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  Global Viewpoint



Amr Moussa is secretary-general of the Arab League. He was interviewed in New York on Sunday, Sept. 25, by Global Viewpoint contributing editor Raghida Dergham.

By Amr Moussa

Raghida Dergham: On behalf of the Arab League, you originally opposed the draft Iraqi constitution, but have now changed your mind. Why?

Amr Moussa: I opposed Article 3 dealing with the identity of Iraq. I disagreed with the phrase that said only the Arabs in Iraq belong to the Arab nation. I saw in this a recipe for partition, confrontation and perhaps violence.

So, I asked them to withdraw this and instead offer some commitment about their adherence to the Arab community of nations. They accepted this proposal. Now, they have eliminated this language and adopted a different language that says on the one hand that they belong to the Muslim nation and , at the same time, are committed to the charter of The League of Arab States. This combination is quite enough, in my view, to provide a framework to reconcile differences (among Kurds, Shia and Sunni) over the identity of Iraq.

This is an important step, not least of all because it was achieved through consultation.

Dergham: Some Gulf state leaders are concerned that once the American forces have put down the insurgency sufficiently to leave, the Iranians will come in and arm Shiite militias to fill the vacuum in those “liberated” areas and take control. It is as if the Americans and British are fighting to control some areas of Iraq only to hand them over to Iran when they leave. Do you share this fear?

Amr Moussa: This is a fear not only of some Gulf state ministers, but a general concern throughout the Arab world.

It is not only a question of the Americans leaving one area and the Iranians filling in. It is much broader than that. The American-led coalition was faced with something they didn't expect. They thought the whole thing would end with the military operation. Instead, they found they had opened a Pandora's box of conflicts which affect not only the identity of Iraq but the stability of the region.

Dergham: Jordan’s King Abdullah has expressed his worry about a “Shiite crescent” emerging.

Amr Moussa: Of course, there is now a recomposition or realignment going on in the Middle East. Even so, I don't believe in playing up this difference between Shiite and Sunni but in stabilizing the situation

However, if there are plans again to have Shia versus Sunni or Iran versus Arabs, then King Abdullah's concern is justified.

Dergham: Iran seems to have the upper hand in the region. It holds the Iraq card, so to speak, and the nuclear card — the capability for weapons. What cards do the Arab states have?

Amr Moussa: We have one card we are not playing: to get together to decide on one line of policy vis-à-vis Iraq, Iran and Israel. We are not doing that job now. I confess our weakness on this point.

Foreign fingers playing in the region are responsible for our inability to arrive together at a common position on these very serious challenges.

Dergham: But the common line is emerging — fear of Iran!

Amr Moussa: We are not afraid of Iran. We are concerned about the whole game. Playing this game of the Iranian card versus the Arab card, or the Shiite versus the Sunni or the Arab versus the Kurd is very dangerous. Trying to achieve hegemony in this way will lead to a lot of destruction. Everything will not fall into place. The Iraqis won't acquiesce to this policy. In the end, everyone will lose going down this path.

Dergham: Are you suggesting that U.S. policy is at fault?

Amr Moussa: I would say that the (U.S.) policy being followed today in Iraq raises a lot of question marks. Why is that policy allowing everyone to play off each other for their own interests? We are entering into a phase when all these interests will collide.

Dergham: Do you think the U.S. and Iran will clash over the nuclear issue?

Amr Moussa: No, I don't think so. It will only be discussed in the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and, maximum, in the Security Council. Why? Because of Iranian influence in Iraq. As you know, the U.S.-led coalition is not in good shape. Two policies — that of the U.S. and Iran — meet in Iraq. Sometimes they converge, but sometimes they diverge.

Dergham: Is the continuing U.S. presence in Iraq part of the problem — because it inspires the insurgency — or part of the necessary solution?

Amr Moussa:  The Iraqi leaders tell us if the Americans were to withdraw now it would leave a major vacuum they are not yet ready to fill. At the same time, the relevant U.N. resolution (1546) of June 2004 called for an end to the coalition mandate when the political process (ratifying a constitution and holding subsequent elections) is completed, or a year to a year and a half from the date of adoption of that resolution.

If the U.N. has mentioned the end of the mandate, that is the same as a timeline. In other words, the issue of a timeline for withdrawal is already on the table.

The coalition presence is part of the larger problem we have to solve. We in the Arab world should not follow a policy that is necessarily confrontational with the U.S. The US is in a fix. So is the Arab world. So are the Iraqis. So are their neighbors. The best thing for all of us is, together, to chart a way out.

Dergham: Some in the U.S. say that if it withdraws and doesn't “stay the course” it will lose credibility?

Amr Moussa: The U.S. has already lost a lot by what is going on in Iraq. It is no longer a question of American credibility. It is only a question of how the U.S. and the rest of us find a common line of policy, including a timeline for withdrawal, to end the violence and foster stability.

The first order of business is reconciliation among the factions in Iraq. That could be done within a few months if the parties stop playing cards in order to seek hegemony. Once this happens, a phased withdrawal should be discussed.

Dergham: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says he could foresee some U.S. troops remaining at bases in Iraq after the current mission is completed. Would the Arab League object to that?

Amr Moussa: An elected government that can speak on behalf of all Iraqis should take that decision. For the moment, Talabani doesn't say go or stay to the U.S. troops. He just deals with the situation as it is.