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John Reid calls the situation in Iraq "a cause for celebration"

Defence Secretary John Reid hails Iraq constitution and denies suggestions from Prince Hassan of Jordan that there was a civil war in the country.

From the Today Programme for Friday 12 August 2005 http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/ram/today4_reid_20050812.ram

Unofficial Transcript by warmwell.com website

John Humphrys: The National Assembly of Iraq will be presented with a new constitution on Monday - at least that's the plan. It may not happen. Things tend not to go to plan in Iraq, but there is enormous pressure for it to happen, especially from Britain and America. It's hard to bring our soldiers back home if Iraq has no proper constitution, can't claim to be an independent functioning democracy with its own laws, not capable of controlling its own security. It is a long way from that at the moment. Some say the country is facing a civil war.

.............
The Defence Secretary John Reid is on the line. Morning, Dr Reid

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary Good morning to you, John.

John Humphrys: Do you think the Constitution will be presented?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary I think that all the indications are there is a real serious attempt to er to make sure that it is not only presented but there by the deadline of 15 August. I have to say, if it is it will be a fantastic achievement because remember we are dealing with a country where there has been for, for..well..as long as people can remember, no democratic participation of this nature - er.. where terrorists are doing everything they possibly can to stop it. And there are three big things that have to be done: One is the establishment of democracy by the Iraqis themselves, second is to take control of the lead in their own counter-terrorism through the security forces, and the third is to rebuild their infrastructure. So to have come as far as they have come, the Iraqis themselves, Shia, Sunni er Kurds, secular politicians er is a fantastic achievement. I don't underestimate what has to be done. It's clear that discussions ahead will be difficult but I think there's a reasonable expectation that they will meet it even by the deadline, the first deadline, which is the 15th of August. There are two other deadlines, which incidentally were laid down by the United Nations, not just by America or by Britain, but the United Nations in consultation with the Iraqis themselves - they are the 15th of this month for the Constitution agreed by all of the representatives of the democratically elected parties, then the 15th of October which would be a referendum of all Iraqis on that, and then the end of December which would be the final election of the first fully democratic Iraqi government ever. And, um, if they meet those deadlines it will be a major, major achievement.

John Humphrys: Aren't you overstating what has been achieved? Isn't it the reality that Iraq is in a state of chaos?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Oh my God, I'm not overstating what has been achieved, John. You know, if somebody had said some years ago that the Kurds, rather than breaking off from Iraq, would be involved in discussions about a future Constitution for ...
John Humphrys:..there are still ...they still want their own autonomy

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Well...they are involved in discussions about having a degree of autonomy within a sovereign Iraq.... If someone had said that several years ago you'd have said it was impossible.

John Humphrys If somebody had said that tens of thousands of people were being killed by occupying forces in Iraq...

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary They are NOT being killed by occupying forces...

John Humphrys: What? Aren't they? The Americans aren't killing many thousands of people?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : No they're not. The Terrorists are killing many thousands of people

John Humphrys: And the Americans aren't killing Iraqis?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : They are killing terrorists, yes.

John Humphrys:Only terrorists? Not innocent people as well?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : If some innocent people are being killed...

John Humphrys: Some?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : If some are John

John Humphrys: IF? IF some are? So you believe that no innocent Iraqi has been killed by an American soldier? Can we be serious about this?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Yes, I am being serious, John. And I'm trying not to be aggressive either. Look, if we could just calmly deal with this. If some, in the course of combating terrorism, if some mistakes are being made and some innocents are being killed, by any of the multinational forces, it is a matter of huge regret, and it is a matter of people being killed without intending to kill them. On the other hand...

John Humphrys: Before you move on ..let's just have the statistics here. Even the Americans,

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary John...

John Humphrys .....even the Americans accept that twice...

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary John. Please let me finish...

John Humphrys .....that twice as many Iraqis are being killed by Americans as are being killed by the insurgents, that is the reality of what is happening in Iraq today, isn't it.

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary John, it is NOT the reality, and it is a disgrace that you are trying to insist that the mass slaughter of innocents, including Muslim children, including Muslim children, by suicide bombers and terrorists from outside Iraq, is in any way comparable with the attempt to combat terrorism that has gone on, not only by Americans but by British troops in Iraq, because you are condemning them by implication.

