REMARKS BY HOSHIYAR MAHMUD MUHAMMAD AL-ZEBARI,
FOREIGN MINISTER OF THE INTERIM GOVERNMENT OF IRAQ,
AND IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
TO THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
MODERATOR: RICHARD HAASS, CFR PRESIDENT
COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, NEW YORK, NEW YORK TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2004
MR. HAASS: Good morning. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm
And this morning we are fortunate enough to have with us the foreign minister
both of the interim Government of Iraq but still of the Governing Council of
Iraq, one of the few individuals who, if you will, has kept the role in both the
current as well as the future government of Iraq.
Let me just make one or two housekeeping requests. If people have cell phones,
beepers, Blackberrys and other such electronic gizmos, if they would please turn
them off, that would be most welcome.
This morning's meeting, as you can probably sense
from the phalanx of cameras behind us, is on the record. The way we're going to
conduct it this morning is the minister and I are going to talk for 20 or so
minutes, and then we will open it up to your questions.
Let me just begin by introducing the minister,
someone I've known for a long time. He has been a leading figure in Iraqi
politics now for decades. He's one of the principal figures in the Kurdish
Democratic Party. He has been a principal figure in the Iraqi National Congress
and in Iraqi opposition politics. Most recently, Minister Zebari has, again,
been the foreign affairs figure for the IGC, and as of June 30, he not so much
changes hats, but we change the sign on the hat, and represents the sovereign
government of Iraq in its foreign relations.
He's with us his morning, and immediately after this he will heading down to
join the president of the new interim government and they will be making their
way down to a little resort off the coast of Georgia, where the Iraqi delegation
will meet with the leaders of the G-8 countries. And hopefully, all of this will
happen against the backdrop of the passage of a new Security Council resolution
which the minister has been instrumental in shaping.
So again, sir, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you.
MR. HAASS: Let's start with that resolution, if we may. What do you see as the
significance of what's likely to happen this afternoon?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you very much for your kind words. And I'm also very
pleased to be here with you. In fact, the first time I was here was in 1991,
immediately after the second Gulf War, the liberation of Kuwait. I'm very
pleased to be here this year after the liberation of the Iraqi people from
The significance of this resolution for us, for the Iraqis, is really to take
away the concept of occupation, which I would say was the main reasons for many
of the difficulties that we have been going through since liberation on April
the 9th. So we want this resolution to make a clear departure from previous
resolutions -- 1483, 1511 -- that legitimized the occupation of our country, and
it has put us in a very difficult position to defend our vision for the future
of Iraq, to defend our friends and allies who have sacrificed a great deal to
liberate the Iraqi people from these years of darkness. This is one.
Secondly, there is also the question of how
legitimate this new interim government, since we haven't had the chance to have
elections or to have elected representative government. So with the involvement
of the United Nations, with providing some international legitimacy to the new
interim government, I think it will be more acceptable to the people of Iraq, to
the region; especially it will not be seen that this is purely an American-led
Also, we want to see really, since last year, since the institution of the
Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, they have been running the country,
basically. With this resolution, the new interim government of Iraq will have
sovereignty and will have control over its security, over its money, over its
resources; representations; its management of the country.
So these are -- the way I see it, are the three main important elements of this
new resolution, which we hope it will come out as soon as possible.
We need it as Iraqis as much as our American friends and British.
MR. HAASS: When you say it makes this interim government more acceptable, do you
see that translating into any change or improvement in the security situation?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: I would say that the formation of the interim government with
the passage of this resolution to endorse it, with the acceptance of this new
arrangement by the Arab countries in the region, by the Islamic countries, which
we are seeing some very good and positive signs so far, I think it will have a
more positive impact on the political and security situation because the
political process is wide open for all those who want to participate. We are not
here serving in this new government to monopolize this power; in fact, we have
coming up in July a national conference that will involve as many as 1,000
Iraqis outside the current arrangements. We have -- also the U.N. is helping us
to organize national election in the end of 2004 or early 2005.
So with the formation of the government and to have a real genuine sovereignty
and control and power, with this international legitimacy, I think it will have
a positive impact, especially on those elements who are fighting occupation. The
level of occupation will be taken away, and those people who are fighting the
American forces and coalition will be facing the Iraqis themselves who want to
build a better future. The American would be there as friends to help us.
