A Conversation with Tariq al-Hashimi

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, New York

December 20, 2006

ANNE GARRELS:  Hello, ladies and gentlemen.  I'd like to convene the meeting and welcome you all.  Thank you.  My name is Anne Garrels, with National Public Radio, and it's my delight to have a conversation with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

You all have a copy of his bio, so I don't need to go into that.  But I would note that he was probably the first Sunni politician to fully engage in the political process, and for that he has paid a very heavy price.  Two of his brothers and his sister have been killed in the sectarian violence that is tearing Iraq apart.  I think we're very fortunate to have him with us today. 

And may I just remind you all -- house rules -- please remember to turn off your cell phones, BlackBerries and all other wireless equipment you might be carrying.

This meeting is on the record.  Council members around the nation and the world will be participating via a teleconference.

And first of all, I would like to invite the vice president to come to the podium.  He wishes to make a few remarks, and then we will begin the conversation.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT TARIQ AL-HASHIMI:  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  I really feel grateful for this golden opportunity that -- given to myself and my delegation.  Might be this is the first time that one of the key personnel of the Sunni communities in Iraq -- contributing and enhancing the ongoing discussion and dialogue on the Iraq issue.

I feel grateful for this -- opportunities and the invitation given to me by the council, and hopefully at the end of this discussion, we will jointly contribute in painting a new picture for all Iraqi social segments and sects, affiliations. 

And as I used to be in all my life as a frank talker, I'll speak in this occasion as being the secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the leaders of al-Tawafuq Front, and not necessarily in the capacity of being a vice president.

Thank you very much.

GARRELS:  Well, I hope that this means that you'll be even franker than usual, if you're not speaking as the vice president.  (Chuckles.) 

AL-HASHIMI:  (Chuckles.) 

GARRELS:  So -- first question:  What is your most optimistic evaluation of what could happen in the next year, or your most pessimistic one? 

AL-HASHIMI:  If I am not optimistic, I shouldn't be in power.  I'll continue my obligations towards my people, to my country, and until further notice, I should feel optimistic.

And there is a real opportunity, in fact, for the country to be -- to rebound, to salvage from the current dilemma.


AL-HASHIMI:  We do have in fact various problems that -- challenging that work process -- time being, and on top of all, the violence, which -- becoming an overwhelming phenomena, unfortunately, in certain areas, in certain provinces in Iraq, and these could be tackled in much better way than used to be so far.  And I hope that as time comes for the American administration to revise the strategy they have adopted from (A to zero ?), and for the Iraqi government to shoulder responsibilities, to shoulder the burden and to tackle the sources of violence in the way which could meet the actual challenge and (fate ?) of this violence.

GARRELS:  I think everyone here is extremely familiar with what the administration has done so far in Iraq.  What specifically would you like to see the administration do now?

AL-HASHIMI:  First of all, I'm expecting in fact a brand-new strategy they have to be adopted.  In the provinces of Sunni-dominating, what they have done so far in -- especially in Anbar, it's really counterproductive.  And time comes in fact to revise the strategy.

GARRELS:  Are you talking about --

AL-HASHIMI:  According to General Casey report, the manpower of al Qaeda in Iraq is not exceeding 1,000.  And the way the American administration meeting this challenge is so far by using an excess of force, by (mass destruction ?) of innocent people houses, and they are pushing the young people in fact to be more extremist.  This policy must be changed, because it's proved to be counterproductive.

GARRELS:  And what about the -- I mean, the Maliki government too must invest in Anbar.  Is that what you're -- is it a two-pronged --

AL-HASHIMI:  The time being a factor, is -- Anbar being so far (based on ?) the exclusive responsibilities of the coalition forces.  We just tried weeks ago, in fact, to share responsibilities with the American troops, and we managed, in fact, to conclude a significant success in challenging the terrorism there.  But I need -- we need -- it might be too much, in fact, to have a new chapter in Al Anbar.

GARRELS:  When you saw the president, did you -- what did you say to him about American troops?  Do you want them to stay?  Do you want a firm timetable?  What exactly did you -- do you think is the answer?

