Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir Sumaida’ie said Iraqi nationalism is stronger than ever as elections approach in an event hosted by the Elliott School of International Affairs and GW’s International Development Studies Program Wednesday night.
Sumaida’ie shared the narrative of Iraq during the last half of the 20th century from his perspective, telling of a nation of promise in the 1950s slipping into authoritarianism under Saddam Hussein.
Sumaida’ie described his youth in Iraq as pleasant, with people caring about tending their gardens and providing their children with education.
“It was a time when everybody was hopeful about the future,” he said.
After Hussein’s military coup, Sumaida’ie said that Iraq went downhill in every possible way.
“Before Saddam, the GDP [of Iraq] was equivalent to that of Spain, and the Iraqi dinar was equal to 3.3 American dollars.”
Upon the end of Hussein’s end, Sumaida’ie said that one American dollar was equal to more than 3,000 Iraqi dinars.
“I was horrified to see village after village after village abandoned and destroyed,” he said.
Sumaida’ie made it clear that he was not there to discuss whether or not the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003, but he did say that the Americans “came in without a really true understanding of how bad it really was.”
Though the issue is still controversial in the United States, the ambassador said that American military help is a relatively straightforward decision for the Iraqis. With American help, Sumaida’ie said that Iraq is “spiraling upwards, not downward.”
That is not to say that there are not problems, however. Sumaida’ie said terrorists, especially those trained by neighboring countries and brought into Iraq, are still a threat.
He said that while there are terrorists, they do not represent the views and actions of the vast majority of the Iraqi population. Internal corruption is another issue that Sumaida’ie said is still being fought.
“It will take years, but in this year, I believe there will be less corruption than the last,” he said.
Sumaida’ie was very optimistic when discussing the upcoming elections in Iraq.
“We are proud to have reached a point, where this Sunday, the Iraqi people will go, dip their fingers in ink, and cast their vote,” he said. “Terrorists will be here for some time, but they have failed to derail the election.”
Sumaida’ie also said the election cycle of a democratic government is a very exciting feeling.
“Iraq now, today, does not know who is going to rule them in six months. That’s great!”
One graduate student found Sumaida’ie to be a timely speaker.
“It was very interesting. It was great that we could have somebody come here and discuss these issues in such a pertinent time in their history and such a crucial time in their history,” said Ryan Evans, a second year graduate student in the Elliott School.
Another student, first year graduate student Kristin Cullison, said the talk gave perspective on understanding the Iraqi people.
“Just to have the opportunity to ask him specifics about the election and what his thoughts were was very revealing,” Cullison said. “I think I definitely came out of this with a better understanding of the Iraqi people.”