MR. HAASS: But isn't it still true if there's a security challenge you will have
to call on American or coalition troops to meet it? And if so, could that raise
problems of legitimacy, then, for this new government?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, one of the areas that has taken a great deal of discussion
in the Security Council is the relation of the new interim government with the
multinational forces, which I have said in the chamber of the Security Council
and very publicly that we need these forces. It is an Iraqi need more than an
American or coalition need. And I warned against any premature withdrawal of
these forces because the consequences would be catastrophic. I have said this
here in New York in the chamber. I've said it in Cairo. I've said it in Tunis in
front of all the Arab leaders, said it in front of all the Islamic leaders, that
any premature withdrawal will create a vacuum.
We the Iraqis are not ready to fill it, and the possibilities really would be
wide open for the disintegration of Iraq as a state, for the possibility of
reigning chaos and even civil war. When we mention that it would not be like
Lebanon or Afghanistan, really, it would be far more serious. It would be the
possibility of a junior Saddam coming up again in such a situation, (riding ?)
on these extremist, nationalist ideas to take control again.
So it's not in the interest -- in fact, not of the Iraqis nor of the neighboring
countries to see instability continue, to see
-- and we see the situation that there isn't that contradiction as such between
a sovereign government claiming to have sovereignty and the presence of foreign
troops, as long as they are there with the consent of the government. And I have
many such examples in Germany and Japan after the Second World War where,
really, we could have benefited.
And there would be people actually who would still question the legitimacy of
this government, and the only legitimacy is the one that comes out of the ballot
boxes. But we have a commitment to that even.
MR. HAASS: Do you think you'll be able to do that? Some people are saying it's
quite ambitious to actually be able to organize an election in a country that's
gone through what Iraq has, to organize it by December of this year or January
of next year. Do you think that's a "meetable" goal?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: I think, to be frank, it will be difficult, and a great deal
will depend on the security environment. Unless the security environment is
improved -- December to an acceptable level, there wouldn't be any perfect
security, especially vis-a-vis the terrorists. But an acceptable environment, an
acceptable security environment to conduct election I think is a possibility.
But it's not easy. It's not easy, but possible.
MR. HAASS: Let me ask one more internal question, and particularly given your
background in Kurdish politics.
Several days ago a letter was sent by Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the
two principal Kurdish political leaders, to President Bush. And let me just
quote one sentence of it -- saying that if the Transitional Administrative Law,
essentially the interim constitution passed several months ago, is abrogated,
the Kurdistan regional government will have no choice but to refrain from
participating in the central government and its institutions, not to take part
in the national elections, and to bar representatives of the central government
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, I'm here as the foreign
minister of Iraq, so I don't speak for Mr. Barzani or Talabani, in fact,
although I used to be the Kurdish spokesperson, but that was my capacity. But
both of them, actually, were leaders, and are leaders still of the Governing
I think one of the successes we as Iraqis, and our coalition partner, had last
year was the introduction or institution of the Transitional Administrative Law.
This, in fact, has established the vision for a future Iraq to be democratic,
pluralistic, federal, united with its territorial integrity intact, and the
decentralization both of political and economic powers to the region.
Also we have with me here, Dr. Faisal Istrabadi, who was the author of that law,
in fact. He's a lawyer here in the United States, and spent a great deal of time
to draw up that very important document, which is our vision for reforms, for
democratization. I mean, this summit of the G-8, one of the key items on the
agenda would be the Greater Middle East Initiative, or reforms or modernization
in the Arab world, Islamic world. This is our program of reforms in terms of an
independent judiciary, a bill of rights, respect of human rights, women's
participation. So everything we are doing from now until the final election, to
18 months later, everything is dependent on this Transitional Administrative
And we have argued here that it would be good, in
fact -- even in my presentation at the Security Council, that to acknowledge
that or to take note of that law, because that is the one document -- I saw the
other day the U.N. report on election, and their assessment, their finding,
again, is all based or referred to the Transitional Administrative Law.
So this letter is really -- is against that background; that here we are at the
stage where we are trying to build a new Iraq.
