Guest speaker Mohktar Lamani with Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Program
Guest speaker Mohktar Lamani with Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Program

Perspectives on National Reconciliation in Iraq

Feb 11, 2008

Appointed by the Arab League as Special Envoy to Iraq, Mohktar Lamani spent a year in Baghdad's dangerous Red Zone trying to bring about peace between Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians. But his efforts were crippled by sectarian conflict and he resigned in February 2007.


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members, guests, and Trustees, and thank you all for joining us this afternoon.

Today our speaker is Mohktar Lamani. He will be discussing perspectives on national reconciliation in Iraq. I think you're all in for a very interesting perspective. We just spent some time talking. It was very special.

"Reconciliation" is becoming one of those words that is easy to say, hard to define, and more difficult to achieve. This is especially true given the sectarian violence that has divided the Iraqi people in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion. Soon after the attack, it was quite apparent that one of the key challenges facing Iraqi society would be the need to address the implications of the religious divide among its population, including reconciling antagonistic political factions that had been kept in check under Saddam Hussein's rule.

The Bush Administration has told us that progress on political reconciliation is a key factor in deciding when to start bringing American troops home, and that the surge is meant to buy time until the local government can achieve national reconciliation.

But what is national reconciliation and what does this process entail, given the current state of Iraqi affairs? In the past, reconciliation has been most successful when governments, as well as religious leaders, were willing to take risks in pursuit of justice.

Originally, it was thought that the new al-Maliki government would be a government of national unity and reconciliation, but when they chose personal political survival over core national interest, it was obvious that they would fail in their efforts to bring the country together. Consequently, they lost many of their allies along the way.

Today the legacy of violence, coupled with both political and economic injustice among the Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and Christians, continues to haunt most of the population. And even though the Iraqi Parliament has finally, at the urging of Washington, taken an important step to a reconciliation by passing the long-awaited Justice and Accountability Law, this effort by the Shiite-led government to bring more Sunnis into the political process and ease sectarian tensions could itself prove to be divisive.

I first met our speaker about ten years ago, when he was posted in New York as a Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations. Shortly thereafter, I realized that Ambassador Lamani was no ordinary diplomat. His thorough knowledge of international affairs, his inquisitiveness, and his good judgment were readily apparent.

Ambassador Lamani was born and educated in Morocco. Early in his career he distinguished himself within the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States by serving as the officer in charge of the Iraq-Kuwait dispute and as mediator in the prisoners of war exchange. Following an Arab Summit in March 2006, Arab foreign ministers appointed him to be the Special Envoy of the Arab League in Iraq. His mission was to persuade its bitterly divided Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, and Christian leaders to make peace. However, his efforts in facilitating national reconciliation were crippled by sectarian conflict.

After spending a very painful year in the Red Zone, where most of the Iraq population lived, in contrast to the comparative luxury and relative safety of the Green Zone, Ambassador Lamani resigned in February 2007. He cited the futility he felt in trying to facilitate an acceptable peace plan among all political parties, even though he was an experienced and skilled negotiator as well as a representative of the Arab League.

This sad state of affairs leads one to question whether national reconciliation in this war-torn country can ever be realized. And, if political reconciliation is not possible, is this a case where it is justified to aim our sights lower in order to achieve a less ambitious end?

To address these issues I invite you to join me in welcoming someone who has not only spent time in Iraq, but has reached out to all warring parties and has experienced the limitations of bringing this political conflict to an end, our very special guest and friend, Mohktar Lamani.

Thank you for coming here.


MOHKTAR LAMANI: Thank you, Joanne. Thank you very much for the kind words. It is always a pleasure to be here in New York. I was walking this afternoon. It reminded me of when I was still working here. It is always a pleasure. During the year I was in the Red Zone, I was not allowed to go even to the garden of the house.

Let me begin, just very shortly and very quickly, with what I did during the first five months when I went there and why I was in the Red Zone.

The Red Zone is by opposition to the Green Zone, which is a very strongly protected area in Baghdad, in which you have all the embassies, the government, the Parliament, and everybody. Why did I choose to be in the Red Zone? When I negotiated myself the resolution that sent me there about working for reconciliation, I noticed that the Iraqi people cannot have access to me if I choose to live in the Green Zone, especially those that were opposing the American occupation by use of force. The only possibility to have access is to live outside of the Green Zone, which I did. So I went immediately after that resolution, dividing the Iraqis into four major groups:

  • The first group is the politicians, including the two groups that accepted to participate in the election and those that were opposing to have any political process under occupation. I was talking to everybody.

