CHARLESTON - Iraq's ambassador to the United States has seen his work transition since 2006 from daily crisis management to routine diplomatic work "verging on normalcy."

With safety gradually improving in Iraq, Ambassador Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaid'ie said he hopes his country and the United States can complete the transition from being partners in fighting terrorism to partners in rebuilding. He said up to 20,000 American troops may need to stay to help Iraq through the "danger zone" of this transition.

"This is a small fraction of the original American commitment in Iraq," Sumaid'ie said, noting that American forces in Iraq once numbered 200,000 and now stand at approximately 45,000.

On Monday, Sumaid'ie was on Eastern Illinois University's campus to serve as the keynote speaker at a Mideast conference and to personally thanks local veterans for their service in Iraq.

Sumaid'ie, who has a background as an electrical engineer, said he lived in exile in England for a time and lobbied in the United States for the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Sumaid'ie said he "dropped everything else" to return to Iraq following the American invasion in 2003 and to help build a new government there.

In Iraq, Sumaid'ie said he served on the governing council and then as secretary of homeland security. He said these were dangerous times in which he lost colleagues to insurgent attacks and was in the crosshairs himself.

"We uncovered a plot to assassinate me about 24 hours before it was to be sprung," Sumaid'ie said, adding that a member of his security detail was part of the plot.

Iraq's fledgling government asked Sumaid'ie in 2005 to serve as its ambassador to the United Nations. Sumaid'ie said he had no previous experience as a diplomat, so he had to learn as he went along just days before the U.N. General Assembly convened in New York.

Sumaid'ie, appointed ambassador to the U.S. in 2006, said Iraq continues to go through tough times but is more stable now. He said Iraq did not devolve into civil war and its people defeated the Al-Qaeda terrorists who had tried to take advantage of the power vacuum there . He said violence in Iraq has dropped to 10 percent of peak 2006 levels.

Dictators in some countries that are resisting the "Arab spring" protest movement have cited the violence that followed Hussein's overthrow as a reason that their people should favor stability over democracy, Sumaid'ie said. However, the ambassador said he feels the sight of Iraqis voting has played a part in inspiring their neighbors.

"Arabs looked at Iraq at that time and saw another Arab nation choosing their leaders in freedom," Sumaid'ie said.

Contact Rob Stroud at rstroud@jg-tc.com or 238-6861.

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