AFP: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to be replaced and said the US government had utterly failed to understand the country’s ancient rivalries. by Paul Handley
WASHINGTON, Aug 26, 2007 (AFP) – French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to be replaced and said the US government had utterly failed to understand the country’s ancient rivalries.
“I just had (US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) on the phone 10 or 15 minutes ago, and I told her, ‘Listen, he’s got to be replaced,'” Kouchner told the US magazine Newsweek, in an interview published Sunday following his August 19-21 trip to Baghdad.
“Many people believe the prime minister ought to be changed. I don’t know if that will go through, though, because it seems President (George W.) Bush is attached to Mr Maliki. But the government is not functioning,” he said.
In Baghdad, Maliki called for an official French apology for Kouchner’s remarks.
“In the past you backed the former regime. Today we were happy with you and then you decided to support the former regime’s loyalists. We demand an apology from the French government,” he said.
In Paris, a foreign ministry spokesman sought to downplay the remarks, with a spokesman saying that Kouchner was merely conveying views that he had heard during his visit to Baghdad.
“Concerning the remarks that are attributed to Mr Kouchner, he was referring to ongoing debate that he witnessed during his visit to Iraq,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hugues Moret.
Kouchner also called for more European involvement in Iraq, saying that “everything is at stake there, even for children and grandchildren.”
“The crisis in Iraq is, as I said, a crisis that threatens all of us … The more European ministers and delegations we get in there the better.”
Kouchner, a human rights activist and founder of the Doctors Without Borders charity before joining the new government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in May, blasted some Iraqi leaders he met during his trip.
“There are two sorts of people in Iraq: those who are realists and who tell you things are going badly. And then those who are out of touch with reality, who live in the Green Zone (of Baghdad) and say that everything’s fine, everything will work out.
“It’s not worth talking to them! They’ve got the world record for refugees, for displaced people, for violence, for murders — and everything’s fine! It’s all the fault of someone else.
“The others, what do they say? That it’s an extremely profound crisis and if they don’t get out of it soon, that’s going to be very bad indeed.”
Kouchner said that the current situation is a “crucible” for all the dangers faced by the world today.
“In this place called Iraq everything comes together, all the problems of the world: the violence; murder as a way of doing politics; the clash of religions; the confrontation of communities that are theoretically allied and who talk to each other but, in reality, are prolonging an ancient struggle for dominance.
“All of that is mixed with the question of oil … Then you have the influence of neighboring countries who, through militias, money and arms, are able to manipulate the situation in Iraq,” he told Newsweek.
“I think this is the crucible for even worse regional and global violence. It’s the globalization of terror. Everybody is there, and not only Al-Qaeda. … One of those, Iran, wants to become a nuclear power.”
Kouchner described the sectarian fighting in Iraq as the extension of “6,000 years of violence” and said the United States had not understood that.
“For them these are political matters, and political matters are a history of settling scores among the big families and the big parties (of Iraq). That’s what it’s like there. They’ve had 6,000 years of violence.
“So, finally, the daily death toll in Baghdad and in the country doesn’t interest them so much. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything. That’s one of the mistakes the Americans made.”