Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prominent Iraqi official speaks at USIP

The U.S Institute of Peace hosted a public event Monday entitled, “Iraq after the surge: The perspective of H.E. Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.” Al-Hakim is President of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest political coalition in the Iraqi government.

USIP’s Daniel Serwer opened the event, saying in his introduction that one year ago when al-Hakim last visited, the situation in Iraq was a lot different and, since then, “many things have changed and many things are the same.”

Al-Hakim began his presentation by saying: “Almost a year ago, we were in Washington and we mentioned to officials and think tanks that what we were seeking is to build the foundation for peace in Iraq and to stop the sectarian violence and to combat terrorism.”

He added that a lot has been accomplished and noted that sectarian violence “has been decreasing at a very high rate.” He also proudly mentioned that more than 500 projects are being carried out in each province. The fact that unemployment has declined was also highlighted. Joblessness was as high as 50 percent, but has now dropped to less than 20 percent, al-Hakim said.

One of the Iraqi goals that al-Hakim mentioned was the establishment of better relations with neighboring countries and the international community. On that subject he said: “During the past year, we have witnessed a noticeable development with our Arab and regional neighboring countries. This was highlighted by concluding several agreements and meetings between Iraq and countries around the world, and we also called for a U.S.-Iranian dialogue regarding Iraq.”

On domestic matters, al-Hakim said: “We are working on achieving federalism for all of Iraq through a popular referendum, and to be committed to realize popular opinions and will in unifying the administrative system in all Iraq.”

He acknowledged later that “we are aware of the difficulties we are facing in Iraq,” but stressed that there is great hope for his country. Al-Hakim also expressed hope that “the good countries of the world” will stand with the Iraqi people in the struggle and build an Iraq based on the rule of law.

“We are very confident that Iraqis are capable of establishing a law-abiding democracy over time because in the past four years, Iraqis have created miracles and they are capable of achieving further progress,” al-Hakim said in closing.

During the question and answer session, a human rights activist in the audience commented that many people on the ground in Iraq have another view of the Iraqi government and “do not believe that the government cares about them.” Al-Hakim dismissed this question as “unfair,” asking rhetorically how those who elected the government officials can think that they don’t care about them.

Later, a young woman studying at Georgetown University stood up and told al-Hakim that, since 2004, eight of her family members have died in Iraq and the rest of are now refugees in Syria. Her question concerned the reason for the recent increase in the number of refugees returning to Iraq. She mentioned that the media has linked the development to improved security, but noted that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other groups cite different reasons such as border closures by neighboring countries, and refugees’ difficulties securing employment – which have forced many young women into prostitution. Al-Hakim responded by expressing his empathy for the woman and her family and saying that: “We are already trying to help as much as we can.” He added that the refugees fled because of insecurity and said that Iraq will be more secure if they come back. He also noted that the Iraqi government has been sending busses to Syria to give those who want to return a chance to do so. “We hope to see improvement and we hope that people return so that they can live together in peace,” al-Hakim said.



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