An Iraqi View of the War
Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie, [said that when] "the Americans breezed in" five years ago, they found a country where Saddam Hussein's "security apparatus [had] represented more than 50 percent of employment" and years of sanctions had caused the collapse of government institutions and services.
In the wake of the U.S. occupation, he said, there was "a revolution of the underclass and the diminution of power by the middle class." He said the Shiite underclass, now led by followers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and other movements, is "a huge section of the Iraqi population which was deprived for decades [under Saddam Hussein]. It lacked services, it lacked education. It was used as cannon fodder in the wars of Saddam. It was disenfranchised and had very little power."
At the same time, he said, the Iraqi middle class, mostly Sunni, was weakened -- before the war by United Nations economic sanctions and afterward "by certain decisions taken in the first year or two of American rule in Iraq." By that he meant the anti-Baathist regulations and dissolution of the Iraqi army under Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer III.
"The underclass came to the fore with considerable influence on it by the clergy," Sumaidaie said. The resulting violence, he said, came from the underclass of the two Islamic sects. "On the Sunni side, they were the foot soldiers of al-Qaeda. On the Shia side, they were and are the foot soldiers of [Sadr's] Mahdi Army."
The extremism of both, he said, "was driven by leaders who wanted to exploit it and fed by external influences for obviously geopolitical purposes."
Sumaidaie warned about elections. He said the first set in 2005 "created a lot of problems," primarily because voters were given a list of parties and not individuals. The upcoming provincial elections will be different, he said, because voters will know candidates' names. He added that "there is a realization at the political level that this is important." Therefore, he predicted, there could be more "flare-ups" like the one last month in Basra.
"Can I guarantee that these elections will be on the first of October? No, I cannot guarantee that they will," he said. "But, I can tell you that there is a serious intention of having them done on time."
Answering his own rhetorical question about the future between the United States and Iraq, Sumaidaie said, "There is not going to be a magic transformation. . . . The Americans got themselves into this and they bear a lot of responsibility for what has happened."
In the end, however, the ambassador acknowledged, "We want them [U.S. forces] to leave. Let's be very clear. Ultimately, Iraq has to be independent -- totally independent, stand on its own feet, and have a long-term relationship with the United States built on mutual interest."