A Conversation with Hoshyar Zebari

Friday, June 16, 2006

FAREED ZAKARIA:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to this hastily convened meeting for a very important visitor.  Our visitor needs no introduction, but let me just say this.  You think that Iraqis a place of turmoil, confusion, constant change.  And yet, in the center of the storm lies one man who has now served four rulers of Iraq, if you count Jerry Bremer as one.  (Laughter.)  He has served under Bremer, Prime Minister Allawi, Prime Minister Ja’afari, and now Prime Minister Maliki as foreign minister.  He has survived two American secretaries of State, and if he fills out his constitutional term, will be dealing with a third one by 2008.  So if you think that there’s a great deal of change and confusion in Iraq, you haven’t met Hoshyar Zebari.  Mr. Zebari was a member of the Kurdish Armed Resistance to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, and since the ‘90s has been in some form or the other a spokesman for the Kurdish opposition, and now part of the government dealing with foreign affairs and the relations of Kurdish groups with the outside.  So he has had long experience in foreign affairs and diplomacy.

The format we’re going to follow—first I should note is that this meeting is on the record.  Secondly, it will take the form of a conversation between the two of us, after which I’ll throw it open to your questions.

So, without further ado, Hoshyar, a great pleasure to have you at the Council.  Thank you so much for joining us.

MIN. HOSHYAR ZEBARI:  Thank you, Fareed, thank you very much.  I’m very pleased and honored to be back to the Council.  In fact, I was just talking to Dr. Haass that in the past, the Council was one of our forums to address our case as opposition.  But I’m very pleased and very honored to be here with you today.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Let me ask—let’s cut right to the thrust of it, because we have a limited amount of time.  People look at this new government with great hope, and the hope is that it will be able to do something substantive on the two issues that appear to us from the outside to be the stumbling blocks to some degree of stability in Iraq—the issue of the Sunni insurgency and the issue of the Shi’a militias.  

And last week there seemed to be good news in the sense that Prime Minister Maliki, I would say, had a good week, not just the capture of Zarqawi, but it seemed as though he was talking about taking on the Shi’a militia, taking on the Sunni insurgency, and at the same time extending an olive branch to try and draw some people into the political process.

Hoshyar Zebari and Newsweek International Editor and
Council Board Member Fareed Zakaria.

This week I would say the news is beginning to look more mixed. We have—let’s start with the Sunni insurgency.  You have today reports that—and this is in The Washington Post, for those of you who haven’t seen it—that one of the prime minister’s spokesmen had proposed a couple of days ago, or had suggested that the prime minister was going to propose a general amnesty of some kind.  It seemed to be pegged to the Arab League conference upcoming.  And this had been in the air, I’d heard about it from others.  The prime minister today fired that man and renounced the proposals and said there were no such proposals under way. 

Looking at this, Americans are going to feel, I think, are we back to this “one step forward, one step back”?  What exactly should we read into this shift of course? 

MIN. ZEBARI:  Well, first let me say that the formation of this government, the first constitutionally elected government, really is a new beginning for the country.  And it also is an opportunity also to make a difference.  We have completed the transitional phase and we have made each and every yardstick or standard that was set by the international community to meet over the last three years.  And with a great deal of sacrifice, of suffering, we managed to complete, you know, that transitional phase.

Now, a great deal will depend on the government—on the leadership of this government to take this opportunity and to claim ownership of the country, of the security, of the resources, and to lead the people of Iraq forward.  Still, there are many, many challenges.  We do not want to give you an unrealistic picture or to paint a rosy picture of what’s happening in Iraq, because really there are many challenges and difficulties.  And Fareed, you yourself have followed this very closely through your writings in Newsweek and in other places.

But I would say that this government is strong, strong in a sense that it is a constitutional government.  It will operate with a legal framework that has been endorsed by the people.

Secondly, it’s a national unity government in the sense that all the representatives of the key communities in Iraq—you know, the Shi’a, the Sunnis, the Kurds, others—are represented.  Unlike previous governments, where the Sunni were not represented, this government has that character.

And also, it is internationally supported.  I mean, by—judging by the international visitors who have been Baghdad recently, I think it gives a good indication that this government enjoys national support.  The latest visitor was President George Bush, and his surprise visit toBaghdaddemonstrated that.

