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FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2010

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

ROSS WILSON:  Good morning.  My name is Ross Wilson.  I’m the director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.  And on behalf of the Atlantic Council’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Hagel, and president, Frederick Kempe, I’m delighted to welcome all of you here this morning to a discussion of current challenges and future prospects in Iraq.

The Council established the Dinu Patriciu Center last year to give greater focus and impetus to our work on and activities in Eurasia.  I know in a different setting, there’s often debate about how far the boundaries of Europe extend, certainly a discussion I found when I was serving as American ambassador in Turkey.  I’m also not really sure how far the boundaries of Eurasia extend.  But I can think of no country whose future is more directly connected with that of Eurasia and is part of Eurasia, particularly when it comes to economic concerns, political concerns as well.

Just to set the stage a little bit for today’s discussion, I think there’s no great need to revisit the history of Iraq – the recent history of Iraq – except, of course, to note that it is a country that has absorbed an immense amount of American treasure and American use and American attention over the last seven years.

Now, in mid-2010, it faces a number of important transitions.  Just about five months ago, elections took place for Iraq’s parliament, the council of representatives – resulted in a closely fought contest, two large blocs led by Ayad Allawi and Prime Minister Maliki sort of dominating a discussion that’s been going on for the last five months about formation of a new government – a discussion that has been complicated, slow, we could even say lugubrious.

And in preparing for today’s discussion, I looked over or found some rather interesting headlines to characterize the recent progress, such as it has been.  Ten days ago, a headline:  “Breakthrough for New Iraqi Government.”  Twelve days ago:  “Back to Square One in Forming a New Iraqi Government.”  Seventeen days ago:  “Maliki Concedes Premiership to Allawi.”  Twenty-nine days ago:  “Politicians Upbeat on Government Talks.” 

Meanwhile, Iraq’s complicated security situation remains very uncertain.  Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia – a group that many thought had become relatively quiet and inactive – claimed two attacks this week in Baghdad – one in Adhamiya and one on an Arabic-language satellite news television station.  Also, bombings very recently on Iraq’s trade bank and its central bank.  And of course, in recent days and weeks, some 40 members of Iraq’s awakening movement that played such an important role in the struggle with al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia have been slaughtered.

The economy, obviously, sputters, reflected, as these things are, in public grumbling about public services and utilities, obviously especially important in the summer months, when there are electricity cutoffs.  U.S. troops continue their drawdown from about 85,000 today to 50,000 by September 1st, and reflecting that, or perhaps coincident with that, a change at the helm of the U.S. military command from Gen. Odierno to Gen. Michael Austin, and at the helm of the U.S. civilian command, if that’s the right word, from Ambassador Chris Hill to Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who I hope, personally, that the Senate confirms in order that he can take up his position in Baghdad in the coming couple of weeks.

The Kurdistan region of Iraq has been somewhat less in the news.  In fact, actually, I was struck in reviewing some of the recent articles to find out how little has been written about the Kurdish region.  But of course, the issues that were important in the past, I think, remain more or less on the table.  The issues – the disputed areas along the line between the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq, the matter of Kirkuk very much a reflection of that; disputes or arguments about the hydrocarbon law and the overall shape of Iraq’s energy development; and from my former perch in Turkey, a lot of attention to PKK terrorism as violence in that country has again come to the fore as a prominent issue and problem.

For today’s discussion on current challenges and future prospects in Iraq, we’re very pleased to have with us two prominent Iraqi Kurds.  Dr. Fuad Hussein is chief of staff to the president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani.  He served previously in various positions in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.  Background and education:  speaks English, as well as a variety of other foreign languages.  We’re particularly pleased about the English part and welcome him back to the Atlantic Council this morning.

Also pleased to have with us Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the department of foreign relations of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  Before taking up this position in 2006, he served for three years as a senior advisor and minister of state for then-prime minister of the Kurdistan region Nechirvan Barzani.  The department of foreign relations, of course, is a focal point for international activity and engagement in the Kurdistan region, of course, in coordination with the Iraqi foreign ministry in Baghdad.

Our plan this morning is first to hear from Dr. Hussein, who will make a brief presentation on his observations with respect to Iraq’s current challenges and future prospects.  And after a brief pause, he and Mr. Bakir and I will assemble and take comments and questions from all of you.  So please join me in welcoming Dr. Fuad Hussein and Falah Mustafa Bakir.  (Applause.)

FUAD HUSSEIN:  Good morning, everybody.  Thank you very much for inviting us here, and we are glad to be here again.  I’m going to deal with mainly two topics, one the formation of Iraqi government, and second, relationship between United States and Iraq, and at the same time, relation between United States government and KRG – Kurdistan Regional Government.

As far as formation of the Iraqi government, I think now, we reached it’s almost five months ago we had our election.  And for many Iraqis in the first place, and also for foreign observers, the question is, what’s going on?  Is there negotiation there in Iraq?  Did they reach an agreement, as it has been mentioned?  And if there is an agreement, where is that agreement – between which lists?  And what’s the program of the future Iraqi government?

I must say, one can summarize and simply say until now, and that’s unfortunate, we didn’t start the negotiation.  So if you don’t start the negotiation, that means, there will not be an agreement.  And if you don’t have an agreement, there will not be a government.  The question is why we didn’t start.  Why now, we reach five months after the election, and we didn’t start negotiation?

