Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY
HARRIET BABBITT: (In progress) — and have a quiet discussion. I’d also like to remind the group that this meeting is on the record. As you know, many of the Council on Foreign Relations meetings are not. This one is on the record. And I’d like to begin by introducing our two guests this evening.
The other item I’d like to cover before I introduce the two guests is that I have a leftover ear infection. I’m completely cured, but I’m a little bit deaf. I want to ask — both to Jeremy and Ambassador Farahdi — if I fail to pick up on something you said, or if I fail to pickup on something — a question that you all have asked — please give me the signal, and I’ll get out my ear trumpet and we’ll move forward.
JEREMY GREENSTOCK: That’s all right, Harriet. I’m permanently deaf. So we’ll be shouting at each other all afternoon. (Laughter.)
BABBITT: Sir Jeremy Greenstock — it is no exaggeration to say — a towering figure in the diplomatic corps. He served the United Kingdom as the U.S. permanent representative — U.K. permanent representative — to the U.N. during the lead up to the Iraq war. He then was the U.K.’s special envoy to Iraq during the early days of the reconstruction. It’s hard to imagine someone who would have had a better bird’s eye view and better set of experiences to draw on in bringing us insight and wisdom to this evening’s discussion. In his post-diplomatic career, Sir Jeremy is the director the Ditchley Foundation that — (inaudible). And we’re honored to have him this evening.
Ambassador Farahdi has served as permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the U.N. since 1993. He resubmitted his credentials to Kofi Annan in 2001 after the Bonn Agreement. Ambassador Farahdi is also Professor Farahdi, having taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, having taught at the Australian National University in Canberra, having taught at UC-Berkeley — that’s quite an experience on its own. And we welcome him here for his decades of insight into Afghanistan and the issues affecting post-conflict reconstruction.
The panelists and I spoke earlier and decided rather than have each of them give an opening statement, that I would ask a few questions to begin the discussion and that then we would turn the questions over to this very able audience. And I wondered if we could start off with Ambassador Farahdi and ask you to give a brief, sort of, summary of how you see the overall post-conflict reconstruction taking place in Afghanistan and ask you to take into account both the international community’s role and Afghanistan’s internal dynamics.
AMB. RAVAN A.G. FARHADI: I think that the best way would be that I remind the audience about what happened in the last four years, because, if you remember, that after the United States and later other countries were helpful to the Afghans for — I mean, — (inaudible) — liberated from the Taliban rule. Of course, when the — at the end of the 2001, when the capital Kabul was liberated, there was no one GI in Afghanistan. So these Afghans themselves — so there was an army in Afghanistan who was fighting as — for freedom of Afghanistan.
So this was — it was called not an alliance, but in fact, it was a good part of the Afghans. And therefore, Afghanistan was — the capital was liberated. And also — then later the American foot soldiers also came into Afghanistan in Tora Bora — you remember Tora Bora — to — for the search of Mr. bin Laden.
Now, I remind you that since — because I was thinking that as — too little to ask that I — we will — the question of the status of women in Afghanistan is a field of interest of the audience. But I’ll — so — but I will need to answer the question, also.
Now, and as far as — we had in June 2002 a Loya Jirga. Loya jirga, it was an emergency Loya Jirga. Jirga means assembly and loya means, grand grand assembly. So it was a grand assembly in June 2002, consisting of a representatives of all Afghanistan provinces and — (inaudible) — groups. And it was convened to elect Afghanistan president. So we witnessed the participation of more — less than 200 women in the election assembly in that Loya Jirga.
And then in December 2003, we had a constitution — we had to draft a constitution — and this called a constitutional Loya Jirga. And the women comprised 20 percent of all the delegates — I mean 102 of the 502 delegates. Then the new constitution of Afghanistan was promulgated in January 2004, and it contains explicit provisions that safeguard and promotes the rights of women and the political and social spheres of the country.
So on October 2004, Afghanistan held the first ever presidential elections. And the women remarkably comprised 42 percent of the 10 million citizens that registered to vote in the president election. The population of Afghanistan is 24 million, about. And there were three women candidate for presidential election, one of them a serious candidate. But, of course, Mr. Karzai had the majority of votes.
And then on the 18th of September, recently, we had concluded the parliamentary election. And it started in 18 September. And it was an election — (inaudible) — last step of the implementation of Bonn Agreement. Bonn — because in the city of Bonn — do you remember — there was a meeting for — I mean, a blueprint of future of Afghanistan while the Taliban were still ruling in Afghanistan. But very soon, they were defeated.