I would say that the government is just beginning, really, to act.  And the statement you referred to by one of the advisers—I think it will take some time until the new prime minister, the new cabinet or chief of cabinet office, you know, established, because this is another transition for the prime minister.  He’s relying on some old guard from—you know, Mr. Ja’afari’s team and so on.  So I wouldn’t be surprised to see in—if you would see some more such statements.

But the focus, I think, of the government is really toward improving security, and that is the key challenge to us, to the United States, to the coalition forces.  And the way to do it is really to rely more and more on Iraqi forces.   

I mean, the death of Zarqawi—many people indicated that this was a good omen for the government, for the United States, for many people, and the timing of, you know, this operation was extremely helpful.  It eliminated one of the key leaders of al Qaeda.  It was good for the government.  But one element was not mentioned—this is very important in dealing with this terror network—that it was the intelligence work that really led to identifying, you know, his location, his safe house, to the target later on by an air strike. This was done jointly by the Iraqi and the multinational forces, and it shows that really these terror networks are not invincible.  It—more work is being done on intelligence gathering and cultivation. Because to fight an insurgency and this terror network, really you cannot beat them, you cannot defeat them without good intelligence, and that is the experience we’ve learned, you see, the hard way.

So his elimination really will not immediately end, let’s say, violence or terror attacks on the coalition or on the Iraqi civilians. Even today somebody went into a mosque, a Shi’a mosque that was targeted a few weeks ago, a few months ago.  Today it was targeted again through a bomb hidden in a shoe.  Knowing there is a very close body search, let’s say, for all the prayers, all the people who go into mosque, he has hidden the explosive in a shoe.  So they are getting imaginative also with their technique to kill as many people as they could.

Now, the government also, to really be credible, to gain the confidence of the people, needs to reach out to those groups who are still resistant, to the insurgents, the Iraqi insurgents, not the foreign fighters or the terrorists, even to the Ba’athists, actually, members of the Saddam regime, who are desperate to come back to control power completely, not to share power with the government of anybody.  But in between, we believe there are many disaffected Iraqis who feel marginalized, who have not been well represented or they have their own grievances.  This is the people whom this government needs to reach out.  We believe the participation of the Sunni would be helpful, but not immediately, maybe in the medium term.  This Sunni participation should reassure them that they are well represented, their interests are cared by the new government.  

The prime minister has an initiative for national reconciliation, but still really it’s in its early stages, I’d describe it.  But he took the first decision to release 2,500 detainees from prison.  This was well received and showed some seriousness.  

The other part of this is try to organize a reconciliation conference using the good offices of the Arab League in Baghdad. We’ve agreed with them recently that this conference would be held in the first week of August.  And until then, we must agree on who should be invited to this conference.  Definitely those who are at odds or have difference with the government should be, otherwise the members of the government or the Parliament or political parties are already in the political process, we don’t have any problem with that.

As for the amnesty, there hasn’t been—to be honest, I left Baghdad a few days ago—any detailed discussions, but this would also come up, I think, in the course as this government moves ahead.  

On the militias, yes, the militias are a problem, but there are divided opinion on these militias, which militias is a threat—okay?—to the security, to the safety, to the stability of the government, of the country, and which are not; which militias formed after the liberation, let’s say, and those who were in the resistance and fighting dictatorship for many years.  And that’s why really here I have to be very careful.  The problem—many people who follow Iraq knows—I mean, there are identified militias with arms who are operating outside the law, but our problem, that many members of these militias have infiltrated the Interior Ministry and other security, let’s say, apparatus, structures.  And that’s why this  government needs to look deeper and harder at these cases or incidents.  

Definitely the government has to monopolize the use of force.

I mean, if you want to build or establish a stable government based on the rule of law, only the government or the authorized people should have, you know, that advantage.

I would say, finally, that the next six months, from now until the end of year, would be of crucial importance for this government, for the coalition.  We have a chance.  

Yesterday I attended a meeting of the Security Council to do a review of the mandate of the Multinational Force.  It went very smoothly, without any opposition or objection from member of the council.  But I believe the next review will come at the end of the year.  It would be far more difficult.  And we need to do our homework, we and the United States and other allies, from now on, to prepare ourselves for that.  

