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Former Iraqi Ambassador On Fighting ISIS With U.S.: 'We All Have Short-Termism'


The Iraqi government is fighting a fierce war against the Islamic State. It has taken back the key city of Fallujah outside of Baghdad. And now, Iraq is turning its attention to the north and the country's second-largest city, Mosul. Mosul has been under ISIS control for the last two years. And for more, I spoke with Lukman Faily. He was Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. for three years before stepping down this summer. And as Ambassador Faily sees it, the U.S. was slow to react to the threat from ISIS.

LUKMAN FAILY: There were some politics. I do understand that the administration 2008 said we will pull out of Iraq. 2011, they did pull out of Iraq. So I do understand that. But I also understand that the threat were there, that the stability of the country was not there and the ramification of endangering to - the security of Iraq will have a major effect on the geopolitics of the region and globally. It's an important country. So to that effect, I think we need to focus on the bigger long-term threat we have here and hence collaboration and cooperation moving forward. So I think we need to not forget, learn from history, but not be shackled by history.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us then, in your view, what does need to be done in the next few years?

FAILY: We do need to make sure that the politics in the region do allow for dialogue to take place. At this moment, we have issues with security in more or less all the countries. We have issues of immigration, migration to Europe and so on. You see the situation in Europe as well security-wise. So we do have a new phenomenon, as much as global warming was a phenomenon we had, or we still have. We need to get the politics aligned with the security threat we all face.

MONTAGNE: But, I mean, exactly how do you do that? The politics have not lined up very well with this security threat these last few years.

FAILY: No, because we all have short-termism. We're all thinking about our own elections and - rather than thinking about the strategic leadership needed. U.S. can play a significant role in leading the tide. We're not talking about troops on the ground. Nobody is asking for that. Iraqis have not asked for it. We're paying the - dearly every day for our own liberation.

We need to make sure that we have a positive mindset in - for cooperation where we can support each other. This has been an endemic problem in the region. It will have ramifications to the the globe. You cannot run away from it. That's - the geography and the geopolitics of that region is important. Here I think the U.S. needs to have a long view. It can't be solely linked to where this President X or President Y comes into power next - the White House next January. It has to go beyond that. And this - hence my point about what took place after 2008.

MONTAGNE: Which was?

FAILY: It was the troop withdrawal to an extent where Iraq did not have a single fighter plane, no single fighter plane in 2011 when the American troops left. I think anybody, let alone experts, should tell you you could not - you should never leave a country without a single fighter plane. Whose fault it is - it's our fault, Iraqis. It's your fault, U.S. But put that aside. Let's not be shackled by the history here. We need to look forward.

MONTAGNE: So do you believe that your countrymen, that Iraqis are willing to look forward?

FAILY: We do because the areas where occupied by ISIS were all Sunnis. If we said, OK, let's have Shiastan (ph), Sunnistan (ph), Kurdistan, we - no fighting would have taken place. But now majority of the fighters are from the south, tribes, local tribes, collaboration with each other, with the Kurd peshmerga fighters, braveheart days (ph). They're fighting on.

So this fight does - has told us what I might call a wake up call for us, that we need to have a win-win approach, otherwise we will all lose out. And here includes a U.S. role. When the U.S. were positive in the fight against ISIS, we all won. When the U.S. were somewhat hesitant, we all lost out.

MONTAGNE: Lukman Faily just stepped down weeks ago as Iraq's ambassador to the United States. Thank you very much for joining us.

FAILY: Thank you again for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
The headline on this page has been corrected to say that Lukman Faily is a former Iraqi ambassador to the United States, as we noted during the interview, not the current ambassador.