Tariq `Aziz is deputy prime minister of Iraq and Baghdad's primary spokesman to the outside world. Born in 1936, he joined the Ba`th Party in the early 1950s and began his career in 1958 as a journalist. He rose to become, in 1969, chief editor of Ath-Thawra, the Ba`th Party's leading newspaper. His political career began in 1974, since which time he has served as Iraq's minister of information and foreign minister. Daniel Pipes conducted the following interview at the residence of the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations in New York City on March 19, 1994.
MEQ: To begin with, Mr. Minister, there are a great number of disputes between the government of Iraq and the United Nations. In particular, your government now says that it has acceded to the demands of the United Nations to destroy its nonconventional arsenal. The United Nations--the United States in particular--is saying, no, we don't believe you, we need more assurances, we need to watch you for a while.
Can you explain to me why we should believe you? Is there any reason why the United Nations and United States should put credence in the word of Iraq's government?
Tariq `Aziz: The question of the implementation of U.N. resolution is a matter of facts, not perceptions. The basic ceasefire resolution, Security Council Resolution 687, addresses several areas.1 In that resolution, the issue of armaments is connected with the lifting of the embargo on the export of oil and other Iraqi commodities, which is called Chapter C; it has several paragraphs.
The U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was appointed by the Security Council, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been in charge of implementing the requirements in Resolution 687's paragraphs 8, 9, 11, 12, and 13. These require that arms banned in Resolution 687--chemical arms, biological arms, long-range missiles, and equipment in the nuclear area, though the last was used for civilian purposes--be first identified, and then destroyed.
This has been achieved, as a matter of fact. Reports of the Special Commission and the IAEA to the Security Council have recorded this fact. So when one member or two members in the Security Council don't believe that this has been achieved, well, that's against the facts. The majority of the members of the Security Council believe that this has been achieved because it is a matter of fact.
During past years, a number of American officials have floated allegations that Iraq is hiding missiles and chemical stockpiles. The Special Commission sent several inspection teams. Using the most sophisticated and comprehensive means, instruments, helicopters, et cetera, et cetera, with high technical efficiency, they searched and they didn't find anything. This indicates that the reports of the Special Commission and IAEA are accurate, and that the position of Iraq is clean in this regard.
The other requirement in Chapter C is Paragraph 10, which led to the adoption of Resolution 715 to address the question of ongoing monitoring. Iraq formally accepted 715, and it told the Special Commission that it is ready to cooperate and to contribute to the implementation of the monitoring system.
So, according to Chapter C, all the obligations of Iraq have been fulfilled. That entitles Iraq to the immediate implementation of Resolution 687's Paragraph 22, which allows Iraq to sell oil, mainly so that the Iraqi people could live normally and economic hardships would be alleviated. This has not happened. After the formal acceptance of Resolution 715, which, logically and legally speaking, should have led immediately to the implementation of Paragraph 22, the Americans, with the support of the British in the Security Council, started a campaign against implementing Paragraph 22. They exercised severe pressure on the IAEA and the Special Commission, saying that this is not enough. You have to establish the monitoring regime, they said; and then you have to put the Iraqis on test for "a certain period." And after that the Council will consider the matter, without even committing itself to implementing Paragraph 22.
That's the situation now. Iraq has complied fully. Iraq is ready to cooperate fully with the IAEA and the Special Commission. This readiness on the side of Iraq has been registered in documents signed by Chairman Rolf Ekeus of the Special Commission, and by the representative of the IAEA. They have been reported to the Security Council as Security Council documents. So the Security Council has to believe it because this is factual.
When the American representative on the Security Council says, "We don't believe Iraq," well, that is a unilateral American position, which is not a collective position of the council. This has appeared in the deliberations that took place in the last few days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday [March 16-18, 1994].
Many members of the council acknowledged that there is progress, that there is improvement on the side of Iraq, cooperation, and that has to be reflected on the statement the Security Council. The American and the British objected, and that's why the council, for the first time, failed to issue a joint statement.
MEQ: Do you plan to take any steps to meet the concerns of the United States and the British governments?
`Aziz: No. They haven't--there are no concerns of the United States or the British government. We are talking about the United Nations resolutions. And the United Nations resolutions are the United Nations resolutions.
We are ready to address the concerns of the requirements on those resolutions, discuss them in a reasonable manner, and implement them in accordance with the norms of international law. We are ready, and we have showed readiness. And this readiness is registered in the Security Council documents.