Until then, we all—I mean, all ordinary Iraqi(s) expect from the government to make a break with the—

MR.    :  With the past?

MIN. ZEBARI: —with the past.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Let me ask you a couple of follow-ups on those issues.  You say on amnesty there is still no settled policy that the government has come up with.  What about on the issue of de- Ba’athification?  Because when you talk about drawing in the Sunnis, it seems to me their demands are on the issues of amnesty, de-Ba’athification and the amendment to the constitution.

The amendment process will begin, so that, in a way, is taking care of itself.  What about de-Ba’athification?

MIN. ZEBARI:  Yes.  In fact, in the run-up to the formation of the government, we signed many political agreements among, you know, those participants in the national unity government.  And one of the issues that everybody agreed—that this board of de-Ba’athification or the rules of de-Ba’athification should be revisited, because some of them were unfair, were applied blindly, let’s say, to target innocent people.  There needs to be some differentiation between those hard-line Ba’athists or those Ba’athists who have committed atrocities against the Iraqi people and those member(s) of the Ba’ath Party who just signed up, you see, to make a living or to survive, really, in this environment of terror and intimidation.  So I think that has been agreed by all, you know, the key political and parliamentary groups.  So that can be revisited and revised to make it more humane.  I think it wouldn’t be a problem.  

MR. ZAKARIA:  And that will be announced at some—

MIN. ZEBARI:  I think that would be announced later on.  But there is a decision by both the United Iraqi Alliance, by the National Accordance Front of Tall Afar, by the Kurdish Alliance.  These three key elements have agreed to review, you know, the procedures, the composition of these de-Ba’athification boards and other boards, also independent entities in Iraq .

On the other issue of the constitutional review, again, this really would be done, but through the agreed procedures, not outside what it has been agreed.  The procedure is very simple.  I’m sure many of you who follow Iraq knows that after the parliament sits, the—one of the first items or—of agenda of the parliament would be the formation of a commission to review or to look—to make those amendments on the constitution.  Within four months they—this commission is to bring back those amendments to the Council of Representatives and then debate it and vote on it.  If the vote didn’t succeed, then there is a referendum again.

So there are a number of check and balances even for this amendment.

The Sunnis have subscribed to these procedures and to the constitution, so they must accept the outcome as well.

But in my view, there would be some consensus-building.  I mean, not everything would be decided by vote or—but I personally believe there would be some compromises here and there on the constitution to be acceptable within the agreed procedures.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Let me ask you, then, about the Shi’a militias. The deputy justice minister of Iraqsent a letter yesterday to the commander of U.S. forces saying:  We are not prepared yet to have you hand over control of the prisons to us because the prisons are being run by Shi’a militias, the militias are, in effect, freeing all their own people and executing randomly Sunni inmates.

This was, again, reported in The Washington Post this morning.

That suggests a degree of power and control that the Sunni militia—the Shi’a militia have in Iraqthat is actually even greater than one might have expected.

MIN. ZEBARI:  I really don’t know the details of this report. But I can say this; all the prisons are controlled by—not by the militia per se—as such, but by the forces of the Interior Ministry, by the police, by the national police, and they are responsible for running these prisons.  And I honestly haven’t heard that, you know, the Jaish al-Mahdi militia, or whoever, Saddam militia—

MR. ZAKARIA:  The Badr Brigade.

MIN. ZEBARI: —or Badr Brigade, or whoever, are running, you know, prisons independently.  I think these are run by the forces of the Ministry of Interior.

MR. ZAKARIA:  The deputy justice minister, whose name I forget, is a Kurd, who—I think the claim was that the guards are operating under the umbrella of the Interior Ministry, but are—I guess the broader question would be, Hoshyar, what will the government do to deal with this problem of militia?  Can you simply co-opt them, or does it not at some point have to confront some of these militias, particularly Muqtada al-Sadr’s, who, after all, has not even signed up to disband his militia in the original, you know, process that Bremer had set out.  Here you have a rogue militia operating outside of the rules.  What do you do to them?