We sense -- we feel that the administration maybe is lowering its expectation on
democratization, on openness and so on, which is bad -- bad for us, bad for the
Iraqi people -- because in this interim period you will be operating in a vacuum
and everybody's going to interpret the law according to his own wishes.
While this was the guiding framework, let's say, for this, it's not a
constitution. It's not a primary constitution. Yes, some of the religious
leaders of this, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani and others, may have raised
some observation, but his eminence endorsed the formation of the new interim
government, which again is based on the Transitional Administrative Law.
So there is such a feeling back home, in fact, but I think what we are trying to
do here, and we have succeeded with the understanding of our friends in the
coalition, especially the United States and Britain, is to get the spirit of the
Transitional Administrative Law in the new resolution. Even not mentioning it
directly, but its main principles, you know, to be enshrined in the new
Of course, the Kurdish leadership I would say really have -- are instrumental in
the politics of the new Iraq. And even in the future, I would say the plan is to
have proportional representation and to see Iraq as one electoral unit. There
again I think the Kurdish influence will be felt throughout the country, not
only in the region as such, in terms of the alliances, building alliances for
the new assembly.
But I've been speaking with them and with the prime minister, with the
president. In fact, everybody is committed to see a good resolution that
correspond to the wishes of the Iraqis in the first place. This is an Iraqi
issue more than an American or other country's issue.
MR. HAASS: I'll let others follow up on that issue if they'd like. Let me just
ask one or two external questions before I open things up.
One is basically your relations with Syria. How would you characterize what
Syria is doing how, whether -- how would you characterize its role as Iraq
struggles with all the challenges that's facing it?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, we have been talking with our Syrian brothers and friends
for some time, and most of the Iraqi opposition or Iraqi leaders who served in
the Governing Council in fact enjoyed very good, friendly relations with Syria.
And they have been very helpful in accommodating many, including my party in
Syria during the late Hafez Assad and even now.
And Syria was the one country that opened its doors for many Iraqi
oppositionists opposed to Saddam at a time when all the other doors were closed.
And people appreciate that very much.
Syria relation with us now is problematic, let's face it. A great deal is
related to the presence of the large coalition force next door to them. I mean,
the United States has become a neighbor to Syria now. And from that fear,
actually, they have certain reaction to the situation in Iraq which has not been
constructive and positive.
We have been having this continued dialogue with
them. I met President Bashar Assad. I'm in regular contact with my counterpart,
Farouk Shara. We've been very honest in discussing all these issues, for the
security, the infiltration of foreign fighters, some kind of support we see is
being offered, let's say, the media agitation about the situation in Iraq,
sometimes intervention by inviting many Iraqis to Damascus and lecturing them
what to do and not to do. All these issues really have been problematic.
And of course, the usual pattern of our discussion, "Well, if you have any
evidence of Syrian nationals and other involved, let's hear it." Last time when
we met President Assad in Tunis, I said let's make some arrangements between the
two Interior ministries to have a better control over the border.
We have also assets in Syria which they have not been returned to us, which we
MR. HAASS: I assume you're not referring to weapons
of mass destruction. (Laughter.)
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: I don't know -- (laughs). I don't know. But we have money, in
And the relation(s) between Saddam in his last day
and Syria were very, very developed; were highly developed, in fact, in all
fields. I can say that. From the records, from the correspondence I can go
through, I mean, it was the highest-developed relation, especially in the last
couple of years, in terms of trade, of business, of other.
So our relation -- our policy, really we are for a good relation with Syria. I
think the main thing is to reassure them. And we've been telling them, if you
have an Iraqi national government that's friendly to you, even with the presence
of coalition forces, it would be good for you. At least we would not be able --
I mean, these forces will not be able to undermine your national security, with
a friendly government in Iraq.
But if you distance yourself, if you don't interact positively -- I mean, look
at the Syrian example and the Iranian example, dealing. I mean, two have the
same fears, but the way the Iranians are dealing with the situation is far more
positive, despite -- they are doing whatever they want to do. But they have
recognized, they have welcomed; there is a good interaction, let's say, between
us and Tehran so far, actually. But at the same time they have the same fear and
And we are going to pursue this. Really, we don't
want any tension our relations. We don't want any provocation. And Syria can
help us a great deal to stabilize the situation, to assist us in a more positive
MR. HAASS: One last question, because you already raised Iran. What about
Turkey? How would you describe the evolving nature of Iraq's relationship with
your northern neighbor?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, relations have been good with Turkey. In fact, the Turkish
government understands -- although Turkey did not have any plans, any post-Saddams
vision of Iraq, really, because their foreign policy toward Iraq was sterile.
