The ambassador of Iraq on the BBC Today Programme
Friday 8 August 2014, London.
Those of us who supported the Anglo-American toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 ought to express our gratitude to the Ambassador of Iraq for the courageous interview he gave the BBC’s influential Today Programme this morning. I say ‘courageous’ because diplomats are expected to defend their governments under all circumstances. Instead, Faik (pron. Fāyeq) Nerweyi decided to be honest with the listener and admit that his government had failed his country. Unlike the spokesman for prime minister Nouri Maliki’s Da’wa Party, on BBC Radio 5 earlier, Fāyeq admitted that Maliki had been a sectarian figure over the past eight years and that the rapid progress of ISIS in the north-west could not be explained away by the barbarians taking advantage of the present political vacuum in Bagdad, which is the result of the recent indecisive elections. Fāyeq’s honesty and courage showed that the new state of Iraq does have sophisticated diplomats and politicians who represent hope for its future. All that Iraq’s leaders have to do now is to learn the big lesson of the Maliki years. They must abandon Maliki’s arrogant Shiite Arab nationalism and accept that Iraq is a multi-national country. They must honour their federal constitution. They must understand the desire of the Sunni minority in the north-west for an autonomous regional government of their own, and they must announce in advance that they will recognise the result of any UN-supervised referendum in the Kurdistan region for independence. Otherwise, the future will continue to be one of turmoil, not the prosperous co-existence that they can have and which would inspire the rest of the Muslim world.
(Fāyeq was also thankful to the British government for its £5m grant of humanitarian aid for Yazidi and Christian refugees now in danger of starvation and slaughter in the Senjar mountains. That would have gone down well with the press and at the Foreign Office.)
But why should those of us who supported the intervention of 2003 be especially grateful to the ambassador? The return of ISIS and its Saddamite allies from their Syrian exile has brought us under attack from several directions: Some, like secular Arab nationalists, hanker after their lovely Saddam, and some, both on the right and left of politics here in Europe, are opposed to all Western intervention in the poorer world, even where genocide takes place. These groups have been emboldened by the chaos in Iraq and point towards us, saying: ‘We told you so’.
Anti-Western Arab Sunni nationalists have their own agenda, of course, even though they don’t admit it. They think that Arabs are not ready for democracy and that they, Sunnis, make better dictators. The Western left-wingers are more influential, even though their arguments are equally flimsy, or even immoral. They believe that Iraq under genocidal Saddam was a better place – he was a secular mass-killer, unlike ISIS who are religious mass-killers. They also imply that, unlike his fellow Ba’thists, the Assads of Syria, Saddam would not have been touched by the ‘Arab Spring’ by now. He would still be there to ‘keep order’, even if the order of the graveyard. This is not only immoral, but a very bold claim to make. My own thinking is that, once the other cruel and ‘mighty’ dominoes of the Arab world – Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Mubarak – began to fall and the Assads were driven into Damascus, Iraq’s Ba’thists would have similarly found themselves under siege, overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people on the streets (helped, in this case, by money, arms and expertise from Shiite Iran next door). I cannot see why Saddam would have remained in power, except possibly in the Sunni north-west which has now fallen to ISIS and the Ba’thists. In other words, Iraq is likely to have been in the grip of a religious war as destructive as the one in Syria.
Anyhow, thank you ambassador Fāyeq.