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Patey at the press conference
The United Kingdom's new ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, gave a press briefing to reporters in Baghdad on 17 July, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Patey formerly served as British ambassador to Sudan, which recently saw the conclusion of a peace treaty ending 29 years of civil war. Prior to Sudan, Patey served in Libya, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Excerpts from the press conference follow:
Patey: Just let me say by way of introduction that this is an exciting time in the political process in Iraq. We are pleased that the constitutional commission, the expanding constitutional commission, is up and running and working on the constitution. The feedback I get from those involved in this process is that they're anxious and confident that they can complete this process on time so that the Iraqi people can vote on the constitution in October and leading to new elections in December. Progress is being made on building up the Iraqi security forces; both the army and the police and other services to create the conditions so that coalition forces can reduce, eventually withdraw, and hand over to the Iraqi security forces. I am very pleased with progress that's been made on that.
I think that I would like just now to open it to questions, and I'll answer any of your questions.
RFI: The media has been saying that by the end of this year British forces intend to redeploy forces in Iraq. How true is this thesis?
A: There are no timetables on redeployment and withdrawal of British forces. I think the prime minister and defense secretary have made it clear that our redeployment and withdrawal will be on conditions-based timetable, when the conditions are right. That will be a function of discussions with the Iraqi government on the build-up of Iraqi security forces. But we have made our intentions clear, we will only be here as long as the Iraqi government wants us to be here, and we will withdraw and redeploy when the government feels the Iraqi security forces are in a position to replace us. Now, there is no timetable for that, any timetable is speculation. But I would add that we expect that the forthcoming elections, the agreement on the constitution and the build-up of Iraqi security forces will create conditions that will enable coalition forces to reduce and eventually withdraw.
Q: I have two questions, Mr. Ambassador. Where is the country's [contribution to the donor] conference in Amman? What will the U.K. role be in that conference, taking in consideration that [the United Kingdom is] leading the EU at the moment? My other question is about the death penalty and if the IST decided to practice this penalty against some of the congress, what will your point of view be on that issue?
Patey: On the Amman conference, we obviously play a leading role both bilaterally and as presidency of the EU. What we hope to achieve with the Iraqi government from the Amman conference, what we hope to see is agreement on the priorities to be set by the Iraqi government over the coming months and beyond. What the Iraqi government is capable of achieving: identifying its priorities, identifying the resources available to Iraqi government to spend on those priorities and to give a clear indication to donor countries on the areas where the Iraqi government would need help and would need assistance.
So if we come out of Amman with a clearer picture of that and also with a clearer framework for donor coordination, I think it will be a success. I don't think we would necessarily expect to see big new pledges at Amman, because a number of the pledges that were made in Madrid haven't yet been spent. So I wouldn't be looking for a big headline figure of extra money. In fact the U.K. will not be pledging any more money, but what we want to do is to work with the government to see what its priorities are and to see that our assistance is targeted in a way that meets the government's overall plan. We have been working on that in the lead-up to Amman and we're working at Amman for that outcome.
Q: I have two questions Mr. Ambassador, relating to the same issue. The London bombings, do you think they will silence the voices that are rejecting the war in Iraq? And we noticed that there is a great concern for the victims of the London bombings. What about the victims of Iraq bombings?
Patey: I think on your second point first, I think we share a concern about the victims of bombings, of victims of terrorism everywhere, and we are very conscious those of us who work in Iraq of the victims of terrorism. You have seen in recent days the appalling attacks on young children, attacks on civilians, so I think we are particularly conscious, and I think our government are, of the victims of terrorism on a daily basis in Iraq.
The London bombings have brought home to us the terrorism that is a global phenomenon, it not something that is confined to a few areas. Those who seek to attack and kill and terrorize civilians do so without discrimination. When we had two minutes' silence here at the embassy on [14 July], I made a point of remembering not only victims of the London bombings but also the victims of Iraqi terrorism.
On your first point, there's nothing new about international terrorism. Britain isn't suddenly a target for terrorism as a result of our involvement in Iraq, as some people would have you believe. We have seen terrorism in London before. I think those people who oppose the war in Iraq in the U.K. will not change their minds. But I think there is a growing consensus whatever the rationale, whatever the reason for going to war, even among those who opposed it.
There is a general recognition that we want to ensure that Iraq's future is a democratic one, in which the people of Iraq decide their future, that they can enjoy peace and stability, that they can enjoy economic progress. I don't think there's any dispute in Britain on that. There may be differences over should have we gone to war, but I think now there is certainly broad consensus that supporting democracy, supporting stability and supporting economic progress in Iraq is something we should do and I don't think the bombings in London will change that.
Q: Could you tell us about British reconstruction projects in the south of Iraq?