AL-HASHIMI:  The American administration should continue and should honor exclusively their commitments to the Iraqi people.  One of the problems facing the security file in general is the shortage and the incompetent troops in Iraq.  It might be shocking to you when I said that out of 135,000 soldiers within the coalition spectrum, you do have only between 20,000 and 25,000 considered as a combat soldiers, and the rest -- 100,000 of the coalition forces are acting only as logistic troops.  They are not in combat.  So in taking only 25,000 in this sort of violence that we are facing in Iraq, we just immediately reach a conclusion that 25,000 to address the violence in Iraq is really meaningless.  We need additional troops, in fact, to put things in order, especially in -- (inaudible word) -- violent towns and areas, provinces such as Al Anbar, such as Diyala, such as Baghdad.

I ask, Mr. President, please don't televise your strategy under the pressure of the car bombs and the side bombs and the kidnapping and sectarian killings.  Take your time.  Devise it quietly, in fact.  We need a new strategy.  We need a new chapter for Iraq, in fact.  But don't formalize that under pressure of the tension and the violence in Iraq.

GARRELS:  So what should the troops, say, be doing in Anbar?  If -- I mean you criticize their behavior so far.


GARRELS:  What should they actually be doing there, then, if you have increased numbers of troops there?

AL-HASHIMI:  No, no.  I'm not talking about Al Anbar specifically; in fact, I'm talking in general.  Timing is quite unfortunate, to say.  As a national armed forces, we do not have so far a competent and sufficient national armed forces to rely on and to help the coalition forces, in fact, either to pull out from the center of the cities or to go back home, for instance. 

We don't have (timing ?), in fact, we have problem thanks (to) Ambassador Bremer, who established this national army on wrong, wrong basis -- nonprofessional, non-patriotic.  I just give you just an example of what they had -- what he has done.  So far, 5,000 of Ministry of Interior police in different ranks being kicked out because of their crime record.  This is the -- this type of security forces we do have in Iraq.  You just imagine if your police in New York is managed or leader by Ku Klux Klan, for instance.  We do have leaders now in high ranks in Ministry of Interior, which they are managing, that is corrupt, and they are called militias.  This is the problem that we are facing currently.

At the end of the day, we can't consider the national forces are reliable, trustworthy, non-corrupted, professional or trustworthy.  So until further notice, we will rely on the coalition forces, primarily the American troops, because, first of all, they do have a commitment to the Iraqi people, and two, we do have our own national armed forces built on professionalism, built on well-known criterias.  At that time, in fact, definitely we will welcome any pullout from Iraq, in fact, and we will very much interest -- we will be very happy that those soldiers back to their family as soon as possible.

GARRELS:  It is indeed in Anbar with the predominantly Sunni community that the U.S. is having some of the greatest problems -- the U.S. military.  You're sort of caught between extremist Shi'a and extreme Sunnis.


GARRELS:  And for you to take the position that there should be more U.S. troops is just going to get you into hotter water with certain Sunnis.  How can you bring them to the table? 

AL-HASHIMI:  Well, we have to differentiate between two groups.  The terrorists belong to al Qaeda.  They do have an international agenda.  It's not actually related to Iraq.  They are fighting Americans.  In fact, that's part of their international agenda, and they are going to continue.  Even if tomorrow, in fact, we kick them out from Iraq, they will go elsewhere and continue fighting, in fact, Americans and other countries.  They have no other language to address but to use bombs.  That's it. 

The second group, which is more related to the Sunni communities, is -- you call it insurgents, we call it resistance.  They are very much prepared to contribute and to participate in the political process as long as we offer to them doable, a workable, a significant project to accommodate them.  And my message to them, in fact, over past weeks -- clearly, through the media -- the time comes the game is now different.  2003, 2004, at that time there could be some understanding why they are fighting the Americans, but now we need them, in fact, to come to discuss around table what they need, in which way they are dreaming to be a partner, a contributor in the political process. 

It's quite unfortunate, so far, regardless of my appeal -- personal appeal to both the American administration as well as to the government -- to put forward some sort of doable project to accommodate them, the equal -- response from both parties was discouraging so far. 

Before I left Baghdad to United States, people had significant connection to the insurgents, and they just convey a message to me, that I have to convey to the American administration, that they are prepared to sit down around table and to discuss and to stop killing the Americans. 

I'll struggle my way until I get those people, because they are honest people, they are fully appreciating the political process, and they are very much interested to be a partner in the very near future.  All that's needed for that is a project to get them in.  This is the missing circle in the whole crisis, time being.  So those people shouldn't be considered as any other terrorists. 