I think during the election, and even before the election and after the election, the whole approach, the whole start was wrong, and when you start wrongly, then – and continuing on the same path, then that means you are on the wrong track.  We are on the wrong track in Baghdad, as far as formation of the government.  The start was about who will be the prime minister. 

So they personalized the whole political process, the whole election process.  And everything was about who will be the prime minister.  If we had one kadira (ph), then it was easy.  Even if you had two, it was easier, because you can choose between two.  But we have many waiting to be prime minister and we have got one chair.  So this is a problem.  We didn’t discuss issues.  We didn’t go back to topics.  We didn’t talk about program.  We didn’t talk about your version, about future of the country.

Until now, and I am saying “we” as Iraqis, we didn’t have an agenda for discussion.  And that’s why we reached the deadlock.  But are we going to continue as it is now?  Because if we will continue as it is now, we will not have a government next month, after two months, after six months.  So the choice is to change the approach.  The choice is to change the process.  But the question is, who’s going to change that process?  Who’s going to change that approach?

Are the Iraqis themselves, or we need help from outside, for example, from United Nations or United States?  I think in the first place, the Iraqis must change the approach.  We must go back to the real issue.  The Iraqi issue is not about having Maliki as prime minister or Allawi; the Iraqi problem is wider, larger, deeper than that.  We need to know which kind of Iraq do we want.  Do we want a democratic system in Iraq?  Are we going to work for a democratic system?  Are we going to work to have a federal system in Iraq?  Are we all committed to the constitution of Iraq or not? 

I mean, these are main questions for us.  And of course, when you raise these questions, then the next step is about the policy.  How are we going to implement our policy?  Which kind of policy do we have?  The main problem now in Iraq for ordinary Iraqis has to do with the electricity.  Which kind of program do they have to provide service?  And when I’m talking about “they,” I’m talking about all political parties who are part of this political process, even the Iraqi government, who are trying to have a program.  Are they discussing this matter?

Are we discussing oil policy?  Are we discussing security policy?  Which kind of economic policy do we have?  Okay?  So these are main issues related to every Iraqi individual.  But unfortunately, still, we are discussing about who will be the prime minister.  So as far as the Kurds, we have got our agenda.  We have got our program.  Directly after the election, we formed our delegation team.  And our delegation team, they are people from all Kurdish parties.  We are united.

And we said, we are going to negotiate with the others on the basis of agenda.  We have got two fields – one Iraqi field, on national level, our priorities, the second on regional level – so the priorities that we have which is related with Iraq.  But also, we are talking first about our priority, as far as Iraq and on the national level. 

Our priority on national level – and that’s one of the points in our agenda – is about the concept of participation in the government, government sharing the power.  And of course, many Iraqis, they are talking about, we must have a coalition government and all they must be onboard.  But all onboard, who is going to take decisions – the main decisions, the strategical (sic) decisions in the government? 

Once again, we will have the same government as we have now?  Everything is in the hand of the prime minister.  All the authority is in the hand of the prime minister himself or the office of the prime minister.  Are we going to have the same style, where we have got a cabinet in the office of the prime minister and a cabinet outside the office of the prime minister?  This is against the constitution.  This is a violation of the constitution.  So we want to go back to the constitution, sharing power.

In all the process of the decision – decision-making process – we must be part of it.  When I am talking about “we,” all the people who will participate in the government must be part of it.  But to be part of that process, we must have already, during the negotiations, definition of the authority of the prime minister.  Which kind of authority does he have?  We are going back to the constitution.  In the constitution, we have got the prime minister, or you can call it – I call it the first minister.  So he’s the prime minister of the council of ministers.  That means he’s coordinating the council of ministers.  That means he’s sharing the power with others and not deciding for the others.

We can develop mechanisms how they can take decisions, because at the end, you cannot say or you cannot tell the prime minister, okay, you are prime minister, but we don’t have any authority.  But the authority is within the constitution and the authority is within the collective leadership.  And collective leadership means the cabinet, you can have a small cabinet, but you can have, also, three, four deputy prime ministers and then they can decide together. 

But to change the whole cabinet – the transceive (sic) the whole cabinet to the office of the prime minister, that is not anymore accepted.  That’s our vision, as far as the authority of the prime minister, as far as participation, as far as sharing power in Baghdad.  So we have got it.  We are ready to discuss that.

Another agenda point, which will be part of our – I mean, it will be part of the agenda of the negotiation – has to do with reforming the Iraqi army.  The Iraqi army has been once again established and founded, but it has been founded and established, and unfortunately, they went back to the old style.  Most of the commanders, they are the commanders and officers of the Saddam’s army.

They are the same.  And now, they are also commanders.  The culture is still the same.  The organization is still the same.  So we need a change.  The change and reform in the army must be on the basis of a new education that the army is the army of the country, and not the army of one party.  The army commands, the chain of command must be collective, not one person gives the orders and the others must follow.  The whole reorganization of army was dependent on – to have balance – to have the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni and the Turkmen there in the army, not to limit the key positions to one group.  This is dangerous.

