U.N. Special Envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi
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SPOKESMAN: Those in favor of the draft resolution…
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday’s unanimous Security Council vote recognizing the new Iraqi interim government was the culmination of months of work by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed him to put together a caretaker government that could assume sovereignty from the U.S. and its hand- picked governing council on June 30.
A Sunni Muslim, Brahimi came to the job with decades of experience as an Algerian diplomat. Among his earlier tough assignments, he twice brokered deals to end conflicts in Afghanistan . The Bush administration, which initially resisted a major U.N. role in shaping Iraq’s political future, heartily backed Brahimi’s mission this spring as anti-occupation violence surged in Iraq.
REPORTER: Mr. President, who will we be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ll find that out soon. That’s what Mr. Brahimi is doing. He’s figuring out the nature of the entity we’ll be handing sovereignty over.
MARGARET WARNER: When the new entity was announced last week, it followed Brahimi’s proposed blueprint: An ethnically mixed top leadership consisting of a prime minister, a president, two vice presidents and other cabinet officials. Their job is to guide the country until elections for a permanent government are held probably next year. But the people who filled the top posts were not the non-political technocrats Brahimi had wanted.
Brahimi’s first choice as prime minister, a Shiite former nuclear scientist, withdrew in the face of opposition from members of the U.S.-appointed governing council. Instead, they pushed one of their own for prime minister– Iyad Alawi, a Shiite former exile whose Iraqi national accord had long been supported by the CIA.
The man Brahimi and U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer wanted for president, former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, also withdrew in the face of governing council opposition. Again, its members put forward one of their own — Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer , a Sunni tribal leader. But once the new government was announced, President Bush vigorously supported it, calling it the product of U.N. and Iraqi cooperation.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: From my perspective, Mr. Brahimi made the decisions and brought their names to the governing council. As I understand it, the governing council simply opined about names. It was Mr. Brahimi’s selections, and Ambassador Bremer and Ambassador Blackwell were instructed by me to work with Mr. Brahimi. As we say in American sports parlance, he was the quarterback.
MARGARET WARNER: Despite news reports that Brahimi would have preferred a different outcome, when the Security Council voted to approve the new government yesterday, the U.N. envoy had a prominent seat at the table.
MARGARET WARNER: I spoke with Lakhdar Brahimi from New York earlier this evening.
Ambassador Brahimi, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much.
MARGARET WARNER: You’ve long said that the new interim Iraqi government had to exercise true sovereignty for its short life. Does the U.N. resolution adopted yesterday do that in your view?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I think it goes very, very far, and I think what the members of the council have done is really give this government as much space as possible.
I think this resolution is going to be a help. From my point of view, having been involved in the formation of this cabinet, I was delighted to see that it is endorsed without any reservation by the Security Council.
MARGARET WARNER: Let’s talk about the make-up of this new government because when you started the process, you said you really wanted non-political technocrats to take these interim jobs. Why didn’t it turn out that way?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: You know, I think if you reread what I said, first of all, I said this was not my plan. This was a reading of what I had heard from Iraqis. And certainly people in the Iraqi public that I have talked to during my first visit were looking for people of… not involved in politics.
I even said that it would be good if they voluntarily, the members of this government, decided not to stand for elections. But when I went the second time, and I have explained this at length in my briefing to the Security Council a few days ago, not only political parties but a lot of other people told me, you know, “Yes, certainly it would be desirable to have technocrats who are not in political parties, but you be careful.
You need the support of these political parties. At the very least, they can be a nuisance if they are, you know, not happy with the government that is produced.”
And that is from a lot of people we heard that. But still if you see the making of this government, you will see that the overwhelming majority of the members are highly qualified, even if they have some links with some political parties. There are very, very few prominent political party leaders.
MARGARET WARNER: You had always said you would consult with the governing council, but it looks like they did more than just advise you. Were you at all disturbed or troubled by the prominent role they took in the fact that they really –
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: No, not at all.
MARGARET WARNER: — nominated two of their own for the two top jobs?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Not at all, not at all. I think, you know, we expected that. Remember, they started by saying that really there is no need for anything. The governing council can continue during the next period either alone or by co-opting… they have twenty-five that they would co-opt another ten, and it’s enough. We are very, very far from that.
The governing council itself is dissolved, and this government, there is… I think there are four people. Yes they are in the four top positions, but you know, the minister of defense, minister of interior, the minister of oil, all these people are not from the governing council, and I think probably more than three quarters of the government are technocrats that have very, very little contact with the political parties.
So I think this is… I think we are not very far from the ideas we had from the beginning. But, of course, not… I didn’t have it my way. That’s for sure.
MARGARET WARNER: So did it go the U.S. way? The reason I ask is some of your aides speaking to reporters off the record said that, in the end, you were put under pressure by Paul Bremer to, for instance, accept Alawi as the prime minister. How heavy a hand did the U.S. play?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: No. I think, you know — I mean, let me just take this opportunity to say how sorry I am about that, you know, those unfortunate words I had about Bremer being a dictator. That’s not what I meant at all. I think we work very well together.
