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Iraqi Foreign Minister Discusses the New Unity Government

June 16, 2006 at 6:20 PM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, Minister, Zebari. Thanks for joining us.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraqi Foreign Minister: You’re most welcome.

MARGARET WARNER: Today, Baghdad saw a suicide attack on a mosque and a prominent Sunni figure was killed in Basra. When is this sectarian killing going to stop?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: It will take some time. Now we have an opportunity, a new government. We have the ministers of — the security ministers named, and definitely one of the tasks for this government is to address this increase in sectarian violence.

And this will need a collective effort by the new government to address that. We have some successes. We will have some setbacks. But, really, this new government is determined to move ahead to assume leadership and to make a break with the past.

MARGARET WARNER: How long do you think this new government has to really tamp down on the violence, in a measurable way, before it loses credibility or legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Margaret, it would be very difficult to put a time line on that, but I believe the next six months would be very crucial to test this government and what it can deliver, in terms of security, in terms of providing services, in terms of moving Iraq forward, being more self-reliant on security, building security forces, and these are the serious challenges.

That’s why we need continued international engagement and support during this critical period. Now, we have a constitutional government; we have a national unity government. All the components of the Iraqi society are on board.

We have a plan, and we have the support. So a great deal will depend really on the leadership that this government will demonstrate to lead the people forward. So I think, personally, the next six months will be very important, very critical to test this government.

Amnesty to some insurgents

Hoshyar Zebari
Foreign Minister of Iraq
Also, there is a consideration to issue an amnesty to all those, even those who are carrying arms, but haven't committed, you know, gross atrocities or violations against the people, against the civilian, against us.

MARGARET WARNER: As a way of bringing in disaffected Sunnis and trying to ease the ethnic tensions, Prime Minister Maliki has talked about offering amnesty to some in the insurgency. And the phrase he used was -- and let me read this -- he said amnesty would be offered to those not involved, quote, "in the shedding of Iraqi blood."

Will there be a distinction made between those who were involved in killing American soldiers versus those involved in killing Iraqis?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, the government has a national reconciliation initiative, and it started with the release of 2,500 detainees, and this process is ongoing.

Also, there is a consideration to issue an amnesty to all those, even those who are carrying arms, but haven't committed, you know, gross atrocities or violations against the people, against the civilian, against us.

This would be difficult to differentiate or distinguish, because there are those, also, who have targeted the coalition, those who have targeted Iraqi security. But the whole idea of an amnesty, really, is to move forward, to forget what has happened in the past, and you issue an amnesty to those whom you disagree with.

But this idea, to be fair, Margaret, hasn't been sufficiently developed, but it is there for discussions as part of this package to encourage national reconciliation.

Remember, they're also having in early August a conference of national reconciliation, organized or assisted by the Arab League and the Iraqi government and Iraqi leaders, also aimed at securing more national accord and reconciliation within Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying that it is under discussion the possibility of making a distinction between those who killed coalition forces versus those who killed Iraqis?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: No, definitely, I mean, those who kill, whether coalitions or Iraqis, I mean, the same rules should apply to them. There is no -- Iraqi blood and coalition blood both are dear to every human.

But I believe this has to be worded very carefully, and to target the people whom it's intended to, because amnesty everywhere really should be an offer by the authorities to reach out to those disaffected elements, to those who have been in the opposition, have been reluctant to join the political process.

And it is another gesture of good will, you see, to relieve them of any serious charges. But as I said, really, it's still in the realm of developing this further.

Courageous decisions needed

Hoshyar Zebari
Foreign Minister of Iraq
If this country is to rise again, if this government were to succeed, if life were to improve, definitely some bold decision has to be taken, some courageous decision has to be taken by the new prime minister...

MARGARET WARNER: Now, of course, there have been many killings by Shiites, death squads, people who have infiltrated even the government police forces. Do you think this Shiite-led government is ready to, has the will to take on Shiite sectarian killers?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, it should, actually, and that is the key task. But remember, Margaret, there are also killings on the other side. Today, killing in the mosque, actually, the victims were Shia.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: So not to...

MARGARET WARNER: Now, we had discussed that first, and now I was switching to the other side.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Yes, that's correct. But definitely this government, to prove its credibility, its independence, and its decisiveness, definitely has to look hard to the interior ministry or the police force to weed it out of all these bad elements who are committing these atrocities under the guise and auspices of the police protection or using police facilities to commit this sectarian killing.

MARGARET WARNER: I mean, you know these people and the new people -- people in this new government, most of them. How confident are you that they do have the will to do this?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, they should, actually. If this country is to rise again, if this government were to succeed, if life were to improve, definitely some bold decision has to be taken, some courageous decision has to be taken by the new prime minister, by the new cabinet, to tackle this issue frontly and to bear the consequences.

And this is what leadership means, so to rise above, really, you know, sectarian or ethnic, or whatever, affiliation, and to lead the country. So if there is a problem with the security or police, definitely this government has to act independently.

Does the government feel different?

Hoshyar Zebari
Foreign Minister of Iraq
It does feel different, because within this government you have a stronger sense of ownership. You have completed the transitional phase of successive government formations, with interim arrangements.

MARGARET WARNER: You are a veteran of every post-Saddam government that Iraq has had. Does this new government feel different to you from the inside, and, if so, how?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: I think it does, Margaret. It does feel different, because within this government you have a stronger sense of ownership. You have completed the transitional phase of successive government formations, with interim arrangements.

Now, you have a constitutional government; you have a legitimate government; you've come through the ballot boxes; you are represented comfortably on merits.

And it's your country. It's your government. And we all have to work together to, you know, to move forward.

MARGARET WARNER: You have been here -- actually, at the U.N., but at a time of fierce partisan debate in Congress over Iraq policy, how long the United States should stay. How confident are you of the U.S. commitment to retain troops in Iraq as long as your government wants, but no longer?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: I think that president's trip, during trip, President Bush visit to Baghdad demonstrated that message to my government and demonstrated genuine support to this new government, that this commitment will continue.

And there is an opportunity for this government -- the United States is willing to help and to assist, but, at the end of the day, this is our country, and, really, we have to govern it, run it, to own it.

When will U.S. troops be reduced?

Hoshyar Zebari
Foreign Minister of Iraq
Well, I hope by then the Iraqi forces' capacity would have grown and we would have assumed more security responsibility for the coalition, that there would have been some gradual draw-downs based on conditions on the ground.

MARGARET WARNER: You were here to ask the U.N. to renew, once again, for a year, the mandate under which the U.S.-led coalition is operating. A year from now when you come back to renew the mandate again, do you expect U.S. troops to be at pretty much the same level or significantly reduced?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, I hope by then the Iraqi forces' capacity would have grown and we would have assumed more security responsibility for the coalition, that there would have been some gradual draw-downs based on conditions on the ground.

But, really, I wouldn't speak about next year. I'll speak about the next six months, because the next review is at the end of the year. And from now, I believe we, the United States, other coalition partners, need to do our homework from now, because the next review needs more attention, more focus, and maybe better homework.

MARGARET WARNER: Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari of Iraq, thank you so much.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Thank you.