But the Americans and the British have a different agenda. It's quite clear to me that when American officials say that they want only the implementation of U.N. resolution, and nothing else, it's not the case. And lately, high official in American administration, Tony Lake, published an article in Foreign Affairs saying quite clearly that the objective of the American administration is to topple the government of Iraq.2
They are mixing, you see, their own policies towards Iraq with the U.N. business, which is against the rules of the U.N. resolutions, against both the letter and spirit of the United Nations charter.
The delay in the implementation of Paragraph 22 is a violation of Resolution 687, and its hostile attitude on the side of those who obstruct the process of its implementation. And it is not in conformity with the letter and the spirit of the U.N. resolutions. None of the violations comes from the side of Iraq. It comes from the side of the United States and to a certain extent the United Kingdom.
MEQ: There has been some criticism in Iraq of efforts by you and the Foreign Ministry to meet the U.N. resolutions. There was an article in February in Babil, the newspaper edited by Saddam Husayn's son `Udayy, saying that this effort is a waste of time, that the government should try something else.3 Is this an issue in Baghdad . . .
`Aziz: No. That's a personal view, you see. It's his view. He is a publisher and he can write whatever he likes, you see. But whatever is written in the Iraqi newspapers does not necessarily represent fully the position of the government. I represent the government here, and I have made it clear to the Security Council members that we are ready to cooperate, but at the same time the Security Council is obliged to honor its obligation towards Iraq.
MEQ: Given the fact that Paragraph 22 of Resolution 687 is not about to go into effect, why don't you take advantage of the $1.6 billion in oil sales that the United Nations has permitted to you without condition?
`Aziz: The $1.6 billion is different from Paragraph 22. First of all, the $1.6 billion, or the so-called 706 Resolution, was taken in 1991. At that period the implementation of Chapter C of Resolution 687 was in its early stage. After three years of implementation and the fulfillment of all the requirements, you should not speak about a temporary measure. That's in principle, first.
Secondly, 706 is not just a resolution that allows Iraq to sell a small amount of oil to purchase food and medicine. It's a whole system. It's a whole regime which actually turns Iraq into a U.N. protectorate, and that is against the letter and spirit of Resolution 687 itself, which acknowledges the sovereignty of Iraq as a state.
Had the Security Council allowed Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil, without restrictions or without conditions that infringe on the sovereignty of the country, we would have accepted it from the very beginning. Our resistance--our criticism of that resolution--is not because it's a small amount or a limited amount. We did not quarrel with the United Nations about amount itself, although it's small one that doesn't provide all the requirements of civilian needs. In spite of that, we did not quarrel with the United Nations or we did not argue the amount. We argued with them against the conditions that were deliberately put by--infused by some members in the council in order to destabilize the government of Iraq.
We were rather insulted, because when it says that it would like to monitor the distribution of food and medicine to everybody, all the people of Iraq, this insults the government of Iraq, and it insults the facts as well. Everybody knows that individuals from the Food and Agriculture Organization, a U.N. agency, have visited Iraq and seen the country. They saw that the government is distributing food without even this limited sale of this limited amount of oil. Food is being distributed to all Iraqi citizens through a very efficient system of distribution. This has been acknowledged by the Harvard team that visited Iraq twice and reported its findings. It has been acknowledged by U.N. agencies, by UNICEF, by the FAO, and other agencies which work in Iraq and see the situation as it is.
MEQ: You are telling me, then, that Iraq does not desperately need the money from oil sales? People are not starving, so you can refuse the $1.6 billion sale because it's an insult on the one hand and you don't need the money that much on the other?
`Aziz: No, no, we need every penny of it and of the money that will come from the implementation of Paragraph 22. It's not a matter of need. But when a nation is in a difficult situation, that nation is not ready to give up its sovereignty just to have a certain amount of money.
So this matter is viewed from the angle of the sovereignty of Iraq. Not that we need it or we don't need it. We do need it. And as I told you, if that resolution did not contain those conditions, we would have accepted it immediately after its passage.
MEQ: You see the conditions implied by the $1.6 billion, you see those conditions remaining?
MEQ: In other words, you fear that once you make the sale of $1.6 billion, the conditions imposed on Iraq will be permanent, and therefore you choose not to make the sale?
`Aziz: They want to establish a system of monitoring inside Iraq by U.N. personnel to monitor the distribution of the food and the medicine. And this is an infringement on the sovereignty of Iraq.