They did not have any such policy. And they were fixed on PKK, on Kurds,
northern Iraq, as if Iraq was only that three provinces.
And we have been at pain trying to explain to them that really you need to have
a broader view of the situation. This regime could change, and we shouldn't rely
on just Turkoman or a few friends. The only friends you have in Iraq are the
Kurds, as we -- in fact, we told them that so many times.
Now their attitude is more positive. I think they are dealing with the situation
in a better way, in a broader sense, let's say. The new Turkish government, AK
Party government, is understanding and taking the situation in broader terms.
It's not trying to intervene. It's a -- it's very conscious of collapse of law
and order, collapse of the current order, and the spread of Islamic extremism,
more than anything else, in its neighborhood. That is one of the key fears now
we sense from Turkey. But relations is very good and very positive, and we are
working to enhance them.
MR. HAASS: Great. Now the easy part's over. The hardest part begins. We're going
to open it up for questions.
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: (Chuckles.) Oh.
MR. HAASS: You've been very --
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you.
MR. HAASS: Ambassador Murphy (sp)?
Q Welcome back.
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Q The question goes back to security. As we watched the prime minister, I think
the day before yesterday, announce the dissolution of the militias --
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Yes. Yes.
Q -- it was very straightforward, sounded wonderfully easy.
Now what is the actual position, though, of the peshmerga towards being
dissolved? And a side comment, if you would, on the militia in Fallujah.
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Yes. In fact, the policy -- the principle is, as we agreed in
the Transitional Administrative Law, that all militias would be dissolved. This
is the law.
(To Faisal Istrabadi.) If I'm wrong you can correct me, Faisal.
But really you have to differentiate between
militias. I mean, the Kurdish peshmerga, you cannot compare them as a militia to
the Mahdi Army. The Kurdish forces fought with the coalition. They are far more
disciplined, have been -- and they have sacrificed in this cause. So it would be
unfair even in the approach really to --
Secondly -- now I'm trying to explain to you the situation. The Kurdish
leadership have made a commitment to dissolve the militias and to integrate the
peshmerga into the Iraqi regular army, or units. Now under the TAL, again, the
central entity there --
MR. HAASS: The Transitional Administrative Law.
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: -- yes, yes -- the federal entity
will retain some internal security, like police, mountain rangers, antiterrorist
groups and so on. This would be under the command of the regional government,
but all the other militias -- I mean, now -- I mean, we had -- the KDP/PUK had
nearly about 100,000 people under arms. The rest actually would be encouraged to
join the other Iraqi army units: the police, the new army, the IRDC, the Iraqi
Civil Defense Corps, the border guards. Many such entities have been established
where they have joined.
And so in Fallujah, actually, no peshmerga were fighting there, but the people
who were in that unit who were fighting with the coalition, yes, they were
Kurds. But they joined the army as individuals, not as a group, and here it has
created a problem really. On the one hand, that is the one unit that remains
loyal and faithful, let's say, to confront this. On the other hand, maybe
because of the ethnicity of some of its members, it was seen that this is
peshmerga fighting in Fallujah, which was not.
So here we have a problem.
I mean, on the one hand, yes, you agree to disband,
to dissolve, to join the new Iraqi entity, and to be disciplined, to be
committed to this cause. On the other hand, when people still accuse you of your
background or ethnicity, really you have a problem.
Q (Off mike) -- Rutgers University. If the best predictor of future behavior is
past behavior, Talabani and Barzani historically have been able to work together
temporarily, but inevitably fights erupt over sometimes baksheesh or sometimes
unofficial additional income -- rents and such things. What kinds of
reassurances have you been given that this cooperation has a more permanent feel
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, again, I'm not the Kurdish spokesperson here -- (laughs)
-- but I'll answer you simply. Both of them are working very closely with each
other, and they have not been fighting over baksheesh, for your information --
(laughs) -- it's for other, bigger things. But both of them -- actually
relations are very good.
