"Everyone also is anticipating or being extremely careful of what is going to happen next. How are the terrorist, how are the extremist groups going to react to the withdraw of American forces?"
— Nazar Janabi, formerly of the Iraqi Minister of Defense, on the U.S. troop pullout in Iraq.
John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: Six years after the United States-led invasion, Iraqi forces have taken formal control of the capital, Baghdad, and other cities following with withdrawal under deadline of June 30 of American troops from urban areas. Iraqis have been celebrating the handover. Some gathered in parks to party into the night. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has designated today as National Sovereignty Day and declared a public holiday. However, there has been a recent rise in violence. Four U.S. soldiers died on the eve of the handover and bombings in recent weeks have killed around 250 people. Joining me now is one of Iraq’s most senior voices, the Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid Al-Bayati. He joins me on the phone from Stockholm, Sweden. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.
Would you say that this is a holiday and people are celebrating? Or is there more of a sense of nervousness that now it’s really up to the Iraqi forces to demonstrate their ability to keep people secure inside the country?
Hamid al-Bayati: It is a day for celebrating because Iraqis feel now the Iraqi security forces are stronger, they are better trained and better equipped, and take responsibility for the security rather than to leave it to American forces. I think after six years of the great job that the Americans did for the Iraqi people to get it off the brutal dictatorship of Saddam and having them in the reform cities. And hopefully by the end of 2011 they will leave back home.
John Hockenberry: Mr. Ambassador, what do you make of this, one of your citizens, her name is Taghreed Karakoly in Erbil, Iraq, who spoke with us earlier this morning. She doesn’t feel very secure at all. Listen:
Taghreed Karakoly [on tape]: With all this chaos in Iraq I cannot understand why they are leaving now without fixing all the problems they did in Iraq. That is all. Now everything is ruined. Everything is not stable and I cannot understand how come Iraqis can handle this alone.
John Hockenberry: Mr. Ambassador, she moved from Baghdad to Kurdistan saying it was the only place that was safe. What would your message be to her?
Hamid al-Bayati: My message is that the statistics show, whether it is American, Iraqi or other statistics, show that violence in Iraq has decreased by over 90 percent. This is all over Iraq. However there are certain areas, there are areas with violence. The recent attacks, of course, the terrorist and the loyalists of Saddam and insurgents, have proven that without the U.S. forces the Iraqis wouldn’t be able to take responsibility, one thing. The second thing for them is the U.S. forces withdrawal. The pretext for what they call insurgency, or any kind of violent thing in the government, will be withdrawn. They will have no reason why they are fighting the government and they are fighting the Iraqis. That is why they are planting car bombs in the city. For the long-term the Iraqis must take responsibility for security and peace in the country.
John Hockenberry: Mr. Ambassador, some military analysts this morning have described the relationship between security forces in Iraq and security forces that still remain as a kind of symbiotic relationship, that the Iraqis are free to call on the Americans as a kind of emergency force, a 911 force. Does that deliver the message that Iraqis can handle it themselves if everybody knows that if something serious happens the U.S. airplanes will be called in, the U.S. troops will be called in and the humvees will be all over the city again?
Hamid al-Bayati: It happened in the last provincial election last January when the U.S. forces were backing the Iraqi forces, but the Iraqi forces did a great job. The elections went smoothly. And no violence happened in the whole country. But the U.S. forces there were ready just in case if they were called in. I believe that the security, Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain security and protect the people. We will see if we need the American forces. According to the SOFA agreement they will be staying in the country until the end of 2011. I hope that they will never be needed until they leave the country.
Todd Zwillich: Mr. Ambassador, this is Todd Zwillich, and I wonder, for the longer term you say the Iraqi forces are going to be capable of securing the country. In the shorter term, are you bracing for a real flare-up in violence now that there will be a little bit of a vacuum, maybe not a little bit, as U.S. forces withdrawal? Are you confident that in this short term that Iraqi forces will be able to handle any flare-up in violence without immediately having to call the Americans back in?
Hamid al-Bayati: Well, we have to admit there were some spikes of violence and some attacks recently, but as I said, it’s well-planned by Al Qaeda and by Saddam’s loyalists who try to prove that by withdrawing the forces from the cities the Iraqis wouldn’t be able to maintain security. However, the government is confident that Iraqi forces are capable to maintain security. We will see in the next few weeks what will happen. I’m confident that situation will go well and I think the Iraqi forces now are capable of maintaining security and to face any kind of violence by Al Qaeda.
John Hockenberry: We’ll certainly see that. Mr. Ambassador, why so little progress on establishing an official oil law to deal with the oil resources that are just being auctioned today in Iraq?
Hamid al-Bayati: Well the fact that the Ministry of Oil is now announcing that the first ever bidding process start for oil fields is a good indication that the country is moving from the military situation and the confrontation with the terrorists to the building and re-establishing of institution. However, we know there is a problem with the law, but the Ministry of Oil is confident that they can go ahead with contacts. This will give the country enough money and will increase the production of oil to help all over the country for reconstruction. This is a new stage in Iraq and even our relation with the U.S. is going to be transferred from military cooperation to reconstruction and all kinds of economic relations.