So Bonn Agreement is — we had the participation of women candidates in the parliamentary elections. And furthermore, according to the later — (inaudible) — joint electoral management body, women comprised majority of 6.8 million of registered voters in the elections. (Site ?) participation was (on parallel ?) to recent (decades ?) in Afghanistan.
For the time being, you know, we have many women who are — who have been elected in Afghanistan. And in case of Iraq it’s interesting that there are five women on the first one — (inaudible) — more votes — (inaudible) — who is not in the family of — (inaudible) — who is more famous, who is a — (inaudible). No, this is a — these are the — (inaudible) — of — (inaudible) — and that lady has — revealing herself as a brilliant figure.
And then we have the nomads in Afghanistan. And their number is not very much, in spite of the fact that they are important for the photograph and the tourists. But the nomads — they have 10 representatives in the parliament. And from them — out of them are three are women. This is very interesting.
BABBITT: Professor Farahdi, as it happens, of course, Iraq has just gone through a constitutional referendum and has a parliamentary election coming up.
BABBITT: Perhaps I could turn to Sir Jeremy and ask him to speak a bit about the Iraqi constitution and —
FARHADI: Yes. I think — (inaudible).
BABBITT: — the political context in which Iraq now finds itself in.
GREENSTOCK: We’ll have to remember that when you’re dealing with a post-conflict situation — and Afghanistan and Iraq are not exceptions to this — that there is — let’s talk about Iraq. There is one Iraq that the international community sees, that the donors see, that the United States government sees, United Kingdom government sees and deals with, and there’s another Iraq underneath of the real life of the ordinary people, many of whom, it would surprise you to hear, haven’t actually seen an American or British soldier come into their village or their town, who are trying to live a more normal life with the curse of Saddam Hussein taken away, but with a terrible disappointment of the expectations that the removal of Saddam Hussein generated have not been lived up to.
You have to put the constitutional and political process into that perspective. What we can calculate and we — to some extent, we — that’s (still ?) the U.S. and the U.K. as the prime movers of this situation — can calculate what we have done is likely to generate by way of developments in Iraq. We cannot calculate what is happening underneath to Iraq, the nation of Iraqis who can only be understood by Iraqis. And I’m sure this is true also of Afghanistan. Think always of two countries that we’re trying to reconstruct — the one with an outward face to the external world; the one that is full of internal history and identity and culture and schisms and hopes and expectations and real fears of what may go wrong in the future.
It has been a real achievement of the occupation and then of the interim and transitional governments in Iraq to establish a political process out of the chaos of the post-conflict situation. And the constitution is part of a long political process that we established with the transitional law of March 2004, as two years worth of elections and constitution-writing by elected representatives and then further elections to merge the opposing positions that Ambassador Bremer and Ayatollah Sistani — the former insisting, quite rightly, that there should be constitutional principles before elections for a real Iraqi government were held because democracy is more than elections. And Ayatollah Sistani was right that Iraqis would demand that their parliament constitution was written by elected Iraqis and not by people who might be perceived as being (enthralled ?) to an occupation.
But how could we solve that chicken-and-egg problem of which of those two came first? We’ve gone twice around the track — elections, constitution; elections, government. And as we’re seeing with the constitution that has just been adopted by popular referendum — by a whisker. That constitution is still amendable by the next assembly. And it is the intention that it should be amendable, because the current constitution as adopted, which is a magnificent specimen of a constitution for that region in terms of individual rights and the checks and balances in the structure of government and parliament and the judiciary and everything else. There isn’t a constitution like it in the Middle East.
But it is not yet composed of articles that bring together all the communities of Iraq into a single political structure. The Sunni — Arab Sunni community — is still asking questions about whether they can be brought into the full structure. It’s a deal, if you like, at this stage. Let’s not mince words about it. It’s a deal between the Kurds and the Shi’a.
My personal view is that the Sunni Arab community will do better for themselves in the future if they joined the bandwagon that’s been created. But the other three main communities have got to shift across the seat to allow room for the Sunni Arabs to play a part that is equal to their status in the community of the united Iraq.
That’s the fun work for our reconstruction activity because without political structure, hopes for the future, a knowledge of where the country is going, you cannot have law and order. And without law and order, you cannot have reconstruction.
