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Remarks at the Town Hall Meeting with PRT Leaders and Iraqi Partners

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Location: Washington, DC


Remarks at the Town Hall Meeting with PRT Leaders and Iraqi Partners

MODERATOR: Salaam Alaykum. Thank you all for joining us here today. On behalf of my colleagues in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Baghdad province, it is my great honor and privilege to introduce to you today the Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Iraq, Christopher Hill.

AMBASSADOR HILL: Salaam Alaykum. (Applause.) It's really great to be here, and you're going to see a lot of me in the future, so I don't think there's a need to see a lot of me right now. But it is my great pleasure, indeed my great honor to introduce the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who has arrived here this morning and is going through quite a schedule today of many, many events, and we are just very honored that she's here. Secretary Clinton. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. I am pleased to be here with all of you today and very excited about this opportunity to hear from you. I'm pleased that Ambassador Hill is now here in Baghdad ready to work to further and deepen our cooperation on a range of important issues.

I wanted to come today to repeat the commitment that President Obama and I and our government have to the people and nation of Iraq, and to assure you that as we make this transition, that the United States will stand with the people of Iraq and look for ways to create a close and important relationship for the future.

So what I would like to do is to really turn this over to the audience. I know we have Iraqis from many different parts of the country with many different experiences. We have members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. I thank John Bass for being here with me today. And as we move together into the future, we will do a better job if we talk to one another and if we listen to each other and then decide how we can solve problems together.

So I will invite you to raise your hands if you have a question or a comment, a good idea that you would like to share with me, and Pauline will be calling on people. Who would like to be first? I saw a hand go up right there.

QUESTION: William Worda (ph), activist in media and human rights. Following the situation in United State, we know that the new Administration in - of USA now engaged in the internal issues, especially economy. And it's - looks like to us that the situation of Iraq is not so important or it's not in the same level of importance for the new Administration.

I would like to ask whether this policy is a kind of reprieve or a kind of making another policy different for Iraq?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me answer. I think what we'll do, Gamal, is if the question is in Arabic, you can translate it. Otherwise, I'll answer it in English and that way, we'll get more questions.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me assure you and repeat what President Obama said. We are committed to Iraq. We want to see a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq. But we know we're coming into office when there is a transition underway. The prior administration agreed to withdraw our troops and we support that. We want to do it in a responsible and careful way. And we also want to expand our work with the people and Government of Iraq in other areas of concern to help the government, to help the rule of law, to help the civil society. And so we are very committed, but the nature of our commitment may look somewhat different because we're going to be withdrawing our combat troops over the next few years.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) One of the basic rules of cementing the basis and the principles of democracy is that democracy relies heavily on education. And in order to really have an effective democracy, you really have to reform your educational system. Iraq after the change is really facing a very serious and large problem. This is the problem of illiteracy and ignorance. We have a lot of young Iraqis who are really suffering from illiteracy. Through our own association of culture for everyone, we have young people at the age of 17 or 18 - they are still going through illiteracy programs.

The number of children who are leaving schools, they exceed 3 million Iraqi child. My question is: How can international organizations and other bodies put together a national program to help Iraq get out of this problem and this dilemma?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's an excellent question. How many of you agree with the questioner that we need a plan for Iraq's education system going forward? Is this a problem?

Well, what I would like to offer is cooperation with the government, the Ministry of Education, universities and other experts so that we can work with you and hear what you think you need and offer help as appropriate. We do not want to tell you what kind of education system you should have. What we can offer is to bring information about what works in many places around the world so that you can have the benefit of that to make your own plans going forward, and I will make sure we do that.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) The first part - we are very delighted to have the - you, Madame Secretary, as well as the new American Ambassador in Iraq. We're delighted to have both of you here.

Madame Secretary, I represent Iraqi tribes, and in Iraqi tribal societies, agriculture is the main source of life, and we do have a serious problem with the shortage of water. This is affecting the agriculture, it's affecting our way of life, and my question to you: What is the United States - will be prepared to do in order to help us with the shortage of water to continue our agriculture life?

