Sat, 12 Apr 2003

Their future is for the Iraqi people to decide

The Saddam Hussein regime has virtually collapsed and the international community is now debating how to rebuild Iraq. British Ambassador Richard Gozney talked to The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba concerning his government's view about the future of Iraq. Following is an excerpt of the interview:

Question: What is your government's short-term and medium-term plans for the rebuilding of Iraq?

Answer: The military action isn't quite over as we speak on April 10, but with the fall of Baghdad, clearly Saddam Hussein's government cannot continue for much longer. But we will have to see what happens in the next couple of days. I agree that once the capital falls, the regime in a country falls as well effectively. And the most important thing now is to turn the government, the running of Iraq over to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.

And the mechanism is an interim Iraqi authority which will be made up, we think, of people from inside Iraq who will emerge quite naturally as figures from society, and together with some of the people who have been in exile and who have been leaders of Iraqi opinion from outside of the country.

They will come together, we hope, in what we call the Iraqi interim authority, and the choice of the people will be very much, we hope, a strong voice from Iraq, from cities like Basra and Baghdad ... We would like to see the United Nations play a role in the formation of that Iraq interim authority as well. We are encouraged by the attitude of the French, Germans and the others who want to see the UN play a key role there right now.

When President Bush was in Belfast a couple of days ago, he placed the UN's vital role in the future of Iraq, and that starts with the formation of Iraq's interim authority. And how they decide to construct the institution of a normal country ... how they decide to construct the legislative and the executive functions of an Iraq, which is no longer run by one man and his immediate henchmen, is for the interim authority to decide.

They may decide to have a constitutional conference, to have a new constitution, to have a vote somewhere ... or whatever. We are not going to prescribe that, there is no road map for Iraq, while there is a road map for Palestine and Israel.

We all hope very strongly, and I believe this is a hope shared by many in Indonesia, that all the people who wish Iraq well will come together to offer a helping hand as they go through this peace process, forming an interim government, of deciding what the legislative and executive functions should look like in the future, of turning Iraq into a normal country.

They will need some people... to hold their hands. The fewer American and British people doing that, the better. Because our job was a different one... (to face) a country which refused to disarm peacefully (and) to make it do so.

We set down one or two conditions. They've got to be prepared for UNMOVIC (UN Monitoring and Verification and Inspection Commission) and others to look forward and remove the program of mass destruction. They've got to be prepared to maintain Iraq as one country... We have got one condition, that there can be no break up of Iraq, it wouldn't work, it would be a bad idea.

We hope the UN will go and find those programs of weapons of mass destruction, so that we can eliminate the cause of this military action... which was the Saddam regime's inability to disarm peacefully.

Q: There seems to be a difference between the British government and U.S. administration in regard to the UN role in Iraq. What is your government's view about the UN's role?

A: We want to say that the UN will take a very major role in that. But we have to distinguish between the civil administration of Iraq, on which we hope will depend on many Iraqis already in Iraq; they are doing good jobs without being too closely associated with the Tikrit gang around Saddam Hussein. Distinguish between that and security. Iraq will need security until such time as its Army can be reconstituted as a normal Army.

We see what is happening now, the level of looting that is going on. That is just a policing function... And I rather doubt that the UN will want to or want to be asked to provide blue- helmet peacekeeping forces. It is not the situation. It means the American and British will probably need forces to stay there in certain numbers to ensure security inside Iraq. That is a security function, different from that of the civil administration in the beginning to build institutions, which will be needed in the medium term.

Q: Is there any comparison between the UN experience in East Timor and in Afghanistan and in Iraq?

A: I do not think there is much comparison with East Timor. Everything is different. With Afghanistan there are more similarities. You are replacing an authoritarian, narrow minded, undemocratic government with another government. In both cases that was not why military action started. In Afghanistan it was because they were hiding Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization. They were given one month after Sept. 11 to hand them over. They decided not to, so we had to make them abandon their protection of Osama bin Laden.

Saddam was told to abandon his program of weapons of mass destruction. He refused for 12 years to do it, so in the end we decided that we had to make Iraq give up.

It's too soon to compare this with putting President Karzai in charge of running Afghanistan. The situation is different ... the difference between the different parts of Iraq are strong. You know the Kurdish in the north, Shi'ite the south and in Baghdad and the Arab Sunni, Arab Iraqis in the center ... I hope there is a sense of Iraqi nationhood which can be reinstilled, which can be reencouraged. At the end the answer for Iraq may be more a federal government, more a federal state than a unitary state.

Q: Would the toppling of the Saddam regime become a precedent; if a country does not like another government it just sets out to topple that government?

A: No. I think Iraq is unique. There is no other government in the world other than Saddam Hussein's which had used weapons of mass destruction. No weapons of mass destruction have been used since 1945, the end of World War II except in Iraq and except by the Iraqis against Iran. And when you combine that with a regime which has twice invaded its neighbors, that's a pretty dreadful mixture. That's what Saddam's regime was and that is unique.

Q: Many Muslims here say that the British and U.S. should be able to do something for Palestine because they did something in Iraq. What is your comment?

A: It is a good point, because there was huge disappointment throughout the world, not just in the Arab world, not just in the Muslim world, also in Western Europe. They are very, very disappointed that there is not enough progress on the Palestine and Israel (issue). There are now some hopeful signs, President Bush has said there should be an accepted Palestinian state, and accepted by the Israelis... Of course the Israelis will have to feel secure... and it is very welcomed that people like Crown Prince Abdullah in Saudi Arabia talked about the recognition of the rights of the Israelis to exist and so on. If they feel secure then we are much more optimistic about getting Israel to agree to pull back to the borders in 1967...