So that’s another agenda point that we have, as far as national level.  We are asking for a clear oil policy.  Where is the oil policy?  Do we have?  We don’t have.  In 2007, we – I mean, the KRG and Iraqi government – we reached an agreement about the draft law about oil and revenue-sharing law.  That draft is still with the Iraqi government.  They didn’t send it to the parliament.  We need a law.  We need a law to clarify the articles related to oil in the constitution.

We need a law to clarify the relationship between the regions which can produce oil and the rest of the country.  We need a law which depends on the constitution.  We cannot go back to the old instructions or laws, which has been implemented during Saddam Hussein, because then, we will go back to the concept of centralism.  Then we go back to the idea that everything must be in the hands of the central government and at the end, the minister of oil will decide about everything.  That’s not acceptable.  That’s against the constitution of Iraq.  So that’s another point, which will be discussed during negotiation.  And we are still waiting for negotiation.  Negotiation is not there.

Another agenda which we have has to do with the so-called “disputed area,” and Article 140.  Article 140 was part of the constitution and we are going to negotiate about this article.  This time, it’s not enough for us if the other side we will say, we are committed to the constitution; that means, we are also committed to the Article 140.  It is also not enough they say, we are committed to the constitution; we are also committed to Article 140.  That’s not enough.

We want to know when we are going to implement the second stage, if we passed the first stage of Article 140, which has to do with census, and when we are going to reach the third and last stage, which has to do with the referendum.  So we must have timetable.  We must know the actors.  This is the way how we are going to negotiate.  But unfortunately, we’ve got many other points.  We need a partner to negotiate.

As I said, until now, the process of negotiation didn’t start.  What can we do?  From our side, President Barzani talked about an idea, and he mentioned that to many officials – American, Iraqi, U.N.  He said, look, if you can reach an agreement in Baghdad so that is good and that is in the benefit of all, if we will start negotiation in Baghdad, okay, we will agree about it.  Because we send – already, our delegation is in Baghdad.  But if you cannot reach an agreement about how to negotiate, how to start negotiations, then I am ready to invite you here and to start negotiation in Kurdistan.

We believe that the target must be to have everybody onboard.  And when I’m talking about everybody, that means the four main lists, first; second, representatives of the Kurds, Shia and Sunni, and of course, the Turkmen and Yazidis, they will be also included in the government.  But these are the main groups which must be represented in the government of Iraq.  I mean, to exclude one at this stage is dangerous forever.  To marginalize one or two is dangerous.

And to start the negotiation, we believe that the start point, the departure point, must be together.  If there are some people here and there, if they think that they can start with two lists and these two lists, when they reach an agreement, then they will invite the others, I can assure you now, there will not be a government in Iraq.  And even if there will be a government in Iraq of two lists, after a short while, that government cannot function.  The only way in Iraq is, at this stage – I don’t know; I’m not talking about after 10 years – but at this stage it’s necessary – to keep Iraq united, you must have everybody onboard.

And to have everybody onboard, start with everybody.  Don’t leave some and later on invite them.  The start point – the point of departure – must be shared by everybody – Al-Iraqiya list, Allawi, Maliki list, the Kurdish list, of course, it’s the Kurdistani list, and the Iraqi national list of Al-Haqim (sp).  They must be onboard.  If they reach an agreement together, okay.  If three of them, during the process of negotiation, reach an agreement, that’s okay.  Then you can clarify that, declare that, announce that to the Iraqi people.  But one must start with all of them.

And the second point, I think, is to have an agenda for the meeting.  Now, why I am saying – there is a negotiation.  They see each other.  The leaders of these lists, they see each other during dinner, during lunch.  Breakfast – usually, we don’t do breakfast meetings.  (Laughter.)  So it is about meetings during lunch and dinner.  And during Ramadan, of course, it will be only dinner – no lunch meetings.  So they see each other.  But this is an invitation.  This is Iraqi way, just talking to each other and being nice to each other without talking about real issues.

And then for a while, the two leaders, they will talk to each other – what do you think?  How can we arrange the program?  Or I agree that you will be the prime minister, or not.  This is not a negotiation; we want to have a real negotiation.  If the negotiation will start in Baghdad, it must be an agenda based on issues.  If it will be in Kurdistan, it will be the same.  And bring all of them – all groups together around the table. 

This is our vision, as far as the formation of the Iraqi government.  We think it will take a long time.  Many people, they say okay now, you have got a parliament.  Why the parliament cannot have organized session and directly to have discussion there in the parliament, and perhaps reach an agreement among these blocs or these lists in the parliament? 

The problem with the system in Iraq is, you must have an agreement about everything beforehand.  It is a package agreement.  And if you choose – because according to the constitution, the first session of the parliament, you must choose the speaker of the parliament and his two deputies.  This is according to the constitution.  So then parliament will have the first official session.  Until now, they didn’t have – they called open session.  So it will stay open I don’t know until when.

