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Iraq’s success should be an international priority and its failure would be felt well beyond its borders, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told an audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Monday night.
“I’m aware of the historical importance of the political transformation we are bringing about in our country and their implications for the region and the world,” Zebari said. “This transformation, in our eyes, is as important an event in the Middle East as any in the last hundred years.”
But it is an opportunity fraught with danger, Zebari stated.
“Success in Iraq will reverberate positively well beyond our borders,” Zebari said. “Iraq’s failure means the region’s failure, and nobody can benefit from that failure.”
Zebari also warned against the “precipitous, premature withdrawal” of multinational forces from Iraq, including the 160,000 U.S. troops stationed there, crediting them with helping stabilize the country.
“If we fail we may have a country torn apart by civil strife,” he warned. “Terrorists will have safe havens that they will turn into death triangles from which they will strike other countries in the region and even further.”
Zebari recalled his first visit to Harvard, toward the end of the Gulf War in 1991, and the hardships that Iraqis have suffered since. But he said he remained hopeful about the country’s future.
“The task facing us is challenging, but I’m confident about the future of my country,” he said. “I’m confident because of what we have achieved since the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and because no matter how close we came to the brink, the Iraqi people have risen to the occasion.”
Zebari, who held the unofficial title of Kurdish foreign minister through the 1990s, has been Iraqi foreign minister since 2003, keeping the post through four separate governments.
He said growing support in the United States for dividing Iraq into its regional components was understandable but misguided.
“Their premise is as long as these three communities are unable to live together, to coexist, better to put them each in their own region,” he said. “But that is not a solution. There is no magical solution for that.”
Zebari also admitted that Iraq has become somewhat of a proxy battleground between the United States and Iran – as the two nations debate claims over Iran’s nuclear program and over Tehran’s role in allegedly supporting terrorist groups operating in Iraq.
“The message we have been giving out to both [countries] is to keep their differences away from Iraq because we have too many things on our plate,” Zebari said.
To watch a video of the event, visit the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum archive.