CONFERENCE HELD AT THE PALACE OF LUXEMBOURG (FRENCH SENATE)
The Senate, 07th September 2011
Opening of the conference : by Ali Rastbeen, President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics
After having reminded of the originality of Iraqi geopolitics, President Ali Rastbeen invoked the problems presented by the religious mosaïc of the country. He insists equally on the fact that today, all Iraqis without exception can only deplore the catastrophic results of American occupation. Cultural relations between France and Iraq, arise from this troubled context, all the more so since the attempts to establish a Western-style democracy cannot suffice to establish firmly peace, justice and economic success.
I – The constitutional and institutional evolution of Iraq: governance and civil society
Ali Rastbeen, President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics,
1- The future between Iraq and France
Daniel Garrigue, member of the National Assembly (Parliament) and president of the France-Iraq Friendship Group, evokes the qualities of Iraq’s current situation and its will to regain its international position as much as its regional stature, all this by way of global reconstruction rendered necessary by the war initiated by the United States of America. He further evokes French preoccupation concerning the interior problems of the country: terrorism, Camp Ashraf, the persecution of Christians, etc.. Likewise, it would seem that Iraq is progressively renewing the natural and legitimate links with its neighbours, despite quite a series of tensions.
France can but help this motion, by evolving peaceful solutions and enlargening as much as possible the ring of communication contacts. How can one fail to understand the difficulties of a country, marked by thirty years of war, of embargos, of threats. Reconstruction of transportation systems, fresh water production, nourishment for the populations, are absolute priorities. One can observe with vigour that reconstruction is not happening at sufficient speed, even if a certain number of French companies have fortunately projected a secure future for Iraq.
2- The Iraqi State between past and future
His Eminence Adil Abd Al-Mahdi, former Iraqi Republic Vice-President (2005-2011) introduces his speech by reminding of Iraq’s natural riches. A certain economic wealth, from petrol, but above all a cultural wealth relating to the prestigious history of this Mesopotamia populated by sedentary farmers.
All the same, if Iraqi social reality is healthy, the political reality isn’t. We have witnessed, it’s true, for quite some time, a monopolisation of the political power, further the country has known destructive exogenous wars and serious internal turbulence often more costly than exterior conflicts. This was, for example, the case in March 1991 when the “Arab Spring” was betrayed by all protagonists: Iraqi treachery … Iranian treachery … Western plotting…! Nevertheless, between one and one-and-a-half million people emigrated abroad.
It’s evident that the Americans were wrong to install an administration “for them by them” instead of securising immediately a transitional government. As a result, Iraqi concern was to try and maintain a democratic structure capable of exposing a debt-free and generally free society. Thanks to France, the monetary debt has been reduced by 90%. Today, Iraq has without doubt “exited its past but has not yet entered the future”.
Iraq deeply needs five mobilisations:
- the need to develope a strong State that ensures national unity
- the need to elaborate strong economic growth (the presence of petrol obviously helps, if production is sufficient: a reasonable estimate requires doubling production)
- the need for a different social mobilisation – one that isn’t geared for war but for serving the development of the people
- the need to exploit better its democratic experience: this can be achieved by remotivating thinking
- the need to become a State of Law and of Rights, with convenient governance; this means for example, a basic property attitude that corresponds to the mentality, associated with a national and international policy motivated by cooperation and even fraternity (in this sense, help from France can be highly appreciable)
In response to questions from the public, His Eminence Adil Abd Al-Mahdi insists on the major role of the Marjiya in recent Iraqi history, and reminds that corruption is a fairly new phenomenon. It’s true, that when the State imposed itself on a large part of the economic sector, a large amount of corruption was planted.
3- The role of the Marjiya in the new Iraq
Seyed Mohammed Ali Bahr El-Oulom, member of the former Provisional Iraqi Council, treats the subject of how the Iraqi population had been stifled, deprived of its liberties and prevented from participating in the establishment of a more just society. He has one notice that the higher religious authorities never advised the establishment of an Islamic republic, on the contrary they strived for the instilling a just regime capable of reforming with the accompaniment of the citizenry. He appeals to Arab and Muslim institutions, to do their job. In the interior, all must be done to homogenise the nation and put in place the necessary instruments for good governance; on the outside, peace with Iraq’s neighbours must be durably favoured. By resuming, orientation and non interference are the master words characterising the Marjiya’s action.