GARRELS:  Are those -- as it's called, the honorable resistance -- are they putting preconditions, though, for talks?  What is the impediment? 

AL-HASHIMI:  No, they didn't, so far, in fact.  On the contrary, in fact, what they said -- they don't want, in fact, to have some sort of conditions from the American side, or even from the government, time being.  They are open-minded. 

But I understand, in fact, one of the things which left missing, in fact.  The American administration, in fact, in our field, they tried to make things difficult to them and put them in a very hard position.  When they put as a condition that they should shoulder their responsibilities and fight al Qaeda before they come to talk to the Americans, this is a very, very difficult condition. 

I hope time comes, in fact, to be more flexible from all parties.  We do have a common goal.  We are dreaming on the same parameters of the future, and definitely that future should leave no access to extremists.  An open-minded, an encouraging project, there would be a genuine chance for the resistance, in fact, to come and to be a real partner in the political process. 

GARRELS:  I'm sure there will be questions about your relationship with Maliki later.  But I specifically want to ask -- the Pentagon in the last few days has cited Muqtada al-Sadr as being probably the greatest -- one of the greatest threats.  Muqtada al-Sadr has also cast himself as a nationalist who can align himself with the Sunnis.  On the other hand, in Baghdad, the Mahdi Army is widely believed to be behind much, if not all, of the sectarian killings.  Do you agree with the Pentagon's evaluation that he is one of the most dangerous people, most dangerous players in Iraq right now?

AL-HASHIMI:  If Muqtada al-Sadr is proven to be seen that he is behind all these massacres, the sectarian killing, definitely he should be described like that.  So far, in fact, we try to (dig in ?) the mind and the organization of the Sadrist tie.  All these raids on the Sunni houses, areas in Baghdad, in fact, done by a militia, they presented themselves that they belonged to al-Mahdi Army.  When they come and attack, they said, "We are al-Mahdi Army, we are from Sadrists, we are belong to -- loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr."  If all these activities, all those guns, are actually part of the Sadrists and they are (coming dark ?) under his control, definitely Muqtada al-Sadr is the man that you have described.

GARRELS:  Do you believe that they are working under the organization's orders, or do you subscribe to the view that they're renegade?

AL-HASHIMI:  (Inaudible) -- in fact.  I think, to be frank with you, in fact, Baghdad now, and Iraq, has become a theater for different and variety of nations on the globe, in fact, to make things very, very difficult to the Iraqis.  It's really difficult to say who was behind what.  This is just part of the dilemma that we are facing the time being.  All the intelligence of the whole nations now very active.  They have very active presence in Iraq.  And everybody has its own agenda, and you just imagine the chaos that we are living in because of this interference.

GARRELS:  I think at this point I'm going to open the questions up to the floor.  Could you wait for a microphone and speak directly into it.  And please give your name and affiliation, and stand, if you would.  And please limit yourself to one question and keep it as concise as possible.

QUESTIONER:  Jane Bryant Quinn of Newsweek magazine.  You mentioned the desire of the Sunni community to have some kind of a program or project that they could then cooperate on.  Could you outline what that would be, and also what you see as an oil deal, division of the oil deal.

AL-HASHIMI:  Division of the oil?

QUESTIONER:  Of the Iraq -- oil.

AL-HASHIMI:  And the first one was?

QUESTIONER:  And the first one was what the Sunni community would see as an acceptable deal, a project that would bring them into the entire Iraqi coalition.

AL-HASHIMI:  Yeah.  Okay, thank you very much, ma'am.

As far as the first question is concerned, first of all, the resistance would like in fact to see that somebody to appreciate what they have done so far, in fact, regardless of the killings of the Americans, their sacrifices and the casualties.  They said we need somebody in fact to recognize that what we have done is legitimate, is legitimate because we consider our country as being occupied, and we are just fighting against occupation, simple as that.  This is the first issue.

The second issue, in fact, they would like to see a genuine, doable access for them equally to other political parties who are already in the political process.  They shouldn't be in fact given just a marginalized access.  They want to be in fact a contributor in that equally to others.

The third question is that the American troops, the American administration should be committed with a timetable, conditional withdrawal from Iraq.  This is very important.  It's quite unfortunate, regardless, again, of my appeal to the American administration through various media that I have done and even recently through the prime minister, Mr. Blair.  I just convinced him about my theme, and he gave conference and he promised me that he's going to discuss the subject with President Bush.  But at the end of the day, it's quite unfortunate, in fact your president made some sort of brainwashing for Mr. Blair, in fact, that we're back with Mr. Blair, in fact, to square one.  He's just back to his adamancy that we really can't, in fact, Mr. Hashimi, we can't announce that; we're afraid that we'll pass a false message to terrorism that we gave up because of their threat. 