MEQ: Before, when I asked you about the article in Babil, you mentioned a distinction between the press and the government in Iraq. Would you make the same point when it comes to the issue of Kuwait? The government has recognized the borders with Kuwait but the media continues to portray Kuwait as a province of Iraq. How are we on the outside to understand the real position of your government?
`Aziz: The media does not necessarily represent official position of the government in every article and every piece of news that's published. Well, we are not a liberal country, but there is a lot of freedom, you see, in Iraq to publish individual views on various matters, including this matter.
The official position is in the pronouncement, in the statements of the officials, the president, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and myself. We haven't made any statement in the same language of the newspapers. Anyhow, my impression is that the newspapers have stopped to use that language vis-à-vis Kuwait.
MEQ: Would you say that Kuwait is now no longer an issue for you?
`Aziz: I think so. I read the newspapers. Days and weeks before my departure, you see this matter has ebbed. Because the journalists themselves realize that that is going to affect negatively the process of the implementation of Paragraph 22, which is a national need. Of course they will show responsibility in dealing with these matters.
MEQ: Can we in this country assume that the Iraqi government is no longer interested in controlling Kuwait?
`Aziz: Well, as I said for the government of Iraq, when we were discussing this matter early in 1993, this chapter is closed.
MEQ: It's closed permanently?
`Aziz: It is closed.
`Aziz: I don't know what future generations will do, you see.
`Aziz: But we are speaking about our responsibility as a government now. This chapter is closed.
MEQ: Turning to the north of Iraq . . . do you fear that the emerging Kurdish entity in the north has dangerous implications for your country?
`Aziz: The present situation in the north is 100 percent abnormal. It cannot survive, for very important reasons. This situation cannot evolve into a separate state.
First of all, they don't have the capability for that.
Secondly, the countries around them, Iran, Turkey, and Syria--not only the government of Iraq--but those countries who are not under sanctions, who can do whatever they like, are against it. Severely against it. And the separation or the establishment of a separate state doesn't enjoy popular support in the international community. So how long they can stay there?
They are staying as long as they do because of encouragement from the side of Americans--mainly Americans. The Americans are not encouraging the leaders of the Kurdish groups in the direction of establishing an independent state that would have been different in nature, but; they are encouraging, supporting, financing them, et cetera, just for the sake of destabilizing the government of Iraq. American pronouncements in this regard are very clear. They don't hide it.
MEQ: Do you worry about this Kurdish entity?
`Aziz: This entity, as I said, is abnormal and it constitutes a security and economic threat to Iraq. They are irresponsible, they act irresponsibly. If you visit the area, you will see that all the government belongings have been either stolen, smuggled to Iran, or sold for hard currency. Services are deteriorating. Everything is in a mess. Of course, services in Iraq are also suffering, but there is an efficient leadership and an efficient performance on the side of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi officials.
So this abnormal situation is affecting, first, the standard of life of the people, our Kurdish citizens, and it also constitutes threat, creates problems to the security of the country, to the economy of the country.
MEQ: What about the democratic model that the Kurds have established?
`Aziz: It's not a democratic model.
MEQ: No? What is it?
`Aziz: These groups are militias. They are not democratic. They impose their rule by means of force, and they don't allow any real opposition. They kill those who oppose them and who say that they have to go back to their country [of Iraq] and to reach an agreement with the government. They simply eliminate them.
MEQ: Do you think the Kurds are content with autonomy, or do you think they hope for independence and are working towards independence?
`Aziz: Well, I think they don't know what they are doing. They are, of course, supporting efforts to change the government [in Baghdad], so that they might have some sort of a chance in the future to play a bigger role in the political life of Iraq. But that's an illusion because the government is fine, it's not going to change. They will find--they have found--themselves in a very awkward situation.
WORLD TRADE CENTER
MEQ: We are meeting in New York, where a little over a year ago the World Trade Center explosion took place. There are those who think that there was an Iraqi role in that event. For example, Laurie Mylroie wrote in the International Herald Tribune on March 9 that circumstantial evidence points to Iraq's having been behind the explosion. Could you comment on this accusation?
`Aziz: No. That's sheer lies. Iraq has nothing to do with this or any other terrorist actions. Iraq has never, never supported any act of terrorism. The Iraqi government has no links with so-called Islamic fundamentalists. If there are any links it's the Americans who have links to those people. The Americans used to support them--and they might still support them--to destabilize the communists, the Soviet Union, or other regimes; but not so Iraq.
