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Search for Stability in Iraq

July 15, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now to our interview with Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, Rend Al-Rahim Francke. Madam Ambassador, welcome.

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Your prime minister announced the formation of a domestic intelligence agency today. Why is that necessary?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: No country can live and function without intelligence capability. In the United States, you have the FBI for domestic intelligence and the CIA for foreign intelligence. In Iraq, the security systems including the intelligence organizations completely collapsed in April 2003. They were formerly dissolved in May, 2003. They have not been put together again yet.

You cannot have a functioning state without some kind of security and intelligence capability. This new directorate of security for Iraq is, in fact, not a brand new organization, but a recreation of an intelligence capability, intelligence institution that did exist and it is now being reorganized under the ministry of justice. And that’s a very important change, by the way.

JIM LEHRER: And its primary purpose right now is to gain, to gather intelligence about the insurgents, the people who are creating these acts of violence all over the country?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Indeed. We need intelligence in order not only to capture criminals after the fact, but also as a deterrence. And that is a very important item in our security.

JIM LEHRER: Much has been made over the fact that so little is known about these people. Even how many, for instance, Jim Hogan in his column in the Washington Post this morning was quoting an Associated Press story as saying there may be as many as 20,000 organized insurgents. Does that figure make sense to you?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: I don’t know what the real figure is, and I don’t think anybody does. But we do have a movement of terrorists that is composed of foreign people coming into the country, people who were allied with the old regime and who benefited from the old regime. And we also have both domestic and foreign Islamist fanatics.

JIM LEHRER: And they’re all getting together?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: And this is a conjunction of tactical interests in undermining the system in Iraq. So I don’t know what the figure is, but this is the confluence of interests that we are seeing operating now.

JIM LEHRER: It was clear at least in some ways that the U.S. coalition was unable to get a handle on who these people were, put them out of business. Do you believe that the interim government is going to be able to do that?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Yes. It’s a very different ball game now. First of all, the intelligence capability that can be developed by the Iraqi government is far different from an intelligence that is developed by the coalition because it was not a domestic homegrown intelligence capability. Now Iraqis can carry on this job, and that’s very important.

Secondly, the ability of indigenous Iraqi security forces — whether National Guard or police — is being developed and they are better able to understand the social structure, and the composition of cities and groups that aren’t gendering this terrorism, than non-Iraqi troops can do. And finally, there is a very important sea change that has happened in Iraq since June 28. The population is very reassured about the return of sovereignty.

And it’s giving the new government its confidence and its backing. And the intelligence that we are now collecting from all new Iraqis, people who live in cities and towns where the insurgents may be operating, that intelligence that we’re gleaning from the population far exceeds anything that was happening prior to sovereignty.

JIM LEHRER: Well, you talked about a sea change. You’ve also said in the past, you’ve been critical of the way the U.S. coalition took care of your country after, immediately after major hostilities ended. Did that set things back, are things going to be able to — is the interim government going to be able to get things back on track?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: My major criticism, and that has been the criticism of many Iraqis, is that the notion of occupation and the implementation of occupation was not something that Iraqis wanted. Iraqis welcomed coalition troops and U.S. troops as liberators. But I think the notion of occupation weighed very heavily on Iraqis. And both in the principle and in the implementation, occupation simply did not work.

Now that we do not have occupation anymore, I think we are back on track. I just wish that we had had a sovereign government a very long time ago, so that the coalition would stay as liberators and an Iraqi sovereign government would take care of day-to-day running of the country.

JIM LEHRER: How can there not be occupation when there’s still 140,000 foreign troops in Iraq?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Well, there are troops in Japan, there are troops in Germany, and until recently there were multi-national troops in Germany. There are troops in Korea, and in various other parts of the world. Do we deny that Japan is a sovereign nation? Do we deny that Germany is a sovereign state, or South Korea?

I do not think that the presence of troops in the country undermines sovereignty. The Iraqi government is sovereign to the extent that it determines the disposal of its resources, of its funds, it determines its own political development. And it also organizes its relationship with the multinational force that is in the country. And that is what sovereignty means to us.

JIM LEHRER: Your government has also recently offered amnesty to — a form of amnesty to insurgents. Has anybody taken the government up on that yet?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Well, first of all, we do not have an amnesty law yet and that is under discussion. So they have not issued the amnesty law. It has been talked about, and both the prime minister and the president of Iraq have discussed it in the press, but it is still something that is being formulated. I think there will be an amnesty law, but it has not been issued yet.

