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Ambassador Wilson and Tanya Gilly Discuss Iraq's Near Future - 2003-04-15


VOA interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Tanya Gilly, Women For a Free Iraq

MR. BORGIDA
And joining us now to discuss the road ahead in Iraq, Ambassador Joe Wilson, a former U.S. diplomat in Baghdad, and a frequent guest on our program, and Tanya Gilly, with the group Women for a Free Iraq.

Ms. Gilly, since I introduced the Ambassador first, I will give you the first question. The meeting broke up after a day with a declaration. Are you heartened by this beginning? Is it a first step? Or did you expect more?

MS. GILLY
Actually, I thought it came out as expected. Like you said, it is a first step. And I believe that a lot of Iraqis weren't expecting much more to come out of this meeting. It was just a stepping stone, or something preliminary, in order to prepare the upcoming meetings. And as far as I know, there are going to be a lot more meetings coming up.

MR. BORGIDA
If it's any reflection of the society at large, one would think that as, we get going, both of you but Ms. Gilly first, it would appear that this could well be a fractious opportunity, with all the different groups in Iraq, with all the history. What can you predict for us, in an educated way obviously, about the weeks and months ahead?

MS. GILLY
Well, there is going to be some turmoil. That's something that cannot be avoided, of course. But I'm sure that the Iraqis will get past that right away. Because all Iraqis, you have to remember, they were united in one thing. And that was Saddam's oppression and Saddam's tyranny against them.

One of the things that all the Iraqis have to believe now is that Saddam is gone and they can move very freely. And these meetings, the first one took place, and I'm sure a lot of Iraqis were anticipating to see what was going to come out of this meeting. And then, with the next meeting, of course, you're going to see more participation from other groups and other personalities as well.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador, if it's not complicated enough with all the groups inside Iraq, there is considerable opposition, as expressed I think in our earlier report about the role of the United States in these talks, and certainly the future role of the United States. You have been a diplomat in Baghdad, how would you assess that particular angle of the story, the U.S. role early?

AMBASSADOR WILSON
Well, first of all, democracy is a fractious business. It's fractious even in the United States, and we've had 230-odd years of experience doing democracy. So, it's safe to assume that in societies such as Iraq's, just emerging from 30 years of tyranny, or longer, that it is going to be somewhat fractious as these groups get back together.

The United States has a very important role to play, but the most important role is the role that can be played by the various representatives of the groups within Iraq. And my assessment of today's meeting, as Tanya's was, is that is probably as good as it gets for right now. It's going to take a lot more meetings, and they're not going to be able to have the luxury of 10 days between meetings as they go forward. Otherwise we're going to be in this democratization phase for a real long time.

And the longer we are in this sort of talking phase, the longer the U.S. liberation has to be seen by the Iraqi population as an occupation. And the vast majority of Iraqis are soon going to be asking not, am I liberated, they're going to be asking essentially, what have you done for me lately and why don't you give me my country back?

So, there is a very fine line there.

MR. BORGIDA
I think that's an excellent point.

Ms. Gilly, it would seem that if they're in a hurry, they are now waiting for 10 more days, this is a fair point. If the United States and the troops are going to be there for a while, the longer they're there, the more they will be seen as occupiers, despite their protestations, wouldn't you think?

MS. GILLY
One of the things that we have to remember, the first thing that the Iraqi people care about right now is running water, electricity and the food. These are the kinds of things that we have to make sure that the Iraqi people have before we start the democratization process and teaching them about civil society and so on.

These are concepts that the Iraqi people do know about. It's not something that you have to basically teach all the way from the beginning to them. These are concepts that have been going on in the north, quite frankly, for the past 12 years. So, we have to make it grow from there, and we have to teach it, I guess you could say, or, I don't want to say, apply it to the rest of Iraq -- just so the rest of the Iraqis can enjoy that same freedom.