The Kurdish north of Iraq is the most peaceful, most stable, most prosperous,
and really that is where it could be seen as a model for the rest of Iraq, and
every visitor can attest to that fact. And they are part -- they have agreed to
be part of this beautiful country, to be committed to its unity, territorial
integrity, but at the same time, to retain some self rule. That is, you know,
the name of the game.
Q Hello, Mr. Minister. When I was in Iraq in
November, the Iraqi Governing Council was referred to by most people I spoke to
simply as "the exiles." There wasn't even a question of little legitimacy; it
seemed to me that most Iraqis didn't really think of the council as anything
resembling a government.
The transitional process, the process of actually picking a transition
government, was supposed to come up with people who supposedly could build
credibility, who hadn't been discredited, who could build legitimacy. In the
last couple of weeks before the government was announced, the process seemed to
take an interesting turn that's much disputed, but we've ended up with a
transitional government, the top four officials of which -- three of the top
four are in fact members of the old government, and approximately a third of the
I'd like to ask you, given the security situation,
the lack of travel, the dependence of the transitional government on the
Americans for security, how can you set about to build legitimacy in the minds
of the Iraqi people, political legitimacy?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you.
Really, I think this issue of legitimacy is created more here in Washington than
back in Iraq.
This is my own view. And legitimacy will not come
only through election; there are so many other sources of legitimacy for people
to refer to. And this is what I have been telling our brothers in the Arab
world, in our region. No matter what you think of those leaders in the Governing
Council, you have to deal with them in the future. They will come up again and
again after Saddam is gone. Saddam did not leave behind any credible leaders. He
killed them all.
So in the elections, in the interim arrangements, these leaders will come up.
Everybody dismissed the Governing Council, that it is a dead body; but it was
able, in the last day, to elect a prime minister from its membership and a
president of the state of its -- among its ranks. And it defied, really, all
expectation, whether with the coalition, CPA, with the U.N., that this is an
Iraqi issue, this is an Iraqi matter.
So on that issue, I think the council, in its last dying days, proved itself
really to be an Iraqi body.
Now it will definitely not appeal to everybody. And
-- but for the first time, I think, in the history of the region -- and this is
the point I made in Tunis -- we, the Iraqis, are handing over power peacefully,
and we are going to dissolve ourselves, you see, a month before. Our time is
running out. I think only in Sudan, Suwar Al- Dahab, an army general, did
something like that.
But this -- if you look at it that way -- so the legitimacy definitely will come
through the ballot boxes, and we have a commitment to go for election.
The Ba'athists definitely -- the Saddamists will not welcome this government.
The Mahdi Army will not welcome it, because it was not included or recognized.
But the process now has been opened up, I mean, for all those people. Even some
ex-Ba'athists who are (sic) not tainted, let's say, their history or of their
behavior with atrocities, with violations, could participate, as long as they
are good Iraqi citizens.
We know that there are the bad Ba'athists. We know
the torturer, the jailers, the investigators, the interrogators. Many of them
now are fighting in Fallujah and in Baghdad, in other areas. They're afraid even
to come out.
But I think for the Iraqi to be convinced, to have a credible leadership, it
will take some time.
And we don't have one leader that will be a rallying point, let's say, behind
really. And we are committed to political pluralism in Iraq, that there would be
many other. Even the new suggested proposal or system for election of
proportional representation would not get you strong leaders; it will be more a
MR. HAASS: Can I just build on this? Are you -- implicitly, at least as I hear
what you're saying, is that Americans are perhaps being too quick to be
negative? Do you sense, when you go around this country, that Americans are too
negative, that we've become too discouraged about Iraq's prospects?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, really, we have our own difficulties and differences with
our American friends on many, many issues in Iraq -- ideological, personality,
leadership, how to move forward. But at the same time, we've worked and we've
paid a heavy price, both of us, Iraqis and the Americans. Now it's the time,
actually, to make a departure. And I'm more optimistic really about the coming
time than before. At least as much as you can empower the Iraqi people, to have
faith, respect them, trust them, I think they will do a far more better job
than, you know, just controlling the situation through sheer military force. I
believe there are other ways.
MR. HAASS: Sir? All the way in the back.
