WASHINGTON — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the United States Institute of Peace on Monday that he feels positive about the working relationship with the new White House as well as opportunities for investment in a post-ISIS Iraq.
Abadi estimated Iraqi forces have so far liberated 1.6 million people from ISIS, and with victory imminent in the last parts of Mosul the “new Iraq” needs to look forward at “stabilization and reconstruction.”
“I remember two years ago when I took office, many of our military commanders would tell me they feel very uncomfortable at checkpoints when they go to the southern governance, and other areas, because the people would catch them and tell them, ‘You let us down, we’re not proud of you,'” he said.
“Now, Iraqi people are proud of our military, they are proud of our security forces, they see them as a national hero, they represent all Iraqis because our direction to them is to respect people, to respect human rights. For you to fight for the country, you have to win over the people.”
Abadi lauded his country’s forces for their “transformed” behavior, such as “when you want to arrest a terrorist or a criminal, you should just arrest that criminal or terrorist, and you should behave properly with his family and the rest of the population — you don’t want to arrest one person and make another 20 enemy of the state or enemy of the society.”
When soldiers commit “excesses,” he added, “at least we hold them accountable.”
“We have to bring back the trust of the people in the system in the way we govern the country, this is a new democracy,” the prime minister argued. “It’ll be a sad day for all of us if people believe dictatorship is better than democracy. Because if democracy didn’t protect them, didn’t provide for them, if there are corruption in the political system, and the political system is unable to correct the corruption of politicians and others in responsibility, I think we’ve failed.”
“…I say, probably, I’m lucky that I survived so far, but I think we are almost there.”
Abadi met with President Trump in the Oval Office on Monday, in which Trump “was particularly honored that Prime Minister al-Abadi was one of the first foreign leaders he has hosted at the White House, a testament to the close bonds between the American and Iraqi people and the importance of the relationship between our governments,” according to a readout from the White House.
The administration said the two discussed the battle against ISIS as well as “a broad-based political and economic partnership” in the months ahead.
“The president commended Prime Minister al-Abadi on Iraq’s efforts to foster more constructive ties with countries in the region, which have a vital role in helping Iraq become a force for stability in the Middle East,” the statement added. “As the United States and Iraq stand together against terrorism in all its forms, we will not tolerate efforts by any country to destabilize Iraq or undermine Iraq’s democratic institutions.”
Abadi told the USIP crowd after the meeting that he sees “an administration, and a president, who see and appreciate what we’re doing… I think this administration wants to be more engaged in fighting terrorism.”
He noted that regionally ISIS is still “receiving funds, there are still recruits, are coming from all over to Daesh.”
“Yes, it’s declining, at the moment young people are not going for Daesh in large numbers as before and Daesh is really running out of fighters, and we’re glad to see that, but still we need to prep the public. If you look carefully in the Arab world in the region, there are many terrorist activity in there, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and other areas, Yemen as well,” the prime minister said. “So I think we have to stay focused on this and we have to remove terrorism from being used in the regional conflict. Countries are using terrorists for their own regional conflict and that’s what give rise to Daesh.”
“Daesh was not spontaneous, it was not just grown overnight and, of course, also the Syria-Iraq border; they’ve been enabled. A lot of support were allowed to go to Daesh, to build their capabilities, then they became this force, this ability to destroy and to kill.”
Abadi said he hasn’t seen a plan to defeat ISIS from the White House.
“I know there’s a plan, I haven’t seen it. We have our own plan, but we need to have a plan together. The region must have a plan to wipe out terrorism and we can do it,” he said.
“…The Iraqi people are much happier after 2003 than before; they have this freedom now. They have freedom of expression, freedom to do what they want, freedom of travel. They didn’t even been allowed to travel before; they haven’t seen the rest of the world. Now they’re communicating with the world, we have very good communication inside the country, we have mobile service, we have internet. We have all sorts. People have new cars, they have new businesses, the country is thriving. So, I think we have to show the people the wealth is the wealth of the people, not the government.”