The State of the Iraq Coalition
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RAY SUAREZ: For more now on Prime Minister Blair’s visit and the state of the Iraq coalition, we get three views. Christopher Makins is president of the Atlantic Council of the United States. He holds both U.S. and British citizenship. Bartosz Weglarczyk is the U.S. bureau chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest newspaper. And Maurizio Molinari is a New York-based columnist for the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Christopher Makins, rising death toll, more intense fighting, a rise in the number of kidnapped soldiers and civilians? Has this shaken the unity of the coalition?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: No, I don’t think it has up to this point, at least not seriously so. Your introductory piece mentioned the Spanish question, and obviously the elections in Spain have resulted in some change in the Spanish attitude. But I think you’ve seen in the rejection of Osama bin Laden alleged proposal or offer yesterday and the statements that have been made coming out of Europe in the past few days, that the European countries who are committed to Iraq are going to stay committed through this transition of power that is due at the end of June.
RAY SUAREZ: In the news conference featuring President Bush and Prime Minister Blair this afternoon, there was almost complete unanimity in their public statements on the conduct of the war. Behind the scenes, are there differences in approach, differences in emphasis that might not come out in something like a news conference?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: Well, it would be surprising if there were not some differences of emphasis, and differences of judgment. But I think so far as I know, the agreement is actually very substantial right now, both in private as well as in public. I think that Prime Minister Blair is committed to this course. He believes in it. I think it was clear from the statements he made in the news conference today that he sees this problem very much in the same way as President Bush does, and he is politically quite committed to staying the course and to being by the side of the U.S. as it goes through this transition.
RAY SUAREZ: Maurizio Molinari, in the past few days came the shocking news of the murder of an Italian civilian in Iraq Fabrizio Quattrocchi. In the case of that, in the case of Italy, a country where most voters say they were against the participation of Italian troops in Iraq, what has this done to public opinion?
MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Well the paradox in my country is while most of the people are against the war, actually both the government and the main leader of the opposition are in favor of staying in Iraq, to leave the troops in Iraq. This is something to be understood we have to take into account at least three elements. The first one, as you reminded, is the big shock of the image of the Italian hero, killed, and before being killed to scream, to his kidnappers, I will show you how an Italian is able to die.
The second one is the position of the Catholic Church. Last Sunday in the most solemn moment of the week, the pope said we have to stay united against terrorism. And Auriemma the most prominent important arch bishop that we have in Italy said that after the bombing of the Italian headquarters in Nasiriyah, we should not withdraw our troops. We don’t have to escape in front of terror.
And finally the third element is what happened what happened at the beginning of the uprising in Nasiriyah. When the militia people of al-Sadr, they attacked also the Italian troops, well actually the Italian troops shoot. And in shooting they also killed several civilians. Now this was the first time after World War II that Italian troops trying to defend themselves have actually killed civilians. Well, after this episode, most of the Italians agreed they didn’t criticize the army… so if you see the full picture actually the public opinion is in favor of remaining in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: Bartosz Weglarczyk, your president attracted a lot of attention by saying publicly that he felt Poland had been misled about weapons of mass destruction and just a very short time later your prime minister publicly contradicted him and renewed Poland’s commitment. Does that show a split in Polish society?
BARTOSZ WEGLARCZYK: I don’t think so I think that if the Polish president, if he could turn the clock back he would never used the words that he used. What he meant by this is to say that he was obviously surprised there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq like everybody else. I heard from sources all over Europe — Germany, Poland France, Germany and the U.S. that everybody actually believed that the weapons were there. The difference was how to deal with them.
Poland is committed to having troops in Iraq. Nobody in Poland nor in government nor in the opposition says or proposes pulling the troops out. As Maurizio said, we are in basically the same situation with our troops. We suffered the first combat casualty in Iraq since World War II. Obviously it’s a moment of historical importance for Polish public opinion and for Poles but the pope, who Maurizio quoted, said we have to stay united and I’m pretty sure that Poland will stay united.
RAY SUAREZ: Maurizio also discussed some of the differences between public opinion and what the governments say is official policy. Is there a difference between your electorate and what your government’s position is?
