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Asharq Al-Awsat Q & A with Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Q) What did Iraq ask the Arab states for during its chairmanship of the ordinary session no 134 of the Arab League Council at ministerial level? What is the nature of the required support?

A) First, Iraq’s chairmanship of this session is the crowning of Iraq’s return to its natural position among its Arab brethren. Seven years ago, I said in an address that the new Iraq is quite unusual and is the subject of differences, disputes, and various views. What is normal to us is that Iraq has managed to occupy its place among the Arabs. We have been helped in this issue by Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa and the Arab League. Therefore, I see our chairmanship of the Arab League Council as an enormous achievement and a natural right. This is given the fact that we are one of the states that founded the league. During this session we have put forward a draft resolution that has been approved by the council. It stresses the same constants and bases to support Iraq and communicate with it, help it get out of the provisions of Chapter VII [of the UN Charter], cancel the debts decided under this chapter, and open diplomatic missions and embassies. The position of the Arab League toward what is going on in Iraq at this moment is wise and balanced.

Q) Has the Arab League intervened to help remedy the stumbling of efforts to form an Iraqi government?

A) There is no intervention, but contacts and consultations are held through the league mission to support the political process.

Q) It was recently reported that Syria would host a meeting between the Iraqi political blocs to help the formation of a government, with the assistance of the Arab League. It was meant to keep the plan secret, but the dialogue suddenly stumbled. How true is this?

A) The idea was in fact put forward, but it was mostly reported by the media and no adequate preparations were made for it. The reason is that the plan required the agreement of all the parties and this did not happen because, an Iraqi government should be formed in Baghdad in our view, not abroad. I mean not in Iran or Washington. This is an Iraqi decision and an Iraqi issue. Thus, the idea was broached by the media, failed to produce anything, and came to an end.

Q) What was the aim of this idea on which the media focused?

A) One of the points was that the political leaders have failed to form a government, and that it was interesting to look for a place for dialogue and an equitable and fair side [to help]. Certain Iraqi sides have put forward this alternative, but it did not materialize.

Q) When do you think an intervention by the Arab League, or even by Arab sides, will be useful?

A) The sound position is non-intervention, because efforts to form a government continue. Dialogue between the Iraqi political blocs has intensified, especially after the blessed month of Ramadan and Id al-Fitr. Some issues, not all of them, are expected to be settled, at least those concerning the three presidential posts. It is possible to reach an acceptable and reasonable formula, but the matter is not easy for some reasons. First, the results of the election were very close with regard to everybody, and no single bloc can settle the matter alone. This requires alliances and coalitions. There are deep political differences between blocs and the principle of a compromise, concessions, or acceptance of consensual formulas is regrettably still absent from the Iraqi political culture. Each wants everything or nothing, which is not acceptable in my opinion. All the sides should take initiatives and make reasonable concessions, without compromising their principles and constants, in order to fulfill the general interest of the Iraqi people.

Q) Who should make concessions to whom? Should there be concessions over the presidencies or what?

A) The fact is that everybody should make concessions. In other words, one cannot participate and have everything, because this state requires from all the political leaders to think seriously about Iraq’s interests, the security-related dangers, the threats, and the constitutional vacuum. The alternative to disagreement will be hard for everybody.

Q) Will the alternative be holding a new election?

A) It is difficult to hold a new election if no consensus is reached about forming a government. The matter requires a consensual solution to form a national unity government, because the election has revealed the political map of the Iraqi people and its rejection of any foreign interference, and even the domination of any Iraqi political force.

Q) What do you mean?

A) I mean Iran has had no absolute influence on the results of the election, and the same applies to the Unites States. Additionally, the winning sides have showed their limits with the results they got. In other words, the matter has not been settled. This was neither in favor of the Sunnis, nor in that of the Shia, nor of the Kurds.

Q) This means that the election results have led to compromise solutions. However, the Iraqi political culture is unable to absorb such solutions; therefore, this is the main cause of the delay in forming a government

A) This is true.