But if they will have their first session, then they must choose directly the speaker and his two deputies of the speaker in the parliament.  But if you will choose the speaker of the parliament, and if this speaker will be a Sunni, then that means – it is obvious – the Sunni will not get the two other positions – the position of the president and the position of the prime minister.  If the speaker will be a Kurd, that means the Kurds must forget that they will get the position of the presidency.  If the speaker will be a Shia, it is the same; the Shia must forget that they must get the position of the prime minister.  So that’s why nobody wants to have the session of the parliament officially, because there isn’t any agreement.  In fact, if we have the session of the parliament officially, that means beforehand, we already reached an agreement about everything – not only about who will be the president:  who will be the prime minister, who will be the speaker.  That means we agreed about the entire cabinet, because that’s also a package.  It is.  The negotiation in Iraq is about having a package and reaching an agreement about everything.  So it will take a long time, I think.  It will take a long time to reach there. 

As far as American policy, of course, during our visit here and discussion with various officials, we felt that the Americans, they want desperately to have an Iraqi government as soon as possible.  We agree about that.  But the reality is different.  First, we have got these problems – I mean, to change the whole approach of the negotiation, if there is a negotiation.  Second, of course, within two weeks, we will have Ramadan.  And in Baghdad, it will be difficult, during Ramadan, to have negotiation.  That’s a reality.  Ramadan is powerful in Iraq.  So it will affect the process of the meetings.

I don’t think we will have a government before Ramadan or during Ramadan.  We must be realistic.  Let’s hope, but we must be realistic.  It is important, here, for us to establish a good relationship with the United States.  I mean, I’m talking as an Iraqi and as a Kurd.  And not only until 2011, but also, we must already discuss the post-2011 period.  It is good that we hear from all officials now, during this visit, but also in the previous visits to Washington.

They were telling us – and highest levels here – they were telling us that they want to have a long-term relationship with Iraq, but also with Kurdistan.  We are happy to hear that, and this is good.  This is good.  Now we think it’s time to translate this term — I mean, “long-term relationship” into policy.  I mean, what does it mean?  What does it mean, “long term,” and what does it mean, “relationship?”  It will be good to translate this concept from both sides. 

I mean, from Iraqi side, we must think about it – what does it mean, relationship?  Why we need United States?  Which kind of relationship we want to have with United States after 2011, from Iraqi side?  But it’s also good, and it’s time, now, from the American side, to have definitions of the relationship with Iraq and Kurdistan.  It is about – if it is about economic relationship; is it about strategical issue; is it about security issue; is it about culture/education issue?  And if it’s about all these issues, how are we going to implement that?  Where is the priority? 

What about security if the Americans will leave after 2011?  Are we going to renegotiate the security agreement?  Is it a necessity to have a security agreement between Iraq and United States after 2011?  If we will have a security agreement, which kind of security agreement?  We are not talking about having military bases in Iraq, but it seems from Iraqi side, perhaps there are people who are thinking that after 2011, there will be a security vacuum.  If we believe in that, then we need support, we need help.  So from our side, we must develop definitions, policy and bring it here, or exchange views with the Americans so that we can gradually develop a common policy towards our future relationship with the United States.

For us, from Kurdish side, we believe that it’s important for us to have a good and strong relationship with the United States government.  It is in the mutual interest of both sides, but it has to do, also, with our security.  And we feel that it is also in the mutual – the interest of United States to have good relationship with the Kurds, but also with the Iraqis, and that this relationship must continue for a long time – for a long time out of necessity, but out of, also, interests of both sides.

These were the topics that I wanted to just – to discuss with you, and some cautions, which I raised.  I would be glad if we can exchange views and exchange ideas about these cautions that I raised, because we need also to hear from your side.  And thank you very much for listening.  (Applause.)

MR. WILSON:  Thank you very much, Dr. Hussein.  Please, let’s come up and prepare ourselves to take questions.

MR. WILSON:  You’ve put a number of issues on the table and I think all of us appreciate that.  I’d like to take what I think is generally the moderator’s prerogative and ask of you an initial question, and I’ll filibuster a little but while we finish with the miking.  The – you describe a process of government formation that extends out at least to the end of Ramadan, around the 12th or 13th of September, and logically, knowing how politics works in almost any country, will probably extend well beyond that.  Can you give us a sense of, what’s the mood in Iraq about that state of affairs, with respect to the current government that’s in office and that, of necessity, remains in office and carries out functions of government, the views of Iraqi citizens about the legitimacy of that government in a situation following the elections as people wait for an outcome, and what’s the public sense of urgency about the state of affairs and the need to bring it to a conclusion?

MR. HUSSEIN:  Yes, thank you.  If it is about public opinion in Iraq and the reaction of the Iraqi citizen, of course, you hear that they are not happy.  They are not happy about what’s going on in Baghdad.  But there if somebody thinks that the public opinion and the Iraqis can change the whole process, I think that’s wrong conclusion.

There was some demonstration – for example, a few weeks ago, some demonstration in Basra and other cities about electricity.  It didn’t affect the government.  You see, now we have got a government – even they don’t consider themselves as caretaker government.  They say, no, we are a government that has got the full authority, as we had it before the election.  But if we compare the Kurd situation with the situation before the election, at least before the election, we had a parliament.  Now we have got a government without a parliament.

So the government is there, and they are not in a hurry, to be honest.  And the prime minister is also a candidate to be, once again, prime minister.  So he has got his cabinet there.  And the reaction of the population, of course, you feel it.  But it will not lead to put a lot of pressure on the government.  I think to have pressure on the government, it must be within the lists of various political parties. 