We’ve got the political structure right to get law and order right, but other things have happened to the security situation, partly as a result of the mistakes that we made early on by the British and American governments immediately after the conflict was over in not ensuring that somebody was accountable for security on the ground. Whether it was Iraqi or occupation or a wider coalition, it was our job under the U.N. resolutions to make sure that security was there on the ground so that people could live normal lives and begin to reconstruct.
So your question about the framework in the constitution, Harriet, I’ve answered in that way. And then we’ll get onto some of the details of reconstruction when you would like to get into that.
BABBITT: Well, let me ask you this. The good news is that the current constitution, which was passed in the recent referendum, was passed. It includes a compromise with the Arab Sunni community, which involves, as you say, the capacity for the new parliament to make significant amendments to the constitution, which one hopes will continue to bring the Arab Sunni community in.
The question that arises with respect to women is that those ambiguities in the constitution between Shari’a and international norms with respect to human rights are left unresolved. And do you see useful things that the international community can do to move those decisions — what we would, mostly in this room, see as the correct direction? Or is really this an issue to be resolved among Iraqis, and there’s not a useful role?
GREENSTOCK: There is a useful role, but the primary role must be amongst Iraqis. You can have a constitution, but it’s got to be implemented. You can have quotas for women in the new parliament, but they’ve got to be implemented. Women candidates have got to get onto the lists or into the political parties. And they’ve got to be allowed to stand. They probably — I’m sure this is true in Afghanistan — the women who wish to run, need the approval, often of their families, in order to be able to do that or want to feel that they’re not abandoning the traditions of their community in order to do that.
There are still very considerable constraints on actually realizing these quotas. Yes, there is something for the international community to do because, where the international community is aiding and monitoring and is present and is helping the formation of civil society and women’s groups and other reconstruction groups, then Iraqis themselves are liable to take the whole business of modern reconstruction more seriously.
If we’re not there, if they’re not monitored, then the different traditions in the different parts of Iraq or the different local paths of individual Iraqis who are the local mayor or the local police chief or the local militia head will begin to make themselves felt, whatever the constitution says.
Again, from what I know, which is very little, of what’s happening in Afghanistan, this also is a factor in Afghanistan, that the women on their own aren’t free to make their choices without the structures created by men giving them space and practice to do so.
BABBITT: Ambassador Farahdi, let me capture a little bit of what Sir Jeremy has just brought up. And that is to say, to congratulate you and Afghanistan for the enormous progress made since the Bonn Agreement. You’ve reached a number of accomplishments since then. And I think they are worthy of congratulations.
Afghanistan and Iraq, coincidentally, have a 25 percent set aside for women in the parliamentary elections. But as we saw in September in your country, the women really had enormous security threats, particularly in the rural areas, particularly in the south and the east -
FARHADI: And some regions.
BABBITT: There were barriers to participation, as Sir Jeremy has indicated, because of cultural and religious tradition. And there were certainly barriers because of financial restraints, as there are in almost every country in the world. And I wonder if you see a path forward to make real this commitment to bring women into the process?
FARHADI: I think that what is typical of Afghanistan — first, I think as — to (prepare ?) — to answer to your question, I have to remind this audience, which is — many of them have studied Afghanistan, that Afghanistan is composed of many ethnic groups. And — but no ethnic group in Afghanistan has an absolute majority. The Pashtuns are maybe 38 percent. And then there are other groups.
And as far as Sunni and Shi’a is concerned, it is very interesting to find that in Afghanistan there is great understanding between them. We have 20 percent of Shi’a — almost 20 percent — and 80 percent of Sunnis. So we — Sunnis are the majority. And there is good understanding, and as you (check the ?) Cabinet Mr. Karzai, you’ll find that the number — there are good number of Shi’as — men and women — in his Cabinet.
Now, and also in the — those who were elected, there are Sunnis and Shi’as. And this is very interesting, I think, if you compare Afghanistan to Pakistan, where Shi’as and Sunnis are killing each other and also if you compare it Iraq.
But in the case of Iraq, we are quite sure that one day there will be a coexistence between Sunni and Shi’a are peaceful, but unfortunately, the recent history has been very harsh, and there are sentiments of revenge in both communities.
Now, let me say for the answer — to answer to your question that the women in Afghanistan in all communities, even the community of the Pashtuns, who technically are — have the reputation of being very traditionalists, but there are women appearing now and from all regions of Afghanistan and who are Pashtuns, who are Hazaras, who are Tajiks. And they are great personalities, and the lady who was a rival of Mr. Karzai in the election for being — she was a candidate for being president.
