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Programme(s): Breakfast With Frost

Date & time: 2nd November 2003

Subject / interviewee: Jeremy Greenstock

Prepared by: BBC

Contact numbers: 020 7276 1080 - Pager 07659 137 572 – 24hrs, every day

DAVID FROST: And now Iraq. Iraq has been experiencing one of the worst weeks of violence since the war ended. Only this morning a helicopter has been shot down and the wave of bombings including an attack on the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad has led international organisations to say that they’re pulling out or reconsidering their presence. Yesterday the American Administrator Paul Bremer announced he wants to speed up the handover of power to an Iraqi government. Is this a sign that the United States is looking for an earlier exit strategy? It seems so. I’m joined now from Baghdad by the man Tony Blair sent to help run Iraq – Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Jeremy, good morning.


DF: Could we start with this bewildering point that one finds again and again Jeremy, which is that with all these terrible killings that have gone on since the end of the war, the intelligence services everywhere in the past few days have been confessing that they’ve really no idea who’s responsible, whether it’s foreign fighters from nearby countries, Saddam Hussein supporters, Ba’athists, Al Qaeda, disaffected Iraqis themselves, indigenous Iraqis who don’t like the new regime. How do we find out who’s doing this?

JG: We’ve got a very good idea of who’s doing it in general. We’re just saying that for any one particular incident it’s quite difficult to identify the people who’ve done it just that day but there are mixture of ex-Saddamists who think they’ve got a hope of coming back which of course they don’t, of imported terrorists and young men from around the Arab world who want to have a go at the Americans in particular, and some of the hundred thousand criminals that Saddam let out just before the conflict started. So there’s a nasty mix there. They are having a go at certain parts of the American system in Iraq. But the most of the rest of Iraq is beginning to grow in economy that’s working, to come back to life, to realise that it’s got a huge future. So we have to set these things in proportion. It’s a nasty atmosphere to work in, but it’s not as though a lot of things weren’t going right.

DF: No, because everybody here does have a picture that everything seems to be going wrong and it’s worse than five months ago, which as you say, you would disagree with. But what about the point that’s come up this week that maybe we should cut down on our search for weapons of mass destruction and put some of those intelligence officers into the urgent job of trying to track down who exactly is doing each of these crimes? Do you think that that 1400 people could be switched from weapons of mass destructions, or would that endanger the critics coming out even more strongly with the fact that there are no weapons of mass destruction?

JG: Well in fact both are going on perfectly efficiently. There are a huge number of intelligence officers chasing the terrorists, trying to find out what’s going on, they’re mutating very fast as they learn the atmosphere and begin to plan between different groups together as Paul Bremer said yesterday, there is a degree of co-ordination between these different groups but the weapons of mass destruction people are also perceiving, that was always going to take a long time. I never expected anything to be found in a business of a few months, so it is going forward. As for Ambassador Bremer’s acceleration of progress, that was always planned for this period. We’ve been talking to the Iraqi governing council who works with us on this, about speeding up the process, of giving security to Iraqis who know how these people operate on their soil. And that’s a perfectly sensible thing to do.

DF: What is the realistic schedule for handing over to an elected and therefore sovereign cabinet in Iraq? I mean, there is a talk of elections next June, is that over-optimistic? And how long after that Jeremy, would you say there can be a full handover to a young Iraqi government?

JG: Well, I think, David, that after any elections, whenever they are, a handover would be very quick. A new government would be elected and that government would be legitimate and sovereign. And would be recognised by the international community. We would like to get through this within 2004, there’s every prospect that we can do that. But we have asked the Iraqis themselves, it’s their process, to set the time line, to set the deadlines they want to set the process, that they can agree with. So, we’re waiting for an answer from the Iraqi leadership as to how they want to play this. And I think this is going to come up in the next two or three weeks.

DF: So how long would you say, with your expert knowledge, that we should be expecting? Tony Blair has said that we’ll stay as long as it takes. How long will British troops be in Iraq?

JG: Well I’m not going to set a time line, because we have to go with the flow of events. But remember also that security will be a consideration even after Iraqi is sovereign and has full authority with Iraqis. We will stay on, the Americans will stay on, in treaty with them, to make sure they’re secure. So we’re here for some time yet. But we are now accelerating the process of ensuring that Iraqis take over a good degree of responsibility during 2004. It takes a long time to set up elections in a country that’s never had a proper system for democratic elections. So we’ll need several months of 2004 to set up the system and a constitution on which those elections can be held, and I think you’re looking well in to the second half of 2004.

DF: I would think so, yes indeed. In the meantime, the fact that the UN are planning to withdraw their remaining people, or a lot of them, and the Red Cross likewise. When we read things like that, that’s one of the things obviously that makes people think things are not as good as they’re alleged to be in Iraq when you’ve got a situation where even the UN and the Red Cross, instead of coming in are going out.

JG: Yes, remember that we’re dealing with two sorts of enemies. Those who think that they’ve got a role to play in Iraq again under some autocracy, and those who come in from outside and want to go with the Americans but actually over the last few days and weeks have been killing more Iraqis than Americans, and there’s some bitterness within the Iraqi population that these people are doing that. They are dangerous but we are going to stay, the coalition is going to stay, whoever else does not stay, and we can quite understand that those who’ve become soft targets for the terrorists, don’t want to do that. We will stay, we will see this through. We’re not going to let the people of Iraq down.

DF: Jeremy, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning. Thank you.

JG: Thank you, David.