OPERATOR: I would now like to turn the conference over to Jonathan Tepperman. Mr. Tepperman, please begin.
JONATHAN TEPPERMAN: Thank you, Lindsay (sp), and welcome, everyone. This is a Foreign Affairs media conference call on Iraq with Ned Parker. Thank you for joining us. I'm Jonathan Tepperman. I'm the managing editor of Foreign Affairs and I'll be hosting the conversation.
What I'll do is introduce Ned, ask him a few questions myself to kick things off, and then I'll open up the lines to questions from all of you.
Ned is the 2011-2012 Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. Before joining us at the council, he was Baghdad bureau chief for the L.A. Times. Before that, he was chief Baghdad correspondent for the Times of London. And before that, he was a reporter in Iraq for the AFP. So the translation of all of that is, he's got more guts and savvy and knowledge of Iraq than just about any foreigner I can think of.
We're hosting the call today because this is, as you all probably know, a big week for Iraq. Iraq is hosting an Arab League summit for the first time since 1990. The meeting is meant to signal Iraq's triumphant return to the Arab stage and its re-emergence as a normal country, and the government seems to have pulled out all the stops to put on a good show.
But as Ned wrote in his really spectacular March/April article for Foreign Affairs called "The Iraq We Left Behind" -- and forgive me for putting in a plug, but I hope you've all read it, because it's really an outstanding piece of narrative nonfiction journalism -- all is not well in the country -- in fact, very far from it. (Coughs.) Excuse me.
Ned, in your piece you describe Iraq as something close to a failed state. I want to read from your introduction to the piece, because I think it captures the state of affairs there so poignantly and bitterly.
The introduction reads, "Nine years after the U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein and just a few months after the last U.S. soldier left Iraq, the country has become something close to a failed state. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with -- rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population. The law exists as a weapon to be wielded against rivals and to hide the misdeeds of allies. The dream of an Iraq governed by elected leaders answerable to the people is rapidly fading away."
Ned, please start by elaborating on this briefly. Talk, if you would, in passing, at least, about the state of physical security in Iraq today, economy, basic services, et cetera, and then move on and tell us a bit about the current political crisis.
NED PARKER: Sure. Well, thank you. Thanks for having me today, and thanks for your kind words, Jonathan.
The -- I mean, the state of Iraq today for ordinary Iraqis is -- is a -- it's a life of hardship and uncertainty and frustration of different types.
One reason is the high unemployment inside the working-age population. I mean, the figures range. Some say 30 percent; some say it's 40 percent or perhaps even higher -- but questions of -- especially in the summertime of poor electricity -- if one is lucky, four hours a day -- paltry medical services, horrible water. The list goes on. Couple that with the police-type state in the cities with multiple checkpoints, intimidating at times security officers, and then the danger that always lurks of an attack by some unnamed group -- to live in Iraq as an ordinary person is to feel, I think, very much weak, helpless and at the mercy of powers beyond you. So the situation is quite bleak in that regard for an ordinary Iraqi.
And I think is something interesting enough to look at is there was a poll by NDI that came out, I believe, in November or December it was finished. The polling was done in October. And this was before the recent crisis in December when the Americans left and the arrest warrant was issued for the vice president, Hashimi. But across the country in this poll by NDI, when asked around the country what direction -- how did people feel the country was doing; was it going in the right direction or wrong direction, 50 percent of the pollees said wrong direction; 37 percent said right. But I think what's kind of fascinating in that is -- oddly enough, I mean, Baghdad -- they got 49 percent saying they thought it was going in the right direction, but when you get to the south, which is sort of the Shia heartland, which should be, you know, the popular base for the prime minister, 52 percent of the people said the country is going in the wrong direction. And then there are similar numbers, you know, in the west and in the north.
But I think there is just this real sense or feeling of disenchantment. And then how that plays out, it's hard to say. But the overall -- I think on an ordinary level, most people feel deeply frustrated and are skeptical of all leaders. And I think that if I look back to different times when I've been in the country in the last year, last summer, last winter, that's -- the genuine feeling I would take away from ordinary Iraqis is a deep skepticism and sense of helplessness.