I understand that.  So, okay, I said, let us make some sort of amendment to the theme.  Say it in this way:  timetable conditional withdrawal.  Conditional means that you rebuild the Iraqi armed forces on professional basis.  The time comes that this project is concluded, there should be no excuse for U.S. have to stay in Iraq.  So your withdrawal, in fact, will be tailor-made to the time scale -- the timetable of refurbishing, restructuring, training, supplying arms/equipment to the armed forces.  At that time, there will be no need somebody else, in fact, to shoulder responsibilities of the security in Iraq in general and Baghdad in particular.

About distribution of oil, it's -- this subject, in fact, is -- as you're fully aware, is related to the constitution.  This document, the high valuable -- the invaluable document, it is -- (time being ?), in fact the Iraqi community is being divided severely, and it's becoming a disputable -- a real disputable document.  And if we are looking forward to have a compact, Iraqi community will have to make a genuine remedy for this chapter.  And part of it is through distribution of oil resources.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  (Inaudible.)  My name is Roland Paul.  I'm a lawyer.  Some years ago I was in the U.S. government.

What is the level and nature of the assistance coming across the Syrian border for the -- what you call the Iraqi resistance?

AL-HASHIMI:  Well, I don't recall, in fact, figures time being, in fact, but definitely our neighbors east and west, in fact, make things difficult to us.  And both parties used to be very generous, in fact, in supplying weaponry, technology, money, and sending of troublemakers, people, to Iraq.  This is becoming a phenomena.  I'm sorry to -- I can't answer your question, in fact, in giving facts and figure on that, but it's well known now.  It is a national consensus that the help is coming from the east and west.  It's quite unfortunate.

GARRELS:  Just to follow up on that, I mean, of late, as the sectarian violence gets worse in Iraq, Saudi clerics speaking on behalf of the Sunnis have expressed their support for the Sunni side and talked about getting more involved.  What is your response to that?

AL-HASHIMI:  I don't like that.  It's really, in fact, fueling the sectarian tension.  I don't like that.  I need somebody else, in fact, to help Iraqis, in fact, for their reconciliation project.  I regard this -- I must be frank with your think tank -- regardless of what you will hear from the media, believe it or not, none of the Arabs, (time being?), in fact, helping the Arab Sunnis in Iraq.

I am now in my capacity as secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party.  I haven't got any sort of support from any different countries who could be a candidate for that.  I don't like, in fact, that this support coming through the media and puts me in a very difficult situation that all what I am behind is to be involved in sectarian tension.  We live in Iraq centuries, in fact, Shi'a and Sunni, as a brother, a coexistence.  And I personally, and my party, is going to struggle and to fight until we get the Shi'a with the Sunni joining forces to rebuild Iraq.  There is no other way.

I shoulder my responsibilities.  I'm not going to talk on behalf of the Sunnis; I am going to talk on behalf of all Iraqis.  This is the only language.  The only project that could put an end for the Iraqi dynamo is to go back to the national common interests of Iraq.  That's it.  We don't like, in fact, that to people now, the sectarian, the violence between the Sunni and Shi'a or between the Kurdish and the Arabs.

I am very much like, in fact, to live like you are living now in the States.  The majority, for instance, Anglo-Saxon; nevertheless, Anglo-Saxon roots, they are treated according to the law, like whoever might be immigrant from Italy, from Africa, from Indonesia, from everywhere.  We would like to see this sort of community in Iraq.  But everybody is going to be seeing himself equal to his brother, Shi'a and Sunni, Kurdish, Christian, whoever might be.

The common interests of Iraq is the ultimate goal of the Iraqis that we have to focus on, and we need your help in this regard.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Richard Hottelet.  I'm a journalist.

You speak of a -- of a dialogue, and you mentioned the need to come to terms with -- honorable terms with the Shi'a majority.  What is the -- what is the basis?  What is the modus vivendi between the two?  What is the common denominator?  What is the essence of the interest?  I mean, national interest is out the window at the moment; they are fighting each other.  How can you -- what can be done to end the sectarian strife and find a modus vivendi -- find a common denominator for both sides to live together and live together serving their own interests?