MEQ: Well, those who point to an Iraq involvement note that Ramzi Ahmad Yusuf carried an Iraqi passport; and that Abdul Yasin, another one of those who was indicted, came from Iraq to the United States. Further, the U.S. government believes that Yasin now lives in Iraq.
`Aziz: I don't have any information that support those presumptions. First of all, there might be an Iraqi citizen involved. I don't know. I cannot confirm this matter, but there are many Iraqi citizens working for the Americans. There are a number of Iraqi citizens who are working for the Khomeini regime. And the government of Iraq is not responsible for what they do.
I cannot support the presumption that they live in Iraq. This is just an allegation. How did they know that they live in Iraq? Maybe they live in Irbil or Suleimaniya [in the north of Iraq and beyond Baghdad's control]. I don't know. But when they say Iraq, it means the territory governed by the government of Iraq. I don't think that we can sustain such people, because we don't have any kind of relations with them.
Some of them, like those pro-Khomeini agents, are in the business of destabilizing our government.
MEQ: So you don't know anything about Yusuf?
MEQ: What if the U.S. government asked for Yasin to be extradited? Would you be willing to . . . ?
`Aziz: We don't have a normal relationship with the United States. When the United States has a normal relationship with the government of Iraq, we will abide by the norms of international law regarding this or any other question.
MEQ: So at this point you would not extradite him?
`Aziz: No. We don't have normal relations. You cannot--this is a two-way street, you see. If a certain government has normal relations with you, and places a request according to the norms of good relations, according to the norms of international law, of course you act accordingly. But when you don't have normal relations, well, you don't have normal practices.
ISRAEL AND IRAN
MEQ: There were reports back in February4 that you had met with Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Is that true?
`Aziz: No, that's not.
MEQ: Is there any prospect of your meeting with Israelis?
`Aziz: That's not true, you see, the fact that we haven't had any such meeting.
MEQ: And none are planned?
`Aziz: What's the reason for a meeting?
MEQ: Fair enough.
There's talk of Iran's Foreign Minister [`Ali Akbar?] Velayati traveling to Baghdad in May.5 Does this represent a major breakthrough in relations with Iran?
`Aziz: Well, we hope that this visit will develop into harmonizing the relations between the two countries, but I cannot confirm that this will be the case.
MEQ: Has there been a reduction in Iranian activities against your government?
`Aziz: No. The Iranian government is still supporting--financing--those pro-Khomeini elements who try to destabilize the government of Iraq.
MEQ: If Tehran does close down those elements, how would you respond? Would you reciprocate?
`Aziz: Yes. If the Iranians are ready to observe the rules of good neighborly relations, we will also observe the principles of good neighborly relations.
MEQ: What does that mean in practice?
`Aziz: We monitor Iranian actions closely and are eager to place our relations on a much better basis.
MEQ: Would you be ready to close down the camps of the People's Mojahedin Organization, the Iranian opposition group headquartered in Iraq?
`Aziz: We will be ready to reciprocate any positive on the side of the Iranian government.
MEQ: I'd now like to turn to internal matters. Reports have reached the West of riots last week in a Baghdad market place. Are these reports accurate?
`Aziz: No. Baghdad is more calm than many capitals in the region on which American policy relies for security and stability. Iraq is a secure country.
MEQ: Could you assess for me the standard of living of Iraqis? Is it desperate? Is it manageable?
`Aziz: Well, there is widespread suffering from the sanctions. This is a fact. We don't hide it. On the contrary, we want everybody to know that. And to know that the imposition of sanctions is an act of genocide against the Iraqi people because it is leading to the death of a great number of Iraqi citizens.
First of all there is a severe shortage of medicine. The medical care or system is weakening because of the lack of spare parts of new equipment and the lack of medicine. So many, many children are dying, especially the children --
MEQ: And what about the fundamentalist surge that has taken place in much of the Muslim world? Is it felt in Iraq?
`Aziz: This phenomena is a widespread phenomena, and it's further developing. But in Iraq the situation is different. You have to realize that in most cases this phenomenon is developing in those countries where pro-Western regimes are in power, where regimes are corrupt, and where they don't consider the interest and even the feelings of their people. This is the main reason for the development of fundamentalist Islam.
MEQ: You would call Algeria a pro-Western regime?
`Aziz: No, Algeria is different. I said in most cases. I didn't say in all cases, you see. I think the Algerian case is different. The Algerian case resulted from the fact that the government of President Chadli Benjedid deliberately weakened the role of the ruling FLN [National Liberation Front] party. A vacuum resulted, which was then filled by the FIS [Islamic Salvation Front].
