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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.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Coordinator for Iraq
March 13, 2006

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Good afternoon. I am Jim Jeffrey, senior advisor to Secretary of State Rice on Iraq and the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq policy. I served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from June 2004 to March 2005, and as U.S. Charge d’Affaires to Iraq from March to June 2005. I’m looking forward to your questions and to helping you better understand our policies in Iraq.

Ben, from Philadelphia writes:
Why has the administration consistently failed to develop a cohesive plan to stablize Iraq, restore basic services and rebuild a secure infrastructure?

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Ben, the Administration does have a comprehensive plan, which was spelled out by the President in his "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" released last November, and available at the following internet link:

While I urge you to read the entire document, I would like to highlight the three tracks on which we focus our efforts: 1) the political track, to forge a broadly supported national compact by helping the Iraqi government isolate enemy elements that cannot be won over, engaging those outside of the political process and willing to turn away from violence, and building stable, effective national institutions; 2) the security track, to defeat terrorists, neutralize the insurgency, and develop the Iraqi security forces, applying our "clear, hold, build" strategy to areas previously under insurgent control or influence; and 3) the economic track, which focuses on restoring Iraqi infrastructure, reforming the war- and dictatorship-crippled economy to ensure it becomes self-sustaining, and building the capacity of Iraqi institutions to take the lead.

Dean, from Ohio writes:
With all of the uncertainty and differences of opinion on if we should be there, why not allow the people of Iraq to vote on if we should leave? No matter what the outcome of the vote, it helps our image. If they say they want us out, we can begin the departure and we are just following the wants of the people, not abandoning the country. If they want us to continue to stay, again it helps our image locally.Thanks

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Dean, first of all, we do not 'allow' or 'not allow' the Iraqi people to do anything. U.S. and other coalition forces are present in Iraq under a UN mandate passed unanimously by the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, it is the job of the Iraqi government, once it is set up, to decide not only what its policies should be, including the presence of coalition forces, but also what questions to bring directly to the Iraqi people. If the Iraqi people’s elected leaders decide to have the population vote on this or any other question, they are fully free to do so. And as the President has indicated, if a democratically elected government or the Iraqi people were to ask us to leave, we would do so.

Noble, from Texas writes:
It appears that each day civil war is becoming more and more likely in Iraq. What shift in policy, if any, can the American people expect out of the administration in response to this possibility?

Ambassador James Jeffrey
While civil war is a possibility, we do not believe that it is likely at this point, and we believe that this likelihood has further decreased in the past several weeks. We are cognizant of the risks to Iraq’s future in increased sectarian violence. And we are playing a supporting role in the short run, with Iraqi security forces to quell violence, and in the longer run in the political process, to assist in the stand up of an inclusive national unity government which can deal with the underlying causes of this sectarian violence. There can only be an Iraqi solution to this violence, but we and the rest of the international community can certainly help, and we are.

Susan, from San Jose, CA writes:
Tell me when do you expect the economy of Iraq to turn around enough for the currency to be valued higher. Price at presanction trading was much higher ($3.20 per dinar).

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Thank you, Susan. Both the U.S. Government and the International Monetary Fund are confident that the Iraqi government will continue to grow in 2006, the political and military situation permitting. While the Iraqi dinar has fallen dramatically against the dollar in the 1990s, it has stabilized at approximately 1475 dinar to the dollar, a rate we have seen for the past several years. In fact, the stability of the Iraqi currency is both an indication of, and a contributor to, growing confidence in the Iraqi economy’s long-term prospects. But I wouldn’t want to predict when exactly Iraq’s economic growth translates into higher values for the Iraqi dinar, because that would involve second-guessing the currency markets.

Tom, from Los Angeles writes:
Don't you think that the combative resistance would be reduced if we actually demonstrated that we are leaving, by making obvious preparations, and by letting the Iraqi army and police forces deal with their own people?

