Iraq”s foreign minister said he”s concerned the United States may pull out of the country before the army and police are ready to take responsibility for the nation”s security
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari meets with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on Thursday, and his wide-ranging agenda includes "the continued engagement" of the United States in Iraq.
The Iraqi minister came to New York to urge the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force, saying Iraqi troops and police cannot yet defend the country against an armed insurgency by remnants of Saddam Hussein”s regime and some foreigners.
The council responded positively, issuing a statement Tuesday extending the mandate and saying it looks forward to Iraqi security forces playing a greater role and ultimately assuming responsibility for the country”s national security.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, speaking on behalf of the multinational force, told the council it won”t remain in Iraq any longer than necessary. But if Iraqi authorities want the force to stay, it shouldn”t leave "until the Iraqis can meet the serious security challenges they face," she said.
Even though Zebari repeated numerous times in his speech to the council that Iraq still can”t survive on its own and needs help, the foreign minister said Iraq isn”t certain Washington will stay engaged.
"I am concerned — I am concerned," Zebari said in an interview at the United Nations late Tuesday. "I”m a realist, OK, and we”ve seen that before. We need to complete this mission with their help. We are getting very close. The riding is getting tougher."
But he said, "we are confident that we will make it."
The multinational force has about 138,000 U.S. troops and over 22,000 soldiers from 27 other countries. Patterson said it has trained and equipped 165,000 Iraqi soldiers and police, but more needs to be done so Iraqi forces can take control of the country”s security and gain the confidence of the Iraqi people.
"A specific timeline for the withdrawal of multinational forces cannot be set," Patterson said, and "any decision regarding force size will be driven by events on the ground."
Zebari said the speed and training of Iraqi forces will also be on his agenda in Washington.
"It”s not the question of numbers, of charts," he explained, referring to the U.S. military”s presentations on their efforts to train Iraqis. "It”s really the quality of these forces. Is there leadership? Is there performance? Is there delegation of authority?"
"Definitely, the new army, the new police, need better equipment — at least better weaponry than the insurgents or the terrorists, and we think they could provide that," Zebari said of the Americans.
President Bush on Tuesday denied any increase of strength in the Iraqi insurgency, whose deadly attacks have been on the rise since a new government was announced April 28. He said the Iraqi government would be "plenty capable of dealing with them" with the help of American training.
Zebaris said that Iraq also wants to address the whole regional environment, which he termed "not comfortable."
"The flow of terrorists, the lack of support, the lack of cooperation from our neighbors is not helpful. It”s galvanizing. It”s prolonging. It”s causing more suffering … to our people, to the multinational force, to our future," he said….
Addressing the council in English, Zebari welcomed Syria”s recent statement that it had stopped more than 1,000 foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq, but said it confirmed Iraq”s long-held view "that Syria has been one of the main transit routes for foreign terrorists, as well as for remnants of the previous regime." He urged Damascus to do more to police its borders.
"I think they have not been helpful," Zebari said in the interview. "They have not been cooperative. We”ve received some verbal reassurances that there would be a change of policy, of attitude. But still we were waiting to see those statements translated into actions."
He said Syria knows who is coming and going across the border and that it could stop those attempts.
"We”ll do our best," Syria”s U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad told reporters afterward. "We are ready to cooperate with the present, new Iraqi government to help wherever we can."
Mekdad said Syria negotiated a security protocol with Iraq”s previous government but for "unknown reasons" no Iraqi official has come to Damascus to sign it. Asked about the protocol, Zebari said in an interview that Iraq wants to see results at the border.