TEPPERMAN: Now, give us a precis of the political crisis, which, I mean, arguably Iraq had been in one state of crisis after another since 2003. But this latest round seemed to flare up as soon as the Americans left when Maliki, in what seems like a power bid, made a move against the Sunni vice president. Tell us -- tell us about that. And tell us what's changed in the last few months, because it seems from the -- to the casual observer that -- at least reading the Western papers, there are fewer stories about political crisis today than there were three months ago, but there seems to, if anything, have been an uptick in bombings and violence.
PARKER: Right. And in -- and I'd -- and also, I guess I'd -- I want to touch back on the idea of how the country is less democratic and less responsive to the people. I think the interesting thing about the Hashimi crisis, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's arrest warrant, is that it's more a symptom of broader problems. And we'll talk about the case and how it's emblematic of Iraq's deep dysfunction on the -- in the -- on -- regarding governance.
The -- with Hashimi and the arrest of his bodyguards -- and then there are different accounts of when his bodyguards were arrested. Some accounts have the bodyguards, three or four of them at least, being arrested in the three to four days before the final U.S. troops left the country. But then at least there have been some bodyguards or members of Hashimi's security team who've been -- who were arrested back in 2009, and at that time there was deep concern about the prime minister's office trying to get confessions from them of -- regarding different operations of a terrorist nature.
Now, depending who you talk to about the security team for Hashimi, there's a -- there's a very real possibility that his guards were likely involved in carrying out assassinations. Now, the question is, did Hashimi know, did he not know?
But what taints it all is just the very lack of a judicial system that is transparent and nonpoliticized. So what you get into is a very murky area with the Hashimi case about perhaps his guards did do these things, now, but how can you get to the truth of the matter, to the heart of the matter? Because there's a very clear record of judges and security forces being politicized in Iraq, and within a security apparatus that answers back to the prime minister's military office. There has been a clear record of torture and abuse and coerced confessions that's been documented.
So that's horribly problematic because you really hit sort of a dead end, in that there is a need for, you know, truth, there is a need for justice and there is a need for accountability, but when the judiciary itself is politicized and operates completely in the black with alarming and very credible allegations of torture, how on earth can you get to the matter of what really happened, and how on earth can you start to begin to administer society with so much violence if the government itself is so politicized and above the law?
TEPPERMAN: And talk about what sounds like -- seems like, I should say -- Maliki's growing authoritarianism. What is his -- insofar as you can look into his soul, what's his plan and what is he trying to do at the moment?
PARKER: Right. And it's a fascinating question of, you know, can Maliki succeed. I mean, it's very clear that -- I mean, I think among Iraqis even within circles around -- that are sympathetic to the prime minister, who have affinities to Shiite Islamic parties like Maliki's own and who suffered under Saddam, I think there is a real conviction and belief that he is trying to create an authoritarian-style state.
Now, that doesn't mean he is malicious or malevolent, but if we were to put ourselves in his shoes, he is -- likely believes he's the only one who can save the state. He knows that many of his enemies politically would do anything to destroy him, to sabotage him and will not work with him as an honest partner; therefore, he has to operate with an iron fist.
And when you look at Iraq historically, that's very much par for the course of Iraq politics since 1920. Iraqi politics is a, you know, very cutthroat, rough-and-tumble game, and all sides approach Iraqi politics, whether Maliki or senior leaders in Iraqiya, whether Allawi, Sama Nasheisi (ph), Saleh Mutlak, politics as a zero-sum game. And it's not a matter of losing an election; it's a matter of, if you lose, do you lose your life? Do you go into exile? And this has sort of been the rules of the game for a very long time. So that, I think, leans most Iraqi politicians to authoritarian impulses. And --
TEPPERMAN: So -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
PARKER: No, go ahead, please.
TEPPERMAN: Will Maliki be able to create a semblance of normalcy and this vision of a well-functioning, normal Iraq that he's so desperate to present?
PARKER: Well, I don't think so. And, I mean, I think it's terribly, you know, tragic and unfortunate. I mean, time will tell, and it's the great debate right now. But when you look at the way he's ruled, it's through intimidation, through control of the security forces that will go after enemies or suspected enemies. And then oftentimes people end up locked up in special jails, such as the Camp Honor, a jail inside -- jails inside the Green Zone or other places where there's no access to family and lawyers.
But then beyond that, to ensure loyalty, the prime minister has had to rely, as most Iraqi politicians do, upon a culture of patronage and corruption, of at least turning a blind eye to your allies getting deals that involve, you know, illicit amounts of money, and perhaps the politician doesn't approve of this, but it's the only way to keep one loyal to you.