JIM LEHRER: And it will be amnesty for, how are they going to distinguish between good insurgents and bad insurgents, say?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Well, this is part of the reason that you need intelligence, you need a National Guard, you need police, because that kind of weighing and that kind of distinguishing between those who can be given amnesty and those who can’t is in fact a matter of rebuilding, reforming the history of the individuals who are going to be amnestied. You have to be able to assess the history of each individual before you can grant amnesty.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of intelligence what was your reaction to these two reports this week, first from the Senate Intelligence Committee in this country and then yesterday a British parliamentary committee on the prewar intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: I’m not really in a position, first of all, I have not read the reports and they are hefty reports. But even after I read them, these are domestic issues, that I am not in a very good position to judge.

JIM LEHRER: Did you think there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: I certainly thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I am surprised that none have been found, and I still do not exclude the possibility that some will be found.

JIM LEHRER: Why did you think they were there?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Because for Saddam Hussein this was an important tool of his power projection in the region. He had amassed them before; he had used them before both against Iran and against the Kurds, and in some ways against the uprising in 1991, although the history of that has to be established.

It was the firm belief of most Iraqis that this was inseparable from Saddam’s image of himself and of his power, both domestically and in the region. As I say, I still do not exclude finding such weapons in the future.

JIM LEHRER: You were in the United States for a long time before the war began, and you were in fact involved in anti-Saddam Hussein activities around the world.

Did you have information, specific information that confirmed to you, to your satisfaction that he did in fact have weapons of mass destruction?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: When you say anti-Saddam activities, I want to clarify that I was the head of the Iraq Foundation -

JIM LEHRER: right.

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: — which was a think tank, and which convened conferences and did research. We were not engaged in any intelligence activity.

JIM LEHRER: Right. Okay. Excuse my shorthand.

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: The reports that I read in the press, including from Iraqi sources and so on, I felt were credible partly because I knew what Saddam was like and what he had in the past.

I had no reason to disbelieve those reports. But then I am not an intelligence operative and intelligence is not what I did.

JIM LEHRER: Both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have said, oh, well, it doesn’t matter at all that it’s good that Saddam Hussein is gone, it was worth the cost in lives, and in finances for us to do this. Do you agree with them?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: I think that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a supreme moral act that the coalition did for the Iraqi people, and for the region, by the way. If you ask me, are we now more secure that Saddam Hussein is gone, my answer is yes. The Iraqi people are more secure, Iraq is a safer place, therefore the region is a safer place, and ultimately the civilized world is a safer place.

I do not think that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a mistake; I think it was a good act. And I think we are going to be able to judge this; in time when Iraq stabilizes, we will understand the difference that the removal of Saddam Hussein makes not just for Iraq but for the entire region, I do not think it was done, it was a wrong act.

JIM LEHRER: Why is it that it the Iraqi people themselves could not remove Saddam Hussein after all these years?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: You know, they tried on many occasions. And above all in 1991, when there was an uprising that took over 14 governates, the equation was unequal. Saddam had all the fire power, he had the arms, he had the equipment, he had the intelligence capability. Those who opposed him had only the force of their voice and their numbers; they did not have the means. And in 1991, perhaps as many as 300,000 people were killed as a result of the crushing of the uprising.

We have seen it in the results of the mass graves that have been unearthed since then, and by the way, the story of the mass graves has not been told in full. We have not uncovered them all.

After 1991, there were several attempts, coup attempts, but they didn’t — they never rose to the level of a coup attempt; they were a conspiratorial sparkle in the eyes of some military officers, they were found out and there were many executions that ensued, specifically in 1996, as many as 200 officers may have been executed. It was not for want of trying. But we never made it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you personally believe that if the U.S. coalition had not gone in there and removed him, that he could have remained in power over Iraq for the rest of his life?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Indeed. Not just for the rest of his life, he was grooming his son, Qusay, to take over. We could see a succession of a Saddam dynasty in Iraq, and moreover, one thing that people tend to forget, the sanctions regime that was imposed on Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein –.

JIM LEHRER: — through the UN — because of the weapons –

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Right, was truly eroding. This is something that people either don’t realize or choose to forget. We foresaw an Iraq that was still under Saddam for a generation to come and then under Qusay sanctions being lifted and the whole horrible story of domestic repression, weapons of mass destruction, and regional aggression repeating itself. And this was the scenario that we Iraqis were looking at if Saddam was not removed.

JIM LEHRER: Madam Ambassador, thank you very much.

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Thank you.