A New Voice in Town

“A strong defensible Iraq is important to the stability of the Middle East,” stated H.E. Lukman Faily, Iraq’s new Ambassador to the US, on Wednesday September 18, 2013 at a Brookings Institute event here in Washington DC. Ambassador Lukman Faily replaces Amb. Jabir Habeb whose tenure in Washington was marked by his conspicuous absence from public affairs. Through a series of public addresses, the new Ambassador has made it clear that his mission is to renew the relationship between the US and Iraq.

As a combat veteran who lost friends in Iraq, the opening of Ambassador Faily’s talk resonated with me on a personal level. He reflected on a recent visit to Arlington Cemetery and the graves of fallen US service members, expressing his wish to see all that has been given and invested in Iraq be rewarded.

Taken by EPIC at the Brookings Institute

However, the Ambassador stated that the sacrifices of these men and women hang in the balance. Recurring obstacles like weak institutions and Al-Qaeda remain a hindrance to Iraq’s progress toward prosperity and security. The Ambassador hopes that renewed interest in Iraq as a regional partner will help move Iraq forward. However, this requires the transfer of knowledge, technical assistance, and technology. Faily noted that the challenge between Iraq and the US has been the change in relationship and its move from providing a broad spectrum of physical needs to a partnership focused on areas of mutual interests.

Iraq is in a tough neighborhood and attempts to remain neutral, but from time to time Iraq does get dragged into situations like the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Faily stated his belief that current proposals for military action fail to articulate a clear vision for the “day after”, and would likely fail politically or in any durable way. Instead, Iraq’s Ambassador advocates for the US to pursue diplomatic solutions in regards to Syria.

A second obstacle for Iraq is the country’s lack of experience in democratic governance. According to the Ambassador, Iraq’s institutions are still in formation, and the practice of democracy remains new. Amb. Faily drew attention to Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and how it is much older than Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. The KRG’s institutions are better grounded and have been in operation much longer than Baghdad’s institutions. This according to Faily is a major source of internal friction between Baghdad and provincial governments like Kurdistan. The idea of federalism is still very new to the Iraqi government and they are still working out the relationship between the central government and provincial governments. Faily pointed this out as one of the areas where US support is sorely needed.

If Ambassador Faily is sufficiently empowered to act in accordance to the public commitment he made at Brookings, then he will play an important role in putting Iraq back on the agenda in Washington DC. Here at EPIC, we welcome the Ambassador’s commitment to broker new US-Iraqi partnerships with Baghdad and build a more peaceful future for his country. We look forward to seeing movement towards improving the relationship between the US and Iraq.

Along with me, EPIC’s executive director Erik Gustafson was in attendance at the Brookings Institute event.  Below are excerpts of an exchange between Mr. Gustafson and Ambassador Faily. A podcast of the event is available here, and the question starts around minute 59:30:00.

EPIC: “I want to seize on something that you had said earlier and it also connects to this idea of improving people-to-people relations… the idea that democracy is still new in Iraq and the institutions are still in formation. Do you see a future role for agencies like USAID beyond 2015 in providing technical assistance, working with institutions, in education… and other sectors going forward?”

Ambassador Lukman Faily: “I have had discussions with a large number of organizations, who have been involved in Iraq and looking forward to their future operations and future projects. To me, the key area and key shift has been from one of aid to one of support, partnerships, knowledge transfer, and in helping us with good governance. To me, governance is a key issue. We as Iraqi institutions need that support in helping us update our legislations, updating our processes, bringing new technology, bringing new management methodologies to us on the ground. From that perspective, I cannot see any reason why USAID and others and other institutions should not have a strong role in Iraq. To transform that relationship from one of physical needs to one of partnership and helping us in knowledge transfer. We need that… I used to do that in Japan. I’m here to raise that again. It’s important, however, that that vehicle is also highlighted as an olive branch or as a sign from the United States to Iraq, as a people, that this institution was modernized by a US institution. In Iraq, the name JICA, which is the main Japanese overseas development organization, was highly regarded by all the people. Because they could see a hospital tied to that. Or a water treatment facility. Or water sanitation. A refinery has been developed by the Japanese. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was significant as a sign of people standing by people because we know that this is the taxpayer’s money.”

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