4- Security and human cost: war and its aftermath
According to Mr. Houshang Hassan-Yari, Professor and Director of the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, the human cost of the American invasion of Iraq, whether visible or subtle, is considerable. In particular, psychological damage inherent to population displacement such as those in permanent mourning, has been marking Iraqis for a long while. It’s therefore not unusual that 92% of Iraqis see the foreign coalition forces as occupying forces and not liberating forces. Over 40% of Iraqis think that the coalition forces must absolutely leave Iraqi territory, even if some feel that it’s not an immediate necessity. The most fundamental question today is that of human security, whether economic, food, health, environmental, personal (with respect to abuses by the State), community or generally political. Some of the problems are of absolutely urgent priority: such is the case of medical treatment, the quality of drinking water, in brief and by way of a global perspective: everything that could help Iraq to regain modern industrialised State status. Clearly, the coalition forces are responsible for having set up a violent society that is enormously increasing mortality, either by violent death or by silent death caused by a very strong degradation of the indigenous population’s lifestyle.
5- Social and economic transformation in Iraq since 2003
Mohammad Al-Karaichi, President of the Franco-Iraqi Centre for Cooperation and Dialogue, denounces with vigour the generalisation of poverty within Iraqi society today, and also a substantial series of attacks against the State’s sovereignty. He insists on the fact, that in Iraq we have witnessed such change that has just substituted liberal capitalism for socialism. Nevertheless, the State has to guarantee economic and social liberty, in particular for everything that touches on foreign investments. Indeed, since 2003 a new economic culture is imposed on Iraqis; this has had as consequence, an economic boom in certain sectors, such as mobile phones since 2008, or petrol which constitutes, do we have to remind it, 95% of Iraqi revenues.
But, in parallel, the State has intervened more and more in social matters. Its removal provoked a reduction of 50% in food aid. Fortunately however, the unification of the dinar exchange market has permitted to throttle inflation and to improve exterior exchanges. Thus BNP has been lightly bettered, and the exterior debt is on the way out. However, several dark points remain. One example: electricity production does not even cover half of the demand. Further, corruption is durably enrooted in every sector, as the civil society is generally in misery. Yet again: of some 4000 declared associations, scarcely a hundred function today. The two main victims of this terrifying disintegration are children and women. The latter, often become chief of the family (count 1 million widows), just engulf themselves in poverty, and even if at the National Assembly, women just represent a quarter of the elected representatives, nevertheless they suffer from political under-representation in all sectors of civil society.
II- Economy, neighbourhood, diplomacy and Iraq’s international economic and energy relations
President: Professor Houshang Hassan-Yari, Director of the Royal Military
College of Canada at Kingston
1- Geopolitics of Iraq
Rector Gérard-François Dumont, Professor at Paris-Sorbonne University, insists on the three factors weighing on Iraqi geopolitics: they are of historical, politico-geographic and demographic order.
Iraq is a relatively recent territory and presently being re-founded. It is at the Middle East’s geographical and historical heart. Everyone knows that Baghdad was the capital of the Abbassid Empire, and that after Persian, Turkish and Mongol cultural mutations, became a British “protectorate”.
It’s only in the 20th Century that Westerners rediscovered the prestige and value of the Sumerian civilisation.
For Rector Dumont, Iraq is an exogenous State designed by the exterior, and this just explains why all the tensions exist since its independence in 1932. One particularly revealing phenomenon: all its frontiers, except that with Iran, are artificially mapped. As for demography, a multitude of centrifugal forces exude from a very important exile following the Arab Spring of 1991 and coexistence of numerous religious minorities. Certainly, the Iraqi population still suffers a lot, also the country is still not a State by rights and can only be thus constructed by the population itself and not by occupying forces come from and/or commanded by the exterior. Centre of Arab Shi’ism, Irak is an exemplary country whose stabilisation is of the stakes concerning the entire Middle-East.
2- Perspectives and future of the petrol industry in Iraq
For Mr. Adnan Karim Najmaldin, Vice-Dean of Kerbala University, petrol production in Iraq is rich in lessons. This country is the world’s ninth producer and could double its production in less than five years. This petrol’s price has increased 500% these past years, but in 2008 the world crisis reduced the value of the black gold by 30%. Iraqi reserves are the most important in the world, however the entire petrol industry suffers from terrorist attacks, sabotage and lack of valid stocking policy. The principal challenges of the Iraq of today are the following:
– reconstruct infrastructure
– employ the very large number of unemployed
– manage the processing of the debt
– regularise payment for importations
– support national currency, and struggle against inflation
It would seem that all that is possible, all the more so as the country has enormous reserves of near-surface petrol that in reality is the cheapest in the world. In order for Iraq to rise again, an entire series of conditions must be united: political stability, infrastructure maintenance, struggle against corruption, private sector encouragement, creation of national holding, designation of new petrol-owners, regulation of a cohabitation between central and regional government. On the year 2050 horizon, we shall witness a dearth of petrol resources in most Arab countries, which as a consequence shall provoke an important price increase for the black gold, with all that it shall bring for the producing countries. But at the same time, the geostrategic risks shall be all the stronger for it. In any case, it’s certain that to exploit an increasingly rare and costly natural resource, just corresponds to that certain madness of man.
