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A reading in Iraqi papers: Half of the cup is still full - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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First I must make it clear that I am not about to show off my skills in writing or analysis, for this is an attempt to share with the honourable reader a number of impressions that have accumulated in my memory through my repeated visits to Iraq, and a number of other commitments which I carry with me in my diplomatic bag. Also, I am not about to win the reader to my side, as some people may believe, in an attempt to mislead him. All what I want is to seek to explain the formula of reality and ambition in my simple words and with the perspective of a man like me, who has spent most of his days probing the depths of the Middle East, while Iraqi affairs have become in recent years the essence and core of his work and interests.

Talk about impressions could be lengthy, but what attracted me most to Iraq is its human wealth and its promising intellectual potential, which can be seen in the richness of the Iraqi individual. I would not be hiding a secret when I say that it differs from the personality of his Arab peers in being more open to the other. The Iraqi is transparent and bold in expressing his views and even in expressing what provokes his ire. That is what I sensed in the leaders of Iraq, whom I hold in high regard and with whom I empathize in view of the enormous responsibility placed on their shoulders, for pleasing everyone is an extremely difficult goal. However, what is feasible and within the bounds of the acceptable is to raise the ceiling of ambitions in achieving tangible progress that reflects on the life of the ordinary citizen who has been waiting a long time for the rain. The aim I plan to achieve is to invest my relations and effort in strengthening the unity of the Iraqi forces so that they share in shouldering the responsibility of the decisions and uniting the language of discourse and objectives.

The steps that have been achieved so far in the Iraqi political arena are not insignificant, although the criteria of democracy do not stop at one form. Within its narrow concept, democracy could mean laying down the foundation of a political system that allows the view of the majority to prevail and the view of the minority to be respected, in the sense of preparing for an electoral system that leads to choosing the members of government and parliament. Such a criterion could be appropriate and applicable in countries other than Iraq. According to my concept, however, democracy in Iraq must come within a wider framework that guarantees for an ethnically and socially diverse Iraqi fabric a coexistence whose stability is not threatened by any wind. I realize that he who participates in the democratic process aspires to have his voice heard and to have his views taken into consideration. However, we must remember that we cannot attain everything we want all the time, and if that should happen, it would be a stroke of luck and not a rule. There is no way better than concord, especially as the majority bears the greater responsibility in protecting the rights of the minority.

For the sake of such a wider concept it is necessary to emphasize the need for internal and external support for the current government, represented by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, for without a government that is capable of giving its decisions the force of implementation, no real progress can be achieved. As part of my tasks as a representative of the British government, I can say that the support that has been pledged by the United Kingdom so far will continue and will not cease.

In addition to our serious efforts to train the armed forces so that they can take charge of the security dossier, and as the role of the multinational force gradually declines, Britain is making constant efforts to advance the international contract agreement which the UN is striving closely with the Iraqi government to find a way to implement, not only because Britain is an important part of the international community – which should show greater commitment towards Iraq – but because its presence in Iraq places greater considerations on it.

At the same time, our diplomatic efforts will focus on strengthening the joint visions of the Iraqi leaders on one hand, and the leaders of the international community on the other, in a manner that ensures continuing success for the political process.

Britain’s ministry of international development and the British Council – whose efforts are concentrated on consolidating the pillars of civil society and its organizations, will also continue to support construction projects and to strengthen the administrative structure of the Iraqi government with its various institutions.

Talk about support and commitments undoubtedly leads us to the issue of Basra and what is taking place in Basra, which until not long ago enjoyed a stable security climate. However, one of the reasons for the unrest is that there has been no perceptible improvement in the quality and extent of the services. This has made the Basra residents restless, and led to a band of criminals exploiting such restlessness in order to undermine the stability of the city and provoke sedition. Like all the southern governorates, Basra suffered from negligence and deprivation during the dictatorship era.

I can understand the yearning of the citizens of Basra to experience a positive change that reflects on their daily lives. I can affirm here that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is interested in, and anxious to see, such change, for he realizes the effect of the change on the security and political situation in which the chances of the success of the national reconciliation initiative appear promising in view of the support it enjoys from all the political blocs in the country. In this regard, my efforts and the efforts of my colleagues at the embassy will focus on strengthening the ties of reconciliation so that they will be more than merely ink on paper.

I would like to say to all those who are anxious or apprehensive about the British presence in Iraq that the UK government has no hidden agendas, as some people claim. To those who imagine that our forces have come to stay, I emphasize that we will leave Iraq on the day when the Iraqi security forces are ready to assume the tasks of maintaining security. To those who are concerned about our soldiers’ behaviour, I assure everyone that all claims of violations are taken seriously by the competent authorities in London and the British forces in Iraq, within the series of measures and honest investigations that guarantee the rights of everyone, once the veracity of such claims is proven.

Before I conclude, I should take the opportunity to explain to the honourable reader that Prime Minister Tony Blair is serious in his determination to see the Iraqis enjoy the same freedom which our peoples enjoy and which some of us believe is taken for granted.

The determination of the British government is the same determination that was born three years ago. Perhaps the trial of Saddam Husayn has contributed to jolting the memory of the British regarding what the Iraqis suffered under the hammer of the former regime. There is no doubt that there is a growing feeling that it is necessary for the international community to provide increased support. I do not doubt for a moment that the British will not shrink from providing generous support whenever they feel that the Iraqis have become more determined to rebuild their country. Despite the differing views and proposals, hopes and calculations, I – together with many others – still believe that the cup remains half full, and that we can fill the other half by sincere intentions and efforts.

Dominic Asquith

Dominic Asquith is the British ambassador to Iraq.

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