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Tom, the President has spared no opportunity to say that when conditions permit, and when Iraqi forces are able to take over the security mission, US and other coalition countries will leave Iraq. In fact, we have reduced recently our presence in Iraq by two brigades, from 17 to 15. As conditions on the ground permit, and following the recommendations of our field commanders, we will make further force adjustments. I personally do not believe that our troop presence is a major factor in the insurgency, but agree with you that the Iraqi army and police forces will have to deal with their own population as soon as possible.

Alessandro, from Italy writes:
Dear Ambassador,In Italy,my country,is thought that american-led warin iraq,which is is supported by our governement,it's making worst the situation beetween Western countries and the Arab world. I think,personally,that we must fight for democracy but in some cases american troop's behaviour and especially oil company's behaviuor are building a wrong image of the Us and his allies... What do you think about it? I hope you will answer my question P.s. sorry for my mistakes in your language Sincerely Alessandro Greco

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Grazie, Alessandro. We appreciate your contacting us, and let me thank you and all Italian citizens for the magnificent contribution Italian forces have made to stabilizing Iraq. We mourn your losses among those forces as if they were our own. You are raising very deep questions about the relationship between the West, including the U.S., and the Middle East.

Please remember that there was no "American-led war in Iraq," as you put it, when four aircraft were hijacked on September 11, or when Saddam repeatedly invaded his neighbors and gassed his own population. After many such threats to international security, my country and many others, including yours, recognized that we would have to deal with the root causes of such repeated violence.

Our conclusion, as you also point out, is that democracy is the answer. In carrying out this policy, we are, of course, proud of the role of our forces, officials, and business people on the ground play under dangerous and difficult conditions. I can assure you that when reports of misconduct surface, we investigate them thoroughly and punish those guilty of crimes.

Kharis, from Boston, MA writes:
Hello Ambassador Jeffery, What is the State Department doing to help Iraq government suppress civil unrest? Besides fossil fuel, what major industry exists in Iraq? Over the next 6-12 months, do you believe Iraqi government will have better relationship with the people? As a servant leader, what is your greatest advise for leadership?

Thank you for your time and service.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Kharis, the U.S. is supporting the efforts of the Iraqi government to deal with civil unrest in a variety of ways. In the short run, this is a security issue, and we have full confidence that Iraqi forces, as we have seen in the past few weeks, can respond to any outbreaks of sectarian unrest. As the Administration has noted, we will support these security forces.

Over the longer term, the only solution to this civil unrest, sectarian attacks, and ultimately much of the insurgency, is an inclusive, democratic political process that brings in all legitimate elements of the Iraqi population. I can assure you that the entire U.S. government, from the President on down, is engaged daily in this effort.

Iraq has a full range of agro-business and industrial manufacturing capabilities, phosphates and other minerals, and a variety of actual or potential light industry sectors that we, the international community, and the Iraqis themselves are seeking to stimulate. In the Middle East and South Asia, Iraq is famous for its export of dates, as well as oil. We need to remember that, of all the oil-exporting lands of the Middle East, Iraq once had the most diversified economy, and one of our key goals is to encourage the non-oil sector.

Ron, from California writes:
Is Iraq in a civil war, but is the American people not fully aware that the civil war has already begun? It is disturbing to read that Iraqi's are killed by insurgent's that are dressed in Iraqi police or military uniforms. How careful is the US military in screening enemy infiltrators in the Iraqi police?

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Ron, I think my answer to Noble above responds to the first part of your question. We agree about the danger posed by insurgents dressed in Iraqi security forces uniforms. While those forces themselves at times have been accused of misconduct, part of the problem is insurgents claiming to be security force members. Multi-national forces are placing a major effort for just these reasons in vetting the security forces, to identify both insurgents and elements otherwise not loyal to the new Iraqi government, in this "Year of the Police."

randall, from brookings, oregon writes:
Would it be possible at this time to propose Iraq form three states. Kurds north,Sunni central and shite south. Then form a central government with equal representatives from each state to disperse the oil profits fairly to each state.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Thank you. The United States is committed to the vision for Iraq’s future wisely laid out in UN Security Council Resolution 1546: a "federal, democratic, pluralist, and unified" Iraq. Thus while we do not support a 'three state' option, we back fully the UN’s call for a federal, pluralistic Iraqi state, that would reflect some of the rich ethnic and religious diversity one finds there. We believe that this 'mix' of approaches best achieves the goals you also are aiming for: reconciling the country’s diversity with the need for unity. We are pleased that the Iraqis themselves, in their new constitution endorsed by a large majority of the population, have taken a very similar approach.

