Iraqi ambassador discusses American involvement

Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, spoke about the current situation in Iraq and prospects for thefuture Thursday, February 10 in Zoellner Arts Center. His speech was the second in Lehigh's United Nations Ambassadorial Speaker Series.

"The Iraqi situation has its own peculiarity" Sumaidaie said in a press conference before his speech. "Sovereignty is quite a complex concept. I would say that Iraq is moving steadily and in a determined way toward sovereignty.

"We have started a political process and we have kept to the timeline of that political process where one of the stages was to get an elected government in place, the next is to write a constitution and then have further elections. I think we are most of the way there. I don't think the situation could be described, or should be described, as an occupation any longer."

Sumaidaie's speech had a central theme of understanding perceptions as reality.

"One of the worst things that happened after the liberation of Iraq was to declare that Iraq was under occupation. This word 'occupation' has so many connotations, so much historical baggage, that it immediately became a weapon in the hands of the terrorists."

Sumaidaie is in an interesting position to pass along this perspective. He is a Sunni Muslim and was born in Baghdad in 1943, but has lived in exile since 1973, according to the U.N. press release in which Sumaidaie presented his credentials to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In his speech he told the audience that from 1977 until 2003 after the United States intervention, he had not been to Baghdad , living mostly in London . This mixture of Western education and Middle Eastern roots allows him to see the war as a two-sided conflict.

"Why is it that America goes out of its way?" Sumaidaie asked. "To make so many sacrifices in blood and treasure to save our nation from tyranny only to be treated as a hostile occupier. In order to answer this, we've got to look at it from two different aspects.

"From the Iraqi side, the whole nation completely traumatized, certainly relieved and happy to be rid of Saddam, but totally disorientated. They have no way of rationalizing what was happening to them. From the American side, I would say that it was not sufficient understanding of the complexities of the situation to which they had gotten into."

In the question and answer segment of his presentation, Sumaidaie faced questions posed by the audience and delivered via index card by moderator Bill Hunter, director of international students and scholars. Questions ranged from how to appropriately deal with detainees, to an independent Kurdish state, to exit strategies for the United States .

When questioned about how he views the United States ' intentions in the region, Sumaidaie recognized the common images of regime change, weapons of mass destruction and introducing democracy to Iraq . He said that what the United States has started it must finish.

"The possibility of leaving the job half done is too terrible to be contemplated for both Iraq and the United States ," he said.

Sumaidaie concluded the speech with his belief that the ends do justify the means.

"The action of going into Iraq should not be judged in the context of the immediate aftermath," he said. "It should be judged within the context of perhaps 20, 30, even 50 years. What will people in 20 years, 30 years or more looking back at this event - Iraqis or non-Iraqis - think of this action? I am positive, I am absolutely certain, that given that span of time, it will be totally vindicated and will be seen as it was absolutely the right thing to do.

"What was destroyed in 35 years of systematic destruction and looting cannot be reconstituted or rebuilt in two or three years."

The speech resulted in mixed reviews. President Gregory Farrington, who introduced Sumaidaie before his speech, was quite pleased.

"I found it simply fascinating, so sincere, straightforward and thoughtful. I'm so pleased I had the opportunity to be here, complete with my purple finger."

Rob Hoxie, '04, said he didn't learn anything new from Sumaidaie's speech.

"I would say he was fairly standard for a diplomat," Hoxie said. "He didn't say anything very shocking."