Sunday, December 10, 2006

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: Iraq worse than a civil war

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in a tough candid interview said
Despite what the official US stand is,"The situation in Iraq is much worse than a civil war."

Kofi Annan interview: Text
The BBC's Lyse Doucet interviews Kofi Annan in New York
Kofi Annan was interviewed by the BBC for the last time

The outgoing UN secretary general Kofi Annan gave his last BBC interview to Lyse Doucet. He is due to step down on 31 December when he will be succeeded by South Korea's foreign minister Ban Ki-moon. Below is an excerpt from the interview:

BBC: Was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, without a Security Council resolution, the most difficult point for you in your term?

Kofi Annan: It was extremely difficult, because I really believed that we could have stopped the war and that if we had worked a bit harder - given the inspectors a bit more time - we could have.

I was also concerned that for the US and its coalition to go to war without the consent of the Council in that particular region, which has always been extremely controversial, would be extremely difficult and very divisive and that it would take quite a long time to put the organization back together, and of course it divided the world too.

It is healing but we are not there yet. It hasn't healed yet and we feel the tension still in this organization as a result of that.

BBC: And you watch with mounting alarm, like many people, what's happening. In September, you said Iraq was in danger of sliding towards civil war.

BBC: Is it civil war?

Kofi Annan: It is an extremely dangerous situation and I think we all are interested in getting Iraq right and we would want to get it right, but the Iraqis will have to come together and make it happen. Obviously, they are going to need help, given the killings and the bitterness I'm not sure they can do it alone.

They would need help from the international community and their neighbours, but some of the key things they have to do is the constitutional review, really, looking at issues of revenue sharing, oil and taxation revenues, how do you share it fairly amongst the three groups, or four groups? How do you share power?

I mean, all the struggle is about each group's position in future Iraq, and if you don't deal with those issues, which during the constitution were swept under the rug, they are going to face very serious problems and I think they should be tackled.

BBC: Is it civil war?

Kofi Annan: I think, given the level of violence, the level of killing and bitterness and the way that forces are arranged against each other. A few years ago, when we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war. This is much worse.

BBC: You must in some way feel sadly vindicated - in 2003, in March, you said that: "A war can lead to unintended consequences, producing new threats and new dangers."

It is sad - it is sad in the sense that it had to come to this.

BBC: Was it a mistake? Some Iraqis say that life is worse than it was under a dictator.

Kofi Annan: I think they are right in the sense of the average Iraqi's life. If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison, that they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, "Am I going to see my child again?" And the Iraqi government has not been able to bring the violence under control.

The society needs security and a secure environment for it to get on - without security not much can be done - not recovery or reconstruction.

BBC: Do you believe that the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton which is about to publish its report is a recognition that the US and others have to change course urgently?

Kofi Annan: Yeah, I think it's a recognition that things are not working the way they had hoped and that it is essential to take a critical review - take a critical look at what is going on and, if necessary, change course.

BBC: Because there's no denying the risks at stake here - you met Middle East leaders this summer, they said to you that the whole region had been radicalized and destabilized. In fact, they said it was a disaster.

Kofi Annan: This is the feeling of the leaders in the region and in the streets as well.

The people are worried - they are worried about the future, they are worried about the broader Middle East, they are worried about the tensions with Iran, they are worried about Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and some would even stretch it as far as to Afghanistan.

So we have a very worrisome situation in the broader Middle East and we also need to look at them as a whole, not as individual conflicts. There are linkages between these crises.

BBC: But when you see this unfolding, in the dark of night, do you ever think: "I, as the secretary general, could have done more to stop it, personally"?

Kofi Annan: You mean the war or the situation?

BBC: The war.

Kofi Annan: I think as secretary general I did everything I could. I worked with the member states, and you've read some of the comments I made before the war.

BBC: But you made many comments, for example, you waited until 2004 in a BBC interview to say the war was "illegal".

Kofi Annan: No.

BBC: Why didn't you stand up in the UN Security Council and say in 2003: "This war is illegal without a Security Council resolution"?

Kofi Annan: I think, if you go back to the records, you will discover that before the war I said that for the US and its allies to go to war without Security Council approval would not be in conformity with the Charter.

BBC: Which is a very sort of UN bureaucratic thing, rather than saying "it's illegal" which would have much more impact. And your aides say to me: "This was Kofi Annan, the cautious man, not wanting to confront."

Kofi Annan: It's easy to - what do the Americans call it? - "Saturday morning quarter-backing", or "armchair critic". I mean, it was one of those situations where even before a shot had been fired, you had millions in the street and it didn't make a difference.

BBC: But for you, in that position, a very difficult, devastating time. Your aides say that you lost your voice.

Kofi Annan: Yeah, it was very difficult, very painful, because I really, really felt we should have tried harder to avoid it and I was very worried about the consequences and the results.

BBC: Your biggest regret?

Kofi Annan: My biggest regret - well, it's also linked to Iraq. It was 23 wonderful colleagues and friends I sent to Iraq who got blown away. They went to Iraq to try and help clean up in the aftermath of a war I genuinely did not believe in, and these people, who were wonderful professionals, wonderful friends, were blown up overnight. And of course when that happens, you ask questions, you know: Would they be here if there hadn't been this situation? Would they be here if I hadn't asked them to go?

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