John Humphrys I'm doing nothing of the sort. I am drawing no moral equivalents whatsoever. I am simply stating the facts which you seemed anxious to deny. That's all I'm doing.

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : No, the facts are that the democratically elected politicians in Iraq, through their own security forces and through the United Nations' support for the political progress and the security forces there to assist the democratically er elected politicians of Iraq, are trying to combat terrorism in some very difficult circumstances where terrorists are increasingly, as we approach political success, increasingly becoming frenetic and massacring innocent civilians, including children, indeed Muslim children, even those who speak to American soldiers are now being blown apart by bombs laid by terrorists. There is no moral equivalence at all.

John Humphrys I did not suggest so. And I did not deny that "insurgents", "terrorists", call them what you want, are killing, murdering a huge number of people in Iraq. The situation is as you describe it - but you seem to be prepared to accept only half of it. The reality is, isn't it, that Iraq is in a state of chaos. There was no international terrorism in Iraq until our invasion. That is the reality, isn't it?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Iraq is NOT in a state of Chaos. Let me deal with some of the facts. First of all, the Iraqi people themselves, despite the attempts of the terrorists to provoke a civil war, by getting a Shia backlash, they have failed, the terrorists. They are becoming more frenetic - as I say.....

John Humphrys: Well, they're killing more people...they're being more effective, that's certainly true...in their terms

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : John. They're killing people in London.

(speaking together)
John Humphrys: Which they weren't doing before we invaded Iraq, of course Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : ... They killed thousands in New York
Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Absolute nonsense. They killed thousands in New York before we invaded Iraq
John Humphrys: I said London...as you did....

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : They killed thousands in New York before we invaded Iraq. They killed thousands throughout the world in....

John Humphrys: How many did they kill in London?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : ..in Kenya...JOHN! They didn't kill any in London apparently because of the success of our security forces here...

John Humphrys So we have become less effective have we over the years?

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : John, if you're going away from the successes of the Constitution to go back on your old theme that we wouldn't have international terrorism to combat had we not gone into Iraq...

John Humphrys: Oh, It isn't "my old theme" with great respect, it isn't my old theme. Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Of course it is
John Humphrys: The man who is being buried today, Robin Cook, has himself raised this over and over and over again - indeed in the last piece that he wrote as you will know. He went into this in some detail, deeply deeply concerned about it. Please don't suggest it is just a reporter on the BBC who is suggesting all of this because what I am doing is presenting to you the other case, as you well know. And that's my job.

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary I didn't suggest it was "just you" John, but I did suggest it was you who go back on the old theme. The truth of the matter is if you want to go down the road of discussing what has provoked the terrorists in relation to Iraq, then actually the first intervention in Iraq was much more important. It was the first intervention when the whole world agreed that the invasion of Kuwait, the threatening of Saudi Arabia and the attack on others...it was that more than any other incident connected with Iraq which provoked the response of Al Qaeda against the Saudis which provoked them er... into the ... er massacres in Egypt, the attempts to murder Americans: it was not the second intervention

John Humphrys Well it was the second intervention that turned Iraq into a "breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists" and I quote the CIA....

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary John...since you invited me on to discuss the Iraqis success and attempts to build their own democratic Constitution perhaps we should pay some attention to the democratically elected Iraqi politicians...

John Humphrys: Sorry but if you make statements that deserve to be challenged, that is my job to challenge them, isn't it. I am not here either to hail success or to denigrate it, it is my job to challenge those points that you make. That's the way it works on these programmes, as you well know, and you're always happy to take part in it

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Of course, and I have been for seventeen years, John - but when we're discussing the issues in front of us, Monday is the day on which, in spite of everything, despite the attempts to provoke the civil war and the backlash from the Shiia, despite the massacre of innocents in Iraq - by terrorists - as throughout the world, despite all of that, the Iraqi people have come together not only to elect their own transitional government at the beginning of the year but are now on schedule to have a constitution which brings together representatives of the Sunni, the Shiia, the Kurds - and I would have thought that that was a significant enough political progress to mark the bulk of our discussion this morning.