AL-HASHIMI:  Believe it or not, I know that everybody, in fact, talks of this tension in Baghdad and the violence and define it as a sectarian tension.  This is a phenomena.  Iraq is now an instrument for the sectarian tension, and they are the victims as well.

Iraqis has no interest, in fact, to fight each other.  This fight becomes meaningless.  What we are going to achieve?  There is no way, in fact, for the Shi'a to dominate Iraq without the Sunni participation.  How they are going to live, in fact, in the whole Arab regional influence?  Majority of them are Sunni.  How?  They can't.

And what the point is in kicking out the Sunnis from Baghdad as (is the phenomena ?), time being, in fact, and taking the shape of sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, quite unfortunately? 

This recipe is a foreign recipe, is not a national one.  Believe it or not, the Iraqis are victimized of this sectarian tension. 

Why I am saying that?  What sort of evidence I have is the history, the background. 

Even through Saddam Hussein, we used to live in fact as brothers, in a unique coexistence.  And this happened in fact over centuries of time.  And we will continue on that. 

First of all, we do have a common interest.  We have the unity of Iraq as a common interest.  We have the stability of Iraq as common interest.  We have the prosperity of Iraq as a common interest (of land ?).  We have real noble goals, in fact, for all Iraqis in fact to fight and struggle to achieve them.

And if you see -- if you talk to the politicians, you will see that their language -- more or less no difference.  We are talking the same goals, which reflect what I have said now. 

This sectarian tension is non-national.  It is a foreign -- it is the result of the foreign interference -- somebody else who has an interest, in fact, to keep weakening Iraq.  I don't know the bottom line of this agenda, but there are many in fact who make things very, very difficult to the Iraqis, as well as to the Americans. 

Time being, I see no point in fact in killing the American soldiers.  Why you are killing them?  It's quite clear that they are very much interested in fact to go home.

Try to build a new relationship with the Americans to assist us in rebuilding Iraq, but we should try in fact to pass an encouraging message to them, in fact to secure the lives of the soldiers.  And believe it or not, now I am very much interested in fact for the Americans to protect my people.  I am calling now around the clock:  Please come and protect me, because of the militia, because the incompetent, the corrupted police.  So if I am calling the Americans, on one side, to protect me, what's the point in killing those soldiers? 

We should try our best in fact to go in a new strategy, as I said, in fact, and there is an opportunity to mitigate, to calm down the situation in fact, and to (get all those resistant ?), sometimes killing the American soldiers -- isolate them from the terrorism.  At that time, we will have a joint target to address and overcome the tension and the threat.

In addition to the point that I have raised, we need in fact to revise the political process.  We have a pending constitution that we have to amend as well.  We have, unfortunately, in fact, a paralyzed parliament, time being, because of the sectarian quota.  The Kurdish should have this seat; the Sunnis should have this seat, number of seats; the Shi'a should have this number of seats.  This (creed be pleased ?) doesn't work in a modern society, and we should be treated like other nations on the world.

This quota, this sectarian formula, doesn't work in Iraq.  Please.  We should be equal -- Shi'a or Sunni, Kurdish, Christian, everybody.  Like you live here in the States, we are dreaming in fact to have the same opportunities to live on our territory, like the Americans. 

In doing so, we have to revise many things that has been considered as a fact, a holy fact, and -- (inaudible) -- and irrevocable.  We have to revise them if we are genuinely, honestly looking for a quick remedy for the dire situation in Iraq.

GARRELS:  You've made your unhappiness with Prime Minister Maliki known.  It's no secret.  But how -- and your unhappiness based on the fact that the -- he has not fulfilled his promises as the head of a unity government.

AL-HASHIMI:  That's right.

GARRELS:  What can the political parties do to push him to fulfill promises or push him out, if need be?

AL-HASHIMI:  Well, yes, first of all, I would like to confirm that regardless of our personal relationship, I do have my own reservations on his performances so far.

It's a matter of fact that before the establishment of the current government, we had in fact various key agreements that has been violated from A to Z, and created this current tension, in fact, in Iraq.  We don't want in fact to kick him out, and this is the responsibilities of the parliament.  It is not the political party, in fact. 

