Iran on security -- promises that they will never permit any kind of interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

Do you believe that?

Our prime minister tells me he got real and serious promises. Let us see.

What do you think of the popular theory that Iraq should split into three parts?

I don't think so. Iraq will not break up into three parts. Iraq will remain united -- we will have a united, federal Iraq. Kurds are struggling for the unity of Iraq -- Sunnis and Shiites, the same. There are differences among the Shiites and Sunnis which must be resolved, but not about the partition of Iraq.

So, while many here in the U.S. believe the war is a mess, you believe the opposite.

Iraq is not in chaos. There are many provinces that are calm -- where people live in prosperity. . . . I want to assure the American people that Iraqis are now enjoying democracy and human rights and are struggling to secure the country.

Would you welcome U.S. bases in Kurdistan?

Yes, they are welcome. Kurdistan wants the Americans to stay. In some places Sunnis want the Americans to stay -- Sunnis think the main danger is coming from Iran now. There is a change in the mind of the Sunnis. The Sunnis are for having good relations with America. The [Shiites] have started to think that.

Will the U.S. put bases in Kurdistan?

I think we will be in need of American forces for a long time -- even two military bases to prevent foreign interference. I don't ask to have 100,000 American soldiers -- 10,000 soldiers and two air bases would be enough. This will be [in] the interest of the Iraqi people and of peace in the Middle East.

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