Algeria is a different case, but if you take Egypt, where the fundamentalist phenomenon is growing very, very quickly, the main reason in my opinion as an analyst (this is not a political attack on the Egyptian government, you see, don't take it as that) is the type of regime there. The regime does not consider the basic feelings of the people, the political
and religious feelings of the people, and does not care about the interests of the masses.
The case in Iraq is different. The government of Iraq has a healthy relationship with its people. There is the party which comprises hundreds of thousands of people: workers, peasants, teachers, students, et cetera, et cetera. They are there ideologically, and in terms of mass organization. The party can educate the masses, can feel their needs, and convey these to the government. We don't suffer from a threat of fundamentalism. We did suffer from the pro-Khomeini elements in the early 1980s, but that has ended.
MEQ: There is no turn towards Islam in Iraq?
`Aziz: No, no. Islam is our religion, you see.
MEQ: No greater emphasis on Islamic piety?
`Aziz: No, no. Islam is our religion, you see, and 98 or 95 percent of the Iraqis are Muslims. The government is Islamic in the sense that it believes in Islam, it respects Islam, but it's not . . .
MEQ: What if the population does turn more towards Islam? You mentioned the hundreds of thousands of cadres, the close connection to the people. Will that mean that the government changes with the populace?
`Aziz: No. There are members within the Arab Ba`th Socialist Party who practice Islam fully. They fast during Ramadan and pray five times a day. Other party members don't do that. We don't say that somebody who fasts during Ramadan and prays five times a day is an enemy of the government. On the contrary, he might be one of my guards. My family would provide him with the break-fast after he fasted during Ramadan. This is not a political phenomenon, as it is for instance in Egypt. It is not a problem in Iraqi society in general, and in the government or the party in particular.
MEQ: You are saying that Islamic piety has no political implications.
`Aziz: That's right.
MEQ: It is outside of politics?
`Aziz: Outside of politics.
MEQ: Just a matter of personal relations with God?
`Aziz: Yes. With the exception of the pro-Khomeini groups, you see. But they are very weak. Now only a few hundred people, you see, are in this line because they long ago lost the battle, ideologically and militarily.
MEQ: I'd like to conclude with a couple of questions that are more reflective. You told an American journalist a few years ago, "I am not a strong believer in conspiracies, but they do exist." Indeed, you said, "They exist more in our part of the world than elsewhere." And you explained that they exist so much in the Middle East because the Middle East has oil, a strategic position, and Israel.6
I am very interested in conspiracies and conspiracy theories, and so wonder if you could you comment some more on them. To what degree are they reality and to what degree just perception?
`Aziz: The conspiracy against Iraq is clear. Iraq was a prosperous nation, and it had very normal relations with its neighbors. It had very good relations, normal and good relations with even the friends of the United States, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt. We worked hard to create stability in the region, cooperation, economic cooperation. And we didn't do anything to destabilize any of the regimes in the region which are friends of the United States.
In spite of that, because of the achievements of Iraq in the fields of technology, because Iraq became a stronger country which balances the strength of Israel--not in the sense of waging wars, but in the sense of creating a balance that might lead to a more balanced and more secure area--it was decided to destroy Iraq.
The threats against Iraq started long before August 2, 1990. They began in early 1990, with a boycott on the American side. Go back to the records of that period and you will see that the American government, the Congress, took decisions in March or April to boycott Iraq. We tried to explain to them our position and we hoped to meet American officials. Senator [Robert] Dole and a group of prominent senators came to Bagdad that spring and met with my president. He explained to them that Iraq is not an enemy of the United States nor is it a warmongering state. In spite of that, the hostile policy against Iraq remained and developed.
The Kuwait rulers were used in that. They had no reason to increase their oil production and so to bring down the price of oil. That economic conspiracy meant that Iraq would collapse economically because we were still suffering, of course, from the effects of Iran's war against us.
I can explain this matter in figures. We expected to export oil worth around $17-18 billion in 1990, out of which we had to pay around $5 billion to service debts and $2 billion more to pay off the principal. The other $10-11 billion were to be used for civilian needs of the government. Then our income started dropping to less than $10 billion. We had a choice: not pay the debts, and then be declared bankrupt; or stop providing our people with their necessities, which means economic collapse.