BABBITT: Masooda Jalal.
FARHADI: Masooda Jalal, yes. I think you already know about it — yes.
BABBITT: She’s terrific (woman ?).
Let me change — change directions here and ask you a question that affects all Afghanistan — everyone in Afghanistan and everyone in the region and many people in the developed world as well. And that is that Afghanistan produces 87 percent of the heroin poppy in the world. It produces some 90 percent on the streets of Great Britain. It produces a very significant percentage of the heroin in the United States.
How do all of the ethnic and religious groups — how do you build a future for Afghanistan on that kind of economic base?
(Inaudible) — control that production?
FARHADI: We contribute some — a few points, but nobody notices. It is very unfortunate that the poppy can grow in any climate with irrigation or without irrigation. It is very easy to grow, to produce. Why any kind of substitute we can find for it is difficult and requires a special climate, and all Afghanistan is not (really?). But poppy can grow all over Afghanistan. And there are many other plants who cannot grow, but in some region because of the diversity of climate.
Now, what happened at the — in the time of the Taliban — this was — especially in the first — in the beginning the Taliban popularized the cultivation of poppy and the production of opium and therefore, heroin. And the laboratories started to appear in Afghanistan — (inaudible) — there was no laboratories for producing heroin.
And in the last year only, when the Taliban found that there was an overproduction of opium, so they limit it, and they — (inaudible) — as they were forbidden, but they did not (forbid it ?). There were some movement in the last years of the Taliban for lesser production.
But now, I can assure you that — first, number one, that there was almost 20 percent of reduction in the production of poppy this year. This is very typical because some efforts were done, because there is a ministry in Afghanistan, who is in charge of the fighting the production of poppy and — in the level of Cabinet.
And the efforts — I mean, also and there is assistance coming from — especially from the United Kingdom to the Afghans for — but as our friends suggest to us, that this requires at least some seven or eight years. It cannot be immediately — yes.
BABBITT: Thank —
FARHADI: And there is progress towards and I hope. So the question is if there is a substitute, the Afghans are not interested in producing poppy because it does not — the money of the traffick do not go to the farmers. Farmers receives very little. It goes to the —
BABBITT: It’s the worst of all possible worlds
FARHADI: Yes, yes, yes.
BABBITT: So Jeremy, you’ve talked about the issue of security in Iraq and this sort of overwhelming issue of security.
I have friends who — whose opinions I usually regard highly, who say, look, we ought to be taking troops out of Iraq — all the troops do in Iraq is to attract and motivate terrorism — and move them to Afghanistan, where the NATO-led forces need to be reinforced, where they are only effective around Kabul and leave the rest of the country vulnerable to terrible security risks.
And I wonder if you could respond to that sort of set of issues?
GREENSTOCK: There’s no doubt that the security situation in Iraq is far worse than it should be at this stage and (a misery?) for most Iraqis. I say most Iraqis, but it’s really in four provinces, above all, that the security situation in terms of the insurgency is bad. The other 14 provinces are living closer to a normal life than you would believe from the media.
But the ability of either the insurgency, which I regard as the name for Iraqis who oppose central government, or the terrorist groups, who are basically the al Qaeda franchise under Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, who are non-Iraqis trying to cause as much havoc against the — what they regard as the occupation forces as they can. Both of them can strike almost anywhere at this particular moment. You don’t quite know because there isn’t pervasive security.
This is not just the number-one poison in the situation in Iraq. It’s also the biggest constraint, biggest fear for women in trying to look after their families and trying to live normal lives and trying to get their children to school and trying to get supplies for their families.
If you look at women’s priorities — and there are polls — there’s a good response from women’s groups saying what they need from the current situation; they always put security at the top.
And this is not peculiar to Iraq. If you look at Sierra Leone and Congo; if you look at Kashmir; if you look at Colombia; if you look at any state that is going through (conceptual ?) torment, society wants security to be put at the top of the list. They can’t do any of the other things unless this is done first.
After that comes the things of normal life. And in Iraq, you’ll see that the priorities are security, electricity, water and sewage and jobs. Those are the current of top four priorities at the moment.
It could be anywhere, but it’s particularly acute in certain parts of Iraq. It is not going to change the situation of an insurgency and a group of terrorists who (are) opposing central government if you remove the American and British and other coalition forces. Indeed, you change the situation that is chaos with some hope in it to a situation that’s chaos with no hope in it because these groups will then turn on the Iraqis they don’t like.