Of course, we disagreed on a number of things. Of course, they probably were very happy that Mr… Dr. Alawi is prime minister, but, you know, they didn’t impose anything on me.
Dr. Alawi was the smallest common denominator that was… that it was possible in the circumstances to get to. I think it’s no secret now that the candidate I put forward was Dr. Hussein Shahristani.
But the people who are protesting now against Alawi were the people who made it impossible for Shahristani to be prime minister. Iraqi is a very difficult, very divided country, and compromises were not easy to make.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that Dr. Alawi is, particularly given his long ties to the CIA, will enjoy credibility in the eyes of the Iraqi people?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Well, it’s up to him. You know, he certainly… I mean, he has certainly some support. He also faces a lot of doubt and criticism. It is up to him to prove himself.
It is up to him to show to the people of Iraq that he is going to serve them, you know, in the manner that they expect during these seven months. And I think he is capable of doing it. Yes, you know, people say that he has been linked to the CIA, but quite a few people in Iraq are linked to a lot of CIAs of this world.
MARGARET WARNER: The key, of course, as you yourself have said to proceeding to elections to any kind of success, is security. There were more deaths in Iraq today — 12 Iraqi soldiers in Fallujah.
Will the hand-over to this interim government of Iraqis in and of itself, do you think, lessen the violence?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I am hoping that it will. I am also strongly advising the government and the Americans to do everything possible during these critical 20 days that separate us from the 30th, to show that that change is going to be significant. That it is not… that the first of July is going to be exactly like the 30th.
I think the resolution of the Security Council has done some of that work in showing that the international community wants this government to be a real government of a really sovereign state. But I think the Americans and this government have got to use every hour, every day from here to the 30th of June to show that this is going to be the case.
I have also said that they should be… I think this government should be reaching out to those constituencies that have been opposed to the war and opposed to occupation from a nationalistic point of view.
I think President Bush said it was very legitimate that not all the people who are opposed to occupation are terrorists. So I think please try to identify them and try to reach out to them.
MARGARET WARNER: So, for instance, do you think that the deals that the U.S. forces negotiated with former insurgents and former Saddamists in Fallujah or the one they negotiated with followers of the cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr in the South, that those were wise moves?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Look, it’s not up to me to judge specific activities. But I am on record as saying that a situation like Iraq, the situation in Iraq today is not going to be solved through military means alone, and that political… a lot, a lot of political activities are required to put an end to the violence.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think — the U.N. resolution says that the U.S. Military forces are supposed to act in what’s called a security partnership with the Iraqis. As a practical matter, how much authority does that give this new interim Iraqi government over U.S. military operations?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Look, again, I think we are, I think, moving in the right direction from, you know, the position that was expressed by, I think, some Americans that the Americans will be in charge even of the Iraqi armed forces and police.
I think now it’s clear that these… the army and the police will be under Iraqi command, and that no major operation is going to be undertaken without consultation with the Iraqi government.
You know, it hasn’t been spelled out that the Iraqi government will have the last word, but I think it is extremely difficult to imagine that the Americans are anybody else will undertake a major, delicate, complicated, hazardous operation against the wishes of the Iraqi government.
MARGARET WARNER: As you noted earlier, Iraq is a very divided country, –
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: — and even today Kurdish leaders are expressing great displeasure with the fact that the resolution didn’t endorse this interim constitution that had, to use shorthand, given them a greater degree of autonomy.
The U.N. didn’t do it because the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Sistani didn’t want them to do it.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Where is this headed? Can this be worked out or do you think that this country with these three different ethnic groups will have trouble holding together?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Look, I know fairly well both Jalal Talabani and Mr. Barzani, the two leaders of the Kurdish — two important political parties, these are very responsible people.
They are patriots, they have fought hard for their region. But I think that they sincerely believe that there is a place for Iraqi Kurdistan inside Iraq.
They say very loudly, “We Kurds will not accept to be treated as second class citizens.” And they should not. They have very good relations with the prime minister, with the president, with everybody else, Shia, Sunni Arabs. And I’m fairly confident that they will work out some — they will work something out.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, Ambassador Brahimi, the Bush administration is now saying one of the major reasons they went to war in Iraq was to bring democracy to some part of the Middle East.
The president is down at Sea Island now trying to advance an initiative in that regard. Does that hand over – of which you’ve played a part — does that substantially advance that cause?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: You know, again, here if I may, you know, as carefully as I have to– but speak not really on behalf of the United Nations, but as somebody from that region, I think like most people in the region I come from, we refuse to believe or accept that democracy can be exported to us by anybody.
It is an aspiration of our people. We are in most, if not all parts of our world, the situation is less than acceptable, but I think the situation would improve through struggle of our people and through reforms that will come from inside our region, not from outside.
MARGARET WARNER: And are you returning to Iraq, or is your job done?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: My, personally, my job is done I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Brahimi, thanks so much.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Thank you. Thank you for having me.