  • The second group is the religious leaders. They have a lot of impact. Iraq is the old Mesopotamia, so you have all kinds of religions. You still have some followers there.

  • The third group is the tribes, the leaders of the tribes.

  • The fourth group, which is a new group in Iraq, is the civil society and the representatives of other groups taking care of the situation of women and children and others.

So the first five months I was just listening. I received between 150 to 200 people from all sides, just trying to listen, to understand.

I discovered after the five months that the Iraqis are facing a lot of problems. They have an internal problem between them, as Iraqis; then they have a regional problem—they are in a very complicated area; and then an international problem, because of the forces from the United States, the United Kingdom, from all over the world.

One of their internal problems is they don't trust each other at all. Those who were brought to power, the majority of them were living for decades and decades in exile. So a lot of them are animated by a spirit of revenge—"This is our time to take revenge." Some are looking for revenge for 12 centuries ago. They don't trust each other.

I, myself, had no problem with any group. I tried to understand, to have a very correct relation with everybody, at the same distance with all groups. Actually, my real problem was much more their relation between themselves. I was so shocked by so many stories.

For example, the Arab League didn't provide security or people working for me, so I hired some Iraqis to work for me. Those Iraqis that I hired, I was insisting on only one thing, that they believe in their own country. So, by chance—it was by chance, I had three Shia—two Sunni, two Christian, some Kurds—a small Iraq—I noticed that the Iraqi people themselves, they are not sectarian at all. They are used to living together. That was not the case with the Iraqi elites.

I was so shocked sometimes when I had to meet some ministers, that when they realized that there was an Iraqi girl or boy with me coming to take some notes, and they realized that his accent talking in Arabic is so different than mine, that he speaks with an Iraqi accent, they took me aside, asking me, according to what they are, "Which sect is he?" If they are Shia, they would like to know if he is Sunni, and vice versa. They don't want to talk in front of someone from the other side. Those are the elites. Very strongly sectarian. Each one believes that they should resolve the problem in his favor, and you have just to try to bring the others.

I talked to all kinds of people, because I was so clear that I was going to talk to all Iraqis—except for only one group that I was very clear from the beginning, those that have a project going beyond Iraq, meaning al-Qaeda. They are looking just to take advantage from a situation, to swim in troubled waters, and Iraqi waters were so troubled. But those that believed in the country, they are against occupation or in favor or whatever, I was listening and talking to all of them, not only in Iraq, even in Damascus, in Amman, and in other capitals.

After these talks with these people, I realized how hard it is—because for those who are in the government, they consider, since they had an election, they had a constitution, that in a way the train had already left. By the project of national reconciliation, they mean that are ready to stop in the current station and to give the others some position to join them. But that is totally unacceptable for the others, the insurgents or the resistance or whatever. They say, "No. Even if the train left, it must come back and we have to agree about a political project." This is the main difference.

The first group is strongly supported in this position by the U.S. Administration, although there are lots and lots and lots of mistakes—you know, the kind of constitution, the elections themselves, everything is based on sectarianism.

It was so clear because everybody—I don't know how I can translate the French proverb, la fuite en avant, that someone is fleeing forward [and continuing with the same mistakes] instead of facing the real problems. That's the situation of everybody in Iraq—not only the Iraqis, even the other forces.

The situation I was witnessing during 2006—and that was the worst security time—there was a joke that was reflecting the reality: The Americans made the war against Saddam Hussein, but who won the war? Iran and al-Qaeda, because they didn't exist in Iraq before and they are so strong now.

It was so clear that facing a situation in which you have three major groups—the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, all of them with their own militia and between them there are 14 small groups, religious and ethnic groups—they are lost because in such a situation everybody has his own extremists. But in the case of Iraq, the extremists move. They had the opportunity to move from the extreme to the center of the society by mass killing. And the minorities are just lost, they are just lost.

When you see the statistics, they don't reflect the realities. Everybody, for example, is saying now that because of the sectarianism in Iraq one-third of the Iraqis were forced to leave their own homes, fleeing outside Iraq or being displaced inside Iraq. But when you go inside the groups, you will be so shocked to realize within the minorities it's not one-third. For example, the Sabians. They are a group who are the followers of John the Baptist and until 2000, there were around 200,000 of them living in Iraq. Now, those that still live in Iraq are less than 10 percent of that, and this 10 percent, all of them moved to Kurdistan.