MIN. ZEBARI:  Well, there’s a number of projects, actually, under way, run jointly by the coalition, by the Multinational Force and the Iraqi force.  One project is called DDR—disarm, demobilize, rehabilitate—those militias.  

It’s not easy, to be honest with you, and there has to be different modalities how to integrate those member of the militias into not necessarily in the army or in the security forces of the Ministry of Interior, but in the society generally; to find, you know, some job opportunities for them.  But this is a difficult challenge for the government, and this will need the political will of the leadership of the United Iraqi Alliance, of the Sunnis, of the Kurds, and so on, to reach an understanding.  It’s not purely a government decision, or black or white, really I would describe it.  It needs some understanding, coordination.  There are a number of laws, you see, how to deal with this issue, and this needs to be implemented. That’s why I believe it will take some time.  

But the key area that this government needs to really have a pause and take a deep breath is the forces of the Ministry of Interior generally.  In comparison to the forces of the Defense Ministry, of the army, they are far more professional, far more organized.  But that doesn’t mean also there isn’t any infiltration.  The documents that recently were released, yesterday, shows even al Qaeda, Zarqawi people, have also made their bid to infiltrate, you know, those—(word inaudible)—deliberately to manipulate them in a different direction.

But the government has this challenge, definitely, and I think it must address it.  And it can.  This government is supported by, you know, the majority of the Iraqi people, and it has the support.  It needs the will, let’s say, to move ahead and try to do it.

MR. ZAKARIA:  How should we understand the role of Muqtada al-Sadr?  Here is a man who is both participating in the government so that he can use certain ministries as a way of providing social welfare to constituents, and at the same time, often opposing it, using his own militia to freelance.  Is that not, in a sense, a kind of crucial test case?

MIN. ZEBARI:  It is a crucial test case.  But Muqtada now is part of the political process, and before he was outside.  And all the difficulties that we had in 2003-2004 and all these fightings, skirmishes in, you know, Sadr district of Baghdad, in Karbala, in Najaf, in the south, then really there was a realization that it’s better to include him in that process instead of alienating him or confronting him, because that can only lead you to more complications.

So now he is part of this government through the ministers that represent the Sadrists within the United Iraqi Alliance.  And as a political leader, he has—he’s entitled, definitely, his own views, his own preachings, his freedom and so on.  

But this is, again, I mean, a challenge for the government, really, to bring everybody in line.  So far, I think, despite in some dissensions here and there, they have behaved themselves, I would say. But the problem is—has been with the Jaish al-Mahdi.  There has been many—

MR. ZAKARIA:  (Inaudible)—militia—

MIN. ZEBARI: —yes—has been many complaints about their role, their infiltration or some of the attacks and so on, especially after the bombing of the holy shrines in Samarra .  But I believe that Maliki and the government have enough influence jointly, let’s say, to exercise, to impose more discipline.

MR. ZAKARIA:  But one of the views that Sadr has—and this a broader question because it is not just him—is the withdrawal of American troops.  He has pushed this issue.  Sometimes he has Sunni politicians push it.  How strong is this view in the Iraqi political system, and will you be able to manage it?  Because I can tell you in this country, if the voices get loud enough, there will be lots of people inWashingtonwho will start mirroring those voices and saying, “You see?  The Iraqis want us to leave.  Why the hell are we there?”

MIN. ZEBARI:  I would say on this—this is a very important issue that concerns us and the new state government and the American public—Sadr—Muqtada al-Sadr and others really are not calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S.troops.   And the Sunni part of it also are not asking or demanding an immediate U.S. withdrawal. They’re asking for a timetable for the withdrawal to convince their constituency and so on that this—the presence of the coalition forces is not indefinite.  And that has been the argument used to put it, you know, honestly on the table.

But I’ll give you one example.  Before I left Baghdad, I consulted with the prime minister that before we go toNew York, we need to consult with the leaders of the parliamentary groups on this coming review of the Security Council resolution for the continuation of the mandate for another six months.

Although it’s a routine rollover, but to prevent any opposition or any misunderstanding, it’s better to inform everybody that the government is going there to request formally continuation of the mandate of the Multinational Force until, you know, the end of the term. 

