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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

David Satterfield
Ambassador David Satterfield
Deputy Chief of Mission
U.S. Embassy Baghdad
November 18, 2005

David Satterfield
Hello, I'm Ambassador David Satterfield, Charge d'Affaires at the Embassy of the United States of America in Baghdad, Iraq. I am looking forward to chatting with you today in this "Ask the White House" chat.

Amy, from River Falls, WI writes:
I am a Political Science student at the University of Wisconsin River Falls. I am working on a semester long research paper about Iraq. My question is: How are the rules for constitutional ratification in Iraq currently written? Please answer my question, I have been combing the Internet for days and cannot find my answer

David Satterfield
Iraq's constitution was ratified on the basis of Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law, a basic law that was drafted by Iraqi leaders in concert with the Coalition Provisional Authority. That law stipulated, in Article 61, that Iraqis would vote on their constitution in an October 15 referendum. The constitution would pass if approved by a majority of voters and if not rejected by two-thirds of the voters in three or more of Iraq's 18 governorates. On referendum day the constitution passed dramatically. Seventy-nine percent of Iraqi voters approved the constitution and 21 percent voted against it. Only two governorates voted against it by a two-thirds majority. And so, in accordance with the Transitional Administrative Law and the rulings of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, the constitution was adopted.

Chris, from USA writes:
Ambassador Satterfield: How is Reconstruction going? How many Schools have been buildt? Is there a University of Baghdad? Where can I find out more about the Reconstruction effort?

Thanks and I know everyone is doing exceptional work.

David Satterfield
The U.S. reconstruction effort has had a significant impact on helping Iraq restore essential services after 30 years of decay, neglect and totalitarian rule. Roughly half of the current electricity generation is due to US projects. Our water treatment projects have added capacity to serve approximately 2.3 million people. We have rehabilitated roughly 75 percent of current oil production. More than 36,000 teachers have been trained, 7 million textbooks provided and over 700 schools renovated. These efforts have been critical in helping Iraq back on its feet after Saddam's terrible legacy.

There is a University of Baghdad and you can find out more about the reconstruction effort by going to the following USG web sites:

Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
How do the people of Iraq feel about their new constitution? Is there unity for the most part in Iraq, or is there tension that might spark a civil war upon our withdrawal?

David Satterfield
Iraqis gave their constitution a huge vote of confidence in their referendum on October 15. Eighty percent of Iraqis voting that day said yes to the new charter. The statue of Saddam Hussein came down on April 2003, and, in many ways, October 2005 saw Iraqis raise a new monument in his place. Iraq was a nation ruled by one tyrant, and on that day it became a nation ruled by law, a country where a constitution is supreme and no man is above it. Since referendum day, the vast majority of Iraqis have celebrated the constitution's passage. I saw one of the most remarkable celebrations take place at the close of Ramadan a few weeks ago. Shia worshippers marking the "Eid al-Fitr" holiday actually included cheers for the constitution as part of their celebration.

But there are real doubts about the constitution within Iraq's Sunni Arab community. That community has accepted the results of the referendum but is watching anxiously to see what the constitution will mean for them in practice. Putting the constitution into force is the challenge of the phase ahead after Iraq's elections, and it will also be the truest start of Iraq's new constitutional democracy. The next parliament will implement this new constitution, and it will also have a special opportunity to review it and propose amendments to it during the first six months it is in effect. The U.S. plans to support efforts to make sure that all Iraqis are satisfied with the document once it enters into force.

You asked whether Iraq might fall into civil war when we leave. Historically, countries have plunged into civil war when their institutions have failed them, when peaceful problem-solving was deemed impossible. You reject civil war when you build democratic institutions, and Iraqis are doing that with our help right now. The elections on December 15 and the stand-up of Iraq's first democratically-elected permanent government will be a major step forward.

ovidiu, from washington dc writes:
I would appreciate a brief comment on the Iraq' economic reconstruction status. Which is in your opinion, Amb. Satterfield, the priority of the Iraq reconstruction process after the December 15th' elections?

David Satterfield
As I highlighted in a response to an earlier question, the Iraq reconstruction program has played a critical role in getting the country back on its feet after years of neglect and totalitarian rule. Water treatment has increased the capacity to provide clean water to more than two million people, roughly half of electricity generation is the result of US efforts, oil production is nearing prewar levels, and scores of schools and health clinics have been renovated with US support.

Our priority in moving forward, particularly after the elections, is to strengthen the capacity of the Iraqis at the national and provincial level to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. We are undertaking an intensive effort to provide additional technical assistance to the national government and support each of the provincial government in fulfilling their responsibilities to their citizens in a democratic system. This is part of the strategy to support a rapid transition to Iraqi self-reliance.