Mike, from UT writes:
President Bush has made mention multiple times of our "three-part strategy in Iraq", one of which is economic development. At the National Newspaper Association, he said that this economic development plan includes "wise reconstruction efforts, creation of a central bank, a sound currency, small businesses." My question is whether there is a Marshall-like plan in the works for rebuilding Iraq to help bring stability and economic prosperity to their people? Thank you for your response.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Thank you. Historical analogies are always somewhat risky. What we can say is that Iraq's reconstruction needs after decades of war and misrule by Saddam Hussein have generated a huge requirement for infrastructure, economic, and governmental reconstruction, and capacity building.

The U.S. response to these needs is represented by the 2003 Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) appropriations totaling $20.9 billion, the largest single US assistance package since the Marshall Fund. We will, as the IRRF law requires, complete obligation of those monies by September 30, 2006.

To maintain this momentum, the President has asked for a total of approximately $2.4 billion in civilian assistance, and $3.7 billion in security forces training and equipping, in the FY 06 Supplemental and FY 07 budget. These funds will sustain much of what we have already done with the IRRF program.

Nevertheless, we rely also on the international community, which has pledged an additional $13.5 billion for Iraq reconstruction. One of our major priorities is to now ensure that this money is quickly spent on Iraq's many urgent needs.

John, from Colonial Beach, VA writes:
Ambassador Jeffrey, thank you for your service. What, if anything, can the United States do to help unite the different religious factions in Iraq and eliminate the insurgents ability to use that as a tool to further their goals. I have a friend on the ground in South Baghdad and I want him to come home safe and sound.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
We, too, want your friend, all coalition members, and the Iraqis themselves to remain safe and sound. One way to do this is to advance the political process, which as we see it is the best way to unite the various religious and ethnic factions in this diverse country. We believe that this process should exclude no group, and should seek solutions to Iraq’s problems, including insurgent and sectarian violence, which reflect the interests of the broadest possible spectrum of Iraqis.

Ben, from Paris, France writes:
In France, we are very thankful for the American soldiers who died in order to liberate us in 1944. Are the Iraqi people conscious that you have at least tried to free them from a terrible dictator?

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Thank you for your kind words. I can assure you that every Iraqi with whom I spoke in my thirteen months in Iraq was well aware of the role of the coalition in bringing to an end Saddam’s tyranny, and polls indicate the extreme unpopularity in which Saddam is deservedly held by all groups within Iraq.

Haley, from Richmond, Kentucky writes:
Do you know how long we are staying in Iraq? I was asking this question because the cold war took a long time until Reagan.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
The Cold War did last a long time. But because the American people, our allies, and the brave peoples of the communist states themselves never gave up hope, we achieved in the end an historic triumph of democracy, freedom and peace. This is exactly what we are seeking to do in the Middle East, as well. We certainly hope it will not take as long, but no one can predict how soon that region will become fully stable, democratic, and peaceful.

As concerns Iraq specifically, the President has repeatedly said that we will depart when the job is done and when the Iraqi security forces are capable of taking the job on. We do not for many good reasons set any arbitrary timeline for this, but are confident that we are making strong progress.

Thus, the President decided to adjust our force presence in December to have fewer U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. We are confident that, conditions permitting, and on the advice of our field commanders, that we can continue these adjustments.

Ambassador James Jeffrey
Thank you all for your questions, it was good to chat with you today. I hope this discussion has shed some light on our critical efforts in Iraq.

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