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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 11:22 GMT
Iraq turmoil
On Sunday 11 December 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Jeremy Greenstock

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock
Sir Jeremy Greenstock

ANDREW MARR: [Andrew asks, in the light of the lawlessness and violence in Iraq - whether it's all been worth it?]

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I don't think we can tell yet. I think it's probably up to each person in his own mind to make that decision.

My wife and I have talked to a lot of Iraqi women, for instance, she was out there with me in Baghdad for a while, and they said "Thank you for getting rid of Saddam for us - we won't forget that - but why have you made it so difficult since.

There's that dichotomy of feeling - they wanted Saddam gone but they wanted us to be more competent in giving them a new life - and I think that's a fair thing to throw at us.

ANDREW MARR: And what do you think the honest answer to that is?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: That we've tried. That I think we made some mistakes at the beginning. I think the most serious mistake was to allow a security vacuum because the violence is now entrenched in Iraq and will take many years to go, as insurgencies do - look at our colonial history.

I don't think enough resources were put in to control the security situation right at the beginning after the war.

ANDREW MARR: Some people will say it's extraordinary to go into a country without having thought that through before you do it.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I think that assumptions were made that proved to be wrong - that it would be easier than that; that the Iraqis would be able to look after themselves; that there would be order; that they would be so relieved to be free of the Saddam era that they would get themselves together and march forward into a new Iraq. There were warnings also that that wouldn't happen and those warnings were, to some extent, ignored.

The history of that can be told in detail at another time. We've also given them something, we've given them a political process that it is working.

ANDREW MARR: Why do you think that early mistake was made, of not, of not thinking through all the possibilities of the schism, of not closing the borders, perhaps of disbanding so quickly the Iraqi army.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Two principal reasons: one is that those who were taking the decisions, I think particularly in Washington, were confident that Iraqi dissidents would be able to come in, form political structures, take over and produce order. The second was a reluctance to commit greater resources than might be necessary.

I think one of the lessons from this, for both Washington and London as the primary exponents of the policy, is not to work on the best case scenario. I think Brits, on the whole, are inclined not to - we're all quite pessimistic in putting up our recommendations.

ANDREW MARR: It was said at the time that British advice, Foreign Office advice, was not being listened to properly in Washington - that we didn't get that message over or the message wasn't heard by the right people.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I think we have to realise that Americans take their own decisions on matters of high policy. That hasn't always been the case, I've never known a period where there was more Anglo-American discussion: I don't think any president and prime minister have had more conversations about policy and operations than President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. I think we have had an influence on events.

In the end, putting in 95 per cent of the resources in a situation, Americans take their own decisions. Let's not be starry-eyed about that. But I think the Brits, on this occasion, had a lot of input - a lot more than our contribution of resources perhaps entitled us to.

ANDREW MARR: Because Sir Christopher Meyer in his book, DC Confidential, argues that we actually underestimated how much leverage we had. That the Americans desperately didn't want to go into Iraq alone and that it would have been disastrous had they done so, and that therefore, as the ally standing alongside them, we could have done a bit more.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I personally got the impression that the British Government would have liked a further six months of the UN inspectors - and I supported that idea: more time, more time - to show that we've gone properly through the UN process, but it was very difficult to stop the American machine.

ANDREW MARR: And at that time, of course, you were, you were our ambassador at the United Nations - before you were High Representative in Baghdad. Do you think it would have been possible to have got that second resolution, if the Americans had been keener on it?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well let's understand what that second resolution was about. It wasn't about the authorisation of force - we had that in the first resolution.

ANDREW MARR: It was essentially about your more time point, wasn't it?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: It was about more time in keeping the Security Council together, to put such pressure, united pressure on Saddam, that he decided it wasn't worth a war. That was what I thought the Prime Minister was really looking for - a way through this without using force.

ANDREW MARR: And he always thought he could get there, didn't he?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Yes we all thought that we had a chance. The chance was getting smaller and smaller - and of course we were then caught up in the American momentum. So it was more a story of that, than of leverage not used or influence rejected.

ANDREW MARR: In the early days of the British and American, the American-run provisional authority, the coalition authority in Baghdad, some pretty tough decisions were taken, including to disband what was left of Saddam's army very, very fast and so on. It was said at the time that you felt the Americans were rushing things - was that true?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I was all for having an early transfer to Iraqi power, or at least bringing Iraqis in the real responsibility for their government as soon as possible. Actually I think our influence, within the coalition provisional authority period, was to bring that date forward, of transfer of power.