The - also, when it comes to the various machineries that are used by Iraqi farmers, it's really old technology, and there is a need to really modernize the various machinery that is used in the agriculture production. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: You've raised two very important points. And I think both with water and better agricultural production, we can provide some expertise and some support for not only the Iraqi Government in Baghdad, but the provincial governments around Iraq so that they can work more quickly to try to help on the water and on the agricultural technology.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) First of all, I would like to welcome you, Madame Secretary, here. I work as an editor-in-chief of an Iraqi newspaper. The United States made a decision to topple down the previous regime in Iraq and now, there is a new way of democracy in Iraq. We strongly believe that true freedom and true democracy will not exist unless Iraqi women will enjoy true freedom and true democracy.

My question to you, Madame Secretary, is this: What is it that you are going to provide Iraqi women in order to empower them, in order to advance them? Especially that you represent the Democratic Party in the United States that seized power. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. I believe strongly that supporting and empowering women is good for families, it's good for communities, and it's good for countries. I know here in Iraq that women have voted in very large numbers in the elections, and that women have committed to supporting this new democracy through their votes and their actions. And so I believe that Iraq will be much stronger if women are educated and empowered to participate on behalf of themselves and their families, particularly their children, as Iraq makes a new future.

Before coming to this town hall, I met with a group of war widows who are struggling to support themselves and their children. And they asked me to talk with the Iraqi Government about helping women, particularly widows, have more opportunities, more jobs, and more support so that they can take better care of themselves.

So I will strongly urge not only the Iraqi Government, but the Iraqi people to be sure that women are given the rights and support they need not only to make better lives for themselves, but to help their country. When I met with the women and looked around the room, I could not tell what group they came from or what their background was. They were all united in the loss of a husband and the difficulties they faced for their children. And I think it's important for the United States to be a strong partner with Iraqi women, and I intend to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Nanjamee Ketchu (ph), (inaudible). I will ask my question in Arabic because I want everybody to understand. (Speaking in Arabic.)

(Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, I am a citizen of Iraq. I'm an Iraqi, but I'm also (inaudible) and a Syrian. And there is a great deal of injustice that was given to us, even calling us as a minority. There is an injustice that lies right there because of our ethnic and religious differences. My people, they are still being forced to migrate and move their areas, some of them even forced to leave Iraq altogether and go outside.

Despite what it is called, as democracy in Iraq, these people are still, under pressure, forced to leave their homes and their communities. My question is: What kind of plans do you have in order to return those people, either those who were forced to migrate from one part of Iraq to another, to go back to their original places, or those who were forced to leave Iraq altogether to come back?

Unfortunately, some international organization, and through the UN, they are actually embracing the idea of encouraging those people to leave Iraq altogether instead of bringing them here and keeping them here. It's a very unfortunate thing. We strongly believe that we - this is our land, this is our country, and we are a full partner in this country.

My question is: What plans do you have in order to restore the rights of those and the security of those people, and also to be treated as equal citizens, all of us as first-class citizens?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that's a very important question, not just about your own personal concerns, but how Iraq will come together as one people and one nation with differences. I come from a country where there's every difference in the world. People who do not get along in Iraq move to the United States and live down the street from each other. I would hope that for Iraq, given the intelligence and the work ethic and the courage of the Iraqi people that all Iraqis will be welcomed and put to work to help build a better future for your country.

I just want to add one thing. I know how hard this will be. My own country has struggled for many years with all kinds of divisions. And yet, as you know, we have just elected an African American president, someone who is leading all Americans, not just one group or another group. I believe that Iraq could be one of the strongest countries not just in the region, but in the world if there is a way to work together. And our government will work with the Iraqi Government to help bring people back to the country, because you want as many talented, hardworking people to be here, to be the doctors and the lawyers and the teachers and the farmers and the business leaders. That will help all Iraqis. So I'm going to work hard to see that we support helping people return and feel good about living in a new democratic Iraq.

QUESTION: Leyla Abdul Latif (ph), former minister for - of labor and social affair. (Speaking in Arabic.)

(Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, my name is Leyla Abdul Latif (ph), former minister of social affairs. I believe that as - respect and in gratitude to the martyrs and those who lost their lives on both sides, from the American side and from the Iraqi side, it is crucial to protect the democratic achievements and the constitution of Iraq. I believe one of the most important elements to do so is to focus on the economic elements and the support and the economic support for both women and young Iraqis, especially those who are unemployed and in search of an opportunity.

