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Iraq: U.S. Representative Aims To Promote Changes

Prague, 3 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The following are excerpts from an RFE/RL interview with Frank Ricciardone, a U.S. diplomat who has been named Washington's special representative for transition in Iraq.

Ricciardone has described his mission as to help the Iraqi people in transforming Iraq into a country at peace with its neighbors. Among his responsibilities are working with the Iraqi opposition to help build democratic alternatives to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Our correspondent spoke by phone with the U.S. diplomat in Stuttgart, Germany, (March 1) as he took up his new job following his most recent position as U.S. deputy head of mission to Turkey.

Q: Mr. Ricciardone, eight years ago, on February 28, 1991, [U.S.] President [George] Bush ordered an end to the 100-hour Gulf War which evicted the Iraqi army from Kuwait as part of a policy of containing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Why has Washington moved since then from a policy of containing Saddam to a policy now of containment plus regime change?

A: "Well, Im not sure that the decision that President Bush made all those years ago was so much the launch of a policy of containment so much as a decision that the immediate objective of Desert Storm had been accomplished, the Iraqi army had been ejected from Kuwait, and all the signs were that the Iraqi army was going to go back and induce a change of regime, and we saw that quite properly as a job for the Iraqis to accomplish on their own. We certainly wished them well, but that was not the strategic objective of Desert Storm at the time. So my understanding from that time is thats the basis of President Bushs decision. Then, having followed the Bush administrations policy on Iraq for a while, my understanding was that we expected still that there could be a change of regime. We expressed then, as we have in the Clinton administration, that we would be prepared to work in support of a successor regime that wanted to live in peace with its neighbors and comply with its international obligations. As to our current policy, even that is not dramatically new, except for the Iraq Liberation Act, which we can talk about. I would refer you to a speech by [U.S.] Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright at Georgetown, exactly two years ago -- it was towards the end of March -- where she articulated our readiness to deal with a successor regime that was willing to live in peace with its neighbors, and in peace with its own people, and that would be meeting its international obligations. So weve had a pretty steady policy. We have moved to containment-plus, as the Secretary has called it, and I think that is a recognition that the Iraqi people are suffering, and are really crying out for help in a multitude of ways, and were doing what we can to help support them in bringing Iraq to its rightful place in the world."

Q: Some commentators have observed that during the [1991] Gulf War the U.S. administration felt that many exiled Iraqi opposition leaders were too far-removed from the situation in Iraq to play a key role in events. Today, many key Iraqi opposition figures are still in exile but Washington sees them as a means to achieve regime change. Why has Washington's attitude changed?

A: "I cant speak to why Washingtons attitude has changed, if indeed it has changed, but I can tell you from personal knowledge of many Iraqis outside the country that they are deeply caring patriots who want to see a change in the country, and who have much to offer both before there is a change, in helping bringing it about, and then hopefully the morning after, and the month after, and the year after. I personally see these Iraqis, some of whom are in the so-called opposition, that is to say politically active Iraqis, others of whom are not politically active, but who are technocrats, who are experts, who want to make a contribution. I see them as important players. They can help get the truth inside Iraq from the outside world, which is so important to a captive people. They can help get the truth out of Iraq, to the United States government and to other governments. They certainly have an important role to play, and I feel privileged and optimistic to be working with them."

Q: Washington and London have said they want to see Saddam Hussein's regime replaced by a more pluralistic and more democratic system which would permit the participation of all three of Iraq's major groups -- the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- in government. But Iraq has little historical precedent for power-sharing between these three groups. Is there a danger that in the long-run U.S. policy will find itself swimming against the tide of Iraqi politics?

A: "I dont think so, and not only that, I would not limit the Iraqi mosaic, or the description of the Iraqi mosaic, to only the three groups. There are other important groups in Iraq as well, like the Turkomans, like the Assyrians, like the Chaldeans. There are many many people. In fact, as Americans, we believe that you can find strength in diversity. The Iraqis do have some history of cooperating together across sectarian and ethnic lines. So Im not one of those who believes that if you remove a dictator, the country will fly apart. I think Iraqis do have the capacity to work together, one way or another, and it is up to them to determine what way that is, and find a way of sharing power and keeping the country together."