There are some other groups, such as the Yazidis in the north—some very local religions that have existed for more than 5,000 years, the beginning of Mesopotamia. You have so many of these groups.

So the statistics are wrong. The Christians, for example—take just the example of a town like Bastora. Bastora until 2003, according to the statistics that were given to me by some priests from different churches, used to have 350,000 Christians. Now they have less than 30,000, so less than 10 percent. When you go to Amman and you meet these people, all of them would like to come back home. You don't feel any spirit of revenge within the normal people, which is for me the only positive point.

On the political side, there were a lot of mistakes—the kind of constitution, dismissing the institutions of Iraq, especially the army.

One of the most scary things was when I heard, for example, President Bush last time when he was at the meeting in Canada making a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam. I think you cannot make a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam, for one simple reason. At least in Vietnam, with all the complications, you had finally four major actors: the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Viet Kong. In Iraq, you have hundreds of actors, and they don't trust each other.

You see, until now the problem was a sectarian one between Shia and Sunni. But all the ingredients are there that the Shia are going to kill other Shia and the Sunni are going to kill other Sunni, and the Kurds are going to—everyone has just another enemy that he considers much more dangerous than the closest one.

The safest area in Iraq is definitely Kurdistan. Everyone is fleeing to Kurdistan. When you see the two Kurdish parties themselves, they made a Kurdish government. Everything is in common except the ministries of interior and finance. [inaudible]

For me, I don't expect any major changes in national reconciliation, because those are imposed by the Americans, they are not negotiated within the Iraqis themselves.

Some of the leaders can never, ever be part of any national reconciliation. When they were talking about having a huge moderate front composed of the two Kurdish parties, the Islamic Dawa Party from the Sunni and the Supreme Council from the Shiite side—for me, personally, by definition, any religious party can never ever be a moderate party. If those who have power are religious, it's not going to happen, because what they say openly and what they say between themselves are two different stories. This is what has created a situation where nobody trusts anyone else in Iraq and everyone is trying to gain the maximum points.

When I was in Kurdistan last time—just to show you, this is a map that was done by the Kurdish regional government. It exists everywhere, in all hotels. You see the border of Kurdistan here. This is Kurdistan, and here is Kirkuk, which is a huge problem. Here it is in the center. So you can imagine the problems.

The three major problems were postponed all the year. The first is the problem of Kirkuk, which is a small Iraq. It is creating more and more problems, and it is not going to be resolved, although they agreed that it has to be resolved before the end of 2007.

Then there is the problem of oil. When you see what is done in Kurdistan, signing directly with some companies while the central government is against it. Even the proposals, they are coming with some proposals that there is no precedent.

Let me give you an example. Some were trying to say, "Okay, the oil that was discovered until now will be owned by all Iraqi people, but the new oil to be discovered should be owned by the province." Sometimes, according to some technicians, it is the same fields. You see much more problems.

The only thing that the Iraqis share is this strong feeling of being victims. Each group thinks strongly that they are the victims of the others and they just want the others to listen to them and to give them their own rights. When you open the door for national reconciliation about rights, you go to the killing of the grandson of the Prophet, al-Hasan, 13 centuries ago. So you are not going to resolve a lot of problems.

This is internally.

When you see the actors in the region, it is not an easy task: Turkey from one side, Iran from the other side, the Arabs from the third side. Each one has his own agenda, his own groups that are coming to the capital trying to have some support. Those that are strong now in Iraq are definitely the Ithalat [phonetic] and [inaudible] Brigade. The Iranians [inaudible] are very strongly there. They are playing a wonderful game, pushing at the same time their friends to be in the government. I think they have a good relation with the Americans. But on the ground they are having their own—

One of the recent positive developments that happened with the American Army for me is definitely what happened with the Awakening— the Al-Sahwa. During the year 2005, at the end of 2005, and in 2006, al-Qaeda were running villages, especially in Ninawa, even inside Mosul, capital of the Ninawa Governorate [province], and in Diala and al-Anbar, some three or four governorates. There are some American bases, but the soldiers were in their bases, and at night al-Qaeda was running everybody, and they were imposing their own law on the tribes. The people there suffered a lot. And al-Qaeda made also a lot of mistakes in the way they were dealing with people.

