By H.E. Lukman Faily, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S.
Reviewed by David T. Jones
Using the venue of the Brookings Institution, Lukman Faily, recently appointed Iraqi ambassador to the United States, spoke on September 18, 2013.
Ambassador Faily’s credentials include undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics and computer science; he had a 20-year private industry career, but after Saddam Hussein’s ouster, he joined the Iraqi diplomatic service. Faily came to Washington following an ambassadorial stint in Japan.
Faily’s address hit the “new boy in the neighborhood” traditional points; it had the added virtue of brevity. He adroitly noted appreciation of U.S. sacrifices “for the sake of a free and democratic Iraq,” and commented that one of his first actions was to visit Arlington National Cemetery.
He identified his “primary mission” as “nurturing an enduring partnership with the United States” and attempted to emphasize that “trade and commerce” should be at the heart of our bilateral relations. Iraqi oil production, now second in OPEC, is the basis for national prosperity, and Faily stressed interest by various U.S. companies regarding investment as well as major Iraqi purchases of U.S. military equipment and commercial aircraft.
Faily reviewed the Arab Spring and Syria. For the former, what had begun as a “pro-democratic protest is sadly sliding toward polarization of communities along sectarian, regional, and religious lines.” For the latter, Iraq’s position is “an impartial stand in any conflict affecting our neighbors…we do not wish to take sides…our constitution has stipulated the principle of noninterference.” That said, Iraq “categorically rejects” military support of the Syrian regime (and the charges that Baghdad had facilitated Iranian weapons flights to Damascus). Faily emphasized there are no military solutions and “only a negotiated settlement” could bring peace.
The consequence for Iraq has been increased levels of violence in Baghdad with an al-Qaeda revival. Faily recognized the terrorist effort to push Iraq to civil war.
But the elephant in the room remains the bilateral 2008 strategic framework agreement. One of its core principles is development of “a strong Iraq capable of self-defense…essential for achieving stability in the region.”
An outside observer might conclude that with the 2011 U.S. force withdrawal and Syrian civil war, this objective becomes significantly more difficult if not problematic. Consequently, Faily urged U.S. support for a comprehensive air defense system to prevent Iranian re-supply through Iraqi airspace. But Washington skepticism remains palatable based on earlier inability to secure Iraqi agreement to a standard Status of Forces Agreement permitting a residual U.S. military presence. Whether the absence of such a SOFA reflects maladroit U.S. diplomacy or irresolvable Iraqi domestic imperatives is irrelevant. It simply makes an effective mutual security arrangement more difficult.
So far as the Iraqi noninterference position on Syria is concerned, it smacks of a desperate attempt to stand in the center of a maelstrom and not get wet.
Ambassador Faily has a spectrum of challenges ahead.