And there was a very interesting debate for me personally. Everybody was there—you know, the member of the Shi’a I’tilaf were sitting.  The Sunni leaders were there.  The Kurdish side was there. A number of Wifaq or Mr. Allawi’s people there.  And I briefed them on the mission that this will not require any new resolution or any new agreement binding to the Iraqi government.  This is an ordinary review.

And one Sunni leader asked me a question.  He said, “If we, the Iraqi government, go to the Security Council and demand that we don’t want these forces, what would happen?”

I said, “Well, if the prime minister, the cabinet authorized me to convey that message, it will mean that we will demand to see their withdrawal.  And they need to withdraw one—you know, sometime, because their presence here is with our consent and approval.  So if we don’t want them, it would—if they don’t withdraw, it would be extremely embarrassing for them.  But that is our right.  We can demand that, if you ask it.”

And then he said, “No, for God’s sake, don’t do that.” (Laughter.)  

And honestly, this was—many of you maybe know—Jane knows—Mr. Adnan Dulaimi, who has been outspoken on this issue.

So now nobody really is demanding or asking for a withdrawal of the U.S.forces—

MR. ZAKARIA:  In that meeting, the Sadrists did not raise this issue?

MIN. ZEBARI:  The Sadrists also were—they were there, by the way.  I forget that—to mention.  The Sadrist representative or ministers were also present in that meeting.  They didn’t ask any question.  I think the one thing they mentioned—okay, let’s sign up to this understanding that we all agree.

The point here—I think next review we need to do our homework well, both we, the United States government, other member of the coalition.  But I personally am not a fan of timetable, to be honest with you.  And if you see not only some Iraqi groups are demanding this for political reasons or for certain agendas, but some regional powers also are very interested to push for a timetable.  

I personally think that conditions on the ground should decide that.  Giving a timetable in advance will help those who are carrying arms or in the insurgency or these terror networks, but to increase their attacks.  This is my conviction.  It will not be helpful.  The moment the Iraqi forces or security forces are able or manage, let’s say, to take control automatically, the coalition forces will withdraw.  

This mechanism is in place already.  I mean, there has been a number of handover of security responsibility in the south.  In certain parts of Baghdad , in a number of military bases, we’ve seen that happen.  It is a process.

And that’s why I personally do not support, let’s say, giving out any timetable.  It will not be helpful, and it would be detrimental, really, to what’s going on.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Let me ask you one last question before I turn it open.  You have in the past been quite outspoken about the lack of cooperation you have gotten from regional actors, from other countries surrounding the area.  I remember a time we were both at the Arab strategy conference in Dubai .

MIN. ZEBARI:  That’s correct.

MR. ZAKARIA:  And your message to them was, “Folks this is the new Iraq , can you please get used to it and stop trying to undermine us?”  Is it your sense that your neighbors have stopped the active support of insurgents and things like that?

MIN. ZEBARI:  Part of—I mean, the insurgency is homegrown, but a great part of it is coming from outside.  The lethal part is coming from outside.  And they have given, you see, the Ba’athists or those disaffected a model, let’s say.  I remember very well in 2003 really nobody was thinking of shooting at U.S.soldiers or at GIs in the streets of Baghdad and so on.  But the moment Zarqawi and al Qaeda blew up the U.N. headquarters and then it was followed by the assassination of the late Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim in Najaf in this, you know, well-known terrorist attack, really they picked up courage and it was (developed ?).  

Here the role of our neighbors is very important in stabilizing Iraq.  And I have been outspoken that they haven’t done their part, really, to help the Iraqi government.  Now we are receiving many encouraging signals—from Iran, from Syria.  Yesterday I had a meeting with the Syrian deputy foreign minister to restore full diplomatic relations between the two countries.  They are willing to send an ambassador, and we agreed with him yesterday—he was—they were calling before that Iraqshould ask to restore relations—said, no, it would be done simultaneously in Damascus and Baghdad.  This is a sovereign, legitimate, representative government.  We have done that even with a permanent member of the Security Council like France, so with you we will apply the same rule.  And we agreed, really, that this would be it.  

They have not been very helpful in different ways, and that is the complaint I have conveyed to all our neighbors.  In terms of the media campaign, I mean, I wish there was a good monitoring of the media of the regions after the death of Zarqawi and their response to this very important event for ordinary Iraqis.  And the way they played it was the most unfortunate I’ve ever come across.  

