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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 January, 2005, 13:48 GMT
Jeremy Vine interviews
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

On Politics Show on Sunday, 30 January, 2005, Jeremy Vine discussed the elections in Iraq with:

  • Robin Cook, MP, former Foreign Secretary
  • US Senator Richard Shelby
  • Yahia Said, Centre for the Study of Global Governance, LSE

Discussion on the elections in Iraq

Richard Shelby
US Senator Richard Shelby

Jeremy Vine: And to discuss today's developments I'm joined now from Edinburgh by the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook and by Yahia Said, an Iraqi academic at the London School of Economics and also from Paris, by the Senior Republican Senator, Richard Shelby, who's travelling in Europe this week. Senator Shelby, let me start with you if I can.

Are you finding this a very exciting time for Iraq.

Senator Shelby: I, I believe it is an exciting time . We got to remember this is just the beginning, we don't know where it's going to end up but when people are voting to-day, for the first time in many many years, to make their own choices, that's a day of freedom, it's a good beginning.

Jeremy Vine: Yahia Said, tell us what is at stake here.

Yahia Said: Iraqi self determination, Iraqis who are braving terrorism to vote to-day want to re-gain control over their life and the violence, and the occupation.

Jeremy Vine: Robin Cook, what is at stake.

Robin Cook: Oh, I think it's very important that the elections are taking place and I salute those Iraqis who've had the courage to turn out and to vote. My only regret is that these elections have been so long delayed, they should have been held a year ago, and if they had have been held a year ago, they would not have been held against the background of the violence that we've seen escalating over the past year.

What I think though is very important is that we take this opportunity of the new start in Iraq and the newly elected assembly, to work with these legitimate, elected representatives of the Iraqi people, to find a new direction.

Jeremy Vine: Senator Shelby, tell us where you think places the coalition troops -do you think this brings dramatically forward the date when they can leave.

Senator Shelby: I don't know how dramatic it will be. I believe we're going to be there, the coalition will be there for several years, to say the least. But I think the timetable, a lot will depend on how long it takes the Iraqi people, the government to build their forces, their police force, their army, their infrastructure period.

Jeremy Vine: Well one of our interviewees has said that ten years is about the right kind of number of years to be thinking about, is that the figure in your mind.

Senator Shelby: That's a long time, I wouldn't put a timetable on it, I will say we will be there at least two more years, perhaps longer but the shorter the time I think depends on what develops in Iraq. This is not a revolution, this is evolution, but it's a heck of a big step.

Jeremy Vine: Conversely Robin Cook, you'd like us to set a date for pull-out.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook, MP, former Foreign Secretary

Robin Cook: Well, ten years is certainly not the period that's in the mind of the Iraqi people who are voting to-day, indeed, the great majority of the party standing are calling for an end to the occupation.

And I think one of the things we must do is to convince the Iraqi people that we don't intend to be there on a permanent basis. It has to be said that there's a lot of evidence that when Donald Rumsfeld first went in to Iraq, he imagined that this would be a new permanent base to replace Saudi Arabia, and he is still building an awful lot of permanent bases across Iraq.

Now that has to stop and we have to convince the Iraqis that we are there to help them and intend to leave as soon as they wish us to leave. And that's why I said we need to have a clear time table that will make it absolutely clear beyond question that we intend to go, and will also give us a target to work to, to make sure we complete the tasks that are necessary.

Jeremy Vine: Well Allawi the interim Prime Minister does not want that. You said the end of the year might be the time for us to pull out Robin Cook.

Robin Cook: Well actually, his party on their web site, did say they wanted an end to occupation, it's perfectly true that when challenged by the United States, he then did give an interview denying what was on his own web site.

Jeremy Vine: Called it futile and dangerous yes.

Robin Cook: Yes, in the web site they were calling for an end to the occupation. What I pointed out is that the UN mandate we have for our presence in Iraq, expires at the end of this year, and that's because it's tied to the political process which should be completed by the end of the year.

It seems entirely reasonable for us to set that as a target date by when we expect Iraq to be able to manage without foreign troops. That all means that in that time, we've got to work with the new assembly, who

I don't think actually is going to object to that. I think if anything, we're going to face demands from members of the new assembly that we go, and perhaps even go quicker. And remember that a number of our partners in the coalition, have themselves decided that they're going much more quickly, the Dutch leave the British sector in the middle of March, the Poles, the Ukrainians, are talking about leaving too.