Anna, from North Dakota writes:
Now that the constitution has been accepted, what is the next step in the process in making Iraq a Democracy?

David Satterfield
Now that the Iraqi people have approved their constitution, in a referendum held October 15, the next step in the political process will be national elections held on December 15. All registered Iraqi voters will be eligible to vote for members of their new legislative body – the Council of Representatives. The Council will elect a Presidency Council (President and two Vice Presidents), and that Presidency Council will then charge the candidate of the legislative assembly’s largest political bloc to form a cabinet. The Council of Representatives will then vote confidence in that cabinet and Prime Minister – thus establishing Iraq’s first permanent government under its new constitution.

Bob, from Irvine, California writes:
What is being done to get us more information on the progress being made in Iraq? Much of the news reports do not include the positive accomplishments being made in the country.

David Satterfield
In Baghdad both the Embassy and Coalition Military Forces have a number of full-time public affairs operations, at various echelons, that conduct media briefings, respond to media queries, and organize media trips to see projects on the ground. Through them, we are doing a great deal to get out the news of our many accomplishments in Iraq, not just to American journalists, but also to international media outlets and to Iraq's own media. Of course, we face some challenges, such as security.

Except when they are "embedded" and travelling with Coalition Forces, security concerns do restrict the mobility of Western journalists. For the elections, to help overcome this handicap, we plan to organize helicopter lifts to take the media to various polling places around Iraq to see the voting up close. We will then bring them back to Baghdad promptly so that they can file.

All that being said, we don't control what the news organizations cover or ultimately provide to the viewer/reader. There are a number of embassy and military websites that post news of accomplishments.

Charles, from Winter Park, Florida writes:
What is the most common misconception about the current situation in Iraq? Thank you.

David Satterfield
One of the most common misconceptions about the current situation in Iraq is that Iraqi security forces are not taking responsibility for defending their country against terror and insurgent violence. In fact, Iraqi Security Forces (Army and Police) are increasingly capable - with assistance provided by the Multinational Force - Iraq - of combating and defeating the terrorists and insurgents who would deny to the people of Iraq the opportunity to live in democracy, peace and prosperity.

Moreover, Iraqi Security Forces are taking on the critical task of securing the peace, post-conflict. As President Bush has stated, "as Iraqi security forces stand up, our forces will stand down." We are confident that the process of bringing peace and security to Iraq - through Iraqi efforts - is progressing.

Nat, from Lancaster, PA writes:
Mr. Satterfield, Iraq's citizens had more security under Saddam Hussein's leadership. While cruel, Saddam ensured that citizens were not blown up in suicide bombings daily. How does the White House respond to this? Is it better to have a democratic state where citizens live in fear of being blown up, possibly by participating in the democratic process, or a despotic one?

David Satterfield
Under the decades of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule, Iraqi citizens enjoyed very little in the way of genuine security. They were subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and – all too frequently – torture and execution at the hands of a regime that held absolute power over life and death. The brutality of Saddam’s thuggish security and intelligence forces inflicted immeasurable suffering on innocent Iraqis for too many years. The terrorists who are launching attacks against the Iraqi people today are trying to thwart the realization of a democratic, secure and prosperous Iraq. But the Iraqi people have demonstrated their overwhelming choice for freedom – freedom from intimidation, freedom from fear, and freedom from oppression – by their votes this year: in January for the Transitional National Assembly and last month for a constitution. They have shown every intention of demonstrating once more their commitment to freedom in the national election to be held December 15 for the new Council of Representatives that will choose the next Government of Iraq.

anita, from los angeles writes:
Can you tell me how many embassies are currently active in Iraq. I see one site that lists the US, Great Britain, and Australia. Are there more? Thank you.

David Satterfield
There are 52 diplomatic missions active in Baghdad. They include Embassies and representatives of international organizations, such as the United Nations.

Spiros, from Greece writes:
I would very much like to know how Iraqi society is dealing with these new reforms that have increased the rights of women in that Muslim part of the world. Also, are there any notable objections to the new rights given to women in the new constitution?

David Satterfield
Iraqi women have become increasingly engaged in issues relating to furthing their rights. They recognize that the legislation implementing the constitution will be key in this process and have actively sought to participate in the upcoming elections. There are many women who are now on the lists in top positions. Additionally, there are increased efforts by civil society to educate women regarding their rights and how they can influence decision-making in this regard.

There are also organized groups of women who are lobbying the leadership to support legislation that will further women's rights. Overall, while women acknowledge that the constitution does not contain everything they might have wanted, the majority are satisfied with it and recognize the need to continue their efforts in support of human and women's rights.

David Satterfield
It was my privilege to be here with you tonight. I hope we have been able to answer all your questions and help all of you in understanding better the situation in Iraq and the American role here. Thank you.