So it was very easy. Once you offer people some weapons to fight against al-Qaeda, they accepted immediately. When there was a huge move against al-Qaeda in some areas, you see the reaction of the Iraqi government. They were strongly against it, because for the government—it was a very sectarian government—those people don't care about fighting al-Qaeda; for them they are Sunni, and they don't want a lot of the Sunni. What happened when the army was dismissed, those that came from Iran asked their militia, especially the [inaudible] militia, to join the army and the police. A lot of them are wearing the uniform of the national police, but they are not listening to the Minister of the Interior, except if the minister is one of them. That happened also.

On the international side, I think there were a lot of mistakes. What I regret here for the Americans is that Iraq is becoming a domestic problem, to win the election. But the responsibility in such an area, what happened in Iraq, nobody is talking about that, trying to make up. Everybody is talking now about some improvement in security.

For me this is a lie, for one single reason. If you go to Baghdad now, Baghdad is more now than 46 cantons, and each canton is surrounded by concrete walls of eight meters with only one entrance. For example, it is much easier to go from a Baghdad canton to New York than to go from Adhamiyah, which is very strongly Sunni, to a canton that is strongly Shia. So people cannot move, so of course, you will have less bombing and less problems. But to really succeed in national reconciliation, there is one sine qua non condition, which is that people should talk to each other, according to a dialogue within the Iraqis themselves, to agree about a project.

The same thing is happening because they moved from Baghdad outside of Baghdad. Then you have the new problems that are happening between some groups, for example, in the south held by the army of Al-Mahdi army of Moqtada al Sadr and by the brigades that are now in the official police.

The same thing with insurgents. During the last three months we heard that—I , myself, can give an account of when I was there. I heard more than 200 names of groups of insurgents, although I have been told that some of them are operating in different areas under different names. But even then, there were at least more than eight groups. About 22 over the last month gathered in a group with the Baathists, and those are the small ones. The Islamists, especially eight of them that are very strong and operating everywhere, they also gathered in a special council.

I thought that there was more fragmentation in the governmental side, that the insurgents are gathering. But that is not true. When I made some calls, they have a lot of problems, because some are very supportive of the Awakening. Some are strongly against it, especially the Salafis; they say for them al-Qaeda is the enemy of the Americans, so they feel much closer to them, although they know the danger of al-Qaeda and they suffered themselves from al-Qaeda during last year.

Because of this situation, what is proposed internationally will not help. When I see the last resolution of the UN, it's a joke. Still taking the center of Iraq, the current government, that is not even governing in the Green Zone, with all its problems.

And which government? When Prime Minister Maliki came after the election, he said, "I have a government composed of Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, of everybody, and I have a project of national reconciliation to those that are opposing us by arms." This is what he said in the beginning. Now, after 16 or 17 months, half of the people that came with him have left him. And he couldn't convince one single person from the other side to join.

So the political crisis, with all these differences on the security side that are apparent, is getting worse. It's getting worse, and nobody is believing in any project.

When you talk about the possibility of dividing the country, I don't know how you can divide the country. And who is going to recognize any border when you see just the problem of Kirkuk or Mosul? Where are the borders? What will be the situation of Baghdad? How are you going to divide people in the case of civil wars?

I think my 25 minutes are over. I will stop and I will develop much more what interests you through your questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Thank you. I'd like to posit something and ask you whether you agree with it, and then maybe get further comment on it.

It seems to me that to build a stable society you really need somehow or another to reestablish the strength of the secular middle class. The middle class in Iraq was devastated before the war began by the sanctions and so forth, and it has been even more devastated since that time.

The other thing that Iraq may require is outside support. It seems to me that the United States, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and probably the central government of Iraq, all agree that Iraq should not be divided, that it should remain a single country and one that is able to live in a kind of regional framework in which it is not afraid of being pulled apart by its neighbors.

So I'd like to ask you whether you agree with that kind of an analysis. And, if so, whether you agree or not, is anybody thinking along these lines, about trying to bring in another force that is not so sectarian and is not so violence-oriented? And then also, is there anybody thinking about the kind of diplomacy that I suggested?