So if these political parties are able to put pressure on the government, then it will be different.  Because at the end, the government is a coalition government.  It’s not of one party, although the Dawa Party is playing, now – the party of the prime minister is playing an important role in the government, but you’ve got others.  I think if it will continue, the situation, and then the other parties will say, we will withdraw from the government, then that’s a pressure.  But the pressure is not coming from the people on the street, although they are trying to put pressure on the government.  But I think it’s not so effective.

MR. WILSON:  All right, thank you.  Let’s turn it over to questions from our other participants.  I think there’s a microphone that will come around, so please, after I recognize you, wait for that.  I would ask that each of you please state your name and affiliation.  Sir?

Q:  Stanley Kober with the Cato Institute.  You haven’t really discussed the foreign influence.  Iran would appear to be backing Mr. Maliki, but recently, there’s a meeting between Allawi and Muqtada al-Sadr in Damascus.  Syria is supposed to be close to Iran.  Are they working together, here, in your judgment, or is President Assad trying to carve out a more independent role for Syria?

MR. HUSSEIN:  In Iraq, all neighboring countries are playing a role, some of them positive, some of them negative.  But they are all there.  The Iraqi political field is not only limited to the Iraqi actors.  There are many, many other actors in the field.  So that’s why the negotiation, or the talks about formation of the government, started in Tehran and Riyadh and Ankara and Damascus and Jordan and Egypt, but not yet in Baghdad.  (Laughter.) 

So Muqtada al-Sadr, it is well-known he lives in Iran.  And his movement has got about 40 seats in the parliament.  And his movement is also part of Iraqi National Alliance – so the Shiite alliance of Haqim.  Muqtada al-Sadr has got very bad – he had got a very bad relationship with Ayad Allawi.  Ayad Allawi, when he was prime minister, he attacked his movement.  But before the visit of Muqtada al-Sadr to Damascus, in Baghdad, there was a rumor, as you mentioned, that next week, we will have a government.

And everybody was asking, a government of who?  The rumor was that there will be a government of Maliki – less – (inaudible) – plus Sadri movement, plus Fadilah, and they were asking the Kurds.  All – I mean, we have got two, three blocs, now, near each other, but all these blocs, they are always asking the Kurds to be a part of it.  So that’s good for us. So they asked the Kurds, also, to be part of that bloc so that they can form the government within a short time.

Of course, we said we will study these things.  We are not – we must study every step.  We must know if they are interacting with our program, with our agenda.  Then we can decide.  It is not about having Maliki or Allawi.  It is about an agenda.  We want to have a program for the government.  So I have the feeling when people began to talk about that, the Syrian government invited Muqtada.  Of course, it was not easy for Muqtada to leave Iran, but anyway, he left Iran and he went to Syria.

At the same time, they invited Ayad Allawi.  And they arranged a meeting.  They arranged a meeting in Damascus with both.  And from Damascus, both Ayad Allawi and Muqtada said that they phoned President Barzani and they informed him about their talks.  But it was a signal from Syria, from Damascus to Maliki that Muqtada al-Sadr is not cooperating with you, although he didn’t mention that he is going to cooperate with Ayad Allawi.  But just the meeting between Ayad Allawi and Muqtada al-Sadr in Damascus was a signal to Maliki that Muqtada is not going to be part of your coalition.


Q:  Good morning.  Allen Kieswetter from C and O Resources.  Glad to see you again.  You mentioned at one point, Dr. Hussein, that the U.S. and the U.N. might play a more active role.  I wonder if you could expand on that, please.

MR. HUSSEIN:  We mentioned that the right way, the best way, the correct way is to bring all four parties together – that’s one.  Second, to start together.  Then the question is, who’s going to invite the four parties.  Because one party, if it will take the initiative, it will be really difficult for the others to accept it.  So that means we need an outsider, an outsider – officially, of course.

In many other countries, the president of the country can invite all political parties so that they can discuss the issue of formation of the government.  But here, the president – his position is also part of the negotiation.  I mean, the president of the country is part of the – his position is part of the negotiation.  So you need somebody – an outsider.  And when we look to international outsiders, we see the U.N., in the first place – and the Americans, they are also there. 

But when you look to insiders, the only insider is President Barzani, because President Barzani – his position is not part of the negotiation in Baghdad – has not to do with Baghdad, and because President Barzani has got very, very good relationship with all, with all.  And if he will invite all, I feel they will come to Kurdistan and they will have their meeting in Kurdistan.  But this doesn’t mean that United States must take the initiative in forming the Iraqi government.  That’s not good for United States; that’s not good for Iraq.

But I think if we will take that initiative – and that’s a big if, because it depends on what will happen in Baghdad – if we will take that initiative, of course, it is important to have U.N. there and also, United States.  We are going to cooperate on that issue with U.N. and with United States so that it must be – I mean, the ground must be well-prepared for negotiations. 

United States can play a role, as United Nations, in this case, because at the end, we need somebody to bring those people around the table.  If they cannot come together – they, themselves, cannot take that initiative, you need somebody else.  I think internally, it’s President Barzani; externally, it’s United Nations and with the help of United States.


Q:  Jim Hoagland, Washington Post.  You mentioned the possibility or the option of going forward without a security agreement between the United States and Iraq in the future.  I wonder if you could – I confess I haven’t given a great deal of thought to that possibility. 