You know, I think -- yeah, sorry, go ahead.
TEPPERMAN: Can security forces keep things quiet during the three-day Arab summit?
PARKER: They might. I mean, they've locked down Baghdad. I mean, Baghdad is locked down and, you know, streets are shut off, the airport's shut down and a lot of people have left. Ordinary Iraqis have gone to their home provinces to get out of the city because it's not a comfortable place to be living right now.
So I mean, the odds -- it's very difficult to judge, you know, what -- when there will be attacks or when won't there be. I mean, there was the bombings in eight cities last week on one day. It -- bombings are up in the country. I mean, there is some controversy with the U.S. government disputing numbers put out by different analysts on the number of incidents of attacks, but most accounts seems to imply that bombings are up this year.
So does it happen or doesn't it? I -- you know, I don't know. But it's possible.
TEPPERMAN: You --
PARKER: You know, elections in March 2010 -- the national elections -- there was heavy security out and there were a fair number of attacks that killed something around 40 to 50 people. So I mean, we'll see.
TEPPERMAN: And in the longer term, you warned of a looming civil war in the months ahead in your article. What's your prediction now?
PARKER: Well, I mean, I think what I was saying was that the country is -- I mean, I think the path of -- the difference between Maliki and previous rulers is he's starting from a -- in a sense, a lower -- he has a farther way to go to consolidate power. Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed in -- over the course of wars from the 1980s through 2003 in the era of sanctions and then there's been civil war and widespread violence since 2003.
So his ability to consolidate control of the state is very difficult. But that's what he's trying to do. And there's a lot of questions about -- I mean, you hear the complaints from politicians of the consolidation of power in the security forces, different ministries, the effort to go after, you know, Vice President Hashemi.
There were comments last week by Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, saying -- you know, basically doing -- in the, what would be for Barzani, the biggest attack -- verbal attack on Maliki in years, since early 2009. He basically accused the prime minister of being a dictator, saying, quote: Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council? I mean, they're pretty harsh words.
Now, I think it's very difficult for the prime minister to consolidate control because there are all these different parties entrenched within the system and also such a proliferation of different militia groups that are out there and armed. I don't think that -- and what I see happening is there'll be stress points that create -- that have the potential to trigger really serious and ugly violence. And I don't think it happens tomorrow.
I mean, I think anything could trigger it. I think the dangers come from the push by regions to declare semi-autonomous self-ruled regions in Sunni areas. Elections will be coming up, in theory, in 2013 and 2014. I think the elections could be a trigger for serious violence that could spill into civil war. It's a very real threat.
And the reason -- and the core reason for it is that there's no trust in institutions in Iraq. And that's the key thing, is that there's no trust in the judiciary, there's no trust in the government, there's no trust in the security forces. And all sides -- both Maliki's, the Sunnis' and the Kurds' -- have not been able to agree on how government should work. And the Americans, in a sense, were holding this together. Their presence, in a way, was putting a tamper on the dangers.
Now, I don't think that having U.S. troops in the country is a solution to Iraq's problems. Perhaps U.S. -- a U.S. troop presence creates more problems or emboldens one side. But the fact is at the end of the day after, you know, nine years of a U.S. presence and trying to engineer a democratic Iraq, the system that is in place, no one buys into it. So that's very dangerous.
TEPPERMAN: Well, let's broaden the conversation, Ned. Lindsay (sp), do we have any questions from our callers?
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time I will open the floor for questions.
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I'm showing that there are no questions at this time.
TEPPERMAN: OK. Ned, then we'll just keep talking. What do you think Washington can do, if anything, to push Maliki in the right direction?
PARKER: Well -- (inaudible) -- this is -- I think this is one of the many key questions. And if anything, with this article, I think -- talking with the Iraqis about my article and others, I think the -- you know, the assessment of the reality of life on the ground in Baghdad and across Iraq, the problems with abuses by the security forces and the endemic corruption that prevents the prime minister from achieving the goals he wants of providing services to people, providing jobs that would build him greater popularity and perhaps lead to, you know, a long-term rule -- the flaw or the interesting question I've heard from my -- about my article is the assessment that the Americans should be able to use soft power to try to help the Iraqis get through this time to ultimately find a path forward for reconciliation and for better governance by using the soft power of -- well, different things: ending Iraq's status of Chapter 7 at the U.N., which requires Iraq to pay reparations, 5 percent of its budget, to Kuwait every year; all Iraqi oil funds go through the DFI account, which is based in New York; and then there are the selling of weapons to Iraq that the United States government is doing. So all of this is soft power.