Q George Packer from the New Yorker. Given the
passage that Mr. Haass just read from the letter from Talabani and Barzani, and
given that Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Shi'ite political leadership have
really said that Article 61 (c) is going to have to be revisited, isn't there a
collision course that seems sort of inevitable, but that we're not really
focused on because we're all talking about the interim government? But at some
point, isn't there just going to be a showdown between two incompatible visions
of the transition to a permanent government?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: No, I don't see it that way. In fact, at the same time,
relations between all the leaders of the main communities, whether Kurds or
Shi'a, in fact are good and positive. Yes, I mean, we don't see eye-to-eye,
let's say, on all the issues. I mean, Sistani's vision has been very consistent
from the beginning. He opposed the writing of a permanent constitution for Iraq
by foreigners; that the people who are going to write the constitution have to
be elected Iraqi. And we agree with him, and we have a commitment to that. The
Transitional Administrative Law is not the permanent constitution. And the
differences over this, really, in a situation like Iraq you need checks and
balances for everybody, assurances, whether for the Kurds, for the Shi'a, for
And this article you referred, in fact in our discussion and talks in Baghdad,
we told our friends, the Shi'a, that you could benefit from this more than
anybody else. If you are not happy about something to go against you, it could
be used for you. I mean, this is not a veto against your interests or any other
interests as such.
But there are political differences.
I'm not trying to deny that or to present a rosy picture for you. But really I
think we are confident to overcome that. It's not a start polarization or
confrontation that would lead to some kind of a conflict. No, I don't see it
MR. HAASS: Sir?
Q Eugene Staples. How do you assess the long-term effects of the what's usually
referred to these days as the prison abuse scandals on Iraqi-American relations?
MR. HAASS: The question, if people couldn't hear, was how does the minister
assess the long-term effects of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal on U.S.-Iraqi
Q Not just Abu Ghraib, but the general -- (inaudible word).
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Yeah. In fact, we were all very hurt, really, by the atrocities,
the abuses of the Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, and we were the first to come
out and condemn it very strongly because it has shaken the moral ground, really,
for everything we are trying to establish or for our coalition friends, you see,
to help establish.
And our position has been really that these people, those responsible for these
atrocities, need to be prosecuted, brought to justice, and for us, for Iraqis to
see that these atrocities will not happen again, not be repeated, that there
would be some monitoring over these abuses.
But again, we have said and I'll try it here again, really we don't see that
what happened in Abu Ghraib was a widespread pattern of abuses by the coalition.
This was the work of a limited number of people whom we hope that they will be
prosecuted and brought to justice.
Definitely it has hurt us as Iraqi(s) a great deal. And it has hurt the friends
of the coalition in Iraq more than the opponents, who many of them are
Saddamists, I would say. For them to challenge us, the Iraqi democrats, on
issues of human rights, of respect of human rights, is difficult to digest.
MR. HAASS: Sir, in the fourth row.
Q Bill Butler, the International Commission of Jurists. Welcome, Mr. Minister.
We are very honored to have you here today.
I'd like to ask you a question concerning the prisoners of war. We estimate that
there may be up to 20,000 prisoners of war held by the detaining authorities.
One of them, of course, is Saddam himself, who has been accorded prisoner of war
status. Could you give us some idea -- and of course Iraq is a high contracting
party to the Geneva Conventions of War. We're assuming that the government will
honor their obligations under that treaty.
Could you give us some idea of what plans the government has, number one, as to
the release of these prisoners?
Under the conventions, as you know, in the event of a cessation of hostilities,
then the detaining authority is compelled to repatriate those people to their
original homes. Could you give us some idea of what plans your government has to
unravel this situation when it becomes in an authority to carry out their
responsibility, including the fate of Saddam Hussein?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you. On the fate of Saddam Hussein, we have an
understanding with the coalition forces. That was convenient for them and for us
to put Saddam as a prisoner of war, to give him that status because we are not
ready, going through this political transition, and he is a high-value target of
course for everybody. So it was convenient, really, to keep him in that
But also we have a commitment from them. The moment we, the new Iraqi sovereign
government, will request a change of status and to hand him over to the Iraqis
to be prosecuted and to face justice, then the coalition will do so. I mean,
that is the understanding as far as I can tell, as well as other member of the
leadership of the most- wanted list of 55 member of the Saddam leadership.