It is not only my views.  The problem, reservation, is not only on himself as a prime minister -- he's just the leader of the Cabinet, the ministerial council.  I'm sure I'm to say that this ministerial council are not to the level that we are expecting from the beginning.  We will try our best.  We had -- in fact, before I left the state, we had a tough but sincere and open discussion for all the commitments that has been violated.  And my view, in fact -- even when I talked to the administration, in fact -- we should give a chance to the prime minister, tailor-made to a timetable, that he should fulfill all the promises that he is obliged to.  If not, definitely, for the sake of the interest of the country, we should think on other options.


QUESTIONER:  Bob Lifton, Medis Technologies.

The Iraq Study Group and President Carter have both attributed significance to the Israeli-Palestinian continuing conflict as a factor in the settlement of Iraq.  Do you see any relationship between that, the outside intelligence parties that you talked about, and any way of creating peace in Iraq?

AL-HASHIMI:  Yeah, and first of all, I must be frank with you, in fact:  What's going on in Iraq is hurting the Arab national security.  Total stability is going to serve the Arab national security.  This is why I'm encouraging all neighboring countries, in fact, to shoulder their responsibilities and try to mitigate the tension and help Iraqis to bridge the relationship between them.

I see this conclusion as one of the significant conclusions that has been tabled by this committee.  He tried to address the Syrian issues quite different from the Iranian issues.  And he said quite carefully and openly that if the Syrians give them some sort of encouragement related to their occupied territories, they could be open-minded and behave differently than they are doing, time being, in making things difficult to the Iraqis as well as to the Americans.  (Inaudible) -- the Iraq situation is becoming related to the security of the whole region.  Yeah.

QUESTIONER:  Gary Rosen from Commentary Magazine.  You said that the Sunni insurgency or resistance is open to some kind of deal that would bring them into this national political project.  I'm wondering, in your experience, are Iraqi Sunnis reconciled to the fact that they are now a minority in this country that they have ruled for all of its modern existence and will, under any future democratic government, continue to be a minority?  Or are there still factions within the Sunni community that imagine a time in the future when they might again rule this country?

AL-HASHIMI:  I don't like to talk on Sunni and Shi'a.  Although people look to popularize that he's one of the Sunni leaders, I am in my capacity, in fact, belong to all Iraqis.  And I very much like, in fact, time comes to talk Iraqis rather than to talk Sunni and to talk Shi'a.  But I would like you, in fact, to help me in this regard.

One of the -- I said, in fact, that the political process has been established on some false information.  And I'm going to repeat it, in fact, regardless of the sensitivity of these basics, which somebody called them -- (inaudible) -- irrevocable, unnegotiable.  Why would they say it?  Someone said the Shi'a is majority and Sunnis is minority.  I don't know.  But who, on what basis, what reference you have, when somebody is saying that the Shi'a has 60 percent and the Sunni is 20 percent, or even less, and the Kurdish 20 percent, I don't know who is.

We don't have this statistics in Iraq.  I ask somebody in Washington to give me a clue on this fact.  Nobody, in fact, could prove that.  I don't admit that the Shi'a could be a majority, but I would like to be scientifically on that.  I would like to see the source of that.  I would be very happy if the Shi'a is proved to be, scientifically, and there is a genuine record on that, that they are 70 percent of the Iraq population.  Until that's proved scientifically, please, don't keep saying that this part, this sect is majority and this sect is minority.

Regardless of that, even if -- say that Christian now is a minority.  That this means that the -- those people should be treated as second-class people because of their different religion because Iraqis are -- majority are Muslim?  We look to them as a second class?  We are look to them in different vision, different treatment?  You like that?  Why the problem -- now we're talking about the Sunni and Shi'a, majority/minority.  Regardless of that, whoever might be, even one single Iraqi, he should be treated himself as equal as anybody else -- which means if he's eligible, if he's qualified to be the president of Iraq, he should go for that and be a candidate for this position.  What of this (posited ?) that majority and minority.  This is quite unfortunate.  And besides, you are think tank.  Check about that, see what sort of percentages.

Second, Saddam Hussein was a Sunni regime.  Saddam Hussein wasn't a Sunni regime.  Who says so?  Out of the wanted leaders of the high-rank Ba'athists 55 list, 35 of them Shi'a, not Sunni; 35 Shi'a, 20 Sunni.  Saddam Hussein wasn't, in fact, a Sunni.  He's a criminal; he's a dictator against all.  I am one of the victims of Saddam Hussein.  I am a Sunni.