So there was a conspiracy. How did we deal with it? We spoke about it, we sent the then deputy prime minister, Sa`dun Hammadi, to talk to the Kuwaitis, the Saudis, and the rulers of the United Arab Emirates. At the Baghdad Arab summit in late May 1990, my president talked about it and told the Arab leaders that this was a war waged against Iraq. "Those who don't intend to wage a war, please stop it." We suggested to King Fahd that he hold a summit of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and the Emirates to solve this problem. They stuck to their position. Isn't that a conspiracy?
How could Kuwait do that if it was not driven and encouraged by a big power like the United States? Kuwait was a small entity, small state. It could not challenge Iraq and the big oil-producing countries, bringing about economic collapse or economic difficulties, if it were not supported and encouraged by a big power.
MEQ: But the perception of conspiracy goes beyond this. For an American, it was a strange experience during those long eight years of your war with Iran to be accused often by both sides that the U.S. government stood behind the war. Your government said that we backed the Iranians. Iranians said we backed your government. I think it's fair to say we stood behind neither.
`Aziz: No. You did provide the Iranians with weapons.
MEQ: Yes, we did that. We also provided you with intelligence. We were not behind the outbreak of this war, yet both sides accused us of just this. Which leads an American to wonder how we can ever develop a rational policy in the Persian Gulf region.
`Aziz: Well, this has to be addressed in a more thorough manner. We didn't officially say that the American government was behind the initiation of the war. But the American media did play a very important role in encouraging Iran to resort to the military option. During 1979 and 1980, the American media engaged in a campaign to the effect that the regime of Saddam Husayn is weak.
When those stupid Iranians read that in The Washington Post, in The New York Times, and the this and that, it encouraged them to try the military option. This was an indirect persuasion to the Iranians to choose war. Of course, that doesn't mean that they themselves don't have that . . .
MEQ: But they made the choice to go to war.
`Aziz: Yes, they made the choice.
MEQ: And you made the choice. We didn't make it for either you or them.
`Aziz: I didn't say that the U.S. government did. It was not an act of government. There are also conspiracies made by the American government directly, like the Iran/contra.
MEQ: But you know the Iranians accused the U.S. government of using Iraq.
MEQ: It's not true; is it?
`Aziz: The facts are the facts, you see.
MEQ: Do you think there is too often a perception in the Middle East to see conspiracies by the West?
`Aziz: Basically it is correct. There might be sometimes some exaggeration. But basically it's correct. For me, as a political analyst, I think there is a continuous conspiracy against our region.
MEQ: From the West?
`Aziz: Yes, by the Americans mainly. Especially after the 15th, XX after the --
MEQ: Interested in what? Oil, Israel?
`Aziz: Both oil and Israel. These two elements are behind the continuous attitude of the American administration. The West differs among itself, you see. It includes various states with different interests and practices. But when America leads a campaign, of course the others join, as happened in the colusion against Iraq.
There are sometimes exaggerations. Some people would think that whatever happens is the making of the others. That's not correct, and that's not our position.
MEQ: You in the Middle East do make some decisions, don't you?
`Aziz: Of course. We make a lot of decisions, and we do make mistakes. And sometimes we act correctly.
For me, as a political analyst, I wouldn't only blame the United States, the government of the United States for that. But I cannot relieve the government of the United States from its responsibility.
TRAVELING AS AN IRAQI DIPLOMAT
MEQ: I would like to conclude with a couple of more personal questions. Has your life been transformed since the 2nd of August? Is there a basic division, or are things more or less for you, as a diplomat, as a politician, similar to what they were before? `Aziz: No, it's not changed much for me, personally.
I have always been busy. I started working in journalism. And you can imagine how hard it is to be an editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper. Then I became the minister of information. It was also a very difficult job. And foreign minister. During the war between Iraq and Iran I was traveling very much, you see, working very hard. And so, personally, it didn't change a lot.
MEQ: Could you give me one or two vignettes, memorable scenes from your travels or from your diplomacy?
`Aziz: I don't think that my memory now is in its best form. Maybe I can reply to you better on another occasion when we are more relaxed with a drink.
But I made a lot of trips, in my life, most of them political trips. I visited many, many capitals, but I do not know those cities. For instance, I have visited Moscow uncounted times. But I haven't seen the city and do not know it as a city.
MEQ: You were within four walls all the time?
`Aziz: I have seen the Lenin Hills where the government guest houses are. We were kept there. I have seen the Kremlin several times as well as the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the streets between those buildings. I've also seen the insides of one or two restaurants where we on rare occasions had a chance to go. I have seen the Panorama in Moscow and I attended the Bolshoi Theater as part of an official delegation on the invitation of the government. That's all. I have been to St. Petersberg once for a couple days. I have not been to any other city or republic of Russia or the Soviet Union. We hear of them, but we haven't seen them.