I think that at one stage the Americans wanted to keep control of Iraq politically for longer than actually happened. It was a difficult decision. Rushing things meant that the Iraqis were less prepared, holding on meant that Iraqis were more hostile to a foreign presence. We're still feeling the results of that.

ANDREW MARR: And who was responsible? Was that Paul Bremmer or was that Washington?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Washington always made the final decisions. Increasingly - let's give Paul Bremmer his due - increasingly he was learning what was necessary to produce a good Iraq.

One of the general points I made from Baghdad was Washington and London please make your decisions on the basis of criteria of what was going to work on the ground in Iraq. If you want Iraq to work think Iraq, not domestic politics or considerations of army deployment generally. If you're going to do this, do it seriously. You've decided to do it.

ANDREW MARR: But they weren't quite serious about it, were they?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I think there was a wish to keep the number of troops down and that paradoxically has led to the need for a greater number of troops, say in 2006. But doing it -


JEREMY GREENSTOCK: - small first meant large later.

ANDREW MARR: But these were failures of judgement where? White House, Pentagon, State Department?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well - I wasn't there. I don't know precisely. The Pentagon was in control of policy at the stage that I'm talking about.

ANDREW MARR: We're now in a situation where we're about to see these crucial elections take place and Saddam himself is giving an extraordinary performance in this trial - which has become a kind of circus. Do you think that he is in some way sort of subverting the process that's going on at the moment?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Let's not exaggerate this - we've had it with Milosevic in the Hague. You know justice calls for the man defending his position to be allowed to speak.


JEREMY GREENSTOCK: So we have to accept that.

ANDREW MARR: And I know the British position is that we are against the death penalty, but if he is convicted and executed, do you think that makes things worse or better in Iraq?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I think there will be a very strong reaction from the people who are still perpetrating violence. Who knows whether it will be worse or better. A lot of Iraqis will feel that this is the right answer, given what he and his family have done to them. What matters to Iraqis now is to make the political process work and produce a new Iraq that works for them.

They want Saddam, the old Bathists, violence, all out of the way and if they have confidence in their central government they will work with it to help eradicate violence. If they don't have confidence in their central government, I think things will break down into warlords and militias looking after their own localities. That's the less good case scenario.

ANDREW MARR: And we are in a terribly difficult position, it seems to a lot of people, because many, many Iraqis want us out as quickly as possible, and one hears this from all over the place and there's plenty of people in this country who say let's get out as quickly as possible, but the quicker we get out the bigger danger of exactly what you've just described.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Yes, I think, myself, we can't get out until certain conditions are met. I think that's what the Iraqis want. The first condition is that the properly elected Iraqi government asks us to stay and doesn't ask us to leave.

The second is that Iraqis can look after their own security reasonably capably. The third is that the constitution is being respected. The fourth, perhaps, is that the threat of sectarian divide is, is not so awful that we feel that Iraq can't stick together. But we can't run Iraq for the Iraqis. Iraqis have got to overcome these problems.

But I think that withdrawal must be set against a group of conditions that is not time-determined but success-determined and we owe it to Iraq to stay for as long as they need us for that.

ANDREW MARR: You wrote your book - which has been withdrawn for the time being, I think you're still in discussions with the government about it - because you said that there were lessons that needed to be learned from all of this. Looking back now, what are the most important lessons?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I wrote, I wrote my text - which as you say I still have to decide on, I will come back to it later, and I will do it consensually with the Foreign Office - for two reasons.

One, because I wanted some aspects of the story to come out more fully, because I don't think they've been understood in our public discussion, I wanted the discussion to be more informed in that way. And second, to point to some of the reasons why the costs of what we have done have been higher than they might have been - because I think there are lessons to learn from that.

ANDREW MARR: And last but not least, do you think that your book will see the light of day?

JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Eventually, yes, because time helps heal some of the sensitivities. But I want to say a certain amount and I think it's probably right, in the end, if the politics are sensitive for a civil servant to wait until they're less sensitive, so I will respect that.

ANDREW MARR: Sir Jeremy, thank you very much indeed.


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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