You can have subjective views about this. I am convinced that if coalition troops removed, the violence would then turn into internecine violence between Iraqis.
You do need the troops to stay for Iraqis. The Iraqis realize that how ever much they hate the presence of foreign troops — foreign boots if you like — on their soil.
The second issue for us — for us Americans, us British — is that if you — if we leave with our tails between our legs, we have given terrorism a victory. And I think that President Bush has spelled this out perfectly clearly, and I agree with him on this — that if we leave with our tails between our legs, terrorism comes closer to our homelands as a result with the motivation, with the recruitment, with the experience of battle-hardened terrorists on the soil of Iraq usable elsewhere. So it’s a more direct security threat to our national territories if we don’t see it through to the end in Iraq.
I believe that the correct course is to keep the coalition troops there, but not to keep only the current policy. More things need to be done in terms of the material goods that are put in; in terms of the diplomacy in the region to try and get the neighbors to contribute to a more stable Iraq; in terms of giving Iraqis confidence that they are part of a region and regarded with respect by their neighbors and they’ve got something to join; in terms of civil society assistance, women’s groups assistance, to get Iraqi society understanding that they’ve got to respect each other if they’re going to be respected from outside as well.
There are many things that need to be done, but they’re not yet being done sufficiently well, but leaving them at this juncture is not one of them.
BABBITT: Good. I’d like to open the floor to the audience.
Now, remember as you — to wait for the mike — to stand, to introduce yourself by name and by affiliation.
QUESTIONER: I’m Anja Manuel (ph) of Wilmer Cutler Pickering.
BABBITT: Can everybody else hear? This is a bad sign. It seems to be on.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Anya Manuel (ph) of Wilmer Cutler Pickering.
And I actually have a question to both of you and that is regarding the restructuring of the militaries in both Afghanistan and in Iraq.It seems to me that the approaches that have been taken have been quite similar. It’s dismantle the infrastructure that was there and dismantle the Taliban military and dismantle Saddam Hussein’s mostly Sunni army in Iraq. But the results have been sort of mixed, and the reports that are coming out of Iraq are far more negative than the ones coming out of Afghanistan.
If you could speak to that, that would be great.
BABBITT: I think the question is to ask both panelists to comment on the process of dismantling the militaries in both Afghanistan and Iraq and what can be done going forward to make it more of a success? So Jeremy?
GREENSTOCK: As far as Iraq is concerned, there were perfectly good reasons — political, maybe a touch ideological — for making sure that Saddam’s structures did not survive into the post-conflict era. What, perhaps, was not sensible now that we look back at it, is dismantling the Iraqi army and police force or allowing it to stay dismantled because the army went home. They took their weapons — their individual weapons — and went home — was to leave them first of all unpaid and unrespected so that you had disgruntled, poor, armed Iraqis — armed and trained Iraqis — at home — and not to replace them with any other large force.
The coalition was not large enough in the weeks and months after the conflict was over to look after internal security across Iraq as a whole. What the coalition did not do was recreate an Iraqi force that could have used those members of Saddam’s forces who were not ideologically trained or inclined, who would have followed the dollar that was paid to them, but you who had the capacity to keep order if they were properly instructed and led and paid, nor to enlarge the coalition to a strength that could have dealt with law and order on the ground. Figures of between two (hundred thousand) and 500,000 allied soldiers were said to be necessary, including by experienced generals in the United States. That was not done, nor was the coalition enlarged with other countries’ troops to create that kind of force.
In other words, we relied on something too close to a best-case scenario in the weeks and months after the war, that Iraqis themselves would understand that were there for a short period. We were going to hand power back to them as soon as possible, and they would become responsible for looking after law and order. That, to my mind, was an unjustified assumption that it would happen that way and went against warnings in the system that were not heeded, particularly in the United States.
So security was allowed to become a vacuum, and into that came some pretty nasty creatures, both in terms of the Iraqi insurgency and in terms of terrorist recruitment. They not only had a motivation, they had weapons from the ammunition dumps, which were not guarded, and they had recruitment from abroad and internally because the borders were not watched.
That amounted to allowing a situation to develop that perhaps the Brits should have spoken up more loudly about with our former colonial experience because we learned to make law and order the number one priority when we have a situation to mend.
And actually, the United Nation does — the United Nations does the same thing with its peacekeeping operations. It makes sure that there are people on the ground, whether they are United Nations or local forces or a combination, that create secure conditions for everything else to happen.
