Lukman Faily served as Iraq’s ambassador to the United States for three years. He left that post, and the Iraqi Foreign Service, in 2016. A lot has transpired since our last chat and we plan to follow this short exchange with a more in depth discussion on Covert Contact soon.
John Little: When we talked in 2014 you were pressing the United States for assistance in the fight against ISIS. It took us quite some time to spin up but operations are underway. How do you feel about the progress of the war and the level of assistance provided to Iraq?
Ambassador Faily: We are now a long way away from that turbulent time in which Iraqi government and people couldn’t understand why USA did not come to their assistance during their hour of need in which terrorist entity ISIS was overtaking towns and cities in Iraq. A lot of progress is now being made, close high level military and security cooperation is taking place in which joint command and control is the norm now.
As to the level of assistance, I am sure Iraqis will come back to you and say that there is always a room for more cooperation and assistant, from my side we need to think about the long term planning and cooperation and not see this as temporary transaction.
John Little: It’s hard to believe that you are now banned from entering the United States due to President Trump’s executive order halting travel from Iraq and other countries. He has also bluntly stated, on more than one occasion, that the United States would consider seizing Iraq’s oil. What message would you like to send to the current administration about this behavior, the impact it will have on relations with Iraq, and the impact it has on our counterterrorism efforts?
Ambassador Faily: Iraqis feel as though that Present Trump has not yet understood their situation and victimization. Surly we are the victim here and need to be considered in such a way, the ban will not help to improve homeland security since no Iraqis have been involved in terrorist act on US soil or elsewhere in Europe or the like. On the other-hand such an indiscriminate act will not win over the heart and mind of Iraqi nor for people of the region. Such action will only widen the gulf between our people and government and hence terrorism will be handed a valuable gift for propaganda.
John Little: It is difficult for outsiders to observe Iraq without looking at nearly every event in the context of Sunni-Shia sectarianism. That dynamic exists, obviously, but you have made the argument that this binary perspective is overused. How would you challenge analysts to shift their thinking when tackling ancient and complex civilizations, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East?
Ambassador Faily: For nearly a century we have had the Kurdish issue problem which is now labelled as KRG vs Baghdad following 2003 war. This is not a Sunni vs Shia issue but one about the scope of social and legal contract between the Centre and the KRG federal entity. On the other hand Iraq is a land where all sort of religions and ethnicities and sects lived and coexisted for centuries on its land and drank from its two great revers Tigris and Euphrates. It is a complex society seeking to define a new social contract between its communities in a post dictatorship rule without a clear roadmap or end game to this social contract.
John Little: Defeating ISIS is an immediate challenge for Iraq but it is not the only one. There are divisions in the country. There is longstanding tension with the Kurds. Billions of dollars will have to be poured into reconstruction and redevelopment. Assuming all these hurdles can be overcome, is a united, unfractured, Iraq five or ten years down the road still possible?
Ambassador Faily: If people of Iraq and regional geopolitics did not seek a united Iraq then Iraq would have been divided some times ago. So unity of the country is for sometime to come is its destiny and salvation. The challenges we face are multi dimensional and interconnected and having a united country does make the case for the resolution of these challenges more feasible and lasting. No one with certainty can tell you how will the country look like in 5 or 10 years because Iraqis have not been given the breathing space to take stock and see what is feasible vs desirable for their common future. Civil war and ISIS was not able to break this country a part but lack of common vision might help the defragmentation of the country in a region which is not strong by its nature. My concern is that lawlessness may prevail if we don’t focus on defining this common vision. We don’t want to be in a situation in which we win the battle against ISIS but lose the war for democratic civil prosperous stable and peaceful country.
John Little: You left the Iraqi Foreign Service in July 2016 but you have said that you want to continue to work on the same types of challenges but from a different perspective. Where has this led you and where do you expect it to lead you in the years ahead?
Ambassador Faily: I joined the government of Iraq back in 2009 to help my people get a better deal than what they have got, this is still the case. On the other hand the government and its senior officials have not shown our people that these scarifies Iraq’s have made so far are worth it. People are disappointed in the government and its lack of urgency in addressing their basic issues of security and services. I will always try to add their voice to the public and international discourses. So far our people have got a raw deal and surely we can do better.