Patey: The main reconstruction is to get the electricity and water networks up and running. On that particular infrastructure-regeneration project we've spent 30 million pounds since June 2003. We've also spent 18 million pounds on emergency infrastructure rehabilitation: repairing the transmission lines from the power station into Basrah, and we've also supplied a number of technical advisors to help coordinate reconstruction projects.... But our main activity, if you like, is to try to work with Iraqi government, with the local administration to increase the capacity of Iraqi government to deliver services because at the end of the day it's for Iraq to do this.
What we are trying to do is to build up the capacity in the Iraqi administration to deliver these services. So I think increasingly you will see Iraqis delivering these services, less the coalition doing it. We have done it on an emergency basis but with a sovereign Iraqi government, it's for the Iraqi government to be spending Iraq's money through the development fund through Iraq, its oil revenue. International aid assistance will help, but it ‘s not going to be the primary source of funds. You will see increasingly the focus is on Iraqi government taking the lead on these matters and we are helping to build up capacity in that sector.
Could I just add that the reconstruction needs are huge, and probably beyond the capabilities of any single government to achieve. So for the longer term future the private sector is going to have a huge role to play in building up the energy infrastructure, the electricity and water because once Iraq starts building up its industry the electricity needs of Iraq are going to quadruple or increase five times. That is going to involve investment in power stations, investment in infrastructure. That sort of investment in other countries has come from the private sector. So an important part of the development of Iraq will be creating the conditions in which the private sector can come and work with the Iraqi government to provide the capital investment required, to address the needs of Iraq, because even an oil rich country like Iraq, at it increases its oil production, will have many demands on the budget.
To make this sort of investment on the infrastructure they will need assistance and that sort of capital is really available from the private sector. So creating the conditions for the private sector to come and invest in Iraq is an important part of planning for the future.
Q: After the killing of the Egyptian ambassador there were calls....
Patey: Well I think the reason you don't hear calls for strengthening commonwealth presence in Iraq is because we are already here. There are already 13 European embassies in Baghdad, which is six more than there were in Sudan. So as presidency of the EU I have a much larger group of colleagues here already. Australia, Canada are already represented here.
There were calls for Arab and Islamic countries to be better represented in Baghdad before the terrible killing of my Egyptian colleague.... I think that was an attempt to intimidate countries from sending representatives here. It's important that Iraq's neighbors are represented here, its important that Arab and Islamic countries support the new government. It is reassuring that many of the Arab countries that already announced their intentions to send envoys here; Jordan and Morocco and others have reiterated their intention to upgrade their relations here, and that is important.
Q: We are witnessing an escalation in the terrorist acts and the bombings lately. Are you willing to send more troops?
Patey: I don't think what is required is more troops, more coalition troops. This is going to take a sustained effort; I think we have seen a short term increase in terrorist activity. We think the trend over last few months has been relatively stable, we see a consistent level of attacks, with some days worse than others.
The key focus is on building up the Iraqi security forces, because ultimately it is the Iraqi government that will deal with the terrorists and former regime elements. And so, that work is going on. I think a lot of progress has been made, the current figure of police and armed forces that has been trained is over 170,000...and that figure is that to rise over the course of next year to 230,000.
Q: The withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, depends on three factors: the constitution, elections, and capacity building of Iraqi security forces. If we manage to achieve these three things, would you withdraw immediately after that or would it depend upon a request from our government?
Patey: I think what would happen...those are preconditions. Those are the conditions in which I said I thought would be created that could lead to withdrawal. I think the key factor will be the readiness of security forces to take over, and that may be in different places in different times. I don't think we would see an immediate withdrawal. We would see a withdrawal on a graduated basis according to the ability of the Iraqi security forces to take full responsibility.
Q: Do you think Iraq needs another Marshall Plan, as did Germany and Japan, to be a stable country?
Patey: I think Iraq needs the assistance of its friends. One of the big successes of the Brussels conference was that the international community had put behind it the disagreements it had over the war. There was broad agreement that the international community needed to come to the assistance of Iraq and it's people.... There are elements of [what] you could call the Marshall Plan.... The Paris Club has agreed to forgive 80 percent of Iraq's debt. Hopefully, the non-Paris Club countries will do likewise. There is a program for Iraq to have access to international lending through the IMF, the [World Bank], there is donor engagement. So, whatever it's called, there's kind of a Marshall Plan already.
Things will take time to change...people are impatient. But it takes years to build a power station, it takes years to build infrastructure projects, it takes years to reinvest in the oil industry. But that investment needs to happen and Iraq's oil revenues will increase, the Iraqi government will hopefully spend those oil revenues on building up both the physical and human capital of Iraq, because Iraq's future lies in its people.