tampabay.com

Stick with the war, Iraqi official asks

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published April 30, 2007


TAMPA - Iraq's national security adviser cautioned Americans against taking a short view in bringing democracy to his shattered nation, warning any decision to withdraw U.S. troops would endanger the region and be a victory for terrorists.

Dr. Mowaffak al Rubaie, speaking to media during an hourlong interview on Sunday, repeated themes that seem to contradict news reports of continued mayhem in Iraq.

Violence is dropping in Iraq and the nation is not in a civil war, said al Rubaie, who is visiting Tampa for a meeting of coalition officials at U.S. Central Command this week. In Baghdad, he said, millions of Iraqis go about their lives unaffected by violence.

"Seven million people live in Baghdad, " al Rubaie said. "One-million cars are every day in the street ... One will explode as a car bomb, one of 1-million cars in the streets of Baghdad. There are businessmen, hundreds of thousands of students and pupils going to the universities and schools. Tens of thousands of civil servants and government officials go to their jobs and offices. People go to businesses and shops. People go about their life normally."

Good news is being ignored, he said, because the media are mesmerized by the sensational attacks.

"What you see on CNN or (Arab TV) is the car bomb ... I think (terrorists) go for the sensational attack to have a psychological impact on us. But unfortunately, they have a psychological impact on the western media, " he said.

In Iraq, al Rubaie said, "nobody is talking about civil war." Much of the nation, he said, is pacified.

He refused to offer a specific timetable as to when Iraqis will be ready for a U.S. troop withdrawal, but said it isn't a matter of months.

"Even in a few months, I cannot see our army able to defend the borders, " he said. "We don't have very friendly neighbors."

Al Rubaie has much personally invested in Iraq. He helped lead opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime and was tortured by his secret police. As a leader of Iraq's fledgling government, he's been the target of assassination attempts.

Al Rubaie loathes any talk of a quick exit by U.S. forces before Iraqis themselves are ready to take up the burden.

"This is not a short-term journey, " al Rubaie said. "We're talking about a country that has been ruled ... for centuries by absolute dictatorship, religious supremacy."

Democracy will take time for a nation with deep roots in autocratic rule, he said.

"This is an alien language for the whole region, " al Rubaie said. "This is a paradigm shift. You need some patience for it ... I know patience is running (out) ... But failure is not an option."

Al Rubaie said he understands that Americans have previously heard the talk about decreased violence and may be skeptical.

"I can understand it very well and I sympathize with it, " he said, "because you've invested heavily in blood and in treasure. And I can tell you and I can tell the American mothers and the American wives, it's well worth investing in Iraq ... Iraqis have also invested heavily in blood and treasure and sweat and in tears."

Al Rubaie applauded news that Iran will attend a regional conference about Iraq later this week and encouraged the United States to reach out to Iran. He said Iraq has called on the United States to release five Iranians seized in Iraq earlier this year as a way of smoothing tensions.

"The United States government wanted to speak to Iran and Iran wanted to speak to the U.S. government, " al Rubaie said. But a "psychological barrier" between the two has barred a meeting, he said.

"We have to break this ice between the two countries, " al Rubaie said.

Al Rubaie asked to meet with local reporters after a 16-hour flight from Iraq that ended just three hours before the interview. He will attend a "Coalition Conference" through Wednesday at CentCom, which is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base.

William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3436 or levesque@sptimes.com.