And the thing is that Iraq wants to be part of the world, Iraq has suffered so much, and the prime minister wants Iraq to be a successful nation. So these are things, in a way, that the U.S. should be able to parlay into finding things that serve the interest of all sides such as having a fair judiciary that all groups can buy into, having some form of anti-corruption apparatus that weeds out corruption against all sides, so therefore services become better, et cetera. I think those are the places where America can be useful. I think America has been hobbled, in a sense, by a troll of having invaded the country and having presided as an occupier initially after 2003. At times that's gotten in the way.
So perhaps it's not a matter of the U.S. alone, but it's also a matter of having more vigorous involvement from the U.N., from the EU. But ultimately, solutions and the desire has to be there from the Iraqi political blocs and leaders, and if it's not, then things won't move forward.
TEPPERMAN: What kind of a role are Iraq's neighbors playing in the country today?
PARKER: That's a great question, particularly with the Arab League summit that kicks off I guess tomorrow through the 29th. That's the -- in a sense, you can talk about neighbors, and it goes to the heart of Iraq's sectarian divisions and suspicions, you know, dating back to the era of Saddam Hussein. Iran is the big bogeyman in Iraq. Those from the kind of Sunni and secular bloc of Iraqiya accuse Iran of being the most powerful player in the country and calling the shots in the prime minister's coalition. That said, then you have from the Shia side of Prime Minister Maliki and his allies accusations of how Turkey is meddling too much in Iraq by supporting the Iraqiya bloc and similar complaints about Saudi Arabia. So Iraq in many ways is still sort of a regional -- you know, at least politically a regional battlefield between -- for these tensions between the Sunni Arab world and Iran's Islamic republic.
TEPPERMAN: Mmm hmm. Now, Syria presumably will be front-and-center on the agenda at the summit. Iraq and the Maliki government have been accused of being far too lenient and friendly to the Assad regime since the crisis there started, although I understand that they've cracked down a little bit in the last few weeks by, for example, disallowing Iranian arms shipments to continue passing through Iraqi airspace. What's Maliki's game there, and what's your prediction if -- of whether or not we'll see any kind of a movement there during the conference?
PARKER: I don't think there'll be much movement in the -- in the conference, in part because the divisions are so deep about Syria within the Arab League, from Qatar and Saudi Arabia being the big advocates, and to a lesser extent Egypt and Tunisia, of intervention, of getting rid of Assad, to Jordan being quite nervous about what happens in Syria and how it affects its own borders. And really, when you look at, I guess -- and to an -- in a sense, the issues about Syria are similar for Iraq and Lebanon. Lebanon has a, you know, mixed population, Sunni and Shia. The Hezbollah are big backers of Syria. So that causes, you know, Lebanon to be an obstacle to more bold moves.
And Iraq is in a similar position. Prime minister is really trying to navigate, you know, as -- (chuckles) -- U.S. officials would call it -- what is it, a nasty or a tough neighborhood.
He's -- the prime minister has to deal with Iran to an extent as a -- as a power broker in Iraq and as an ally who can set some of his partners and his coalition against him. He doesn't want to anger Iran. He -- I wouldn't say he's in love with Iran, but he has to deal with Iran.
He's nervous about Syria because he sees the fall of Bashar Assad potentially leading to a more radical Sunni Islamist state that would be perhaps willing to send fighters into Iraq again to cause havoc.
So Maliki's trying to have the best of both worlds. He doesn't want to alienate Arab states any more than they already are regarding Iraq. And he doesn't want to alienate or anger Iran if he can avoid it. And mainly he's looking for Iraq's stability and to preserve his own prestige. So I think it's sort of like, he'll try to hold the ball till the clock runs out.
TEPPERMAN: You think he'll be able to succeed?
PARKER: I think Syria's such a -- I mean, in this conference, sure. I mean, I was talking to someone yesterday about the summit, you know, who was in Iraq.
And an Iraqi friend of mine who's a very close watcher of events there -- not a journalist though -- but he was saying, it's the Arab League summit. Come on, what really happens in an Arab League summit?
TEPPERMAN: Yeah, they're not really known for their substantive accomplishment.
