WASHINGTON – Iraq is not on track to become another Iran despite the disconcerting images last week of Iraqis burning U.S. flags and chanting "Death to America," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
"I have no doubt that this is an Iraqi government and an Iraq that is going to be a fierce fighter in the war against terrorism, because they themselves are experiencing the effects of terror on their population," Rice said. "I have no doubt that this is going to be a government that is on the right side in the War on Terror."
The protests in Baghdad on Friday were organized by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in response to fighting in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah. Crowds of al-Sadr supporters from across Iraq's Shiite heartland chanted "Death to Israel, Death to America" in the one of the biggest pro-Hezbollah rallies since the conflict began July 12.
Rice, during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, was asked whether the United States has helped create another fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iraq, such as the one in Iran. Rice said she did not like what the protesters said, but she believes that Iraq today is better off than when sectarian differences were oppressed through the iron rule of Saddam Hussein.
"That people would go out and demonstrate and say what they feel is the one sign that perhaps Iraq is one place in the Middle East where people are exercising their right to free speech," she said. "No. I don't like what they said."
She said she thinks that as Iraq becomes more stable and democratic "you won't have demonstrations of that kind.
"The notion that somehow Iraq under Prime Minister (Nouri al-Maliki) and his government is something akin to Iran is just not right. It's just erroneous," Rice said.
Rice disputed the analysis of Great Britain's outgoing Iraq ambassador, William Patey, who warned Prime Minister Tony Blair that civil war is a more likely outcome in Iraq than democracy. She noted that Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, also warned last week of the threat of civil war, but that he believes "we have the forces in place and the plan in place to prevent that."
"He didn't say, 'sliding toward civil war.' He said the dangers are there. Of course the dangers are there when you have sectarian violence," Rice said.