Well, for a stable society and a secular middle class, for me this is a dream. This is the only good real solution. It is so strongly needed, not only in Iraq, in the whole area. Whatever was in the area—a military regime or monarchies, religious monarchies, the result was a catastrophe. So having a strong democratic society—but I think what happened to democracy since 2003 until now, in the case of Iraq it harmed democracy—really putting democracy with a secular middle class, and strong, it's not there. The forces that are there, if you go and talk to them, all of them are very extremist, very extremist. I know what I am talking about. I have so many examples.

I saw it especially when I was meeting the religious leaders. And you see some even some secular personalities, before taking any step, because they are so weak, they have to ask for a green light from the religious leaders. Unfortunately, this is part of the reality, so you have to deal with this society.

Also, I don't think that dividing the country would be a solution. It would add more problems and civil war which is going to be there for decades and decades. Then we will become more used to it—like Somalia, where nobody cares—but with a huge difference, that Iraq is not Somalia, and the area in which Iraq is is very important to the international economy, so it will have a lot of problems.

Linking that to the U.S. position, I was shocked sometimes by some proposals from the U.S. Administration. There are only two alternatives. Sometimes they come when it is too late, like some kind of dialogues in the area, or they are totally inadequate. I don't know why, myself. When you see the catastrophe on the ground, and when you see the suffering and when you see the problems that are going to be facing the whole area, I think it was much more creating problems than resolving some problems.

What I do regret, as originally from this big area, is that the democratic forces are losing.

QUESTION: If the U.S. pulls out substantially most of their troops, what do you think the effect will be? The Democrats that are running both say they would do that. Would that promote more reconciliation or a disaster?

MOHKTAR LAMANI: Well, the chaos is already there. I was invited two or three times to the Congress in Washington. Everybody is asking the same question, "What do you think about the pullout? Is it going to be a chaos?" The chaos is already there.

For sure it is going to be worse, worse because a lot of other Iraqis that were opposing the political process, for them everything is unacceptable because it was done under occupation. They will still try to resolve the problem by force. And those in the government will try to impose everything by force. So I don't think—

Even without pulling out, nobody is working on a real national reconciliation. See, for example, the last resolution of the Security Council. I was expecting a wonderful resolution talking about—okay, the UN should play; it is recognizing the current government as the legitimate government because the U.S. wants this. Then, say: Okay, the UN should help in having a national reconciliation, but the UN should consult on every single step with the Iraq government. How do you want the others to accept the UN if they have to consult with one party? It is not going to happen. And already the UN has no credibility there.

So it's not there. Nobody is working, not even the Arabs that I was representing, in my mission there. In the resolution that I participated in drafting, the resolution that sent me there, it was so clear that my mission would be the first step, and everybody is more than welcome who would like to help in this.

What I discovered there, unfortunately, and after one year—I was sent there and opened a mission—it is an objective that we have a mission there. This was actually why I left, because I was asking for so many things, for example a special summit to deal with the issue of Iraq. Nobody wanted to have that. I was asking also about some work to be done with all groups and to have some meetings every two months between them and to have the real representatives of all groups. Nobody was interested. Nobody wanted that to happen. I was even sometimes scared.

And there is no united Arab position. There are differences between this country, the other country. Some would like to destroy the country because they suffered from Iraq. Everyone has his own agenda, everybody.

I can never forget Brahimi, when he used to call me there. He said, "I'm so sure you are the only one who has no agenda." This is why I left.

QUESTION: Under Saddam Hussein, did the Shias hate Shias and Sunnis hate Sunnis, or has this all been caused because of our invasion?

MOHKTAR LAMANI: Well, there were some historical problems that happened between the Shias and Sunnis 12 centuries ago. But let me tell you some reality. I, myself, used to go to Iraq after the war in 1991. I was Special Envoy for helping to exchange the prisoners of war. A lot of Iraqi friends from the opposition, from the government—I never knew who was Shia and who was Sunni. They themselves didn't know who was Shia and who was Sunni. If you see the intermarriages—more than 35 percent of marriages between Shia and Sunni. So the problem was not there. And you don't feel it there.

You feel it with these people because of this spirit. One of the things that really shocks me in Iraq is the spirit of revenge. It is so high.

Let me give you one example. Three days before the execution of Saddam Hussein, I was in Amman and in Damascus meeting with some insurgents. I do everything openly so when I come back to Baghdad everybody would like to meet with me. I received a call from the president of the National Security Council of the government that "We would like you to come immediately to the Green Zone to meet with the prime minister."

