Iraq's ambassador to the United States urged yesterday an indefinite stay for American troops in Iraq, telling a Baltimore audience that a withdrawal before the country is stabilized would fuel the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Samir Sumaidaie said al-Qaida is responsible for the majority of mass murders in his home country and railed against setting what he called "arbitrary deadlines" for American troop withdrawal - instead asking for more troops to help combat the steady stream of violence.
Sumaidaie, in an address at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel sponsored by the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, offered no timetable for when he believes Iraq can sustain itself.
"Nobody likes war," he said. "It's an evil thing. But if it's thrust upon you, you have to defend yourself. We welcome Americans as liberators, not occupiers."
Sumaidaie said Iraq has many citizens loyal to the former dictator Saddam Hussein, and that they would combine with al-Qaida if the country remains unstable. Sumaidaie said that before Hussein was removed from power, he put aside billions of dollars in oil revenues to allow his party a return to power. Hussein was executed in December.
"We're talking about well-funded individuals," Sumaidaie said.
Born in Baghdad in 1942, Sumaidaie served as a member of the U.S.-backed Governing Council in Iraq. He was appointed as Iraq's permanent representative to the United Nations in 2004. In April 2006, he moved to Washington as Iraq's first ambassador to the United States.
Sumaidaie spoke of the "good things that go on in Iraq," which he said the American public does not get a chance to see. He said construction is going on in two-thirds of the country at a breakneck rate. Sumaidaie said Americans primarily see the violence.
"They don't see young people going to school," he said. "They don't see the teacher who used to get $10 a month now gets $400 a month."
Bob Boyer, a computer engineer from Baltimore, said he appreciated Sumaidaie's perspective.
"I thought his talk was outstanding, and it's a picture we don't get in our media," Boyer said. "We focus on newsworthy subjects, which is the negative stuff. It was refreshing to hear his talk and to hear that the Iraqis are not giving up. They want freedom."