Q) Have the Americans intervened recently, especially with the visits paid by US Vice President Joe Biden? And on what basis did certain politicians of the US Administration expect the formation of a government after Id al-Fitr?

A) US Vice President Joe Biden and some US officials have tried to encourage, urge, and facilitate the formation of an Iraqi government, but their role was restricted to advice and consultations, not interference in the details of what should happen and the individual list quotas.

Q) Have the Americans not showed support for a specific prime minister?

[Zebari] To date, they believe that the ideal formula is the formation of the core of the next government by the State of Law Coalition [SLC], the Al-Iraqiya List, the Kurdistan Coalition, and even the National Alliance. This means the four winning lists taking part in the formation of a representative national government, with a distribution of powers, in line with the Iraqi system. However, they believe that these powers should not be concentrated in the hands of the prime minister. The Americans also proposed the idea of forming a national security council for strategic policies that should be given some of the powers of the prime minister. However, there has been no agreement over this issue, because it is at variance with the constitution. This is the idea of the Americans. It implies the participation of everybody, in the framework of an overall reconciliation between all the political blocs. This view is still on the table and we are working on it but it has not led to a tangible result yet.

Q) Differences over the post of prime minister continue, but has there been an agreement on a proportional distribution of ministerial posts?

A) All the debates and arguments are focusing on the three presidential posts.

Q) Are you optimistic about an imminent agreement happening?

A) Perhaps.

Q) Can major Arab states in the region play a role in bringing viewpoints closer to each other?

A) I believe that this is very necessary because the stability of Iraq has reached a decisive stage after this election. Consequently, it is in the interest of all, including the Arab states and even neighboring states like Iran and Turkey, to support efforts and to stand at the same distance from all the parties concerning the formation of a government. This is to avoid a constitutional, security-related, or political vacuum occurring, or, God forbid, a collapse of the situation. Thus, everybody can play a helpful role.

Q) Is there a negative interference by Arab states that obstructs an agreement on the nomination of a minister?

A) Surely, one of the factors that have complicated the formation of a government is foreign and more precisely regional interference. I do not want to name states specifically, but this has helped the obstruction of the process. This polarization of this or that side has complicated the formation of the government.

Q) In a few days’ time, you will be going to the meetings of the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] to chair the Iraqi delegation there and to call for removing Iraq from the provisions of Chapter VII that have been applied over the previous years. Will the fact that a government has not been formed yet adversely affect your endeavor? Do you not believe that this will be an obstacle in the way of Iraq?

A) It will not be an obstacle, because the current government is working despite the fact that it does not make serious or fateful decisions, and parliament is not functioning. The latter has held an opening session that has been adjourned indefinitely. Nonetheless, the current government represents Iraq, and there are no problems for us to tackle international relations with the Security Council and the UN about the rights of Iraq and what it is asking for from the international community.

Q) What do you expect from your intervention at the UNGA, and what issues will be broached?

A) The fundamental issue that we will discuss and raise is the question of Iraq’s exit from the provisions of Chapter VII. We have achieved considerable progress in tacking all the pending dossiers: disarmament; weapons of mass destruction; the oil-for-food program; and relations with Kuwait. I can say that we are almost there concerning the quest to free Iraq from all these sanctions and shackles, so that Iraq may return and occupy its natural and legal position. This is why we have solved many problems in this connection, even with the state of Kuwait with which we now have excellent relations. Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad recently said that he will take part in the Arab summit that will be held in Iraq. This is an honorable position. We do not forget that the emir of Kuwait was one of the Arab leaders that supported Iraq most at the Sirte summit and concerning Iraqi participation in the five-side commission.

Q) Is there an improvement of relations with Syria at the moment?

A) There has been a progress, a rapprochement, and a detente, and visits have taken place. This is why we need a full and official normalization of relations, and for matters to be put in an official framework.

Q) Has there been a change in the Syrian position toward the Nuri al-Maliki government and its lack of dealing with it?