It was not done sufficiently well in Iraq.
FARHADI: In the case of Afghanistan, let me remind you that in Afghanistan there was no — (inaudible) — (event?), especially in a good part of Afghanistan in the capital and in the (north ?). And there is no front — a front of the Taliban — fighting with the Afghanistan army and the coalition, especially the Americans who are there and also the ISAF and the force — I mean, NATO is now — exists in Afghanistan and is active. And the status will improve in coming months.
Let me assure you that in Afghanistan there is no support for the Taliban. The Taliban are coming from — many of them — they come from cross-border area, and for long years, they were supported by ISI, which is the military intelligence of Pakistan — Interservice Intelligence.
And — but now, the situation is starting to change because the same forces of the Taliban and al Qaeda are also a danger for Mr. Musharraf and his government. And therefore, what we expect is I’m sure an improvement of the situation, especially when the Afghan army, which is now almost 20,000 or so, will reach 70,000 and will be in a way modernized to be ready for any danger which may come.
But, of course, in Afghanistan also requires the presence of the — both of the coalition forces and also of NATO and ISAF maybe — at least for some five years. But, of course, there is possibility for the United States to — because allied countries are participating, and the European countries are also sending units in Afghanistan to start a plan for — this number of Americans in Afghanistan — American soldiers, but what is very important is to pay more attention to the training of the Afghan army, and there is a lot of problem, like everywhere. The question of budget, financing, and I hope that in coming years, if there is no — I mean, again — once again — the danger does not come from Pakistani side in Afghanistan will be much safer than any part of — that part of South Asia and Middle East.
BABBITT: Your point about resources is an important one because Afghanistan is one of the least-resourced post-conflict areas in the world, and it’s a shame.
There are a lot of questions here, Mr. Ambassador, so I want — I’d like to go right here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Roland Paul (ph). I’m a lawyer. Years ago I was in the U.S. government.
I’d like to ask Sir Jeremy, particularly since the British zone of security is in the south around the city of Basra, although your mandate, of course, is throughout the country, I’ve heard conflicting suggestions as to what the role of Iran is going to be in Iraq; whether they are going to — since the Shi’ite are the majority — are they — are the Iranians — are they going to be a satellite of Iran or are they going to be an independent from Iran?
GREENSTOCK: First of all, I am convinced, and the polls seem to bear it out, that the majority of Iraqis don’t want political structures or social structures in Iraq to mirror those of Iran. They are different countries. Iraq, although it’s a very religious country, is also in its politics much more secular than Iran at present.
Second, if Iran has levers in Iraq, which it does. If, to some extent, it is using those levers in unhelpful ways at times, which it does; if it has proxies in the militias, (placement ?) around the place; if it’s buying up properties in religious cities; if it’s trying to influence local and national politics in Iraq, it is nevertheless neither capable, in my view, of dominating the political evolution of Iraq, nor does it want to cause complete chaos in Iraq.
I think that Iran, maligned as it is from time to time, certainly to American and British interests in Iraq, neither wants Iraq to be so chaotic that out of the chaos comes another dictator who will use chemical weapons against Iran, as they remember the ‘80s very clearly, nor does it want things to go so well for the American enterprise in Iraq that the United States decides, well, after all the trouble, this did well and perhaps we can go somewhere else with these methods. It turns up the temperature of when it’s too cold and turns it down when it’s too hot. And it has instruments to do that.
There are also things that not all of us who don’t live there understand — the rivalry between Qom and Najaf as religious centers; the fact that the senior religious, social and to some degree political voice in Iraq is a expatriate Iranian cleric called grand Ayatollah Sistani, who is by no means the favorite of Qom, who has begun a Shi’a, or who leads a Shi’a religious tradition, in Najaf and Karbala, which is inimical to the Iranian clerical hierarchy.
You have in southern Iran, close to the — in southwest Iran, where most of the oil and gas comes from — the province of Arabistan, where the Arabic-speaking population of Iran lives quite close to the Iraqi border.
Iraq and Iran, if they’re to be good neighbors, will need to take account of their respective oil interests. And Iran is very conscious of the fact that the Arabic-speaking population lives in that precise area. It does not want trouble.
Iran is a more defensive, more cautious country in its foreign policy than current events would lead you to believe. It wants status. It wants to be treated as a great country, which it may or may not deserve. It wants to improve its economy and have foreign investment, but it does not want to bow the knee to any foreign pressure, particularly that from the United States.