In the United States, I am visiting in New York but I am staying here at the ambassador's residence. I only left this building twice to go to the United Nations and in a car surrounded by security forces. I haven't gone to a museum or done anything else.
The same goes for Washington. I have seen the White House, the State Department, the Hay-Adams Hotel, the Iraqi embassy, and the Iraqi ambassador's residence. I have been to the Congress to meet with senators and congressmen a couple of times. Maybe one time we went to a restaurant. Richard Murphy [the former assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs] took us to the old house of George Washington [Mt. Vernon]. That's all I ever saw in Washington.
MEQ: Diplomacy is a full-time activity for you.
`Aziz: Yes. My country was engaged in war, and that's when I traveled on its behalf. During peace, you can have a better life. My predecessor, for instance, Dr. Hammadi, enjoyed vacations because in the 1970s we didn't have that complicated a situation.
1 For a summary of U.N. Resolutions 687, 688, 706 and 715, please see page 52 of this issue.
2 This comment presumably refers to Anthony Lake's assertion that the Clinton administration "supports the objectives of the Iraqi National Congress," which he characterizes as "maintaining Iraq's territorial government in Baghdad." Anthony Lake, "Confronting Backlash States," in Foreign Affairs, Mar./Apr. 1994, p. 51.
Mr. 'Aziz dealt far more harshly with the Lake article in a prior interview he gave to the Iraqi press, In it, he accused the U.S. national security advisor of adopting the views of his "professional Zionist assistant, Martin Indyk," and adopting a "rancourous, hostile, colonialist" attitude toward Iraq (Iraqi New Agency, Mar. 4, 1994).
3 An even more sharply worded editorial appeared in Babil after this interview, on Mar. 21, 1994, when Iraqi foreign policy was described as "in bad shape" and "deteriorating."
Ad-Dustur, a Jordanian newspaper, speculated in its Mar. 26, 1994 issue that the attacks in Babil could "signal an imminent shakeup in the Iraqi diplomatic community that may see the country's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq 'Aziz and Foreign Miniser Muhammad Sa'id as-Sahhaf lose their jobs".
4 For example, in Shishi (Tel Aviv), Feb. 25, 1994: Foreigh Report dealt extensively with this topic in its issue of Mar. 31, 1994. 5 For example, Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Feb. 27, 1994.
6 Quoted in Milton Viorst, Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 345.
Commentary on the Tariq `Aziz Interview
By Amatzia Baram
Amatzia Baram is a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of Culture, History & Ideology in the Formation of Ba'hist Iraq, 1968-89 (St. Martin's Press, 1991).
In his interesting interview with the Middle East Quarterly, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq `Aziz makes statements on six topics that deserve elaboration: the United Nations embargo, sales of oil, Kuwait, Islam, the Iraqi media, and the American media.
The United Nations embargo. `Aziz presents the official Iraqi line in an eloquent but somewhat misleading way. He first claims that all of Iraq's obligations towards the United Nations, as embodied in Resolutions 687 and 715, have been fulfilled, so the United Nations must immediately implement Paragraph 22 of Resolution 687, the one that allows Iraq to sell oil. In fact, even Iraq's international allies (France, Russia, China, and others) agree that to date Baghdad has not fulfilled all its obligations. Indeed, even when it does, it will still have to submit to the arms supervision system for some months to make sure that it functions well. The American and British governments hold that Baghdad should comply not only with Resolutions 687 and 715, but also with Resolution 686, the one that demands that Saddam Husayn's regime observe human rights, and with those resolutions which demand of it to recognize Kuwaiti sovereignty and the newly demarcated border. As the two superpowers see it this, while not the letter is, all the same, the spirit of Resolution 687. Iraq and its allies oppose this interpretation.
