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Iraq: Baghdad's New Envoy To Washington Says Citizens Are Optimistic About Future

The new incoming Iraqi ambassador to the United States says her country is optimistic that it faces a better future now that it has a sovereign government. Rend al-Rahim says the government's top priority is to provide security to Iraqis. She spoke this week about the challenges facing Iraq during a talk at the American Enterprise Institute, a private research organization in Washington. RFE/RL correspondents Annie Bang and Michelle Townsend report.

Washington, 1 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's ambassador-designate to the United States, Rend al-Rahim, says Iraqis have high hopes after the United States turned over formal sovereignty this week to a new government in Baghdad.

Al-Rahim says that for nearly a decade and a half, the UN Security Council passed one resolution after another about Iraq. During this period, she says Iraq lacked an authentic face or voice to present to the international community for the simple reason that the government of Saddam Hussein was discredited.

Now that sovereignty has been returned, she says Iraqis can begin to feel that their government has a real commitment to them.

Al-Rahim refers to Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's priority of combating terrorism and promoting security: "In a way, Iraq has become terrorism's last stand. I'm sorry it has had to be Iraq, but I think this is where terrorism is going to be defeated, and this is why we must devote all our resources to confronting it."

She says the aim of insurgents in Iraq is to paralyze the new government and to kill as many members of the cabinet as possible: "They are not against the coalition. They're against Iraqis. Why else would you want to stop the transfer of sovereignty?"

Al-Rahim says the new government must win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. She says a sense of leadership must be projected, an extremely difficult task when power was in the hands of the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority(CPA).

The fight for stability and democracy, she says, has to be a battle waged by every Iraqi -- civilians, as well as those in uniform. She said the new government must sell the new order to the entire population.

"We are going to strive to combat terrorism, combat violence and bring security under control, bring security to the country, and that is a prerequisite, with the understanding that if we can't do that, if we fail -- and God forbid that we should fail, because if we do, so much is going to be at stake, not just the elections," she says.

Al-Rahim levels many criticisms at the CPA's handling of Iraq, which she says contributed to instability. She believes that if the CPA had imposed a curfew and declared martial law in April 2003, Iraq would be in much better shape today.

"Iraq must be for Iraqis, must have its independence, and its independent decision-making based on our interests," she says.

The envoy also said the sooner Saddam Hussein is brought to trial, the better it will be for Iraq. Hussein appeared today before an Iraqi tribunal in Baghdad to be formally charged for crimes allegedly committed during his more than 20 years in power.

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