There is diplomacy to be done with Iran, or there was before we heard some of the statements of the president recently, which leaves some scope for avoiding with Iran the awful prospect of either it becoming a nuclear weapons power or requiring attention with military force, neither of which is acceptable to most observers.
Iraq and Iran in the long-term, I predict, will be quite good neighbors. That’s what both of them want. But Iran will not dominate what happens in Iraq so long as Iraqis construct a united approach to their future and keep their own communities together.
QUESTIONER: David Speedie, Carnegie Corporation of New York.
I’d like to ask Sir Jeremy to elaborate a little bit on his image of the seat of power as it were with the notion of it being commodious enough for the Sunnis to take their place, which we hope they do, and that the Shi’a and Kurds will move aside to allow them to do that.
Isn’t it somewhat complicated by sort of schismatic tendencies within each of these major constituencies of Iraq? I mean, obviously there are Sunnis who are more inclined to become part of the long-term future. The schisms within the Shi’a community that you’ve just spoken of between Qom and Najaf are mirrored in Iraq. The Kurds have at least two main centers — forces — of influence in the north with their own sort of power centers and their own influence.
And so, isn’t this — how does this play out down the road, that there are — it’s not quite as sort of neat a proposition as three people sitting on a bench together, that there are other problems to be addressed within each of these constituencies as it were?
GREENSTOCK: Well, let me go very quickly over the recent history on which I am not an expert on the details.
The problem for the Sunni Arab community — remember also that most Muslim Kurds are Sunnis. The Sunni Arab community, who are about 20 percent of the population, is first of all that they have been used to the centuries to be part of the ruling power in Iraq, and they no longer have that prospect if Iraq is democracy.
Second that under Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni, but he didn’t rule as a Sunni; he ruled as a Tikriti — as a subsect to the Sunnis — and some Sunnis suffered just as badly as some Shi’a under Saddam Hussein. But under Saddam Hussein, they didn’t have the incentive to form their own political structures as the Kurds in their protected area to the north and the Shi’a, who in some of their political structures ran for cover to Iran, were able to do so that when freedom, as it were, suddenly happened in April 2003, the Shi’a religious parties, in particular, had some structure and organization and some militias to back them up. The Kurds, you rightly say, had two main political parties, whom we should not forget were at civil war war with each other after 1996 and have since formed a bit more of a bond, but there are question marks underneath. Kurdish unity had the incentive to take part in the political process after April 2003 with some organization. The Sunnis had none of that.
In the Kurdish and provisional authority, we tried constantly to encourage the Sunni Arabs to form a more unified political approach that would represent their community, but they haven’t got the traditions or the history to do that in their tribal, their municipal and religious political structures.
I was constantly — one uses the metaphor of rivers in Iraq, rather a lot for obvious reasons. I found myself saying to them, and my wife will beat me about the head for talking about metaphors, which I overuse. But the metaphor rivers and water in Iraq is a very powerful one. I said to the Sunni Arabs, you are creating a lot of streams. Get together and make those streams into a river, and then people will pay attention to you. But without the force of a river, you will just dribble through the valleys and have no impact on politics. And I’m afraid to some extent that is what has happened.
Ambassador Bremer rightly devoted project money into the Sunni areas, tying to encourage them to rejoin the political community. I think that Zalmay Khalilzad now is taking a very proper political and sophisticated approach to try and bring the Sunni Arabs back into politics. And to some extent, he and the Iraqis who are working with him are succeeding in that.
But the history has not brought them to the point where they can fight a political battle — a peaceful political battle — with the same political strengths of the Kurds and the Shi’a. And in that fact lies continuing trouble and schism between the communities in Iraq.
We have an Iraqi voice — somebody in the back perhaps.
QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Good evening. I am Ambassador — (inaudible) — the DPR of Iraq here in New York. This has been a wonderful panel. If I may, however — one point of chauvinism, in addition to your panel, it would have been nice to have had an Iraqi represented.
I would like to pick up where my distinguished friend, the distinguished representative of Afghanistan, made a comment about cycles of revenge in Iraq. I would like to challenge that and ask for a comment from the panel.
It seems to me you have a set of particularly jihadists and remnants of the previous regime who have announced that they’re attempting to evoke whatever — an interconfessional civil war. But in fact, you don’t have the cycles of revenge, I would argue, that you see, for instance, in Israel and Palestine.
You have universal condemnation of the assassinations of Shi’a leaders and the targeting of Shi’as and no returning of the favor of Shi’as targeting Sunni religious leaders or Sunni places of worship.