3- The Constitution, the institutions, the civil society and power in Iraq
Mrs Layla Alkhafaji, former Iraqi Member of Parliament, Director of International Relations at Al-Hakim Foundation, reminds that under dictatorship, there was no way to bring about the emergence of a strong civil society, just as liberty and human rights were trampled. However and fortunately, that has all changed, and Iraqis have obtained the right to choose, at the same time certain strong political parties have appeared, along with a certain popular will to conserve the new democracy. Furthermore, one has seen appear the promotion of a culture of dialogue and of tolerance of seemingly contradictory ideas. Nevertheless, a lot of obstacles are hampering the associations, the latter not having the where-with-all to act: a high level of unemployment is blocking most social perspectives, further: laws orienting the work of the associations are not applied. It would therefore be necessary that one be able to guarantee their independence, to give them the means to work, to help them establish valid links with ministries whereas remaining independent from the government.
In a more general manner, there exist workshops for improving women’s future possibilities within society, through a context in which their role at the heart of the executive branch is declining.
4- Iraq’s place in the Arab World after 2003
His Excellency Mr. Ambassador Nassif Hitti, Director of the Arab States’ League Mission in France, and Permanent Observer at U.N.E.S.C.O., asks the question whether one can indulge a policy of “decommunitisation”. Then, he inquires about the country’s independence with regards petrol; at the same time he notes with some bitterness that the “new” Iraq is in fact in full destruction. Finally, he questions the role that the locomotive could play in Iraq, in a reconstruction phase of an overwhelmed Arab world. Three PNUD reports have perfectly well described the situation of the Arab world, that in recent years has had to contend with four big challenges:
- the shock of the “two Ds” (demography and development, the latter not being vigorous enough)
- the need of a new contract between State and Society, otherwise there would be danger of creating a political desert
- the region’s “destructuring” in the measure that the construction of a national State fails
- the fact of the disappearance of the legitimacy of States in general, seen across the fall of several regimes
However, the Arab world presents much real potential. In this context, the first and greatest challenge is perhaps to scrutinise oneself in a mirror.
5- Relations between France and Iraq
His Excellency Ambassador Fareed Yassen notes that we have several times spoken of “Arab Spring”, and that there is an element of “déjà vu” in that. Must one remind that Resolution N°688 provided for nothing but that an external occupation had replaced the internal one. Equally deplorable is the bad choice in the matter of the electoral system, nevertheless the Iraqi nation exists, notably in the field of sports. But one must not forget that, for example in Kurdistan, the bombing of towns and countryside by planes with the country’s colours, had not at all helped the construction of national unity.
According to Ambassador Fareed Yasseen, since its independence Iraq is but a laboratory, a trial table that only today shows signs of being restored. Therefore there are reasons to hope and to work towards reinforcing the nation. As far as is concerned the particular point of the relations between France and Iraq, these do indeed go quite far back in time. Since the 19th Century links between Haroun Al-Rachid and Charlemagne. It is equally significant to remind that that one of the very first French Consulates had been established at Bassorah before 1789.
The History of France-Iraq relations can be seen in three phases: before 1958, from 1958 to 1970, and since 1970. The first is marked above all by the beneficial role of France in training Iraqi elites, especially in the juridical domain, this being seriously troubled since 1954 by the war in Algeria and the Suez Canal Crisis. Then, in 1958, General de Gaulle came to power, and resumed good relations between France and Iraq; after 1962 and the signature of the Evian Agreement, there evolved an Arab Policy generated by General de Gaulle, and all went well.
Since 1970, things are a little more confused, with the positive role played by Michel Jobert, but also the ambiguous relations between the Elysée and Saddam Hussein with regards weapons agreements, as France-Uraq relations became simultaneously based on the war and on very personal considerations. These years were marked by the importance of the information services.
France participated in the First Iraq War, when there was question of recapturing Kuweit. On the other hand, France had the attitude that we know in 2003, when the French wanted to fight Saddam Hussein, but only under UNO auspices.
So how to return to the honeymoon years of the 80s? This can only be done on healthier bases. A revealing phenomenon of the Iraqi will to have new relations based on peace with France: the transformation into civilian structures, of the Iraqi military buildings situated in Paris: this is a symbol of future hope, as are the one hundred scholarships granted by Alain Juppé to Iraqi students to perfect their superior university education in France, and of a spirit testifying, if need be, to the common desire to work towards development and peace.
CLOSING OF THE CONFERENCE
By Jacques Barrat, diplomat and University, Panthéon-Assas (Paris II) University: texte supra.
Final French text established with the collaboration of Maxime Notteau, doctoral candidate in
Geopolitics at Panthéon-Assas (Paris II) University,
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