A) I imagine that many positions have changed. We want to have good relations with all the Arab states, because this will reflect a political stability that helps Iraq.

Q) How do you see the security scene in Iraq after the departure of the US forces?

A) It is better. This is not least because there were fears that a security vacuum will occur and that the government will not be able to assume its role. Events have occurred, which we do not deny, but there is also confrontation, resistance, and the security forces are in control throughout Iraq.

Q) Will this situation permit the hosting of an Arab summit in March 2011?

A) Efforts for this end continue every day, intensively. Today, there is an Iraqi security delegation in Cairo to have consultations with the Arab League and the Egyptian authorities about the convening of the summit. Additionally, there is active action in Iraq to prepare the infrastructure. The quicker we form a government, the closer we get to playing host to the Arab summit.

Q) Libya has presented a project to the UN for investigations to be conducted into the invasion of Iraq and into the trial of Saddam Hussein. What has been done about this and what has been achieved to date?

A) The brothers in Libya have presented a draft resolution to the UNGA to open an official investigation into the invasion of Iraq and into the trial of former President Saddam Hussein. We have found that the timing of this move is not appropriate at all. Second, there are many resolutions passed by the Arab League, the Security Council, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to help and support Iraq. Therefore, reopening wounds at this stage during which Iraq is recovering from a painful issue is not appropriate in our view. This is why we have spoken several times to the Libyan brothers, who are my friends; I cherish their friendship. We told them that this idea is inappropriate at this moment. But, they insisted on presenting the project. In contrast, I have informed the brothers in Libya that we will act to stop this move. After a series of contacts with members of the Security Council, the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and through messages I have sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to the chairman of the UNGA, the Libyan investigation request was rejected yesterday. This is because he [Libyan leader Colonel Al-Gaddafi] has not held any consultations with us, and the timing of the request is not right. There is a great deal of work to be done to improve the Iraq situation, which needs the help and assistance of everybody.

Q) Does this position affect relations with Libya?

A) No, no. We have considered that this issue is limited, and it was dealt with without uproar or agitation, in the usual diplomatic ways. We will take part in the extraordinary Arab summit in Sirte. We are member of the five-side commission, and our relations with Libya are good. Moreover, there is a Libyan decision to reopen the Libyan Embassy in Baghdad and even a consulate in Arbil.

Q) During his recent visit to Iraq, what has the US vice president proposed concerning the reconstruction of Iraq?

A) The message conveyed to us by the US vice president was that a withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq does not mean an end of the US presence or relations. It will mean that relations will change from being military and security-based relations to political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic ones. This is why it was a massage of reassurance that the US Administration is committed to what we have agreed upon in the strategic framework accord. They have withdrawn most of their forces. There remain about 50,000 troops that will leave in 2011.

Q) How true are the reports that the Americans have asked you to pay compensation for those who suffered damage during the invasion of Kuwait?

A) The question is linked to Chapter VII. It is a technical issue. We are trying to close the door to demands for money. In order to safeguard Iraqi money, we are trying to solve these dossiers. There have been demands [for compensation] by certain US citizens concerning the second Gulf war and the invasion of Kuwait. They have put on record demands to the tune of billions [currency unspecified] from Iraq. The demands concern even an Iraqi role in the 11 September, or explosions with which we have nothing to do. Therefore, we have exerted enormous efforts through lawyers to alleviate and limit these demands in a finite, clear, and open batch involving seven or eight cases. We have negotiated to pay the amount in one go. It was fixed at about $400 million. This agreement will be brought before the Iraqi Chamber of Deputies as a priority.

Q) With the numerous reports that talk about a war on Iran soon, and the linking of this to the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, do you expect that such a war will happen?

A) I do not think that such a war is likely to happen, but surely there is a great deal of tension in Iraq concerning the nuclear dossier and the obligations of Iran, and the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But, I think that it is unlikely that a war will break out.

Q) What about relations with Iran?

A) Relations are good and excellent between us and Iran.