I said, "I cannot." This is 7 o'clock, and the door which is closed to me from the Green Zone closes at 8 o'clock, and if I have to go from the other side I am going to be kidnapped." So I said, "If you want to see me now, you have to come to see me."

So the guy came to my house. We were talking. When we were finished, I asked him, "Are you going to execute Saddam Hussein?"

He turned to me and he said, "Very, very soon."

I told him, "Listen, I hope—I know that you like the spirit of revenge. I hope you are not going to do it the day that the Muslim Sunni are celebrating their feast."

He looked at me and said, "No, no, no, it's not going to happen."

They did it.

I have a lot of doubts, because on the eve of this date, Prime Minister Maliki, who is a very sectarian guy, organized the marriage of his son. So going from the marriage to the execution. This is part also of the realities. The Americans don't know how to deal with that.

I went to see the U.S. Ambassador the following week. "Why did you give them Saddam Hussein? It was not one week before. Wait another week. Why create more problems?"

She told me, "They told us that they are not going to do it during the feast. They are going to do it half an hour before the beginning." At the time of the Prophet, there were no hours to know 5:30 or 6 o'clock.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about the surge. This week was, of course, the State of the Union address. So the American way would be: Did the surge work? But I don't want to ask the American question. Can you tell us what the experience has been with the surge?

MOHKTAR LAMANI: For me, one of the conditions should be convincing and bringing Iraqis together. If you don't bring them together, you are not going to have national reconciliation. What the U.S. Army is trying to do is to impose. Even the law that was passed recently—and it was rejected by everybody. If you see the reaction of the Baathists or the Islamists or the insurgents or the resistance, there is no single group who applauded the last law. Even some said it was worse than the de-Baathification that used to exist. Because everybody is playing. The U.S., they are trying to impose. When trying to impose, this is the result you can have.

In my opinion—I was encouraging everybody when I was still there to talk, to have a dialogue with everybody. It is not happening. They are not talking to each other.

If you see, for example, Harith al-Dari of the Sunni, he met with the people of the Shia—the two meetings that we held in Cairo. They never met, and they are not going to meet, and they are not going to talk privately. It's not happening and it's not going to happen, except if you convince these people to be a part of that negotiation.

QUESTION: Mohktar, I'd like to ask you just to elaborate on Iran and the status of the claim that was made that we were handing Iraq to Iran via the war. On the one hand, there is no question that Iran is assertive. On the other hand, it has also been said that Iraqi Shia are also Iraqi nationalists. Moqtada al-Sadr, the most influential Shia in Iraq, is unlikely to become a pawn or tool of Iran. How has that played out in terms of the Iraqi national Shia card and the role of Iran?

I, myself, didn't have a lot of contact. The only one that I didn't have. They didn't want. I wanted to have contact also with the Iranians. Actually, when I went, the first week, when I presented my credentials, I went to visit the ambassadors of the P5. I said, "I have to visit also the Turkish and the Iranian ambassadors, the other neighbors," and I did. That was the first and the last visit with the Iranian ambassador. He didn't even return the courtesy call. I couldn't understand it while I was there. But in the end I understood. I don't blame him. Why? Who am I and what am I representing and what's going to—often when you see the situation on the ground....

Let me link it to the Iran position in the whole area. When Hezbollah in Lebanon crossed the border with Israel and took two soldiers, everybody knew that this is a very grave and new precedent. That was not in Lebanon. They knew that the reaction would be a huge reaction and that the Israelis and the Americans will claim this is the opportunity to get rid of Hezbollah. That was their policy in the beginning. After five weeks, they couldn't, and they had to accept the resolution. Things changed.

I was in Baghdad when the resolution was adopted. For the first time, 24 hours after the the resolution was adopted, the al-Mahdi Army launched five Katyusha rockets on the Green Zone. These Katyusha, according to some American generals in the army, had batteries still in place, which had serial numbers. The batteries were Japanese. Just ask the Japanese to whom did you sell these batteries. They were sold to the Iranian government.

So the messages were very clear. Even if there is a lot of twisting arms between Iran and the United States, if there is a war it shouldn't be in Iran. It will be in Iraq, in Afghanistan. The American Army there will be much more a hostage. This is a part of the reality.

Although as you mentioned, and you are right, the Iraqi Shia are very nationalistic. I used to receive a lot of calls from some tribes in Karbala, in Najaf, in the Shia area, protesting that everything is taken by the Iranians because their friends are in the Iraqi government.

