(by Jalal Talabani, OpinionJournal.com) BAGHDAD – There is no more important international issue today than the need to defeat the curse of terrorism. And as the first democratically elected president of Iraq, I have a responsibility to ensure that the world’s youngest democracy survives the inherently difficult transition from totalitarianism to pluralism. A transformation of the Iraqi state and Iraqi society is impossible without a sustained commitment of soldiers from the United States and other democracies.
To understand why, let us recall how we reached this juncture in history. How is it that Iraq today has a democratically elected head of state, government and Parliament? How it is that members of the most repressed ethnic groups now hold the highest offices of state? All these welcome developments are a result of the courage and vision of President Bush and his allies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, leaders whose commitment of troops to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions liberated Iraq.
Without foreign intervention, the transition in Iraq would have been from Saddam’s bloodstained hands to his psychopathic offspring. Instead, thanks to American leadership, Iraqis have been given an opportunity of peaceful, participatory politics. Contrary to the new conventional wisdom, Iraq and the history of 20th-century Europe demonstrate that force of arms can implant democracy in the most arid soil.
The rapidity of the democratization and reform of Iraq is staggering. There was no German state for four years after the Second World War. By contrast, Iraq has moved from a centralized, one-man dictatorship to a decentralized, federal republic in half that time.
Inevitably, there have been stresses and strains. In Iraq these have been amplified by the terrorism of the remnants of the fascist Baathist dictatorship and our interfering neighbors. To contain these tensions, and to defend our young democracy, requires the support of American and other troops. Foreign forces are needed to train and equip the new Iraqi armed forces and to give Iraq its own counterterrorism capability. Only the United States and its closest allies are able to provide such assistance.
Creating these Iraqi forces has not been easy, but Iraqis have been undaunted by the difficulties. Every terrorist attack on Iraqi forces leads to a surge in military recruitment–the opposite of the appeasers’ myth that resisting terrorism causes more terrorism. For all the short-term problems, the soundness of the long-term strategy of building up Iraqi forces was demonstrated in recent days when Iraqis took over sole control of security in the holy city of Najaf.
As Iraqi forces gain in confidence and capability, so the need for foreign troops will diminish. The number of foreign troops will be determined in consultations between the Iraqi government and its foreign allies on the basis of operational requirements.
American forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the democratically elected government of Iraq, and with the backing of a United Nations Security Council resolution. Your soldiers are in my country because of your commitment to democracy. Moreover, during my visit to Washington, Mr. Bush reaffirmed the United States’ complete support for the Iraqi political process toward sustainable democracy, and for the fight to defeat fascist and jihadist terrorism in Iraq.
That commitment to liberty has shaped our opposition to any timetable for withdrawal. There are also two practical, policy reasons to avoid such a scheduled reduction in foreign troop numbers. First, a timetable will aid the terrorists and tell them that all they have to do is wait. Second, military plans must be flexible. We should have the suppleness to respond to the often-changing level of terrorist threat. Indeed, we will require ongoing security assistance in many forms for many years to come.
If we keep progressing at the present rate, Iraqis may be able to take over many security functions from foreign forces by the end of 2006. That is not a deadline, but it is reasonable aspiration. During my visit to the United States, I was fortunate to meet relatives of some of the brave troops serving in Iraq. They were staunch, and I want their loved ones to have to serve in Iraq not a moment longer than is necessary.
Americans should be proud of what its soldiers have achieved. The presence of foreign forces has prevented a renewed civil war in Iraq–renewed because there has already been a civil war in Iraq. For 35 years, Saddam and his Baath Party made war on the Iraqi people. The liberation of Iraq ended that civil war.
Above all, American forces provide Iraq with a much-needed deterrence capability. In the past, Iraq sought an illusory security through the follies of aggression, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Today, our external security comes from our alliance with the United States. Our neighbors can thereby be assured that we will settle all of our differences with them peacefully.
Sadly, some of our neighbors have chosen not to understand this. They seem either unwilling or unable to shut off the pipeline of terrorists crossing into Iraq. And in addition to what is at least passive support for the terrorists, some of them are providing financial and material support to them, too. They must desist from this behavior now.
While the problem of some of our neighbors supporting terrorism is bad enough, we can only imagine what our neighbors might have done if American troops had not been present. Most likely, Iraq would have been transformed into a regional battlefield with disastrous consequences for Middle Eastern and global security.
Without American forces, the vision of American leadership and the quiet fortitude of the American people, Iraqis would be almost alone in the world. With its allies, the United States has provided Iraqis with an unprecedented opportunity. Iraqis have responded by enthusiastically embracing democracy and volunteering to fight for their country. By giving us the tools, your troops help us to defend Iraqi democracy and to finish the job of uprooting Baathist fascism.
Mr. Talabani is president of Iraq.
Posted Sept. 21, 2005. Reprinted here with permission from OpinionJournal.com. Visit the website at opinionjournal.com.
1. Who is Jalal Talabani? What does he say is the most important international issue today? Do you agree? Explain your answer.
2. Who does President Talabani credit for giving freedom to Iraq? (para. 3)
3. What two groups does Mr. Talabani blame for the problems in Iraq? (para. 5)
4. What is an appeaser? What is the appeasers’ myth? Do you agree with Mr. Talabani? Explain your answer.
5. How will the need for foreign troops lessen over time, according to President Talabani? What are the 2 practical reasons President Talabani gives for not establishing a specific timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal?
6. What message does Pres. Talabani have for Iraq’s neighbors? Do you think they will listen? Explain your answer.
7. Re-read the last paragraph. What 4 ways does Pres. Talabani say America has helped Iraq?
8. What impression do you get from the media about Iraqi opinion of U.S. troops? Why do you think we don’t get a lot of first-hand reports about Iraqis thanking the U.S.?
(For some articles on the subject, go to Fox or National Review.)
Do a yahoo or google search to find more examples of grateful Iraqis. Email the links and/or your thoughts on the subject to firstname.lastname@example.org.