I believe paying an attention to the unemployed also will benefit Iraq from a security point of view. I believe it is crucial for a woman to be truly liberated, and among the most important forms of liberation - to liberate her economically as well as to give her her rights.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to just underscore what she said. Iraqis need more jobs. And part of that will come if the economy around the world improves, because unfortunately, the price of oil is down and the economy is down. But it will also happen if we free up the economy so that more people can actually get jobs and we can bring more investment into Iraq to put people to work. But I share your concern about young people, young men and young women who do not have any work. And I think we have to try to come up with a plan that will permit Iraq to create more jobs as the economy picks back up again.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) In the name of God, the Merciful, Compassionate, my name is Kasam (ph) Al Hurishi (ph). Madame Secretary, I work with an organization that deals with orphans as well as Iraqi detainees who were released from jail as a result of not committing any crimes, but they were in detention for a number of years in various jails.

We are working with those people, and I'm here referring to the detainees who did not commit any crimes, who were not convicted of any crimes either against the Iraqi people or against the U.S. And through my organization, we are working on embracing those young people, trying to provide them with a variety of different training programs, either in computers or in sewing for women. We are trying to provide them with an opportunity to be integrated once again into the society, and not to put them in a vulnerable position where they could be recruited again to join either criminal groups or work with terrorist organizations.

Some international relief organizations are working and putting together some training programs. We have more than 500 people who went through those training programs, but frankly, they have very little budget to cover this type of training for those recently released from jail, especially that we have always to remember that these were innocent people. They were not there because they have committed any kind of crimes.

My question is: Is there any other - any projects, any ideas, any ways to support those people and incorporate them back again into the society?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's a very important question, because as you know, there are thousands of Iraqis who have been detained. And as the questioner said, many of them were swept up in operations to try to make the country safer, but they aren't hard-core criminals. And what we have to do is separate out the people who are criminals and terrorists from everybody else, and then when they come out of detention, there has to be a plan to help them, as you say, reintegrate into society.

It's a very important question. I do not have an answer at this moment, but I applaud you for the work you're doing. And I will work with our new ambassador and with our people in Washington to come up with a plan and to support organizations like yours that are doing the work of helping these young people find a place back in Iraqi society.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you in Iraq as well as welcoming Ambassador Hill, and I wish you all success in your diplomatic mission here in Baghdad. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who organized this town hall meeting and those who called on us to come here. We are very appreciative of all of this.

Madame Secretary, you know that economy and politics are basically two sides of the same coin. Political stability would lead to economic stability and vice versa. We know that American diplomacy is going through a different approach of opening new channels with some countries in the region, although some of those countries still insist on their old views and their old opinions.

On the issue of economics, in order for economy to thrive, it really needs a fertile ground. We still have security threats and explosions taking place. What we are really asking for is the - for the American Government to support the Iraqi Government in order to have that peace and stability and security, as well as economic prosperity.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And you have our commitment to do that. There are so many hands. (Laughter.) How many more questions can we take? You know what this means? I have to come back. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh my goodness, it's just - there's too many good questions. We're going to take one more question because I have to go meet the prime minister, but may I - okay, we'll take two questions. We'll take one from this side - all right, we'll take three real quick questions. (Laughter.) But they have to be short, short questions. Okay, we'll take one from here, we'll take --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay, one from here and then this man back there. Okay, we'll take - all right. So that's it. But here, let me say this: If you will - if you have questions that you wanted to ask, if you will write them down, and if we could, Pauline, get some cards so that if you wanted to ask a question, we'll write them down, we'll get them translated.

SECRETARY CLINTON: What? Oh, I'm going to be doing a press event later after the - after my visit with the foreign minister. So if you want to come to the press event, I will have you also talk to Pauline. But I have to take these three quick questions, so please make the questions short. Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) give the jobs to the private sector.

STAFF: A chance for the private sector.

SECRETARY CLINTON: A chance for the private sector, I believe that. We'll create more jobs that way. Okay.

QUESTION: I am speaking practically.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Practically, exactly. I've been told the Iraqis are practical people. Is that right?

QUESTION: First of all, may I speak in English (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, go ahead and speak in English.