There were two even demonstrations in front of the house of Sistani: "Why you ask us to vote for these people? These people are not working for Iraq. They are working for Iran." Those are part of the realities.

But I still think that the main gainer is definitely Iran.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the only way to get any process of national reconciliation is for the Iraqis and all these factions and groups, et cetera, to talk to each other. If you look at the Iraqi Parliament, are any of these groups that are part of the insurgency in some way represented, or people who are allied to them in the Parliament? Is that an institution that can, if it is given some strength and some means to meet with each other with some level of security, for more than the sessions that they have so far, be a venue?

No. The Iraqi leaders, of course, officially on TV all of them say, "We have democracy and are free." But in private, when we have dinner, all of them, with no exception, recognize the falsification—the way the elections were done, the lists, everything—it was all wrong, because the conditions were not developed yet to have such elections.

More than that, when you see, I think, 25 percent, according to the Constitution, have to be women. But when you see the reality—say, for example, in the Council of the Supreme Revolution of the Dawa, you have two leaders, religious leaders. They sit and behind each one there are 20 or 30 women in black watching him, how he is going to raise his hand or not, to do exactly the same. I don't see this as a real representation of women's rights, except some few seculars that are within the group of Alawi.

But the others, even when you go to visit the Parliament—I'm not talking about women, even about men—the way they sit in the Parliament is according to their own sects. They are not sitting in alphabetical order. You have the group of Dawa here, you have the group of the Islamic Party here, you have the group of Alawi here. They don't trust each other—no, no, no.

You have presented such an absolutely depressing situation. Honestly, I would like to know where is the hope in your view.

MOHKTAR LAMANI: If I link to history, this country, Iraq, which is the old Mesopotamia, when you go to history, sometimes they went through difficulties worse than what they are facing now, and they succeeded in getting over them. Maybe this will be the same.

Alone they are not going to make it. They need some help. For help you have to convince the neighbors and the international community to impose. You have to impose. And we can impose. But I don't see any of the neighbors or the internationals that are involved there are ready for a huge change. They just let things continue the same.

Look, for example, when James Baker of the Iraq Study Group (the Baker-Hamilton Commission) came. I had a long, long meeting, two hours, a wonderful meeting with him. The recommendations were good as a beginning. There were a lot of things that were good.

But the reaction of the Iraqis in the government, everybody was strongly against, because for them—according to the Constitution they are gaining a lot of things, but not on the ground. But at least they would like, when they see a report asking for open dialogue, a real dialogue inside Iraq, a real dialogue with Iran, with Syria, with everybody—they were strongly against it and they did everything.

The U.S. administration waited, I think, more than seven or eight months to adopt some of the recommendations.And it was too late. It was too late for them to open a dialogue with Iran when the Iranians in Iraq feel themselves sitting in a rocking chair. They don't need it.

Again and again, because of this agenda, each one has its own agenda. I do strongly believe it is in the interest of Iran, of Saudi Arabia of everyone, to have a stable Iraq. They are trying to play some game now for some internal reason. But if this sectarianism will continue and we will have a real civil war, I think it is going to burn everybody in the area.

I'd like to ask you a question about the Sunni/Shiite split that exists. Is this peculiar to Iraq or do you find these kinds of problems between Sunnis and Shiites wherever, within Arabia or within the Arab area? They have to exist together.

I know that in Saudi Arabia, for example, there was a small community of Shiites who exist there, seemingly peacefully. But what is the experience elsewhere outside Iraq, or is this a specific Iraqi problem?

Within even the Shia majority—in the Islamic world you have four countries with a majority of more than 50 percent of Shia: Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain. Then you have huge minorities, like in Lebanon or in Kuwait or in other areas.

Things are very complicated. When you see, for example, the Shia—between the two major countries, Iraq and Iran, there are a lot of differences. In Iran, it is in the constitution, what they call the Velayat-e Faqih, that even if you have a president democratically elected, the religious leader is much more important. He can give the order for war or whatever. The Shia in Iraq are against this. They don't want to have the Velayat-e Faqih. They don't want to have this sort of thing.

There is also the fact that traditionally the references are Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. They have 12 imams. One of them is the [inaudible], so 11 are varied. Ten of the 11 are in various Arab lands—six in Iraq, four in Saudi Arabia, and only one, by chance, in Iran. So with these differences, they feel them also inside.

