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Iraq

Published on July 10, 2014
Hearing of M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee

Paris, July 8, 2014

(…)

IRAQ/ISIS

I’ve been asked what I think about the situation in Iraq, what I think about the Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS] group, whether or not Iraq will be partitioned and what our position is.

What I think about the terrorist group’s action is that it’s extremely dangerous. Why? Because, whether we like it or not, it’s the first time a terrorist group – a group that separated from al-Qaeda because it found it too soft – is about to take control of a state or a large part of a state, and a wealthy one, at that. This represents a total break with history. We’re used to working with other states; our global diplomacy is a Westphalian diplomacy. Now we have a group that has the means to take power. And what it’s just done in Iraq gives it even more means to take power. In Mosul it’s been confirmed that, by taking control of a branch of the central bank, it’s recovered $500 million and that, by routing the Iraqi army, it’s taken control of sophisticated weapons which it has hastened to move into Syria.

I’m not going to encourage you to go and look at the websites, but they’re absolutely appalling. I myself unfortunately went on one of those sites and saw the group proudly displaying pictures of its fighters playing football with the heads of their victims!

This group of fanatics, of barbarians – whose declared aim is to be [in charge of] a caliphate extending not only to Iraq and part of Syria but also to southern Turkey, part of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories – is extremely dangerous, they now have vast resources, and the group’s ideology is well known.

MILITARY SITUATION

What’s the situation in Iraq? What is France’s position? At the military level Baghdad is protected, given the forces present and the mainly Shia make-up of its population, but the ISIS troops aren’t very far away.

Certain towns have been captured and recaptured, but the Iraqi army is nevertheless in a very difficult situation. It’s also partly in disarray, even though it was immeasurably greater in number than its enemies. As they’ve advanced, those enemies have been gaining the support of moderate Sunnis rendered totally hostile by the behaviour of Mr Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister.

The security situation entails risks for the neighbouring countries. The Saudis have had to mass 30,000 people on their borders. The Jordanians themselves feel under threat. Some reports have focused on the situation in Kuwait etc. ISIS has taken advantage of this situation to boost its presence in Syria and sandwich the moderate opposition, forcing it to respond to Mr Assad’s attacks from one side and ISIS attacks from the other.

FRENCH STANCE/POLITICAL SITUATION

What position can we adopt? First of all, a political position consisting of a crystal clear condemnation of the terrorist group.

We must interpret the situation from two angles: the Sunni/Shia angle, but also the moderate/terrorist organization angle. I’d say there’s [also] a deeper undercurrent.

It would be unimaginable for France to be tolerant towards a terrorist organization, be it Sunni or Shia. All we can do with terrorist organizations is fight them.

Let me also remind you that it was France which got ISIS included on the list of terrorist organizations.

So, firstly, a crystal clear condemnation of that organization in both Iraq and Syria.

Secondly, if we want the Iraqis to be able to defend themselves – because it’s first of all their responsibility to defend themselves against ISIS – we must argue for Iraq’s unity. It’s very complicated because, as you know, there’s a rule that means the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds must share the three top posts: assembly speaker, prime minister and president, the main post being that of prime minister.

The first two meetings of Parliament didn’t bring any results; it’s been convened again for 13 July. We’re arguing directly and indirectly – I’ve sent envoys to do so – for a solution to be found enabling those three groups to form a united government that will have to do what it has to do in relation to the terrorist organization.

The Prime Minister, Mr Al-Maliki, says he won’t resign under any circumstances. We say – along with our Gulf friends, the Americans and others – that a united government is necessary because it’s not only by security means that you can get rid of a terrorist group: it’s first of all through political reality. We hope the Iraqis will be capable of putting this national unity government on its feet.

If that’s the case, there will also have to be military actions. The Americans have sent 500 people there to protect their interests, their embassy. Offers of support have also been made by others. Nothing has been requested of France – either by Iraq or the United Nations – so we’re not involved in that type of action; we’re taking essentially political action.

So, first of all, condemnation. Secondly, calling for a national unity government. Thirdly, stepping up our support for the moderate opposition in Syria. Why? Because the ISIS force’s shift from Iraq to Syria has already begun, and we don’t want the actions being carried out in Iraq to lead to an even further deterioration of the situation in Syria. (…)

KURDS/SHIAS/SUNNIS

Regarding the Kurds, the situation is complex. I myself have spoken several times to President Barzani; he’s a friend of France. Kurdistan has an economic situation providing it with a number of resources.

Besides, President Barzani has said to me, “if we can stay in a united Iraq, why not, since there’s some decentralization? But if my neighbour is ISIS, I’m forced to organize things differently.” Clearly, there would be very major consequences, because the Kurds are present in several states in the region.

More and more analysts are making the prognosis – which I don’t necessarily share – of a division into three major blocs corresponding to the Kurdish part, the Shia part and the Sunni part. But for the time being we don’t have to say we’re for or against autonomy. We’re still taking the “national unity government” line, even though it’s clear that the new situation requires broad autonomy for the elements making up Iraq.

I was saying that ISIS completely defeated the Iraqi army at a time when the forces were of considerably different proportions. Why? Because ISIS, when it began its action, was able to rely on the moderate Sunnis. And why was it able to rely on the moderate Sunnis? Because there had been, on the part of the prime minister – in this case Mr Al-Maliki – sectarian behaviour, in the strict sense of the word, and the Sunnis couldn’t accept it. That’s the reality we must try to change. (…)

IRANIAN ROLE

Iran’s role in this is quite complex. Quite clearly, there’s the close Shia relationship. At the same time, Grand Ayatollah Sistani has made very significant statements. And we too must be concerned about the problem of Iran’s nuclear programme. Indeed, if – in the conditional – the Iranians were to intervene strongly in Iraq and take up positions, including economically, the notion of economic sanctions against Iran would become extremely difficult to envisage: economic sanctions against Iran have been voted for by the United Nations, Europe etc, but not against Iraq. And it’s very clear what that would mean.
That’s why this really is a situation where the forces are intertwined, Quite clearly, we alone can’t untangle the web, but we must have clear positions and talk to each other.

So I repeat, on a nuclear Iran: yes to civilian nuclear energy, no to a nuclear bomb. On Iraq, a condemnation of the terrorist group; the search for political unity, support for the moderate opposition in Syria and efforts in the international community, including at the United Nations, to ensure sufficient momentum can be gathered to combat [the threat from] this terrorist movement, which, as I said at the beginning, is very, very serious. (…)

What’s happening in Iraq threatens not only the balance of the region but the whole of Europe and the whole world. Let’s not use extravagant language, but that’s the reality. It doesn’t all boil down to financial matters, but $500 million has been taken by the group, whereas the attack on the World Trade Centre is known to have cost only a few million. And logistics are important. So it’s an extremely serious, extremely grave matter and we’re taking it as such. (…)

CHRISTIANS

In this context, we must clearly stand alongside the Christian communities; they’re not the only ones to be suffering, but they’re suffering hugely, and they know that by adopting positions and making contact we’re standing by their side, and that’s entirely legitimate. (…)./.

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