I wonder if you could sketch for us the most likely sequence of events that would lead to that situation – why would that come about – and then discuss how it would operate, particularly in terms of what that would mean about the long-term relationship between the U.S. and Kurdistan that you already mentioned, as well.

MR. HUSSEIN:  I’m glad you are here.  Good to see you.

Q:  Good to see you.

MR. HUSSEIN:  I raised the question – I said, it is good for both sides to think about it.  Because we hear from officials, as I said, now and in the previous visits, that United States wants to have good and long-term relationship with Iraq.  So from our side, I think now it’s the time to think about it, especially with the formation of the government.  And perhaps it can be an agenda point for the discussion among ourselves.  What do we want from the United States?  We must be clear about that.  And if the United States says long-term relationship – and we need long-term relationship with the United States – but what does it mean from us, from our side?

For the Kurds, I think when we think about security, if that’s one of the issues related to long-term relationship after 2011, then it is obvious.  And we believe that the American army will withdraw.  But is it possible to have, let’s say, a new agreement about security relationship between both sides?  Is that possible?  And if it is possible, why do we need that?  This is a question for us.

Of course, when we analyze the political security situation nowadays, if it is on the basis of today, then I feel we need it.  I don’t know after two years, but I doubt that after two years, we will reach a stage in which we can secure our country – and when I’m talking about our country, I’m talking about Iraq.  The threat of the terrorism is still there.  The interventions and – from various countries is still there.  Effects and influence of various neighboring countries is still there.  We are still divided.   I don’t know until 2011 we can be united.

So security-wise, still, we need to have good relationship and an agreement with outside world.  And when we look around us, who can help us?  Which country can help us?  But this is an idea.  This is an idea.  But we must talk about it now, already.  And if we want to have long-term relationship on economic level with the United States, what does it mean for us?  Of course, we have got, already, oil contracts.  Baghdad signed various oil contracts.  The majority is not with United States companies.  I think one has been signed with Occidental.  The rest, no.

Do we want to have, on that level, a long-term relationship with the United States, because there will be economic interests, then that will lead, also, to have – it will lead to have security dimensions.  What about strategical relationship between Iraq and United States?  What about cultural relationship, diplomatic?  I mean, these are questions for us, but they are not only questions for Iraqi side.  Because in the first place, the Americans themselves, they came with the concept of long-term relationship.

Okay, that’s very good.  But now, it’s time to talk about that, and to give definition to all these aspects.  You want long-term relationship – is it two years, till 2011, or is it five years or is it 10 years or it is 50 years, or you call it long and you let it open?  But when you are talking about a relationship, what do you want?  What about security relationship?  Can we build that?  Can we have an agreement?  Is it necessity for you?  Is it necessity for us?  So I raised the questions, and I think it’s time to raise these questions so that we can find answers, both sides.  It is a work – I have the feeling this is not only one side’s work; it is both sides’ work.

MR. WILSON:  And I wonder, could you just expand on that a little bit and give us any sense of what you’re hearing from Washington about how the Obama administration looks at long-term and “relationship” – those two issues that you put out there?

MR. HUSSEIN:  Anyway, the same question which we raised here, I may say, we raise everywhere in our meetings now.  And we were asking them, please think about it and give us definition so that we can also react, or we will think about, also, and we will give you our definitions.  But I mean, once again, we heard it this time, also – we want to have long-term relationship, once again.  It has been repeated almost everywhere.

And when they are talking about long-term relationship, they are not talking about only, let’s say, Iraqi government, but they are also Kurdistan.  And we are happy with that, when they are talking about – so but we are part of Iraq.  I mean, we can think about long-term relationship with the United States as Kurds, but we are part of Iraq.  So it is also Iraqis, not only the Kurds.  But here, there is, I mean, the same term, the same emphasis is on long-term relationship.  But at the same time, everybody is talking about withdrawal of the American army from Iraq.

FALAH MUSTAFA BAKIR:  In fact, the definition of that question is relevant to the government formation.  Because even the U.S. side would not be able to define its policy before knowing with which government they will be dealing in Baghdad.  So it’s an Iraqi process.  It has to be an Iraqi-led process.  But we would welcome advice, recommendation. 

Talking to the United States, it has invested in Iraq.  And also, the United Nations have been there and have played an important role in providing technical assistance for having the elections.  But the U.S. cannot define its policy, defining long-term relationship, although at the beginning of this, say we have started the transformation of having a security and military relationship with Iraq into a normal relationship with Iraq based on that long-term or strategic framework agreement.  But that would be relevant to the next government in Baghdad.

MR. WILSON:  Okay.  I think we have time for a couple more, and I have one as well.  Please, sir.

Q:  My name is Walter Juraszek.  I’m a member of the Atlantic Council.  My question to you is, how can you build trust – public trust – in Iraq, especially when you mentioned that you have all the dinners with the – (inaudible) – with all the parties, however, with the average, ordinary man and woman in Iraq, they look at that very carefully, also.  And they say, how can we trust all the politicians when they promise one way and they go on their way, and they only for themselves and not only that, but they’re often corrupted.  So I do not believe that you can create any government without public trust.