MR. ZAKARIA:  Do you mean glorifying Zarqawi?

MIN. ZEBARA:  Glorifying.  They were saddened.  They were really—because they lied.  I mean, before, many of them were saying that Zarqawi was an American fictitious story or Hollywood movie, that he  doesn’t exist.  And then it was proven, no, he’s a real man, he was killed and he was responsible for many things, really it was very difficult for them to digest it again.  

But in terms of also funding.  I mean, these people get their funding from, you know, a variety of sources in the region.  The foreign terrorists that are crossing, let’s say, the border from different parts.  As far as in Erbil, in Kurdistan, you have two most- wanted member of al Qaeda of Saudi origins, who have been detained since 2003, and they are on the list of the government of Saudi Arabia for the most-wanted list.  There are many ways, actually, they could help, they could assist.  

But I think this government really, we’ve agreed with them all, that before, everybody was waiting what will happen because of the transitional period, so not many of these issues were followed vigorously by the government and by the government ministry.  This time it would be different, I mean with Iran, with Turkey, with Syria , with Saudi Arabia, withJordan , and we hope that they will be more cooperative, because so far they haven’t been helpful.

And I think one of the issues—I discussed this with Dr. Haass before—that this military campaign from the beginning was conducted very successfully, I mean in terms of military achievement, the overthrow of Saddam.  But really, the regional factors into Iraqwas not taken very seriously, despite our warning that these neighbors of Iraq —really each has its own agenda and own plan, and they must be kept at bay, you know, to be comfortable.  But we are working on that.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Let me toss it open to all of you.  


QUESTION:   Good morning.  Vijay Dandupani.  There was a recent report when you were in Iranlast month that you supported that country’s seeking nuclear energy, albeit under the supervision of the IAEA.  If that’s true, why would you go along with an arguably opaque government that has arguably—how shall we say—deluded the IAEA, if you will, or tried to cheat them?

And also, in the future, would you say that an energy-rich country likeIraqshould be allowed to pursue nuclear energy?

MIN. ZEBARI:  I think I was misquoted very clearly by the CNN, by some—even the headlines of The New York Times was very confusing. The content was different completely from the headline.

I said actually to the visiting Iranian foreign minister to BaghdadthatIraqdoesn’t want you or any of its neighbors to have nuclear bomb, or to have weapons of mass destruction.  We still are suffering in Iraqall these years because of Saddam Hussein’s regime efforts and attempts to develop, to use these weapons.  And that is the position.

What we said, that Iraqrespects the right of Iranor any other country to nuclear energy to be used for peaceful purposes.  And I think that’s the position of even, you know, the Europeans, the United States.  Dr. Rice even mentioned that.

But we didn’t give that, you know, a blunt or a blank support, we said but there is a problem, there is a problem of credibility; that there must be constructive dealing with the international community, that this program has to be subject to the standard of the IAEA.  And that is the position, actually, I explained on behalf of my government.   And only, unfortunately, in the American media it was really misrepresented.  In the European, in the Arab—everybody got it right.  And I think there is a problem here—some journalists who have covered Iraqare here.  Before we used to see many journalists attending these press conferences or meetings in person, and they are professional, they can get the story right.  Nowadays, because of the security situation, they are relying on local Iraqi stringers who are not professionals, who are—some of them are politically motivated, in fact, to twist the story one way or another.  I would warn against that in the future.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Raghida, you had a—

QUESTION:   Yeah, I’m Raghida Dergham.  Hello.  One thing, would you care to sort of correct the record that it’s not all Arab media that was celebrating Zarqawi, because you do know better than that.

MIN. ZEBARI:  Of course.  No, no, of course.

QUESTION:   I appreciate that.

And secondly, you spoke of the neighbors’ different agendas. Would you elaborate particularly about Iran?  Of course you could tell us what Syria’s agenda is now from your point of view.  But Iranin particular, given the fact that, as you correctly said earlier, and emphasized by Fareed, the militias, the Shi’ite militias’ infiltration within the system in Iraqis possibly supported by Iran.  Can you discuss the element of Irandirectly in terms of Iraq , and also vis-a-vis the American policy towards both Iraq and Iran?  I would like very much to learn your views on that.

