On November 27, 2007, I heard the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Hamid Al-Bayati, speak at the infamous Columbia University.
That is a picture of Mr. Al-Bayati, taken from the event. (proof I was really there!)
While at this event, I took copious notes of all that was said so I could report it on C4A, and then I got lazy and did not do anything about this. So in any case, here is exactly what was said...
Mr. Al-Bayati first posited whether it is worth it for 162,000 American troops to be in Iraq. He responded that few Americans actually listen to Iraqis, and that negative news sells papers. He said that the Iraqi government has come a long way from where it was in 2004, but has a long way to go. He went on to note that life under Saddam was a prison. If you desserted the army, you would have your ear cut off, and the ear cutting would be shown on TV. He said Saddam used chemical weapons on his own people, and 5,000 people died in one attack. (we know this - the Kurds) He said Saddam killed 6500 Kuwaitis and committed war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. He went on to say that Zarqawi was a terrorist who assassinated a US diplomat in Jordan with Saddam's backing, and attempted to assassinate Bush Senior in 1991. He stated that the UN cannot account for large numbers of WMD's, and in any case, Iraq now will never develop WMD's.
Mr. Al-Bayati was asked if he backed the war in 2003, and he said that he did not back the war back then, but he wanted Saddam to instead be tried for war crimes. In any case, while war might not have been necessary in 2003, it has happened and needs to now be supported for terror concerns and humanitarian concerns in Iraq. Since 2003, the Iraqi people are jubilant regarding the fall of Saddam. The new democracy in Iraq needs the support of the world, and he is frustrated over the US divide over the American presence in Iraq. It hurts troop morale. Al-Bayati stated that the American mission in Iraq is noble, and Iraq will be a model democracy to the rest of the world. In the Iraqi constitution, 25% of representatives are women, and 50% of diplomatic missions are staffed by women. He said that an example of progress in Iraq is the oil sharing legislation that passed.
When asked about the Sunni/Shia divide, Al-Bayati stated that the attacks are not really sectarian. Zarqawi sought to bring a sectarian war (attack on Shina shrines in 2006 - this caused attacks in return) He said "insurgent" is a misleading term, as Al Queda thought it best to fight Americans in Iraq. He said foreign fighters are the most brutal, and more than 50% of serious acts of terror come from "one Arab country in the region" (he obviously meant Saudi Arabia), fighting Americans. Al-Bayati said that Al Queda wants Iraq to be a safe haven for them, and there is some truth to Bush's statement "We fight them there, so we don't fight them here."
Al-Bayati stated that peace in Iraq is possible, but will take time. He also stated that the notion that the war in Iraq was fought purely for oil is disproved by the fact that Saddam exported more than 50% of Iraq's oil to the US. (RT: not sure about that one, but it was in my notes as having been said by Al-Bayati) He also said that in any case, oil is the lifeline of the world economy, and not a trifling matter.
When asked about the UN, Al-Bayati said the UN will play a larger role in Iraq, via Resolution 1770, which deals with humanitarian aid for displaced people.
Critically, Al-Bayati said that the Iraqi government believes in engaging Iran, rather than isolating it. It believes that Iran has a key role in helping with security, and he does not believe there is real evidence that Iran is interfering with internal Iraqi affairs. (!!!!)
When asked whether he considers American troops 'occupiers,' he said that it is the opposite, as there are still troops in Germany from WWII, and no one considers the US 'occupiers' of Germany.
Al-Bayati also stated that he is extremely bothered by the Arab lack of support for Iraq. He said they refuse to reconsider the debt Saddam owed to these nations, and now 5% of Iraqi revenues is going to pay for Saddam's invasion of Iraq. (this is an old story: see the Arab treatment of 'Palestinians') It should also be noted that Al-Bayati was castigated by a Columbia student for being too pro-American. (yes, really)
Critical areas he sees for the future are electricity and drinking water, but the education sector is strong in Iraq.
This is what Al-Bayati stated back in November, 2007. What does that mean today?
It means that the Iraqi government is relatively 'pro-Western' in some ways, but is 'anti-Western' in a most critical way of supporting Iran. Despite massive evidence to the contrary, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN think it is 'inconclusive' that Iran is supporting terrorists within Iraq. He thinks it best to 'engage' the Iranians. How exactly can the US claim to be gung ho against Iran getting nukes when they are supporting an Iraqi government that has this agenda? I am deeply troubled by this.
Then, today, I saw a post on Michael Totten's blog that was accompanied by the following photograph:
Please note the 'Palestinian' 'kaffiyeh' affixed to the neck of this 'soldier.' At first I was unable to tell if this was an undercover marine, since it did not look like an Iraqi, and I emailed Michael Totten as to the identity of that individual: was he American or Iraqi? Indeed, he was Iraqi. But what does that mean? I see it as a clear sign of Iraqi identification with the 'Palestinian' cause. Imagine, if you will, if the Iraqi police officers walked around with swastikas. It would be an outrage! But it is completely acceptable for them to walk around with kaffiyehs. Just as it is completely acceptable for the Iraqi government to 'engage' Iran. Who are we kidding? The US government has no coherent position on Iran, and I cannot imagine, at this point, the US government taking actual, serious action on Iran.
What do real Iraqis think of Israel and where will this country go? The Iraqi government, in their UN votes, are very clearly are supporting the broader Arab goals of demonizing Israel. At the same time, they are clearly not supporting terror in the way Saddam was.
Is this an improvement from Saddam? Was it worth going into Iraq? I honestly do not know. This is a very complicated situation with no easy answers. Is America doing anything to reverse antisemitism in Iraq? Is there antisemitism in Iraq to the extent it is found in other Arab states? Again, I really do not know answers to these questions, but when you hear the Iraqi ambassador to the UN speak about 'engaging' Iran, a nation whose president seeks to wipe Israel off the map... ...You really have to wonder.
In any case, Michael Totten did write a great article about the Kurds of Iraq. Their cause seems more clear cut and just; they are friends to Israel. (at least more than most other parties in the region) An unknown side fact: Kurds also are some of the last people in the world to speak Aramaic, along with Lebanese Jews. The Middle East is a complicated place with no easy answers. I do hope that, regardless, this report shed some light on more of what makes the Middle East so complicated.