The Iraqi Islamic Party is, in fact, had many sacrifices in young leaders -- (inaudible) -- in the '80s and in the '90s, and they are Sunnis.  Everybody hurt, in fact, because of Saddam Hussein.  Yes, might be the majority of the cost shouldered that by our brothers, the Shi'a, but nevertheless, the Sunni are contributed in that, the Kurdish are contributed, the Turkomen, everybody contributed.  This is the second false base that has -- the political process that has been built.

The third one.  The Shi'a was not in power since I don't know many years.  Time counts; they should shoulder the responsibilities and kick out.  And they should exercise exclusively the power, and there should be no contribution, no participation from other communities, Sunni and the rest.  You see?

You put these basics, and when the governing council established, Bremer very much time for his teams and behaviors and the policy that he adopted, he translate these (posited ?), the false information, into a quarter in the governing council, and say the 50 of the -- 50 percent of the seats should go to the Shi'a, 25 percent of the Sunni, 20 percent I don't know to whom, and he make this segregation from the beginning.  Now we are paying a cost for what has happened in 2003.

Please, what I have said, try to study it carefully.  If we are very much interested, in fact, to see a better future for this country, help us; that all Iraq is going to see themselves are equal.  Go to Jefferson, talks what he has said:  liberty of the people, equality of the people.  We are dreaming, in fact, to have some future in Iraq.  Help us in this regard.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Kenneth Bialkin.

First of all, I think we all admire your courage and resonate your sense of unity with an Iraqi government and hope you succeed.  You mentioned in your remarks that the Sunnis sometimes regard themselves as resistance and sometimes as insurgent, but I think most people look at the insurgency and look at the violence that comes as originating in the insurgency movement, which is largely Sunni, whatever their reason.

As an Iraqi government official, how would you react, and how do you think the Sunni population would react, if the Iraqi government determined to concentrate all of its force in the suppression of insurgency, recognizing that it might be directly primarily against the Sunni?  Do you think, as an Iraqi government person, you would support such an effort of concentrated effort on suppression of insurgency?  How would it work?  And how would the Sunni population react to it?

AL-HASHIMI:  I would be committed with whatever decision taken by the government.  I am just part of the government.  I'll be very frank and discuss these very sensitive issues, in fact, amicably.  And whatever decision taken, I'll be just part of it, regardless who -- what sort of society, what part of the society is going to be targeted for this decision or that decision.  This is one.

And second, as I told you, in fact, time being is that -- is the coalition forces is in charge of battling this violence against them, the terrorism plus the insurgents, not the Iraqi forces, not the national Iraq forces who is shouldering responsibility for that.

And the third issue is the war against the American in Iraq is not between the Sunni and the Americans.  Don't get this misleading conclusion, please.  We do have a Shi'a -- Muqtada al-Sadr now against the American because they consider them as occupier, and their al-Mahdi group are fighting the Americans and killing them.  And they are fighting the coalition forces in the southern area dominated by the Shi'a.  Now Basra becoming a troublesome area for the British, and who is in there in Basra?  The Shi'a are in Basra.  The minority are Sunni, and there is no insurgency of Sunni in Basra.  But who is killing the British?  The Shi'a.

So it is not only -- please, this is a very important issue, and I would like to take this subject very sincerely and circulate it inside the American community and society.  It is not -- the war is not between the Sunni and the American, please.

The problems is the timetable withdrawal.  If you declare that tomorrow, the tension is going to be mitigated not only in the Sunni side, the Shi'a side as well, because everybody cautious, in fact, about the future.  The American administration left it vague.  They didn't say clearly, in fact.  What is the ultimate mission that they are going to fulfill?  Nobody knows.  How long they are going to stay in Iraq, (for instance ?)?  As an Iraqi -- I am also vice president -- I would like very much to see that Iraq is free tomorrow, and to assist all those families waiting their sons to receive them back as soon as possible, in fact, and to stop and to put an end for this -- for the tragedy.  I be very much on the same side and the same time I would like to see my own national armed force, in fact, to shoulder responsibilities and secure the situation in Iraq.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Kimberly Martin from Barnard College, Columbia University.

Mr. Vice President, you've talked about the importance of having a timetable that is based on the Iraqi security forces being able to protect the population, and you've also talked about the Iraqi security forces having problems with corruption and incompetence.  How do we move from here to there?  What will it take to get an Iraqi security force that is actually non-corrupt and competent so that the U.S. can leave?