MIN. ZEBARI:  Well, first let me say one thing that may be relative to you, Raghida.  The Iraqi government also is playing a role, actually, in carrying certain messages on the new international offer to the Iranian government on the nuclear issue.  And we have been involved, actually, at a certain level.  

But the Iranian attitude to Iraqis different, they have a different agenda from others.  They are not trying to destroy or undermine the current regime of the government because they believe that this government is friendly to them, and as long as now it’s constitutionally elected, it has the mandate of the people, so this is some kind of a safety valve for them, for their national security; if this government will assume full sovereignty and authority, no harm will come from Iraq to them.  

And they have also—I mean, through numerous meetings with them inTehran, each and every member of the previous Iraqi government or others really visited Tehran.  And the two foreign ministers also have come to Baghdad.  But remember one thing, Iranwas the first country to recognize the regime change and to recognize the Governing Council. I think it sent the first delegation to congratulate, you know, the leaders of the Governing Council.  

It is nervous, definitely, it’s uncomfortable about the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops on its border.  But on the other hand, these forces removed, you know, one of the arch enemies of Iran—Saddam Hussein.  In Afghanistan they removed the Taliban, which was—again, was a threat to them.  

The Iranians have their influence, definitely, not only on the Shi’a, on other parts of the country.  The Kurdish leadership are in good terms with them.  They have even cultivated a good relation with the Sunni leaders, with member of the—(word inaudible).  As a country, really it cares for its interests, and so on.  And that is the message we tried to give to many countries—to Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to Egypt:  So why do you complain about Iranian influence, increased Iranian influence?  Mainly this is happening because they are there and you are not there.  

So they have influence, definitely.  I’m not trying to say that. But their agenda is not to undermine or destroy this friendly government to them.

MR. ZAKARIA:  But let me ask one—a variation of the question, Hoshyar, which is some people say that what their agenda is through funding and controlling various militias and various political groups within Iraq, they are trying to “Islamize” the Iraqi government so that what emerges is not a Shi’a alternative to the Iranian model, but a Shi’a version of the Iranian model.  And that if you look at Basra, where there are now religious tests for becoming a professor, or there are religious militias that go around ensuring that no alcohol is served, you know, that there is a kind of “Iranianization” of Iraq in the south.

MIN. ZEBARI:  Yeah, there are many reports about that.  But also, yesterday there was another report.  Recently we’ve agreed with the Iranians to open two consulates—one in Basra, one in Karbala; and for Iraq to open one in Khorramshahr and one in Mashhad or in (Shabestar ?).  And yesterday, the day before, both Iranian consulates were stormed by Iraqi Shi’a for some differences.

This gives you how volatile the situation is.  I mean, it’s not only one way.  

But definitely Iran , you know, is after its interest.  The Shi’a actually have proven through other history, even during the Iran-Iraq war, really that they are part of Iraq, not an extension of Iran or the Iranian regime and so on.  And remember also the marja’ia (ph) is in Iraq.  I mean for the Shi’a the holy shrines, Najaf and Karbala, is the Meccaof all the Shi’as.  

And in our discussion with the Iranians, we’ve been very honest and very direct, really.  When the foreign minister visited us in Baghdad, we gave him, you know, a complete dossier of all the violations, of all the interventions they are making into our internal affairs, and we agreed that this would be followed very seriously through some technical discussions.   

But again, actually, if the government—the Iraqi government does not prove itself to be in control or to manage the situation, others will try to take advantage.

MR. ZAKARIA:  We have time for a last question. Chris Isham?

QUESTION:   Chris Isham with ABC.  I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what your government has learned since the killing of Zarqawi last Friday.  You’ve obtained a treasure trove of documents, computer hard drives and what not.  What have you learned about its financing, its relationship withSyria , relationship with the Ba’athists, recruiting?  What can you tell us about the shape of that organization, how big was it and what not?

MIN. ZEBARI:  I was away, actually, when this report came out about the treasure or (cache ?) treasure of intelligence, the laptop and the information.  Some of it was relayed yesterday through the media.  But it’s consistent, actually, with Zarqawi, with al Qaeda networks.  I mean, they have been trying very hard to ignite a sectarian war.  