MR. WILSON:  Let me – I’ll just take a couple of questions – matter of public trust.  Here in the back?

Q:  Thank you very much for the speakers and for the Atlantic Council –

MR. WILSON:  Could you just tell us who you are and your affiliation, please?

Q:  Absolutely.  My name is Ahmed Ali and I’m an Iraq analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  I just have two questions with regards to government formation.  What will be the positions that the Kurdistani bloc’s alliance will ask for in the negotiations? 

And the second question is, you laid out a number of issues that the Kurdistani alliance is going to ask from the different parties in Baghdad; could you tell us what would happen if the other parties saw those issues as extreme and they would not respond to them and, as a result, will exclude the Kurdistani alliance from the government?

MR. WILSON:  Do you want to take those three – public trust, excluding –

MR. HUSSEIN:  I think you are right.  It is the duty of the government and Iraqi political parties to establish that trust.  Because at the end, if we believe in democratic process, so there must be a trust between the political leaders and the public.  But unfortunately, I mean, public – they want – in Iraq, they are fed up with words and they want to see, to touch what the Iraqi government is doing. 

But until now, with all respect for those who are leading the government, they couldn’t satisfy the Iraqi population, especially on the issues which has to do with the service – providing services, such as electricity, water, school, health.  Actually, Baghdad, unfortunately, in the past, it was the center of culture; it was the center of politics; it was the center of economic in Iraq.  But now, Baghdad became a big village.  It’s going back.  And this is sad. 

So you are right:  The public, they are waiting for work and not for words.  But until now, many Iraqi leaders, they are selling words to the public.  As far as excluding the Kurds, I think, as I told you, when two lists – or when there is a rumor that two lists will reach an agreement, directly, they phone the Kurdish leader – “we want you to be onboard.”  I think it will be difficult to form a government in Iraq – I’m not talking about number.

Of course, if you talk about number, if I add Allawi’s list, al-Iraqiya, which got 90 seats and Maliki’s list has got 89 seats – if they will agree, then they can form a government.  But to exclude Kurds in Iraq from a government, that means to exclude Kurdistan from – it’s not so easy.  The Kurds, perhaps we have got less number in the parliament, but if you go back to the votes, we received about 2.5 million votes.  Ayad Allawi received the same.  But because of this election law, he got 90 seats and we got 57 seats. 

So we know where our power lies.  We have got Kurdistan.  We have got our government.  We have got our establishment.  Nobody can exclude Kurds.  We are the second – I mean, Iraq is based, mainly, mainly, on two nations – the Arabs and the Kurds.  And if the Kurds will not be there, then half of Iraq would not be there.  That’s not possible.  So the Kurds will be there.  But we want to be there when the others, also, will be there.

For the Kurds, to be honest, I have the feeling, although as a nation, as a people, we have got the desire, like all other nations, we have the right of self-determination – but the true Iraqis, in reality, are now the Kurds.  Because we are fighting for a united Iraq.  WE are fighting for others.  We want to have everybody onboard, not to exclude any group.  We are fighting for democracy in Iraq.  So the Iraqi issues, to be honest – you see, when you discuss matters about Iraq, you come and you discuss it with the Kurds, the Kurds are fighting for that.

Because we think that if there will be a good government in Iraq, if there will be a democratic process in Iraq, if there will be a commitment to the constitution in Iraq, it will be good for all – for the Kurds, but also for the Arabs.  But with the current situation in Baghdad, and if it will continue, it will affect us badly.  So the Kurds cannot be excluded.  I don’t think nobody is thinking about that – not internally, and also, on international level.  Nobody is thinking about excluding Kurds from the government.  I think that was your question?

Q:  (Off mike.)

MR. HUSSEIN:  Okay, we are clear.  We have got our agenda, as far as issues.  As far as positions, one thing we’re really clear:  We have got a candidate for presidency:  President Talabani.  We made it clear.  But as far as other positions, it’s a question of negotiation.

MR. BAKIR:  Just going back to your question about Baghdad and public, the people of Iraq voted and went out during the elections, despite the security threats, because they wanted to have change, because they were fed up with the current situation that they did not see true and genuine leadership.  They did not see any vision for a better future than they want.  And they saw lack of experience and lack of government services.

When people look at Kurdistan, as Dr. Hussein said, Baghdad was the center of attraction, but now Kurdistan is the center of attraction because people see leadership, people see commitment, people see services.  People see economic development in that region.  That’s why people voted in order to have change.  And in Baghdad still, as it was explained by Dr. Hussein, it was a personal-ambition agenda, and not an issue-based agenda.  That’s why people want that, and we would be playing an important role in making sure that would be the case.

The Kurdistan region cannot be excluded.  The Kurdish leadership, the weight of Kurdistan region in its institution, in its parliament, in its government – how could you form a government in Baghdad that Kurds would not be partners in there?  What would that mean?  What kind of relationship would be there between Kurdistan region?  Do they want us to go a different way?  Because we have committed ourselves to the constitution of Iraq, to a federal, democratic, pluralistic Iraq. 

And that’s why we have been calling for an inclusive government that includes all the communities.  We, as the second nationality in Iraq, we deserve to have one of the two main positions or the three sovereign positions – the prime minister, the presidency and the speakership.  But Kurds have to feel that they are equal partners in this country and not second-class citizens.