John Humphrys: Well, let me quote to you what King Hassan of Jordan believes is going on. He believes that there are now three wars in the Middle East: the war in Iraq, the war between Israel and Palestine and the war against terrorism and he thinks - and he knows a lot ore about this than I do, I have never been to Iraq - he thinks civil war has started in Iraq. "I do not think there is any other way of putting it." That is what he told us on this programme

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Well, with great respect to his majesty, er.. I have to say that I don't agree with him - and he and you will know that this is what people have been saying for several years now: that civil war is about to start or has started in Iraq. The truth of the matter is that it ISN'T the case that there is a civil war. It IS the case that the terrorists have ben trying to provoke a civil war. This is why some of the terrorists from outside have been intentionally been killing Muslims, Shiia s, blowing up mosques, attacking the Iraq security forces - because remember the Shiia, who are the majority in Iraq, were for many years suppressed in the most ruthless fashion by Saddam Hussein....

John Humphrys: Indeed and who now want to break away and establish their own republic in the south of the country - with profound effects

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : John..they do NOT want to break away and establish their own republic. SOME politicians, the same way some politicians in SCOTLAND wish to break away from the United Kingdom. It doesn't mean that everyone wants to break away in Iraq any more than it does in the Unite Kingdom. we are now dealing with a DEMOCRACY in Iraq. We are dealing with a forum where the Kurds and Shiia and Sunni and people with no religious background can argue. That is not a cause for concern. It is a cause for celebration. The only people who ought to be concerned about that and are concerned are the terrorists. Why? Because the strategic struggle that's going on in Iraq is quite simple. If in an arab or muslim nation with the history of Iraq the people of all different persuasions can come together and form their own democratic control and take control of their own future, it is a major strategic blow to the terrorists...

John Humphrys: .... And what an enormous IF that is....

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary ..Hold on...who say this is incompatible with Islam because their form of Islam would deny people that choice, deny people that democracy, deny people the right to take popular control of their own future and therefore, with every passing day, as we approach the possibility that the Iraqis will form their own constitution, have a referendum which supports it and then elect their own government, the terrorists both in propaganda and in physical terms of terror, increase their efforts because they do not want to see this succeed.

John Humphrys:... the terrorists who did not exist in that country before the invasion. That's the whole point that you seem to be ducking throughout this conversation

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : I'm not ducking it! I know there was a fascist dictatorship in Iraq! That was one way of keeping the terrorists down - it was to murder the Shia and murder the.....

John Humphrys:...and we invaded Iraq....
Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : John!
John Humphrys: ....and we invaded Iraq to make our own country more secure did we not. Isn't that why we did it? IS our country more secure today than it was before the invasion of Iraq?....

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : Let me deal with the two points. First of all, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq were murdered by Saddam Hussein

John Humphrys: Not the issue. It didn't affect the security of this country... Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : That isn't the issue? So it doesn't matter? ...
John Humphrys: Of course it mattered enormously on a moral level but the first job of any government, as you know, is to protect the security of its own people...

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : John, of course it affected the security of this country. Saddam Hussein was a man who had not only war with Iraq but invaded Kuwait, taken over...threatened to take over half the world's oil supplies, attacked Israel - there were a million people lost in the Iraq/Iran war. Robin Cook, as you mentioned earlier was the first to condemn the supply of weaponry to Saddam Hussein - in fact his finest hour in the House of Commons was when he exposed the hypocrisy of the Conservative Government ..er...so

John Humphrys: And he's now concluded that Iraq has been turned into a "... breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists" That's Robin Cook view - was Robin Cook's view

Dr John Reid UK Defence Secretary : I disagreed with Robin. But I say this: he pursued his ..er.. his position with rationality, with logic, with no personal animosity - that is one of the reasons why I think he as held in such high respect. It is possible to disagree with somebody and yet to have respect for them. I had respect for Robin over his opposition to devolution, I disagreed with him over proportional representation as I did over Iraq. It did not diminish his stature in my eyes because he was someone who argued his case with force - as you are this morning - but it doesn't mean that I necessarily agree with you, John

John Humphrys: Indeed. John Reid, many thanks