I think we have to face the fact that the longer the occupation is continued, the more difficult the security environments become, and if we show we're doubtful about ever leaving and not clear about it, we're going to face increasing resistance.

Jeremy Vine: Senator, I know that you want to come in but let me just ask Yahia Said about that. How practicable is it for the coalition to say we are leaving at the end of the year.

Yahia Said
Yahia Said, Centre for the Study of Global Governance, LSE

Yahia Said: I think it's quite practicable, especially if it comes as a request by the newly elected Iraqi government. Most political parties participating in these elections have included a promise of negotiating a withdrawal of coalition troops, to various degrees and I think many of the Iraqi voters expect that.

Jeremy Vine: There's a huge debate about the extent to which Iraqi security services are prepared because people are saying, Joe Biden, one of the leading democrats saying, they've only trained four thousand of them, they're not ready.

Yahia Said: They only trained seven thousand Iraqi military, and the very reason for that is the presence and the control of coalition forces of the security establishment, it's a chicken and egg situation. Proper Iraqi armed forces will not be established as long as the occupation continues, and as long as there is no time horizon for their departure.

Jeremy Vine: So Senator, that almost suggests if we pull out, they train quicker.

Senator Selby: Well we hope they train quicker. We're trying to accelerate that, and that's very important but you know, to-day brings, to-day will bring a legitimate government, a government of the people there. We should listen to the government there; the voice of the people as to any time to move out and I believe we will.

Jeremy Vine: But it might be that the government thinks it needs to, for symbolic reasons give the coalition a dressing down senator and send them packing when it might not be a good idea, or a safe idea for those troops to leave.

Senator Shelby: Well that's always a risk there but at the same time, if you have a government elected by the people, it's legitimate in the world's eyes and truthfully so. We ought to at least listen to that voice.

Jeremy Vine: Robin Cook.

Robin Cook: Well it's more than just listening to them, they are going to be the democratic authority and voice of the Iraqi people and if as you have been told, those who've been seeking election have been doing so on a mandate, to negotiate withdrawal, we not only have to listen to them, we've actually got to act upon that.

I also would say that of course the problem we have in building up an effective Iraqi security force as the gentleman in the studio has just said, is not simply a question of training, I mean you can train a security force within a year, certainly within three years, we will by then have been in Iraq.

The issue is one of commitment, motivation, of dedication, and that's always going to be confused so long as these Iraqi forces are seen to be accountable to the coalition occupying forces, and the chain of command is to the US generals there. Unless we change that and make it plain, these are going to be Iraqi forces run by the Iraqis, for the Iraqi government, you always have that problem of motivation.

Jeremy Vine: Well what about the insurgency Yahia Said. Do you believe that this is a watershed moment for the insurgency, and it may start to dry up after this election.

Yahia Said: It depends on what the new government will do and I mean the new Iraqi government will have more legitimacy after these elections, but ultimately, their legitimacy will depend on how they reach out to those Iraqis who stayed away from the polls and who are currently supporting the insurgency, and if they engaged them with a serious dialogue, if they make serious moves to end the occupation, then their legitimacy will increase and the legitimacy of the insurgency will decrease and with it, the violence.

Jeremy Vine: Senator Shelby, are you worried about what happens to the insurgency now.

Senator Shelby: I, I'm - I don't worry about it, I'm concerned about it. I think that as the gentleman just said, the legitimate government, the new government is going to have to reach out to all factions to try to build a coalition, and I think one of the things would be to tell the coalition, look, we're able to run our own country, we're the legitimate government, we've got the forces here, we'll show you, we can run our own country, it's a government of the people and for the people.

Jeremy Vine: If we were to just go back over the arguments that we've seen for and against the war Senator, does this make the arguments against the war hollow, the fact that Iraqis are voting to-day.

Senator Shelby: I think we have to be where we are to-day you know we're way past the argument for - to get in or not get in to the war, we did that. Now it's a question of when do we get out and how do we get out and what kind of government and stability we're going to leave behind.

Jeremy Vine: Difficult to argue against people voting Robin Cook.

Robin Cook: I'm certainly not arguing against people voting, indeed I wanted the people in Iraq to vote much earlier, indeed, we ourselves promised when we went in that we would make it a model democracy.

Jeremy Vine: But they wouldn't be voting had we not, had the British and Americans not gone in and you were against that.

