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RAY SUAREZ: In recent days the Bush administration has spoken openly, though with little detail, of its intention to speed up the transfer of political power to Iraqis. Is that a good idea? Are there risks?
For that we get views from two Iraqi-Americans active in opposition politics. Feisal Istrabadi is vice president of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy. He served on a State Department advisory group before the war and now advises a member of Iraq’s Governing Council. And Sam Kubba is chairman of the American-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce. He’s a member of the Iraqi National Movement. Each has recently visited Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: Feisal Istrabadi, Paul Bremer was sent back to Iraq by the president with orders to speed up the transition to Iraqi authority. Is this an answer that works for Americans and Iraqis?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, I think it’s a partial answer that will speed the process up of the rebuilding of Iraq. It is not a complete total answer because there are some things that the United States will still have to help the people of Iraq in doing in particular maintaining peace and security and law and order. That is the not something the Iraqis will immediately be able to handle, but I think that particularly the notion of establishing a government, which has greater legitimacy than Iraq has known in a very long time, by which I mean 45 years, is, indeed, a step in the right direction.
RAY SUAREZ: Part of the theory, as it has been explained by members of the administration, is that speeding this transition to Iraqis will help increase the support for the occupation and help dry up the support for the insurgents. Do you agree with that?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, as a matter of fact, I think what we will see in the coming months is at least a technical end to the occupation, a legal end to the legal state of occupation.
That being the case, I think, yes, I do agree. I think that this will make it clearer to the people of Iraq as well as to the people of the region to the extent that that is important; that this indeed was not a war of occupation or conquest, but indeed viewed from the perspective of the people in Iraq, it was their only hope to overthrow a heinous dictatorship, the most brutal dictatorship of the last half of the 20th century, and that indeed this was a liberation of the Iraqi people from that dictatorship.
RAY SUAREZ: Sam Kubba, do you agree with Feisal Istrabadi that this is at least a partial answer toward addressing some of the problems the Americans and the Iraqis are having on the ground?
SAM KUBBA: Ray, I think the thing is, first of all, it’s a partial answer but it depends a lot on what Ambassador Bremer wants to do. We still don’t know. For example, if he is going to give more authority to the Governing Council, I think that’s a step in the wrong direction. If, on the other hand, he is going to go forward and try and get elections or to speed the process for elections, then I think we’re going in the right direction.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, there is no constitution, there is no provision yet for elections. Why do you say it is a step in the wrong direction to move more power to the Governing Council?
SAM KUBBA: Because one of the problems we are facing in Iraq is the governing council and I don’t like using the word but it is like an Iraqi mafia — people that have been appointed by us by Ambassador Bremer, the CPA, and they don’t represent the Iraqi people.
So if they are going to have more power, that’s not going to help the Iraqis. The Iraqis, at this point, see them more as a bad alternative to Saddam. So I think what we need to do is to find a way of trying to give more power to the Iraqis by getting representation by having, for example, each government could have representatives. That’s the way I think we should go forward and have some sort of elections there.
RAY SUAREZ: So that idea that moving more authority to Iraqis would both bolster the occupation and help dry up support for the people who are now ambushing and killing American troops, you don’t go for that, either?
SAM KUBBA: No, I think what’s going to happen, if we are going to give more authority to the governing council, we’re going to find an increase, I think, in lack of stability. We are going to have an increase in terrorism and resistance. So we really need to find an alternative to the Governing Council. I think this is what Ambassador Bremer…he is at present getting advice that is not in the best interest either of America or of Iraq.
The Governing Council wants to stay in power and the only way to make sure that we can leave the country and have a democracy there is to give the voting powers, democracy, freedom to the Iraqi people.
RAY SUAREZ: Feisal Istrabadi, you heard Sam Kubba, a replacement for the Governing Council, do you think the Iraqis view the Governing Council as legitimate?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, I can’t disagree more with respect to what I’ve just heard from Mr. Kubba.
