Interview on the Situation in Iraq

In light of a recent speech made by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of efforts by his administration to calm increasing domestic concern about an exit strategy for U.S. troops in Iraq, the JoongAng Ilbo’s senior columnist, Kim Young-hie, met with Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, to ask an expert’s opinion on the Iraq situation, to which Seoul has its own links, and other outstanding issues in the region. Mr. Talbott participated in a forum last week hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo, the institute, the Seoul Forum for International Affairs and the Korean-American Association.

Q. Iraqi society is divided among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Is there any hope that Iraq can become a democratic country?

A. The very best you can hope for is an extremely loose federation. The Kurds have virtually a state of their own. The Kurds are in an uneasy way allied with the Shiites while they have been oppressed by the Sunnis who have been running the country for a long time. It’s a mix that is hard to imagine turning into a unitary state.

South Korea has sent 3,600 troops and has almost decided to pull out 1,000. If the United States starts to reduce troops, a chain reaction may follow among the ranks of coalition forces ¯ would that not engulf Iraq in further turmoil?

It depends on whether it [the pull out of South Korean troops] is more skillfully handled than it was handled when the announcement was made. It could have been handled in a way that was essentially positive. The announcement could have been presented in a way saying that the ROK was to maintain its contingent in support of the U.S. just as the U.S. was looking ahead to reduce their numbers. But it caught our president with surprise and my sense is it did your president too.

Read the entire interview.