BARTOSZ WEGLARCZYK: Absolutely. Listen, we send troops to a place far, far away from Poland to fight war that was not a danger… Iraq was never a danger to Poland. And Saddam Hussein actually we had a lot of business with Iraq in ’70s and ’80s. And so we have pretty big Iraqi community in Poland. We have a lot of Poles who know Iraq and Iraqis. So it was obviously an extremely difficult decision for the Polish government to move troops to Iraq. And 75 percent of Poles today think that the situation in Iraq is not pretty, that it is going in a bad direction. So definitely there is a split.
RAY SUAREZ: Well Christopher Makins, your governing party has fairly senior members who are expressing doubts in public now about your prime minister’s policies. Has the 9/11 commission, the Clarke book, the presidential news conference begun to at least waiver some of the people who had previously been for the war in Great Britain?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: Well, I think without doubt there has been some shift in opinion, and, of course, in Britain as well as in other European countries as we’ve heard. The public is the much more skeptical about the war and the British commitment to it than the government is. But Prime Minister Blair has a very large majority in the parliament. He can tolerate a level of criticism from within his party without his government being in any serious danger.
And he and his principal ministers are clearly committed to the course of action that they’ve chosen. They chose it after a great deal of thought and believing in it very strongly. So I think that, you know, in any democratic system, you are going to find critics of a policy like this and one which exposes the country’s soldiers to risk in this way. But I think it would be a mistake to take those criticisms for quite some time to come very seriously.
Now I think it’s important to say that we are coming up to a very important transition moment in Iraq. There’s to be a transfer of sovereignty. The United Nations is becoming much more directly involved, which is something which the British government has certainly been in favor of right along. And so it’s important, I think, that if those steps are taken, if the process goes forward, I think that the British government will remain strongly committed. One can’t look forward in this kind of situation more than a number of months, but I think with the time being and with the course that is being chosen and strongly held I think by both the British and the U.S. governments, the British government will be in support of it.
RAY SUAREZ: Maurizio Molinari, are there prominent politicians in Italy who are also looking for that backing of the United Nations? Would it help bind up some of the splits that have appeared inside the EU over U.N. backing for war in Iraq?
MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Absolutely, yes. First of all our Prime Minister Berlusconi is advocating a higher and more and important role of the U.N. And we have the main leaders of the position where they say the condition they put not to withdraw the troops, of course is that after June 30, we have to have the U.N. leading the transition. And by the way, this is more or less the position of the new Spanish prime minister.
As you may know, the Italian left and Spanish socialist party are very close. Actually, they’re speaking with each other. They’re coordinating their policies. Well, if you speak with the main leaders of the Italian left, they say we say we, exactly like Zapatero, we say that we need a new resolution with authorization to the U.N. to overview the transition. The key point is from the Italian point of view is not this. The big risk could be the military issue. I mean who will command the forces, the multinational forces after June 30?
RAY SUAREZ: And in the case of Poland, which is a fairly recent member of NATO and about to be a brand new member of the EU, has your country been put in a funny position by some of the alliances and the disputes there have been over this?
BARTOSZ WEGLARCZYK: Absolutely. Poland found itself in a very difficult position. Somewhere between being a very close U.S. ally and being a future member of the European Union in a few weeks. It is a very difficult position for the Polish government. And I think that is one of the reasons why the Polish government is pushing to have U.N. involvement in Iraq. I think it’s important to stress that Prime Minister Blair brought his proposals to Washington, not on behalf of the British government but also on behalf of several European governments, among them the Polish government.
The Polish government supports very strongly U.N. involvement in Iraq. It’s not condition of having our troops in Iraq. Nobody in Poland says that unless there is U.N. involvement we will pull the troops out, but we want to see U.N. involvement in Iraq and if it doesn’t happen in the next several months, I think there might be a much, bigger shift in the public opinion, in Poland and other European countries.
RAY SUAREZ: Briefly Christopher Makins, do you agree, if there is no new U.N. resolution, will we start to see some of the coalition members leaving Iraq after June 30?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: I think that’s quite possible yes. I think that whether… what exactly it needs in the way of a resolution is perhaps not entirely clear but what is needed is that the U.N. play a large role in orchestrating the political process that will come to some degree before but certainly after the 30th of June.
RAY SUAREZ: Christopher Makins, gentlemen, thank you all.
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: Thank you.