But you know in any conflict, in any situation, when you have the extremists, as I mentioned before, moving from the extreme to the center, generalizing, they push everybody to react, and when people are reacting they are very emotional. This is what is happening.

We didn't hear about any problem in Kuwait, but now yes, because everybody is reacting. We saw during 2006 what used to happen in the mosques, when someone sees a group attacking a mosque because it is Sunni, and they burn the mosque and everyone there. So anyone who had a brother there will react against the Shia.

You see some groups stopping cars in the streets and asking for their I.D. According to their I.D., they know who is Shia and who is Sunni. Sometimes even myself—I remember the first day I was stopped. I was so shocked. You know, I was originally from Morocco. We don't have any Shia in North Africa, and we don't even know what is the problem between Shia or Sunni because we don't know at all. But I was so shocked when I moved there.

One of the very extremist newspapers [inaudible] said, "The ambassador of the Omayyad is not welcome." They called me the "ambassador of the Omayyad"—the Omayyad is the dynasty at the beginning of Islam who killed the grandson of the Prophet—just because I come from Morocco and Moroccans are Sunni. I, myself, couldn't understand. I asked someone.

When I went to one of my visits in Najaf to one of the most important ayatollahs, who is very, very old, I was explaining national reconciliation, how it is important, citizenship, et cetera. Then, when he reacted, he reacted with a long, long, long statement about victimization, what happened in the last century, two centuries ago. He was going back and back and back. Then when he arrived to the killing of al-Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet, he was in tears and said to me, "But you, when you killed . . ." I said, "Uncle, uncle, I never killed al-Hasan and I am against the killing of anyone." For him I was a Sunni.

Those are realities within these groups. Now, because they move to the center of the society, by reaction they are splitting.

You say everyone feels he or she is a victim, they want revenge. Where does this come from?

MOHKTAR LAMANI: Again, from history, from a lot of problems. Saddam Hussein was a dictator, brutal, but he was not a sectarian guy. Everybody suffered from Saddam Hussein—the Shiites, the Kurds, the Sunni—his own family suffered from him. But they will never talk to you about the suffering of the others. "We suffered from him because he is a Sunni and we are a Shia." And also he was forbidding a lot of religious activities that he considered were not modern—he was secular.

Because of the past, the people talk just between themselves, their own community. This is why this feeling is becoming very, very, very strong, this feeling of being victims. When you talk to the Kurds, for whom I have a lot of sympathy—and actually, I was protecting them—they keep talking about what happened to them with the chemical weapons.

I said: "Well, a lot of things also happened to the others, and it's time. You have to turn the page. Take the example from South Africa, what happened in South Africa. This is a real national reconciliation. They suffered from apartheid, from racism."

But it's not happening in Iraq.

QUESTION: You describe an impossible situation, where it sounds like civil war is almost inevitable. What do you think the United States should do in view of its fiscal crisis, the fact that its army is over-extended, and we have a lot of domestic problems? What do you suggest the U.S. should do?

MOHKTAR LAMANI: I don't know if I am in a position to give any advice. But first of all, to recognize a lot of mistakes, that would be the first step, and to open a real dialogue with everybody at the three levels—the internal one, the regional one, and the international one—not as a consequence of some problems, like what's happening now in the dialogue with Iran, which is leading nowhere.

I, myself, when I was there, I convinced both Harith al-Dari, the [Sunni] leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to meet. And they were going to meet, but unfortunately when I resigned they never met. Both were convinced that talking is not agreeing, but it's a good step, because you listen to the other. This is not happening.

Even the United States, they keep being sometimes disappointed with their own friend. They don't expect anything from the current government, from Maliki. Actually, for me, the U.S. are supportive of Maliki not because this is their choice, but because they have no other alternative. They are stuck in a situation. Actually, he is a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. I am so convinced of that.

But for this they are not ready to recognize that what we did when we decided to go to war alone, with no Security Council resolution—they are not ready for that recognition of any kind of mistake—"We are the strongest; we did what we did; it's okay; if it's working, it's okay; if it's not working, it's okay; if one day we have to leave, we will leave."

What will happen? I don't think that anyone is asking real questions, more than the concerned in the area.

JOANNE MYERS: Mohktar, I think that experience was very profound and I thank you for sharing it with us today.

Thank you.

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