And we are working toward that goal, actually, to bring those people to be
tried, and publicly. We are not afraid, really, to have a public trial of Saddam
Hussein. I mean, all those who say that he's going to reveal to embarrass
people, no, I think we would welcome that as Iraqis, and other members as well
of his leadership.
I personally believe, and we've been urging the Coalition Provisional Authority
from day one, that for security purposes it would have been better if we could
have some public trial on those member of the leadership. Somebody like Ali
Hassan Majeed, who is said to be seen by the Iraqi people, to face justice or to
be questioned would have sent very reassuring signals. But unfortunately, not
many people listened to us.
Now on the other large number of POWs, in fact, the coalition has, the policy of
our government has been before and now really to urge the coalition to release
those POWs unless those are of very sensitive security issues. The rest should
be released because it is creating tension. It's not being helpful, even before
the abuses of Abu Ghraib and others really. In many of the encounters we have,
whether with the military, with the civilians of the coalition, that has been
our standard appeal to them, to release as many people from prison as possible.
And they have been doing. In fact, the events in Abu Ghraib speeded up that
process a great deal -- (chuckles) -- and it's ongoing.
After the transfer of the sovereignty -- in fact, the attitude was to hand over
the prisons, let's say, to the Iraqi Justice Ministry. I mean to look at -- that
will depend, I'll be very honest and frank with you, on the security
capabilities of the new government -- how confident it is it can manage or run
this. But our policy is to get them released as soon as possible, unless (sic)
those who have serious charges.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Just a clarification here. Will you be in
charge of the prisons come June 30th?
And secondly, when it comes to the militias, it's clear that the government has
excluded Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army from the call to integrate with the Iraqi
forces and army. The resolution itself gives the multinational force, led by the
United States, the right to use all necessary measures without really a veto by
the Iraqi leadership.
Should we be expecting a showdown soon with the Mahdi Army in particular? How
else have you in mind to deal with this, and I know you have emphasized
partnership, strategic partnership between the Iraqi sovereign government and
the United States. But what if you really deferred? Bottom line, what would
happen? It's not in the resolution, but give us an idea, please.
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Well, control over the prisons, definitely, that is the one area
-- I mean, very obvious and symbolic area of sovereignty that a sovereign
government definitely should have control over, over the prisons. And this will
be worked out, really, as we move towards June 30th and beyond. So that is the
attitude or the approach. But it depends on the capabilities of the government,
of the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, you see, to handle the situation
On the Mahdi Army -- actually, it was not included in the list mainly because
Mahdi Army is fighting, and it's an outlaw army, and they have differentiated
between friendly militias and hostile militias in that. Even for the Mahdi Army
-- it could be integrated, could benefit, in my view, from this program of
integration, of finding for them jobs or some skills. But I believe that there
would be a decreasing of tension with Mahdi Army.
There has been some understanding and arrangements
for him to pull out from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. But the problem
with the Mahdi Army -- it's not uniform, it's not disciplined.
You get so many other elements who are involved
there, actually, even, I mean, they would not listen to one command structure,
let's say, from Muqtada saying, "Well, I have agreed to pull out." They were
fighting in Sadr district or -- Sadr district in Baghdad. While their leaders
have agreed it, have met Sistani, have agreed to certain arrangements to pull
back, but some other groups of the Mahdi Army are fighting. And you can draw
your own conclusion.
So, I don't think there will be a showdown as such. And the Mahdi Army is not a
challenge, really, nor for the coalition -- neither for the coalition, nor even
for the new interim government, if it uses its resources and ability, let's say,
to contain them. But the mishandling of the situation from the beginning has
created these difficulties for us.
MR. HAASS: Okay, we have time for a few more people, if you keep your questions
Q Matt Thimits (ph). Minister, can you talk a little about your long-term view
of the foreign policy role of Iraq in the region? Assuming we get over this
interim period, you have an election, you have a government, what type of
foreign policy would the Iraqi people enjoy having in the region?