MR. WILSON:  Dr. Hussein, if I – I think we’re running out of time, but if I could ask one last question, one of the most interesting developments from my perch in Turkey in 2008 was a change in Turkish relations with Iraq, really following President Talabani’s historic visit to Ankara in March, 2008, a series of developments between Ankara and Baghdad, and then following on from that, a new kind of relationship between Turkey and the Kurdistan regional government in the North.  I wonder if you could just give your perspective on that?

MR. HUSSEIN:  Yeah, it’s well-known to many people who follow the situation and that area, and if we go back to two years ago, the situation between – the relationship between Turkey and Kurdistan region was not so good.  But from both sides, we worked hard to change this relationship to a better, and then to good.  And I think we reached a stage where we can say that now, we have an excellent relationship with Turkey.

And that has to do with many reasons.  It has to do with the fact that both sides have got mutual interests – economic, politic interests – in having this relationship good.  But there was a change.  There was a change in Iraq, but also in Turkey.  The change in Iraq – we became a constitutional fact.  We were there before 2003.  We had the same government, the same presidency, the same flag, the same – Kurdistan was there.  But after 2003, after the change in Iraq, the Kurds, they began to play an important role not only in Kurdistan, but also in Baghdad.

And then we had a constitution.  The constitution recognized Kurdistan as a region.  So the first time in our history, although many Kurds, they say in 1958, the Iraqi constitution mentioned Arabs and Kurds as partners of this country, but now, this is the first constitution which is talking about Kurds and Arabs and about our right, about Kurdistan as a federal region.  So this change was important. 

At the beginning, it was difficult for some Turkish leaders to accept that change, because now, Kurdistan became recognized.  It has been recognized by Iraqi government.  But later on, I think, change began in Turkey itself.  The open policy of Prime Minister Erdogan towards the Kurds in Turkey encouraged the discussion between both sides.  And of course, before that, there was an intensive interaction on an economic level between Kurds and Turkey, or between KRG and Turkey.

But this open policy, it helped both sides to talk about Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, but also, there are Kurds in Turkey.  So we supported, strongly – strongly, we supported the policy of Prime Minister Erdogan, and we are supporting that.  And we reached a stage, as I said – I can call it an excellent relationship.  And recently, President Barzani, with a huge delegation, we were in Ankara.  We had intensive discussion with Prime Minister Erdogan, with the foreign minister, with the president of the country.

And both sides, they understand we need each other. Economically, the Turkish government sees Kurdistan as part of Iraq, but it is also important as a way which can reach, through Kurdistan, the rest of the country.  And even the foreign minister was talking about see Kurdistan as a gate, not only to Iraq, but to the Gulf Countries. We see Turkey as an alliance of the United States – I know there are some problems, but Turkey has got good relationship with the West.  Turkey, member of NATO; Turkey tries to be part of European Union.

It is very important for us to have Turkey as a friend, but to have Turkey as a friend, also, to reach Europe, to reach the West.  So studying all these topics – I mean, strategical sides, economic issues, politic – the situation in Iraq, also led the change of policy in Ankara, because they study, also, the political map of Iraq.  I think they reached an understanding also, the Kurds are playing an important role in Iraq.  So it is also in their interest to have good relationship with the Kurds because that means good relationship with the Iraqis.

So all these factors led to have – to reach a stage which led to the invitation of President Barzani, and I think we will continue.  Now there are discussions about gas and oil export.  Of course, that has to do, also, with the future Iraqi government, if we reach an agreement with future Iraqi government have a new revenue-sharing law and oil law.  And then we can establish, also – it is well-known that we’ve got a lot of oil and gas in Kurdistan, and of course, it is in the interests of Iraq, but also of the Kurdish people, at the end, to export gas and oil to outside world.  And of course, Turkey is the way – Turkey is the important partner in this.  And even when we are talking about the Nabucco pipeline, which goes to Europe – Nabucco pipeline for gas – it goes through Turkey. 

So when we look to our relationship with Turkey, we are not looking only for geographic, because geographically, the whole border of Iraq is with Kurdish area, with Turkey; we are not looking only to the geographical dimension, but we are looking to economic, strategical and political issues.  And then we see that we must have good relationship with Turkey.  And I think Ankara reached, also, the same conclusion.

MR. BAKIR:  The KRG has the open door policy, and have always stated and realized the importance of our neighbor, Turkey.  Therefore, Turkey is our main trade partner, not only with the region, but with entire Iraq.  But also, at the same time, we have tried to reach out to the Arab world, to reach out to the international community, explain our position, our situation.  And also, we have played an important role in attracting foreign investment to Iraq, starting from Kurdistan to be a stepping stone, in the future, to the rest of Iraq.

MR. WILSON:  Dr. Hussein, Mr. Bakir, your comments have been very illuminating and I think, helpful for all of us.  Let me just close the session with three sets of thanks:  First, to the Atlantic Council staff, and in particular, Michelle Smith and Christine Kanada (ph), who helped put this event together; second, to thank all of you for honoring us by being here today and participating; and of course, most of all, to thank both of you for being here today.  Many thanks to the KRG representation office here for making you available and for supporting this event.  We’re very grateful.  Thank you all very, very much.  (Applause.)


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