PARKER: Yeah, so. So I think in the summit, no, there won't be anything that comes out of it. But when we talk about Syria and its impact upon Iraq, I think it's very similar to Syria and its impact upon Lebanon and potentially its impact upon Jordan.
And that change in rule in Syria, or even the breakdown of order, will really have reverberations in Iraq. And the Iraqi state is incredibly weak. As I was saying, the institutions are weak, and control of parties' militias is tenuous at best.
And the tensions in Iraq are already causing kind of the effort of -- you know, this movement or trend of regions trying to break away from Baghdad, particularly in Anbar Province, Saladin Province, Diyala, areas with large Sunni populations.
If Syria falls -- even if, let's say, it implodes more than it already is into chaos -- not -- I know that in the press we've been focusing on the issue of whether al-Qaida comes in and starts -- comes back into Iraq more -- in a -- in a stronger, more robust form and carries out more attacks. And we've also focused on this issue of, do tribesmen from Sunni areas go from western Iraq into Syria?
But for me the broader question is of how it affects Iraq psychologically. And when I was in Iraq in December I would hear advisers to Sunni politicians talk about how if Assad goes it creates a Sunni crescent.
Now, that doesn't imply tribesmen from Iraq are going into Syria and fighting against Assad. But it does imply the sense within the Sunni community that they're stronger and they can't be pushed around in the same way by Maliki.
So how that affects things it's hard to say. Likewise, if you do have this push to declare a self-rule region in, let's say, Anbar Province and then they form some agreements with their tribal brethren across the border, that will unnerve Baghdad more.
And definitely I think that causes the Shia and Maliki to be more paranoid and worried about losing control of the Sunni population. And it perhaps encourages the central government under Maliki to carry out more arrests, more operations in Sunni provinces.
So Syria really is such a fascinating topic because the way it can affect Iraq is huge.
TEPPERMAN: Mmm hmm. (Affirmative.) You talked about these regional tensions within the country, the moves toward separatism. Those don't have to be bad things, because there are examples of countries that have shifted towards a federal model and done so successfully.
Is that an option -- a good option, I should say, for Iraq? Could a step towards federalism appease the Sunnis, the Shia in the south, the Kurds in the north sufficiently that the country stays together and the violence diminishes?
PARKER: It could, but I think you -- it's a matter of -- I mean, there was a great paper in -- a month ago by Sean Kane, Joost Hiltermann and Raad Kadiri, talking about the idea of -- essentially outlining a proposal for asymmetrical federalism, meaning federalism tailored to regions.
So the Kurdish region has its own unique, you know, semiautonomous area. But Sunni regions could pursue a federal or self-rule model, but with, you know, more input from Baghdad. In essence, the federalism's -- federalism shouldn't be a cookie-cutter federalism, a McFederalism. It should be uniquely tailored region by region, so Baghdad is still involved in these other areas besides Kurdistan.
But the problem that I think we hit is there's no trust between the parties. There's no trust between Maliki and the Sunni leaders in a meaningful way. And there's no trust in institutions or processes -- processes. It's -- rule in Iraq is very much about intimidation, fear, muscle and patronage.
So unless there's a process or rules of the road to go forward with to really pursue federalism and that all sides can buy into it, I fear that the road ahead will be a bumpy one and potentially violent, because no side can agree on what the social contract is. And if there's not that, then it's hard to see how the Sunnis, the Shia, you know, simplifying it, can negotiate the rules of what federalism would look like.
TEPPERMAN: Let's talk about the Iraqi oil industry, such as it is. Does the country still lack an oil law? And if so, why is that significant? And what's happening in the meantime?
PARKER: You're right. Well, and I think they're -- I mean, it's -- again, it's the problem. We have all these structures and rules, but -- I mean, there isn't an oil law yet, but there's a constitution. And -- but nobody, none of the parties or major leaders buy into what's down on the law. And so politics is a -- is a matter of muscle, and it's not about compromise.
And the oil law, there's been -- there hasn't been a national oil law since, I guess, 2003. There was an oil law that was on the table in 2007 to find a way to distribute revenue nationally and that to decide how much power regions can have in negotiating with companies. And since 2007, the oil law has been stillborn. It's been dead on arrival, because in this case the Kurds and Prime Minister Maliki cannot find a way to agree or trust one another on finding the appropriate mechanism to decide how contracts can be negotiated -- can it be by a region and -- or to have enough faith in that. The revenues will then be -- under an oil law -- would be distributed from the center to the different provinces.