AL-HASHIMI:  What we have -- what we should have, in fact, a comprehensive, in fact, and a roundtable discussion and consensus agreement and plan to reshuffle and training, restructure the armed forces.  I could say easily, in fact, between one year, one-and-a-half years, this plan could go forward and implemented.

One of the main and can speed up this plan is to call the ex-army -- the ex-units of the old army rather than to call individuals.  Time being, recruitment done on an individual basis.  We should change the system.  We should all units, say the battalion number one belong to brigade number two, division number three, they should come, so-and-so did, and specify the area.  The whole bunch of the people come.

In doing so, you will speed up the plan.  In the same time, you will get rid of the sectarian problems because these divisions, in fact, comprises Shi'a, Sunni, Christian, Kurdish in the same time.  So there is no excuse for anybody, in fact, to kick out the Sunnis and welcome the Shi'a, kick out the Kurdish and welcome the Arabs, you see?

This proposal, I put it forward to the American administration.  I am hopefully that this will be -- is going to be welcomed, is going to speed up the recruitment of that, to reform the Iraqi army, and the same time get rid of the sectarian problem (and condition ?).


QUESTIONER:  Merritt Fox, Columbia University.

If the different groups can reach some kind of agreement about division of oil, what --

AL-HASHIMI:  I'm sorry, sir, what groups you mean?

QUESTIONER:  If the different political groups within Iraq --


QUESTIONER:  -- can reach some kind of compact or agreement about the division of oil in terms of revenues to different regions, what kind of device could make those promises to each other credible?  And would there be a role for international institutions or outside powers in guaranteeing that agreement?

AL-HASHIMI:  Well, time being, in fact, there is an article in the constitution saying that the oil and gases belong to all Iraqis, which means that the central government should be in charge, in the driving seat in contacting whoever who might be foreign investor.  We do have some dispute about the sharing of the crude oil revenues on that, and this is under revision because this contradiction in the constitution, in fact, doesn't allow major oil companies, in fact, to come and invest in Iraq.  So there is no way in front of Iraqis but to come together, in fact, and try to amend the articles concerned and to have some sort of open-minded, based on international experience.

At the end of the day, whoever might be responsible for the contract, that article would say that oil and gas belong to all Iraqis, everybody should enjoy the returns of this crude oil, and there should (sic) be any sort of discrimination between one province to another province.  And we do have, in fact, I think, the second reservoir in the world, so we have enough resource, in fact, to get everybody happy in the future.

GARRELS:  Karen, did you --

QUESTIONER:  I wanted to ask -- (off mike).  Karen House, a journalist.  What can you do to try to encourage Sunnis to join the army?  I mean, you laid out your call in whole units, but isn't that one of the problems now, that if you can't rely on the U.S. to protect Iraqi nationals, then you have to have an army, and right now Sunnis don't seem to want to be part of it or aren't joining it in very large numbers?

AL-HASHIMI:  Yes, that's the thing.  We had some problem in the past, in fact, for the Sunni communities to come and to participate and to be soldiers in the newborn army.  The time being the situation is quite changed.  They are very much interested, in fact, to work in the army as well as in the security forces.  But they are timing -- they are facing problem, in fact, too.  And this subject is a quite sensitive one.  I don't want, in fact, to shed more light on it.  There is a desire, time being.  They are already encouraged, in fact, to participate, but usually they are not welcomed to participate. 

And this is one of the things that has to be reformed and then that all Iraqis should be treated equal, what I said, to overcome this problem, in fact.  And we shouldn't allow the recruiting center to work on a selective basis and bias, will ask one unit, complete unit, to come.  In doing so, nobody else, in fact, will be segregating between Shi'ites and Kurdish and others.  They have all the interest and courage, in fact, to come. 

In the past they have been under pressure of al Qaeda. They are preventing them, in fact, to go to the army or to security forces.  Time being, they are very much interested and we should encourage them, in fact, especially in the Sunni-dominating provinces.  They should be in charge of the security rather than to bring soldiers from other provinces.  They are prepared now to fight against al Qaeda, against terrorism, so we should not creating a militia, should be just part of that security forces belonging to the government.

GARRELS:  Thank you very much.

AL-HASHIMI:  You're most welcome, ma'am.  (Applause.)







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