Sales of oil. `Aziz objects to the $1.6 billion in oil sales permitted by U.N. Resolutions 706 and 712, saying that the attendant conditions infringe on Iraq's sovereignty. While correct, this ignores the fact that the other resolutions adopted during and following the Kuwait crisis virtually all also infringe on Iraq's sovereignty. The Iraqi regime's outlaw actions opened the door for international intervention in its domestic affairs. Why does Baghdad accede to some infringements on its sovereignty (for example, the destruction of its arsenal), and reject other infringements that go along with selling the $1.6 billion of oil? Because selling oil according to Resolutions 706 and 712 requires Baghdad to accept the positioning of U.N. human rights supervisors in Iraq. These would ensure that food bought with the oil money is equitably distributed, making it impossible for Saddam to reward his own entourage at the expense of others. Worse, it would require him to provide food and medicine to the autonomous Kurds in the north as well as to the Marsh Arabs in the south, both of whom Saddam considers his sworn enemies. Thus, he cannot agree to such rules.
Kuwait's sovereignty. While arms supervisors will be seen by few, food supervisors will be seen by many, to Saddam's embarrassment. The Iraqi deputy prime minister is reluctant to express explicit and unequivocal recognition of Kuwait as an independent state. Instead he says, with reference to the Iraqi occupation and evacuation of Kuwait, "this chapter is closed." Is it permanently closed? He archly replies, "I don't know what future generations will do . . . we are speaking about our responsibility as a government now." In other words, he refuses to commit himself or his government. This amounts not even to a de facto, much less a de jure, recognition.
Reviewing the Iraqi press, March 10, 1994-or nine days before this interview was given-appears to have been the last time it referred to Kuwait as "Kazima," the ancient term revived by Baghdad during its occupation of the country in 1990-91. Tariq 'Aziz was correct, then, in pointing to a change in press policy; venturing an educated guess, he could well have been the moving force behind this change. That's not to say that the press has referred respectfully to Kuwait in the intervening weeks: to the contrary, terms like "the Sabbahs," "Jabir," and the "rulers of Kuwait" point to a continued effort to delegitimate its government.
Islam. When he describes the conflict between the Algerian regime and its fundamentalist Muslims, `Aziz is sending a message to his own president. He explains that the Algerian regime lost much power when it "weakened the role of the ruling FLN party. A vacuum resulted which was then filled by the Islamic Salvation Front." Recently Saddam has weakened the Ba`th party in Iraq and increased the power of other bodies (mainly the army and the tribal chiefs, but also the Islamic religions leaders). `Aziz, an old party hand, seems genuinely disturbed by this development. Further, as a Christian (a Chaldean), he is particularly vulnerable to an Islamic resurgence in Iraq. Also, his claim that Islamic piety in Iraq is "outside of politics" is false, for it flies in the face of Saddam Husayn's recent efforts to marry Islam and politics. Tariq `Aziz can not admit this, because it may be regarded by Saddam as criticism.
The statement that "the Iraqi government has no links with so-called Islamic fundamentalists" is just not true. Baghdad activity supported the Muslim Brethren of Syria during the early 1980s.
The People's Mujahidin of Iran. The offer to drop support for the People's Mujahidin in return for Iranian efforts against the Ba'th regime is probably genuine, for the simple reason that it would be a good deal. Iraq suffers more from the Shi'ite infiltrators based in Iran than Iran does from the People's Mujahidin based in Iraq. While the People's Mujahidin are unpopular in Iran, the Shi'ite revolutionaries are quite popular among the Shi'ites of Iraq. They cannot bring down the regime, but they can inflict real pain, especially via the car bombs that have been going off in recent months at government buildings in downtown Baghdad. However, a deal on this level seems unlikely without agreement on the larger issues between the two regimes.
The Iraqi media. On two occasions, `Aziz argues that the media does not necessarily represent the official position. In this he echoes Saddam Husayn's statement that the press in Iraq is free; he has no control over its treatment of Kuwait. These claims are patently untrue. Like all institutions in Iraq, the Iraqi media is completely controlled by the regime. Pretending that the press is free brings two benefits to Saddam Husayn. For one, it permits him to adopt radical postures without paying the price in terms of international sanctions. For another, it allows him to have his lieutenants do battle against each other, accusing each other of responsibility for failures, while keeping himself above the fray.
The American media. `Aziz attacks the American media for depicting the Iraqi regime in 1979-80 as "weak," and so encouraging "those stupid Iranians" to attack Iraq. This argument has two serious problems. First, Iraq--and not Iran--began the war--even if Ayatullah Khomeini did his best to provoke the Iraqis. Secondly, the American media in those years described Iraq as the regional great power and Iran as the declining military force (that was the time when Khomeini executed his own officers and pilots). To the extent the American press is to blame for the Iraq-Iran war, it is for the opposite reason: by severely underestimating the power of Iran's Islamic Republic, it may have unwittingly encouraged the Iraqis to go on the offensive.