I don’t think that’s a small point, and I’d love to hear a comment from the panel on that issue.
FARHADI: I think that Sir Jeremy — (inaudible.)
QUESTIONER: — quick question about Afghanistan, was it not?
QUESTIONER: (Off mike) — I understood — (inaudible) — about Iraq that the ambassador said — I understood the ambassador, and perhaps I misunderstood in a comment about Iraq to talk about cycles of revenge between Shi’as and Sunnis in Iraq.
QUESTIONER: Now, if I misunderstood, then I apologize, but that is what I understand.
QUESTIONER: My point is that I don’t think that’s true, and I think it merits a discussion from the panel, and I would invite you all to
GREENSTOCK: If I may say quite quickly, there is violence between the Sunnis and Shi’a in Iraq, but it’s artificially inspired. It’s insurgent-and-terrorist inspired in order to try and create a civil war between the communities.
Let’s pay tribute at this point to the extraordinary resilience and tolerance of the Iraqi community in putting up with the violence that they do put up with. Just to see them go to the polls, the women in particularly, lifting up their fingers with the stain mark on showing that they had voted, with pride that they are voting. They’re doing this against the expectation of violence the whole time.
There is an attempt to inspire intercommunal violence in Iraq that may or may not be in Afghanistan, but I think it’s a worse danger in Iraq. It is not the case that the communities want that violence or are interested in that violence whatsoever. The history of Iraq shows that there’s been a reasonable relationship between Sunnis and Shi’a in Iraq. And I do not believe that the attempt to set fire to that particular bonfire is going to succeed, but it depends on the tolerance, the patience, of all Iraqis in awful circumstances.
FARHADI: And what I wanted to say is that there in Afghanistan a great understanding between the Sunni majority and the Shi’a minority. I think that in the case of Iraq if I’ve use the word revenge I think maybe I overstated. But the recent history was the main reason of — today’s confrontation. So I would like to suggest that there is for tomorrow a good possibility of understanding between the Sunni and the Shi’a in Iraq because Afghanistan is a kind of laboratory of the same events.
GREENSTOCK: Have you been — just add one comment.
GREENSTOCK: I think that security was a priority of the women in Iraq. I also said that looking after their families and trying to find provisions, wanting electricity to make things work, wanting to get them to school, wanting to health facilities to improve.
All of that is true, but there’s another factor. And I am not being politically correct in saying this. If the women of the country do not feel that they are in a healthy situation, the health of that country is not assured. It’s a fact — it’s a fact all over Africa and in other poorly developed parts of the world. And one of the things that is happening to the women of Iraq is that they are forming their own societies. They are coming to conclusions about their own political and social requirements and objectives, but they’re not united. They come from different communities, with different traditions, with a different relationship with their menfolk, a different relationship to their elders, who are normally male, in setting the requirements of the family.
But out of the changed situation in Iraq, out of the freedom, if you like — its freedom and its chaos — comes a new approach to communal identities in Iraq.
And there is some wish amongst mainly Shi’a women’s — religious Shi’a women’s groups — to have Shari’a law there, which is bitterly contested by secular women in Iraq. There is a wish of liberal middle class Iraqis to try and construct a united Iraq with civil societies strong, with cross-community secular groups being the backbone of a new Iraq. But it is not accepted throughout Iraq, not even by all women in Iraq.
There’s an attempt in each locality to create advantages for that locality, which has its own history. Whether it’s Kurdish or Marsh Arab or desert Sunni, they see opportunities to create new identities in a new circumstance. And these pressures and evolutions are flowing with and against each other the whole time, making a highly complex situation, a situation that’s very difficult for the women of Iraq to control their own destinies within.
And they need help from outside, both to create a longer period of stability for some of these pressures to be played out, and for their societies to understand what they can achieve and what they can’t achieve; what they should be spending money on and what they shouldn’t be spending money on.
But the question of new identities and some groups wanting the old identities to continue is a very real one in Iraq and I dare say also in Afghanistan.
BABBITT: Thank you. I think that one of things that we pride ourselves on at the Council on Foreign Relations is punctually ending at seven, and I can’t think of a better note on which to end. And, Sir Jeremy, obviously we are grateful to both panelists for new insights and understandings in what are enormously complex situations, and particularly that with respect to the tensions between the secular instincts and the Islamic fundamentalist instincts or simply conservative Islamic instincts in which all of this is — this stew is brewing.