- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

DAVOS, Switzerland — Iraqi officials have received the message “loud and clear” that President Bush’s new security plan offers them a last chance to gain control of their country, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.

The minister said the government also understood that the success or failure of the planned “surge” of 21,500 U.S. troops depended on the Iraqis’ own performance.

“We have to rise to the occasion and take up each and every commitment,” Mr. Zebari told The Washington Times on Monday as he prepared to go home from the five-day World Economic Forum in Davos. He said senior officials were “not shying away” from their responsibilities.

Mr. Bush announced the troop surge in Washington earlier this month, just days after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made his own announcement of coordinated plans to strengthen security in Baghdad.

“We think this new plan is different from previous plans because originally it is an Iraqi vision. … And we strongly believe it has a strong chance of success,” Mr. Zebari said.

Acknowledging that the credibility of his administration was on the line, the minister said, “I think the message is received loud and clear by all members of the government [that] this is the time, really, it’s not business as usual.

“There is a lot of violence, of killing, of sectarian violence, and people will not respect you, the world will not respect you, if you don’t have a handle on the security of your own country.”

Mr. Zebari said a combination of external and internal elements were fueling the conflict but that Iraq could not simply blame its neighbors for the violence.

“There is a great deal of indigenous violence, and mainly by those groups who don’t believe in democracy and dialogue, power sharing, and there are many misconceptions about the security situation in Iraq, unfortunately,” he said.

“We have been at pain to reach out, to include [those opposing the new order], but they are not power sharers but power grabbers, and they are unable to come to accept the realities of Iraq that the political scene has changed.”

The foreign minister expressed his appreciation for Mr. Bush’s determination to defend the Iraqi government in spite of growing skepticism about the effort in the United States.

“The president is a believer, and a strong leader, and he has a lot of respect, OK, among many Iraqis, the majority of Iraqis. And the majority appreciate what the U.S. has done,” he said.

Mr. Zebari said his government placed a premium on establishing better relations with neighbors Syria and Iran but would not tolerate outside meddling in Iraq’s affairs.

Fostering better relations with Iran will require Iraq to “engage them constructively,” he said. But Baghdad “has to remind [Iran] that we will not accept, or tolerate, any diktat, or any intervention, in Iraq’s internal affairs. It is a challenge for us; it’s not easy.

“Again, I think we are destined to live with them by geography. We have many common interests with them. We have a long history; let’s say of problems, of wars, of animosities and so on. But at the end of the day, we have to try to see some solutions.”

Mr. Zebari said Iraq had already opened a dialogue with Syria. “The president was there a few days ago. We’ve restored our diplomatic relations with them. They have not been helpful in the past, but this time we will try to hold them to their commitment.

“Our message to [Iran and Syria] has been very straightforward and simple. You will not gain anything by meddling, by looking for short-term gains … because failure in Iraq means chaos and will spill over to your societies, to your countries.”

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