Their theory is very simple:  We must target the Shi’a community to agitate them against the Sunnis; the Sunnis are asleep; they have forgotten their duties to their religion, to God; they were in power for many, many years, they are corrupt and so on; the only way to waken them up is really to target the Shi’a, to kill them, and then they will start to take their revenge on the Sunnis and so on.  Recently I noted from what we are learning today that Zarqawi even tried to encourage a war between the United States and Iran, you see, to try to accelerate or to speed up that possibility because he told or he believes this would be in the benefit of their movement and so on.

I’m sure the multinational force, the Iraqi security will make good use of these document(s) and so on, but this organization, from experience, can change; I mean can change their tactics, their leaders, their places, their locations, and they are very flexible. They are not fixed, let’s say, into certain areas.  But it was a devastating blow, let’s say, to al Qaeda, the elimination of Zarqawi, for a number of reasons.

One, really it will be extremely difficult to find anybody of his quality, of his experience and knowledge to do their work as Zarqawi did.  Now they talk about this Abu Masri recently.

But it would be extremely difficult for anybody else.  He’s been working there for the last three years.  Even before the war he was in Iraq.  

And the network of recruits, the linkage and so on he had—I really don’t have fresh information, to be honest with you, about—I haven’t seen those documents.  So I’m sure—when I go to Baghdad, I may have the chance to see them, but I’m sure it would be very useful.

But these documents need to be used operationally by the intelligence and so on, not purely for media exposure.  I think their impact would be far more important.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Let me ask you the final question, then, Hoshyar, which is, how should we judge the progress of this Iraqi government? You said that the—this—you know, the next six months are crucial.  How should Americans—what steps should we see, other than a miraculous cessation of violence completely and law and order flourishing in Iraq ?  Which, I’m assuming, is not going to happen in the next month.  What steps—what should we judge you by and this government by?  What should—what are the goals that you think you should be asked to fulfill in the next month or two?

MIN. ZEBARI:  I think one of the key issue is to provide a better security for ordinary Iraqi people, at least in the capital, in Baghdad.  It’s not throughout the country or at least, you know, the—you know, center of Baghdad and some of the key districts for people to go about their ordinary business and life and so on.

That’s why these operation(s) have started recently in Baghdad. In other parts of the country as well there are a number of hot spots. In Diyala is one area you see that still there are troubles.  In Basra now, for instance, because of what we have discussed earlier, there are difficulties.

Ramadi seems relatively better, you see.  (Chuckles.)  I mean, there are problems, but—so really the government needs to show, you know, the Iraqi people that it has improved security to a certain degree.  There is not complete security, at least in the vicinity of Baghdad.  

And of course you see in other provinces—not completely, but I think to bring down the level, let’s say, of these attacks.  Second point:  I believe this sectarian violence or killing also has to come down.  There are dozens of bodies, you see, that now and again are dumped here and there, you see, by unknown people.  Who are these people?  Why this group is targeted?  Why not the other group? And that is the work, really, of this government—to pursue vigorously the perpetrators of these atrocities.

I believe summer is coming—or it’s summer now already in Baghdad.  You see, the amount of electricity has to improve, you know, for people to survive, you know, the heat of Iraq, of Baghdad.

By, you know, how much, I really—I am not an expert on that, but people expect that.

Also, I believe this constitutional review that everybody is expecting to see has to—the process has to be started.  

And the other thing—for the government to have a coherent performance, to act as a government that respects itself and coordinates with the different ministries, with the different spokes—statement or people, you see, should speak with one message, with one voice, with—there are others, but as far as I can say, I mean, these are some of the key areas where every Iraqi look for.

MR. ZAKARIA:  Well, Mr. Foreign Minister, it’s a great pleasure. The Persian root of your word (sic) means what, “intelligent,” “alert.”

MIN. ZEBARI:  (Chuckles.)  

MR. ZAKARIA:  But that’s a shade of meaning of “cunning,” and I think we’ve seen that all.

MIN. ZEBARI:  Thank you.  (Chuckles.)

MR. ZAKARIA:  Great pleasure.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MIN. ZEBARI:  Thank you. 


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