QUESTION: Okay. My name is Sarah and I'm 18 years old. First of all, it's an - very honor to me and to every Iraqi in here, I'm sure, to have you in Iraq, of course. My English might be a little misleading.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Your English is better than my Arabic. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you. I'm flattered. My question is: Madame Secretary, for being, you know, a role model to every woman in this world and through the great accomplishments you have made and - what sort of advice you want to give me as an ambitious young woman who is looking forward to being - to obtain the positive - the position you have obtained and to - and hoping to leave this enormous impact that you have left to all the women around the world? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you're much too kind. But first of all, it is very important for everyone to get an education. It is particularly important for girls and women to get an education. So I strongly encourage you to continue with your education, and that's - that was our first question. We will do more on education.

Secondly, it's important that the voices of young people be heard inside Iraq as you are making all of these changes, because, most - many of us in this room, most of our lives are behind us, not in front of us. But for the young people of Iraq, they deserve the kind of future that we can work for. I think it's important that your voices be heard in that process.

And finally, for young women particularly, as I said earlier, Iraq will become much richer and stronger and more influential if it uses half the population's talents in politics, in business, in the professions, everywhere in society. So I hope that you will stay committed to your country, and that you will help other young people to stay committed, because Iraq needs all of its young people, including those who should come home and be welcomed home to participate in building Iraq.

I think we'll go ahead, Gamal, without translation, so I can get all of these questions in. Yes, yes.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, I would like to welcome you, welcome the ambassador here and thank you for your time. I work basically with NGOs, and I believe that through NGOs, we have direct contact with all segments of the Iraqi society - women organizations, farmers, women in the rural society, handicapped people, children, all of that. We were getting some support from various international organizations that were supporting our work from the U.S. Some of them were Republicans. Others were belonging to the Democratic Party.

Now, we sense that organization that belonged to the Republican Party in the U.S. are going back and they are not continuing their efforts. And we see shortage in terms of American organization and international organization that's supporting our work. My question: Is it possible to increase the number of American organization who can support NGOs in Iraq?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I will try to do that, and I will talk to my Republican friends as well as my Democratic friends. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Iraq within the first 100 days of our Administration was to hear for myself any ideas and suggestions. And I will try to get more groups to support NGOs here in Iraq.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: And I called on this young man, he was - we haven't gone back before, so here comes the microphone.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

QUESTION: Thank you. (In Arabic.)

QUESTION: Okay. (Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, my name is Samuel Russim (ph). I've been a journalist for 19 years. Everybody knows that the United States intends to withdraw its forces from Iraq. And frankly, some people are afraid and concerned what will happen as a result of that withdrawal. I know that we will hear from the U.S. side that the United States will prepare the Iraqi army and the Iraqi forces and security forces in order to fill the gap. But frankly, there are so many people here and so many citizens who do not have enough trust and confidence in the Iraqi forces.

Is it true that you really got entangled in this Iraq issue? And how - what could you do in order to really stop this misgiving and doubts that exists in the minds of some Iraqis about lack of confidence and trust in their own security forces and armed forces? The other part of the question: Do you support the return of some of the former Baathists who can come into the Iraqi society and government and contribute?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the last question is really for the Iraqi people to decide. And that depends upon how you view your efforts to bring your society together. There is nothing more important than to have a united Iraq. And that goes to your question. The more united Iraq is, the more you will trust the security services. The security services have to earn your trust, but the people have to demand it.

Now, we will be working closely with the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi security forces as we withdraw our combat troops. But we need to be sure that all of you are supporting a strong nonsectarian security force. And we will work to try to help make that happen, but I think that the ultimate answer is what the people of Iraq demand. And what I have seen over the last several years is a very strong desire on the part of most Iraqis to have a united, secure, stable, peaceful Iraq. That is our goal. We're not going to tell you how to resolve internal political issues. You have to decide that. But we will continue to work very, very hard to give you the tools to make sure that you have a secure country.

Now, we are passing out cards for you to write your questions on, and I will get all of those questions, and we will answer them through the Embassy. But I want to thank you for taking your time to come and share your thoughts. And anytime I come to Iraq, we will do this again, because clearly, we did not have enough time.

QUESTION: Is that a promise?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's a promise, it is. When I come next to Iraq, we will do it again, and I hope that - (applause) - I hope that we see continued progress. I have to go now to meet with government officials. But I will tell all the government officials what I have heard here today, because this is the message: Let's solve our problems together.

And thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)


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