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US Has ‘Moral Obligation’ to Fight Iraq’s Wars

Samir Sumaida’ie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation — you know, a prudential, non-partisan public forum — at noon. I was on hand to ask him about the forthcoming U.S.-Iraq Together Forever Treaty and Bob Gates’ assurance that U.S. forces would stand by and watch if Iraq was the victim of external aggression. The first he’s in favor of; the second, not so much.

"We want to build a long-term alliance with the United States," he said. "Not only a security alliance. We want to have a political, economic and security alliance with the United States, and security does not necessarily mean combat troops. But a security alliance generally, in a geopolitical context. And this desire which we have as a sovereign nation we are willing to translate into an agreement — an agreement that can be abrogated, since this is like marriage, and divorce is common in this country like everywhere else. It’s not a Catholic marriage, necessarily."

When I asked about specifics, Sumaida’ie punted. "I don’t want to preempt what the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement, the formal name for the treaty] will be," he said. "But I am pretty sure that it will not contain how many troops will be on Iraqi soil and for how long. That’s something that shall be determined operationally by the military leaders and the political leaders in consultation with each other, on both sides."

So what will it contain? "In practical terms also, we want to work out operational — modes of operation that will continue to allow the American security forces in Iraq to operate without creating problems for the Iraqi government, for the Iraqi population. In special circumstances, exceptional circumstances — like the Blackwater case — we’d like to have a mechanism, an agreed mechanism for dealing with these incidents, which can go out of control and create negative impact that damages us both. So this SOFA is not going to be a recipe for what’s going to happen, how many people, how many troops and so forth. It’s going to be, basically, an agreement to work out modalities and interface."

I pressed him on Gates’s comments. After thinking for a moment, Sumaida’ie said: "He is entitled to express that view. But from our perspective, Iraq is — because, as the result of American intervention, Iraq’s ability to defend itself has been diminished, at least initially — hopefully it will build back up, our Air Force, our Navy, and our land forces — during this time, we believe America has a moral obligation to protect us while we are doing this, to support us while we are doing this. We have enshrined in our constitution a non-aggression policy. We will not threaten our neighbors. We will not be the cause of threat to our neighbors, or allow groups on our territory to threaten our neighbors. That we will honor. But we also don’t want to be the victim of attacks from our neighbors. During this time we believe the United States has a moral obligation to protect us."

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