Today, on the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the debate about whether it was worth it to topple the regime and the direction of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is influenced by a pessimistic view that the United States has lost Iraq. Not true. Despite all the problems of the past decade, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that we’re better off today than under Hussein’s brutal dictatorship.
Iraqis will remain grateful for the U.S. role and for the losses sustained by military and civilian personnel that contributed in ending Hussein’s rule. These losses pale by comparison, of course, to those sustained by the Iraqi people. Our government emerges from this experience determined to ensure that these sacrifices contribute to a future of freedom and prosperity for our country.
Our relationship with the United States did not end when U.S. troops departed. In December 2011, I stood with President Obama while he spoke of “a normal relationship” between the United States and “a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq.”
Iraq is building an inclusive political system, with free multiparty elections, a multiethnic government and an independent judiciary. Our gross domestic product is expected to grow by an average of at least 9.4 percent annually through 2016. Last year, we surpassed Iran to become OPEC’s second largest producer of crude oil.
Iraq is not a protectorate of the United States; it is a sovereign partner. Partners do not always agree, but they consider and respect each other’s views. In that spirit, we ask the United States to consider Iraq’s views on challenging issues, especially those of regional importance.
Iraq is developing an independent foreign policy. With no intention of repeating Hussein’s wars, we are committed to good relations with all our neighbors. We offer the hand of friendship to Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Sharing a 376-mile border with Syria and a 906-mile border with Iran, we have a vital interest in stable, non-hostile relations with these countries, too.
In Syria, we can conceive of no scenario in which a military “victory” by either the government or the opposition can bring peace and stability. Only a negotiated solution can lead to such an outcome. Accordingly, we oppose all transfers of weapons, to both the government and the opposition, and we are working to ensure that our airspace and territory are not used for such transfers.
Further militarization of the conflict will only increase the suffering of civilians and strengthen radical groups, including our common enemy, al-Qaeda. We have been mystified by what appears to be the widespread belief in the United States that any outcome in Syria that removes President Bashar al-Assad from power will be better than the status quo. A Syria controlled in whole or part by al-Qaeda and its affiliates — an outcome that grows more likely by the day — would be more dangerous to both our countries than anything we’ve seen up to now. Americans should remember that an unintended consequence of arming insurgents in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets was turning the country over to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Iraq’s longest border is with Iran, and we don’t want a reprise of the war which left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides in the 1980s. We would like to see a Middle East without weapons of mass destruction, where governments are committed to development and cooperation rather than conflict and competition to obtain nuclear weapons. But as with Syria, we seek a peaceful resolution of this issue.
The peoples of Iraq and Iran share historic, cultural and religious ties. While we want our relationship with Iran to be stable, it will never be subservient. Iraq follows an independent foreign policy based on its distinct interests. This has been proved by our decision to sign the strategic framework agreement with the United States and our commitment to maintain a strong partnership with the United States on political, security and economic levels.
Our cooperation with the United States continues to bear fruit, and we hope to accelerate and energize it even more. While our journey from despotism to democracy has not been easy, the Arab Spring has shown that all countries going through such transitions face turmoil. The protests in several cities in Iraq reflect the fact that, while some sectarian elements call for violence, the majority of Iraqis want to express their demands through democratic means. With provincial elections this month and general elections next year, Iraqis can resolve their disagreements with ballots, not bullets.
With the world’s fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the region’s fastest-growing economy, Iraq is an important energy supplier and trading partner for the United States. With our needs for infrastructure to restore our electrical power and water supply, Iraq offers investment opportunities for U.S. companies.
The United States has not “lost” Iraq. Instead, in Iraq, the United States has found a partner for our shared strategic concerns and our common efforts on energy, economics and the promotion of peace and democracy.
Nouri al-Maliki is the prime minister of Iraq.