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Yes. In fact, we have been planning this, thinking of that. But
because of the transitional period, really, we haven't established fixed foreign
policy issues or ideas how to deal with many of the burning issues in the Middle
East, the relation with Israel, let's say, in the Gulf; whether Iraq should join
the GCC, for instance, or not; relations with Iran, relations with Turkey. All
these issues really have been left for a more sovereign, independent government
But we have, in fact, some ideas about where we are going. Definitely, Iraq
foreign policy would be different now than under Saddam's regime. It would not
be confrontational, I mean with its neighbors; would not rely on force to pursue
its objectives, on aggression, on territorial ambitions, let's say.
We will try to -- first, committed to all the international obligations that
Iraq has. Secondly, really to take -- bring back Iraq to the international
community as a responsible member, not as an outlaw state, not as a rogue state,
let's say, a violator of international standards, international human rights
standards, and so on.
It's a huge task. And the confidence in the new Iraq by the international
community also to normalize relations.
In fact, Saddam poisoned Iraq's relation with the
Arab world, with the Islamic world through his wars and aggression. Definitely
we need to overcome these legacies and build a new, transparent, open, and to
get away with the culture -- the bad culture of Saddam's. I always give that
example in my speeches.
I visited the Iraqi embassy in Ankara. It's one of
the oldest embassies, was established in 1924-25, and it's a very nice location
next to the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Ankara. But the point here, I
asked the diplomats there, "How many staff did you have before the war?" And he
was honest: he said, "22." "And how many of them were diplomat," I asked him. He
said, "I don't know how many diplomats there were, but honestly, among the 22,
18 were members of the Mukhabarat, of the secret services." So that was really
how they were conducting the foreign policy.
The second point was, as a diplomat abroad, really
his job was to interact, to meet people, to go out. The instructions from
Baghdad was no; he should be limited in his activities, so he was very careful
to everything he does. So I think we need to look beyond, you know, these
terrible practices and --
MR. HAASS: It saves on the representational budget --(laughter) --
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Okay. (Laughs.)
MR. HAASS: -- which is an important --
Q Yeah. You mentioned -- Lucy Komisar, I'm a journalist.
MR. HAASS: Do you want to wait for a microphone, please?
Q Lucy Komisar, I'm a journalist. You mentioned
trying to recover some assets. I wonder if you're going to go after the
estimated 30 billion (dollars) that Saddam skimmed off oil sales and from arms
kickbacks beginning in the late '70s, before the oil-for- food scandal, in
which, according to documents that I have, were moved at least part through
Western banks and shell companies in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Panama and
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Yes. In fact, we are following and pursuing this issue very,
very closely. And it's our money; definitely we need to get that back if we
could. It was a huge business. I mean, the more you read about the subject, the
more revealing the documents, the figures will become. And really it was one of
the biggest scandal, if people will investigate it, and it involves many, many
people -- head of governments, politicians, international organizations, and
many well-known figures in the region -- I mean, in Europe. So in itself,
definitely in my view this was one of the biggest scandal.
And going after this money, we are trying our best really to locate it. But it
was a robbery really, a robbery of Iraqi assets. Saddam was offering it, you
see, without any conscience, without any restrictions, without any deterrents
So we will do our best, try to first get the right information, establish the
right information, locate those and ask to get them back, if we could.
MR. HAASS: Mr. Viscusi.
Q (Off mike) -- Viscusi of Eni. Does Mr. Chalabi have a political future in
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Okay. (Laughs.)
MR. HAASS: The question was whether Mr. Chalabi has a political future in his
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Yeah. Yes, I think yes. Why not? Chalabi has worked very hard,
really, you see, for regime change. He was very instrumental in building
support; was very consistent, let's say, in his policies.
We were saddened, really, by the recent difficulties he's gone through, the
investigations or the storming of his house and in Baghdad. It was very
unfortunate indeed and sent all the wrong messages to people.
But again, I said we are not in a position to make judgment how accurate these
allegations were or not, really.
But I believe, yes, there would be a future for all the Iraqis, including
Chalabi, for the future. This is not the end of the world. I think there is a
long way for us to go. Iraq needs engagement, the involvement, the talents of
all its people, including Chalabi.
MR. HAASS: That seems about as good a place as any to stop. Timing is a lot in
life, and the fact that we're fortunate enough to have you here --
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you.
MR. HAASS: -- today, on the day of the U.N. resolution, just underscores, I
think, the collective hope here. Best wishes for you and your colleagues in
MIN. AL-ZEBARI: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)