Discussions link Lawrence, Iraq

Iraq is making improvements in more areas than just security as it develops as a democracy, U.S. and Iraqi generals and diplomats in Baghdad told a Lawrence audience on Sunday.

“The Iraqi government is working very hard to improve security and also the level of life,” said Ali Aldabbagh, spokesman for the Iraqi government.

The U.S. and Iraq are partnering in developing relationships in areas ranging from business and education to technology and services, said Susan Ziadeh, a representative from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. She filled in for U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Adam Ereli, who had been scheduled to participate.

Aldabbagh and Ziadeh spoke to at least 50 people who gathered at Kansas University’s Dole Institute of Politics. They appeared in a teleconference set up by the institute, KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. They were interviewed by Dole Institute director Bill Lacy.

Also participating were Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the Iraqi army’s spokesman, and Maj. Gen. David Perkins, the U.S. Army’s director of strategic effects for the multi-national force.

Iraq is confident it will be able to handle security needs as the U.S. and other countries withdraw their forces, Atta said. It currently handles security for 13 of its 18 provinces and expects to take over in the remaining five in a few months, he said.

Security in the country has improved dramatically over the last couple of years, Perkins said. At the height of the violence there were up to 190 terrorist attacks a day. On one recent day there were only four attacks, he said.

“It’s taken place probably because of the U.S. (troop) surge, but more importantly the Iraqi surge,” Perkins said. “It’s a huge tribute to the sacrifices of the Iraqi forces and Iraqi people and, of course, the U.S. and its servicemen and women.”

The Iraqi government now has the lead role in security. It approves all U.S. military operations, most of which are conducted in partnership with Iraqi forces, Perkins said.

Iraq is transitioning members of the former “Awakening” groups into its government and military, Atta said. Some of the Awakening members are former insurgents who switched sides and until recently worked with the U.S. military and were on its payroll. Atta said they are now being paid by Iraq.

Earlier this year Iraqis took part in provincial elections as they continue to build a democracy. Political groups are more willing to form alliances and focus more on issues and less on ideologies, Aldabbagh and Ziadeh said.

“They see this as a beginning of a new political process,” Ziadeh said.

Earlier Sunday another teleconference was conducted involving students and officials at the University of Baghdad and journalism students from KU, Kansas State University, Northwest Missouri State University and Wichita State University.