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29 June 2004

Iraqi Government Must Win Hearts and Minds, Says Iraqi Envoy to U.S.

Rend Al-Rahim speaks of political, security, economic issues June 28

By Brian Kaper
Washington File Writer

Washington -- Iraq's new ambassador to the United States, Rend Al-Rahim, said the interim Iraqi government has to deal with several issues to win the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people and assure the survival and future prosperity of Iraq.

Speaking June 29 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Al-Rahim said the first step in solidifying Iraq's sovereignty is the selection of 275 representatives to an interim national council. A conference is scheduled for July with nearly 1,000 participants who will decide on the final composition of the council, she said. Al-Rahim said she hoped the council would prove to all the different factions within Iraq that political participation is possible for all.

"I think more Iraqis need to feel that they are part of the political process. Again, we have not been successful in that. We need to bring more people in, engage them more."

Defeating terrorism and establishing security were of the greatest necessity, Al-Rahim said. The ambassador said the problems resulting from terror are hurting Iraq through tremendous loss of life and loss of massive amounts of money.

Al-Rahim said the fight against terror would require more than sheer numbers in security forces. Rather, the government had to address the conditions that lead individuals to embrace terror, she said.

"This has to be a national battle against terrorism, not just a battle waged by the security forces, by the national guard and by the army. It has to be a battle waged by every Iraqi, civilians as well as uniformed. And to do that, we must sell the new order to the entire Iraqi population, and we must sell it to segments of the Iraqi nation that hitherto may have not been totally persuaded," Al-Rahim said.

Al-Rahim said the people of Iraq must realize that the insurgents are not attacking coalition forces in order to better the people of Iraq, but rather the insurgents are attempting to prevent prosperity for the people of Iraq.

"The new government must get all Iraqis on its side in the war on terrorism. It has to expose the terrorists for what they are: not so-called resistance against occupation, which is nonsense, but criminals who hate the new order in Iraq and simply want it to fail. This is their only agenda."

Al-Rahim said the presence of multinational forces in Iraq was crucial to the government's efforts to stabilize the country. She also called for Iraq's neighbors to help guard shared borders as a means of keeping foreign insurgents out.

The ambassador also spoke of the need for the government to "win people's hearts through winning their wallets and their bellies." It was her hope that the government would be able to put people to work as soon as possible in order to quell dissent and help Iraqis to put food on the table.

"We must absolutely rethink our strategy for rebuilding in Iraq. And the new government, which will now have a lot of authority in awarding contracts from the Development Fund for Iraq, they must concentrate on labor-intensive projects that can employ tens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and get money into the pockets of Iraqis and again give them a stake in the new Iraq," Al-Rahim said.

Al-Rahim cautioned against placing too much pressure on the new government to accomplish too much too soon. However, the ambassador said the people of Iraq, including the Kurds, Shia and Sunni, would be better off under a free and democratic government than under the old regime.

"I have no doubt that the situation will improve and will improve drastically, but we need to moderate the expectations," she said.