Now, a lot of people from the south and from the center, they were visiting Iraqi Kurdistan, and they were seeing the free media, the free press; they were seeing the different democratic institutions and so on. And these are the kinds of things that they said, yes, we do want that. But the first thing that we need to make sure that the Iraqi people have is their food, their running water and their electricity.

AMBASSADOR WILSON
I would add to that security, which is first and foremost. The problem that we've seen in some of the cities, more in the south than in the north, has been that this looting runs the very real risk of degenerating into revenge killings. And that is something, a cycle, we don't want to get into.

MS. GILLY
Well, with the revenge killings, we haven't really seen much of that happen. A lot of people are storming the prisons to try and find their loved ones, people who have disappeared for many years. They are storming the security buildings to find documentation about their loved ones who have disappeared. But I think the Iraqi people, like I said, they all have suffered so much, I don't think they want to go ahead and do that, to just go ahead and kill a Baathist just because he is a Baathist. So, these are the kinds of things that we will not see much of.

MR. BORGIDA
Ms. Gilly, tell us a little bit more, though, about the U.S. role. The Ambassador took a crack at it; I would like your view of it. If these troops in fact stay, and if it takes longer and longer to get water, electricity, power, back up to many of these cities, it does represent, at least to a layman, a potential quagmire.

MS. GILLY
Well, the presence of the U.S. troops, they're probably going to need to be there for about at least eight months or so, just to make sure that -- like the Ambassador said, they do need security -- to make sure everything will be settled and everything is secure enough for them to start functioning as a civil society again.

Now, I am hoping that they will not be in there longer than that. The U.S. themselves, the administration, has been saying, "We want to be out as soon as possible," and I'm pretty sure that's something they are going to follow.

MR. BORGIDA
That's a sensitive point, though. We're seeing a lot of these protests. The main Sunni group didn't want to participate because of this issue.

AMBASSADOR WILSON
Well, absolutely. And with all due respect to Tanya, the assassination of a couple of significant Shia figures in Najaf a couple of days ago points up to the insecurity in some of the areas of Iraq and the real concern that we ought to have that senior leaders are not assassinated and not killed, whether they are Baathists or Ayatollahs.

But I think eight months is probably very optimistic for the withdrawal of American troops. We have to allow the democratization process to root. And I think that Tanya quite correctly said that it's really built from the foundation up. And that takes time. The development of some confidence in the role of dialogue and sitting around the table and finding compromise solutions is something that doesn't come easily, after the 30-odd years of tyranny that the Iraqis suffered under.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador, we have a short time left in the segment. I want to get your view on the role of the U.N. It's described by various players in this situation as preeminent, vital, critical. How do you see the U.N. role in the months ahead?

AMBASSADOR WILSON
I don't think the U.N. role is critical. I think that the Iraqi people will be able to work their way through this without the U.N. playing the critical role. I do think, however, that it is such a large endeavor that it is worthy of a broad partnership, in bringing the assets that the U.N. can bring to bear, the international community can bring to bear through the United Nations, in conferring not just additional resources and assets but also a certain legitimacy on the process.

It is also a way of helping to rebuild frayed relations between the coalition of the willing and other countries who were not so enthusiastic.

MR. BORGIDA
We're seeing some of that already. President Bush spoke with French President Chirac by phone today.

Quickly, Ms. Gilly, the role of women, are you hopeful that women will become a productive part of a flourishing Iraqi democracy?

MS. GILLY
Definitely. The Iraqi woman is very different from other women in the Middle East. A lot of them hold very high degrees, and a lot of them actually played a major role in the opposition. And I'm hoping that that would translate into the rest of Iraq and the new government as well.

AMBASSADOR WILSON
Women have always played a key role in Iraqi society.

MS. GILLY
Yes.

AMBASSADOR WILSON
Always a very important and very dynamic role, and they will continue to do so. I have no doubt whatsoever.

MR. BORGIDA
The views of Ambassador Joe Wilson, a former diplomat in Baghdad, and Tanya Gilly, with the group called Women for a Free Iraq. I think this is an important conversation to have on an important day. Thanks for joining us, both of you. We appreciate it.

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