Powell IV with Hussein Abdel Ghani of Al Jazeera
U.S. Department of State
Interview with Hussein Abdel Ghani of Al Jazeera
Secretary Colin L. Powell
November 23, 2004
QUESTION: Thank you very much Mr. Colin Powell for receiving us and giving us this interview.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. It's a pleasure.
QUESTION: Do you, the U.S. administration, aim through this conference to enforce international legal legitimacy for the results of a war for which you were not able to win international legitimacy for waging in the first place?
SECRETARY POWELL: No. This conference was for the purpose of bringing all of Iraq's neighbors together and the international community to help Iraq continue down the path that was laid out in UN Resolution 1546. UN Resolution 1546, last June, set out a legitimate path to where the Iraqis could achieve their democracy. And what we have been doing since then is bringing the international community together. Remember that the resolution passed unanimously? So there is legitimacy to this process. The Iraqi interim government is legitimate. Now we want to make it more legitimate with a real election in January. What we are trying to do is to defeat an insurgency, have all the neighbors come together, and vow, as they did today, to not allow terrorists and terrorist financing and weapons to come across the border, to help with humanitarian aid and to assist the Iraqi people in this difficult time.
QUESTION: Why are you constantly rejecting all attempts to set a definite deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq? And are you willing to make this definite framework after the election in Iraq or even before it?
SECRETARY POWELL: The issue of troops in Iraq, coalition troops in Iraq, is dealt with in UN Resolution in 1546. It says that a year after the Resolution, in June of next year that matter will be reviewed but it will also be reviewed when the new transnational government takes over after the election in January. And we have said all along. If the legitimate government of Iraq ever asks us to leave, we will leave.
But it is not reasonable to set an artificial timelines and say coalition troops will be gone by next June or be gone by next February. You have to see what the situation is on ground. We want our troops to leave as quickly as possible. But what we want to leave in place is a government that is resting on a foundation of democracy, that has had elections, that has a constitution in place, that has a government that represents the people, and we want to see Iraqi forces built up so that they can protect their country and protect their new democracy and protect their people. And then it will be time for the coalition to leave. We will be there for as long as the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Interim Government, says they need us. We hope it won't be long, but we're not going to leave until the job is done.
QUESTION: How would you allow international legitimacy, represented by the United Nations, to play the main role in supervising the elections and political processes in Iraq?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first of all, the political process right now is in the hands of the Iraqi Interim Government So the Iraqi people are in charge of their own political process in accordance with the transitional administrative law that Iraqi leaders passed and in accordance with UN resolutions.
The United Nations is present in Iraq now, and it's growing in size -- its presence is growing -- in order to help the Iraqis conduct an election in January. But it is the Iraqis, their election commission, that is passing out the registration material now, getting people to register, getting parties to register, creating voting party lists. All of that is being done by the Iraqi government, the Iraqi election commission, with the assistance of the U.N. So the UN is playing a vital role. But the UN helps nations to go through these elections; it 's the nation itself that arranges them and conducts them and I am pleased at the progress that the Iraqi Interim government is making in getting ready for these elections.
QUESTION: Do you feel victorious because the conference followed the American scenario by eliminating all representations of the Iraqi opposition?
SECRETARY: Not at all. This isn't an American scheme. It wasn't an American design and plan. The Iraqi Interim government represents the people of Iraq, so they are here representing all the people of Iraq. You don't have an international conference of this type and have opponents to the government or opposition leaders come to such a conference.
Now one of the things that was discussed at this conference is the need for the Iraqi Interim government to reach out to opposition forces inside Iraq and bring them together and talk about the election coming up.
But you can't talk to opposition forces who have taken to the use of arms or using car bombs and other sorts of weaponry to defeat the Iraqi Interim government or to kill innocent civilians. This is not a legitimate opposition. So the Iraqi Interim government, and this was discussed at the conference, will be seeking ways to talk to all segments of Iraqi society, to talk to all opposition leaders. There is a great deal of debate going on in Iraq now as different parties put together the lists of candidates for the national assembly. It is very exciting for me to see the Shias organize themselves to create party lists, to see how the Sunnis are approaching it, and how the Kurds are approaching it, and how other groups in the country are coming together to determine how they will participate in the election. We should be happy about the fact that Iraqis are interested in this election and they are registering, and they are forming themselves politically in order to compete, not on the battlefield, but to compete at the ballot box at the end of January.
QUESTION: Is it possible that you would agree to the demands put forward by the Iraqi opposition? For example, postponing elections for six months, allowing major political figures like the Sunnis to participate and a fact-finding mission about what is going on in Fallujah and other cities of Iraq?
SECRETARY POWELL: There is no point in delaying the election. The UN Resolution calls for the election to be held no later than 30 of January 2005. The Iraqi electoral commission has announced that elections will be held on that day, January 30th, 2005. Everybody at the conference today believes it is important that we try to move forward and have elections at that time. Mr. Zebari, the foreign minister representing the government, made clear today that the government is committed to going forward to elections on January 30th, 2005.
With respect to Fallujah, this was a difficult situation. Insurgents had taken over the town. There was no civil control. The government could not control the town. Criminals had taken it over. Murderers had taken it over. And what were they doing in Fallujah? Were they rebuilding hospitals? Were they picking up the trash? No. In Fallujah, they were sending out people with car bombs, and people to go to other cities in Iraq and cause trouble. We tried to find a political solution. Prime Minister Allawi worked for weeks trying to find a peaceful, political solution to the problem of Fallujah. But no nation can act as a nation if you have a city like Fallujah that is totally in the hands of criminal elements. And so finally it was necessary to use military force. And our troops went into Fallujah with Iraqi troops, and they broke this insurgency up in Fallujah. Some of the insurgents have gone elsewhere. Many of them were killed in the battle.
We regret any damage that was caused to civilian facilities and especially to mosques. But the tragedy with respect to mosques is that these insurgents were using these sacred places, mosques - as sacred to Islam as a church might be to me as a Christian - they were using these places to store weapons, to conduct ambushes, to keep people hostages. This had to be dealt with. And now that the insurgents have been removed from these mosques, we've found some 60 mosques that had weapons inside of them. But now that that has been dealt with, we're going to do everything we can to assist in the repair of the mosques and correct any damage that was done as a result of this effort. But the blame should be placed where the blame belongs, and that's upon the insurgents, the former elements of Saddam Hussein's regime who are trying to take the Iraqi people back into the past and not into a brighter future.
QUESTION: Thank you, your Excellency.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you.