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Exiting Iraq: Sir Jeremy Greenstock's View

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Exiting Iraq: Sir Jeremy Greenstock's View

Exiting Iraq: Sir Jeremy Greenstock's View

Exiting Iraq: Sir Jeremy Greenstock's View

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British ambassador to the U.N., was also special representative to Iraq during the first year of the U.S.-led occupation. He says Iraq needs stronger central security before U.S., U.K. can consider leaving.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Sir Jeremy Greenstock was Britain's U.N. Ambassador in the period leading up to the war in Iraq and served as special representative in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority in the first year of occupation. He joins us from our studios in London now for another of our series of interviews exploring how and when the U.S. might leave Iraq. Sir Jeremy, thanks very much for being with us.

Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (Former British Ambassador to the U.N.): A pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And in your judgment, is Iraq headed for de facto division into three separate entities?

Sir GREENSTOCK: It's certainly heading and is already in, I think, de facto chaos. I don't think that the majority of the Iraqi people want division, because it's very much a sense of failure that would lead to a division of Iraq. And it's not a good Plan B for anybody.

SIMON: At the same time, how close is Iraq to the model - how feasible is that model that the U.S. and the United Kingdom had of a functioning multi-party, multi-ethnic democracy?

Sir GREENSTOCK: A long way away. Quite clearly the politics and the security of current Iraq are weak and poor and threatening further trouble. I think that Iraqis have shown that they like the idea of democracy, but you can't build democracy out of elections alone. You've got to have institutions that work. And I think that Ambassador Paul Bremer, for one, understood that, but he wasn't able to create those institutions in the short time that he had. Of course foreign occupation, as it was seen, is unpopular and only has a certain amount of time. But Iraqis, I think, also understand that coalition is necessary if you have a number of different sects who don't all see it the same way.

SIMON: What would, as you see it, what would the effect be if the U.S. and U.K. were to announce - and I'm going to make up a figure - a year's timetable to draw down their troop strength?

Sir GREENSTOCK: I've never believed in a timetable. You've got to go by the logic of the situation and the interests of the people concerned. So a strict timetable has never made sense unless somebody makes a decision in principal that we've got to get out. In Iraq now, if the Americans and the British and the other members of the coalition say we've got to leave this place, there will be a sense of failure and defeat attached to that. And that is, I think, very much why President Bush is not going down that route.

SIMON: What would happen if there were to be a change of policy in behalf of the U.S. government, and American troops were to be rather quickly withdrawn? I explain that because people in favor of that argue that in fact the U.S. troops themselves are the problem.

Sir GREENSTOCK: Well, they are the problem for people prepared to use violence against them. Those same people, if the U.S. troops, the U.K. troops withdrew, would turn their violence onto other parts of the Iraqi population. They want Iraq to be ungovernable, even by other Iraqis. The Iraqi people by a majority, although they will say they dislike intensely having foreigners on their soil, as you would, as we would in the United Kingdom, nevertheless know they couldn't be trusted to run their own affairs without violence themselves. So there is a very schizophrenic attitude in this whole area. And we have to be very careful about those sorts of judgment.

SIMON: Sir Jeremy, what do you see as - I almost hesitate to use this phrase which has become such a cliché - but an exit strategy for U.S. and U.K. troops?

Sir GREENSTOCK: I actually always think that it's wrong to think in terms of an exit strategy in these sorts of circumstances. It signals that your willpower is declining. You need a strategy. You need a strategy for success. You need to define that success with criteria so that people, your constituencies, understand it, so that the Iraqi people understand it. And you need to point to the line which you wish to reach which will signal that you're then prepared to agree to depart, or will accept an invitation to depart.

SIMON: How would fill out those goals, as opposed to a timetable? What do you think the U.S. and U.K. goals should be?

Sir GREENSTOCK: The U.S. and U.K. goals should be, and I think are, to bring capacity to Iraqi institutions and Iraqi instruments and operations, to build an Iraqi army and an Iraqi police force, an Iraqi set of ministries, an Iraqi oil industry, that can work independently. Iraqis want that. We want that. We are working together on that, but there are many enemies of that plan and the security situation within which to do it is extremely compromised because of mistakes made earlier.

But that is the plan and it's a sensible plan, and the controllers of the plan, the people who make the pivotal decisions, have to be the Iraqis in an Iraqi sovereign state.

SIMON: Is the Iraqi government, as it's presently functioning, capable of taking over?

Sir GREENSTOCK: Yes, in theory and in certain areas, but they do not have control of security, except in certain more peaceful areas. They do not have what I would like to see as a more cohesive cabinet and set of ministers and set of political parties than we now have. There isn't a natural leadership for a unified Iraq. It has to be done through coalition and compromises and agreements. They've got a long way to go.

SIMON: From our conversation, I would draw out the idea that you don't see U.S. and British and other coalition forces departing Iraq within the next two or three years.

Sir GREENSTOCK: I see them scaling down. I think that Iraq has a generation's worth of trouble to struggle through before it becomes a stable state. I think the mistakes that were made earlier on by both coalition authorities and by the Iraqis have lengthened the time and the cost of that struggle. I think it will be sensible for us to make it clear that we will stay in the proportions that Iraqis think are useful. But I do think that you will see quite a visible coalition presence in three year's time, yes.

SIMON: Sir Jeremy, thank you very much.

Sir GREENSTOCK: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Sir Jeremy Greenstock was Britain's special representative in Iraq the first year of occupation, Britain's ambassador to the U.N. before the war. He now directs the Ditchley Foundation, which holds conferences in international affairs and global policy-making.

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