And it boils down, with the oil law, to a fundamental issue of trust. And that's why last week we saw Barzani -- Massoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, lambasting Maliki on the celebration of the Nowruz.
OPERATOR: Excuse me.
TEPPERMAN: I want to ask a few more oil questions, but Lindsay (sp), yeah, why don't you step in and see if we have anymore questions.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
And we are holding for questions.
I'm showing no questions at this time.
TEPPERMAN: OK. So in the meantime, in the absence of a law, what's happening with Iraqi oil? Are the Kurds continuing to sign contracts? Are the global oil majors willing to do business with Iraq? Is the oil pumping in the south? What's happening?
PARKER: Right. And it's -- I mean, that's what's -- that's what's -- I mean, there are different aspects to the -- to the issue of oil. And one is the vacuum, if you will, the stagnation and the refusal compromise is -- has contributed to instability. Oil's becoming a source of instability and tension.
In October, Exxon Mobil signed a deal with the Kurds to do exploration in the north, including some areas which would be considered disputed territories. Since then, Exxon Mobil has been blocked from bidding in future -- in the future -- you know, in future auctioning rounds for exploration or production sharing in the south. And this has caused friction to heat up between Kurdistan and Maliki, between Kurdistan and Baghdad.
TEPPERMAN: So Maliki punished Exxon, in other words, for --
PARKER: Right. And they still do have a field in the south, and it's not clear what will happen with that field. But for the moment, you know, Exxon is banned from participating in any future rounds bidding for exploration or productions sharing in other parts of Iraq. And with this, it's caused the, you know, tensions to boil between Maliki and Barzani. And there's no clear way to resolve it. And some of these fields are actually in disputed territory areas, particularly in Ninevah province.
So the fact that there hasn't been an agreement between, to an extent, Baghdad and Kurdistan over the years regarding how to establish a national oil law which would bring in more investment, because the rules of the road would be clear so foreign companies would feel more comfortable to be involved and would encourage investment. Rather than have that, there's been a standoff.
And at this point, the Kurds were able to woo Exxon Mobile to go into the north. It's possible Total will be going in as well. And -- but in -- so oil, rather than being a point of reconciliation, if you will, or a point of common ground for improving the country is becoming something that is causing more wear and tear and anger.
And then the other side to it is that in the south, the Baghdad government has done a lot to increase production. I think overall production now is around 3 million barrels per day, roughly 2.5 (million), 2.6 (million) seems to be going out in exports. And the goal -- realistically, when you look at estimates from BP or different oil companies, they expect that Iraq's oil production will get to 5 (million), 6 million by 2016, '17 or around that.
TEPPERMAN: What was the pre-sanctions level?
PARKER: That's past. Pre-sanctions level was 2 million, but Iraq's oil industry was so bad. But what you do is you get into this issue -- I mean, contracts have been signed for increasing the infrastructure of pipelines out to the Faw Peninsula where the oil is exported from Basra. But the problem in question is, again, it comes to this issue of institution building and how business is done.
And you have a wealthy country like Nigeria, but does the money end up going to the people and improving services and ensuring a better life? No, it ends up in the hands of an elite. And sadly, I think that's what happening in Iraq now. In the last year, we've really seen anything that could be called a nominal, independent watchdog in the country regarding human rights or corruption has been systematically dismantled by the prime minister's office.
TEPPERMAN: Well, Nick -- Ned, that's a wonderful, if depressing -- (chuckles) -- summary of where Iraq is today. I'm going to pause one more time for questions. And if there aren't any, then we can wrap up. But if you have any closing comments, I'd invite you to make them. But before that, let's ask Lindsay (sp) one more time if our callers want to make a question.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Showing that there are no questions at this time.
TEPPERMAN: OK, Ned, what should we cover that we haven't talked about already?
PARKER: No, I think -- I think you've done a good job of, you know, covering the ground, Jonathan. So I mean, the only point I would, you know, emphasize is that the problems we see with Maliki as the prime minister we'd likely see with another as well, just because the system that's been put in place since '03 has been artificial and amidst such chaos, it hasn't been very conductive for consensus building or the creation of independent institutions.
TEPPERMAN: Well, Ned, thank you very much for that extremely comprehensive, if extremely depressing, snapshot. And thank you all, callers, for joining us.
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