First of all, the notion that the Governing Council has less legitimacy than Saddam Hussein, I think, is a concept that I can’t quite wrap my mind around. There was no legitimacy to the government of Iraq. Indeed, there has been no legitimacy to any government in Iraq in the last 45 years of Iraq’s history.
The notion that this rather disparate group of Governing Council members, for all the flaws of the manner in which they were brought to the fore, and in the manner in which they have had limited power, et cetera, with the notion that they had less legitimacy than the prior government, I think, is an absurdity.
What I think is true, and what I can say certainly some of the members of the Governing Council, including Dr. Pachachi have argued, is there has to be a way of expanding the current political structures of Iraq, of increasing the numbers of individuals who are… well, just that, expanding the numbers of indeed separating powers, of having a legislative function, of having an executive function, having an independent judiciary.
There is no question that there is a tremendous amount of work that has to be done in order to create more legitimate structures of governance than Iraq now has. And I think that we will see in the coming days that that is precisely the direction that I will expect the events to move. I believe that there will be involvement at the provincial level in the selection of members of a legislative body for the – let me call it — governing council, for lack of… I don’t know what the terminology might be, but in any event, for a legislative council there will be, I expect, some provincial caucuses and so on that will elect such members.
The problem of having elections in Iraq right now is that there is a wide consensus among the Governing Council, and indeed rank and file people in Iraq, that there are certain fundamentals that have to be secured before you can have elections. You can’t have elections when in the capital city, which houses as many as one out of three Iraqis, you have random acts of violence and bombing. You have to secure the peace.
There’s a wide consensus that you have to have a census in Iraq. The last reliable census was in 1957. These things cannot be rushed. There has to be legitimacy to this process. You cannot rush the work of laying a proper foundation. And I think the Americans realize that and I believe the Iraqis, the population of Iraq, realizes that as well.
RAY SUAREZ: Sam Kubba, for all your misgivings about the Governing Council, are there things that Iraqis are more ready to take over more than others? For instance, running ministerial functions, day to day management of various government processes, or perhaps security and daily governance less so?
SAM KUBBA: Yes, Ray, I think they can take over security, for example. This is something they’re good at. But again, I think the problem with legitimacy is that the Governing Council, there’s so much corruption in certain areas — one doesn’t want to generalize because a lot of them are very good people — but there are two or three, for example, where corruption is rampant. And unless we can resolve this issue because the Iraqis are saying, look, under Saddam we had corruption, and now we have corruption. What has changed? So we have to find — first of all resolve this. We have to remove the people who are corrupt within the governing council and then we might have a little bit more representation. But again…
FEISAL ISTRABADI: If I may –
RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead.
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Pardon me, but I agree Mr. Kubba, there is… there are elements of corruption. And he is right, there are laws in Iraq, there have always been laws in Iraq on anti-corruption. Those laws need to be enforced and independent mechanisms need to be established and maintained. I absolutely agree with Mr. Kubba’s analysis on that issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead.
SAM KUBBA: Thank you, Ray. So basically, I think we can be — we are on the right direction if we can get, give the Iraqis more freedom. One way to do it, in my opinion is, for example, we have 18 governances or provinces. If we had in each province two people representing the province that would give 36, maybe four or five for Baghdad. That gives us 40. Those would be representatives of the Iraqis; they’d be from the people, by the people, of the people. Rather than a council that’s been mainly appointed by the CPA, so this is one way to go.
But I think we have to educate them, we have to build up a middle class. The problem we have now is the people that have the money are all people from Saddam’s era, or some of the people, the ex-pats that have come back, so we have to build up a middle class so we can get people working, put food on the table, and then we will find stability; it will gradually emerge. We’ll get stability; we’ll get freedom, and what we’re looking for.
RAY SUAREZ: Sam Kubba, Faisal Istrabadi, thank you both.
SAM KUBBA: Thank you.
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Thank you.