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May 24, 2007

Iraqi foreign minister on consequences of troops out

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is interviewed on his trip to Australia. He makes it clear that the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal of foreign troops would be terrible. He says: The country would disintegrate, it would be divided. There would be civil war, slaughter, sectarian war. There would be mayhem. International terrorists would find there would be a safe haven in Iraq, a much more important and sympathetic safe haven than they found in Afghanistan, and they will attack others from there. Iraq's neighbours will be tempted to cross its borders and establish zones of influence there.

Text of article in the Australian
A lesson in loyalty

The silence that greeted the visit of an elected Iraqi minister is an indictment of left-wing media, writes foreign editor Greg Sheridan
24may07

THIS week I had the considerable pleasure of meeting a genuine hero, a military hero and a democratic hero, a moderate Muslim and a hero in the struggle for democratic self-determination.

I refer to Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. A long-time Kurdish freedom fighter, he has been an indefatigable campaigner for Iraqi human rights and democracy.

Note, therefore, this incredible occurrence. Zebari held a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Monday. Yet The Age in Melbourne, the nation's most left-wing newspaper and the paper that has most strongly opposed every aspect of the coalition action in Iraq, did not see fit to print a word about it on Tuesday.

This is as glaring a case as you could imagine of simply not reporting the facts because they don't fit your preconceived narrative.

The Age has spent tonnes and tonnes of newsprint excoriating the coalition efforts to liberate Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and give it a chance of establishing democracy. But it certainly did not want to hear the views of an Iraqi who has the legitimacy of 12 million Iraqis voting three times so that he could be Foreign Minister.

This is, sadly, all too representative of the irrational turn the Iraq debate has taken, where nobody is the slightest bit interested in any evidence that does not support their already held position.

The Australian carried my interview with Zebari yesterday and I don't intend to recapitulate it here, except for one central consideration. This is what he said would be the result of a rapid pullout from Iraq by the coalition forces led by the US and including Britain and Australia.

Zebari said a rapid coalition pullout would mean: "The country would disintegrate, it would be divided. There would be civil war, slaughter, sectarian war. There would be mayhem. International terrorists would find there would be a safe haven in Iraq, a much more important and sympathetic safe haven than they found in Afghanistan, and they will attack others from there. Iraq's neighbours will be tempted to cross its borders and establish zones of influence there."

Now here's the thing. If Zebari is right, rapid withdrawal would be an unmitigated strategic disaster. It would be a tremendous victory for the terrorists and nothing would be more likely to cause conflict within the Middle East. Yet that is the logic of Labor's position under Kevin Rudd, with the important qualification that Rudd would withdraw Australian troops after consultation with the US and not necessarily suddenly.

This is an issue that very few people discuss honestly. This is a US-led operation and the key question is when the Americans leave. Either they will leave because their own political will collapses or because the Iraqis can finally take care of security themselves. If it is the former, then the disastrous results that Zebari sketches are a strong possibility. If it is the latter, then the whole Iraq mission has been redeemed and the infamy of a genocidal tyrant justly brought to a close.

But in much of the Western debate, not least in Australia, you get the impression that commentators hate George W. Bush and John Howard more than they love the Iraqi people. Just as the international Left cared not a fig for the human rights of Vietnamese, Cambodians or Laotians, and in general didn't mind a genocide or two once the communists were in power, so too you get the feeling they will rapidly lose interest in any amount of suffering by Iraqis provided the Americans and their allies have been comprehensively humiliated.

The other intriguing aspect of Zebari's visit was his general praise for the Australian troops in Iraq and his report that they enjoyed a very high reputation in Iraq. This is significant in part because it echoes what several other critically credible sources have said in the past few weeks. It also demolishes the proposition of the Australian Left that somehow or other our participation in Iraq, which by the way is under the authorisation of a UN resolution, is somehow damaging our international reputation.

Ali A. Allawi, a former defence and finance minister in recent Iraqi governments, has written the definitive account of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, entitled, appropriately, The Occupation of Iraq.
In it he deplores the amateurism and incompetence of some of the staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of Paul Bremer. However, he goes out of his way to contrast this with the professionalism of the Australians, especially the Australians involved in reconstruction.

Similarly, the recently published memoirs of the former chief of the CIA, George Tenet, are instructive on this point. Tenet has become a critic of Bush and his memoirs are designed to limit his guilt by association with the Iraq operation and put as much distance as possible between himself and the Bush administration.

His remarks on Howard, though - again, strangely unreported - are instructive. He says that he and Bush agreed to delay the announcement of his resignation as CIA chief because Howard was due to visit and they didn't want to detract from the attention the US media should pay to Australia's Prime Minister.

Tenet writes: "Howard had been one of our closest allies. Not only had he deployed troops to Iraq, but he'd also had the enormous political courage to say that he'd gone to war in Iraq not because of what the intelligence said but because he'd believed it was the right thing to do. The President didn't want to do anything to step on Howard's visit. Nor did I."

This is much how many people see Howard internationally, unless they are dedicated haters of the coalition operation in Iraq. Australia, and Australia's Government, are seen as immensely successful internationally.

The final word, though, belongs to Zebari. One of his most likable traits is loyalty to friends. I asked him if he had any sympathy for Paul Wolfowitz, the former US deputy defence secretary and a key architect of the operation in Iraq, who resigned this week as head of the World Bank.

Zebari told me he had a lot of sympathy for Wolfowitz: "We Iraqis consider him a friend. He was a believer in Iraqi democracy. He has been criticised very unfairly. He was a close and determined friend of the Iraqi people and he never wavered in his commitment to our cause."

It is of course entirely right to receive a lesson in loyalty and consideration for a friend from a distinguished Iraqi democrat.

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