Robin Cook: I was against it on the grounds that we were being told that Saddam was a threat, and he plainly was not a threat. We have not found a single one of his Weapons of Mass Disappearance, indeed the US government has now formally abandoned even the search for it. We were also told that it would be a blow against terrorism and it plainly has not been.

The CIA itself has said that we have now turned Iraq in to a centre for the fight against terrorism and there are terrorists who are fighting in Iraq who were not there until we went in and created the conditions for them to thrive. All of those cases that were made for the war have turned out to be false.

Now, I fully agree with the Senator's point that we are where we are, and by heavens, we certainly have an obligation to the people of Iraq, having created the mess that we now have done that was in their country, and that obligation means listening to them when they say they want an end to the occupation.

Jeremy Vine: But maybe the means justify the end, that's my point.

Robin Cook: Well I don't think the means, I don't think the means justify the end in any democracy, once you accept that, then you are on a very slippery slope. And in any case if you go back over the last two years, if you want to take a balanced picture of what has happened in Iraq, are you really saying that the destruction of Falluja, the levelling of the town to rubble, the turning of 300,000 people into refugees, is a means that justifies an end. Is that really what you are saying.

Jeremy Vine: Senator.

Senator Selby: I don't like the idea that the means justify the ends. I don't like that premise any where. I agree with the former foreign secretary on that. But I do believe that today we, we will have a legitimate government; and that's very important it's a big beginning, something that we couldn't have dreamed of three years ago.

Jeremy Vine: Just on a side alley here, there is a sense at the moment that the US is squaring up to Iran and there have been stories about them looking at targets in Iran. Even having those stories at the moment Senator is problematic in this context, in the Iraqi context isn't it.

Senator Selby: Well, I can't confirm any of that. I don't know anything about - there's a lot of things been in the press but I can say this, we would like to engage Iran diplomatically. We would like to be friendly with them. We will I think go the first mile, maybe two miles.

Jeremy Vine: Yahia Said, what's your view on all this.

Yahia Said: I think one of the biggest problems we had in Iraq over the past two years is that Iraq's neighbours felt quite apprehensive of the presence of American troops there and they felt they were next. And if they will continue to feel like that, they will continue to undermine the political process in Iraq. A war in Iran will set Iraq on fire, no doubt.

Jeremy Vine: Let's just talk finally about what we're seeing in Iraq and the election itself. Not going to be perfect, what sort of a turnout are you hoping for Yahia.

Yahia Said: Well I was hoping, that anything above 40% would be good with some minimal participation by people in the west of the country.

Jeremy Vine: I can tell you, I've just been told that the electoral commission says it may be 75%.

Yahia Said: Well that would be wonderful news and will show that Iraqis are pinning a lot of hope on these elections, and hopefully the new government and the US administration, doesn't dash these hopes. I think people do sincerely hope that these elections will lead to more independence and to a national dialogue.

Jeremy Vine: Robin Cook, big turnout if that's true but not having a lot of Sunnis involved, that's a problem isn't it.

Robin Cook: Well it is a problem in the sense that you do not want to have a significant part of the Iraqi population feeling alienated from the political process and of course we should remember that the political leaders of that area did say they couldn't take part if there was no commitment to ending the occupation.

I very much agree with what's been said before, one of the first tasks for the new elected assembly, should be to try to reach out and dialogue with those who didn't take part and perhaps as Iraqis and elected Iraqis they would be better able to do it than the occupying powers. But of course, the very first thing that will come up if they have that dialogue is what is the speed, and what is the conditions for the occupation ending.

Can I just comment on one of the other things you've touched on Jeremy, which was the question of Iran. Do remember that the great majority of those who are going to be elected in this election, it would have been a case if everybody had voted, it will certainly be the case if the Sunnis have not voted, the great majority will be Shi'ites. This assembly is certainly not going to support a military strike against Iran, and the United States, if it wants to work with this new assembly, needs to temper some of its rhetoric about solving a problem in Iran by military force, rather than diplomatic means.

Jeremy Vine: And finally Senator Shelby, is it is a 75% turnout you'll be very happy with that wouldn't you.

Senator Shelby: I would be very happy, I felt 40% would be legitimate under these circumstances. You've got to remember, to-day you can't, the election to-day in Iraq was not for the faint hearted. Think of the impediments people had to overcome just to vote to-day.

Jeremy Vine: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you all very much.

End of discussion on the elections in Iraq

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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