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War in Iraq Special Report
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War in Iraq:
Rebuilding the Government

With Laith Kubba
President, Iraq National Group

Friday, April 11, 2003; Noon ET

President Bush, in a televised message to the Iraqi people Thursday, pledged that all Iraqis, including the Kurds in the north, will have a better life now that Saddam Hussein's rule is coming to an end. British Prime Minister Tony Blair broadcast a similar pledge, saying that the British forces were liberators and that they will not stay in the country longer than necessary.

"Much needs to be done in the rebuilding of Iraq," said Laith Kubba, president of the Iraq National Group, in an interview with washingtonpost.com. "We have to address our needs of political reconstruction and democracy building."

Kubba was online from London on Friday, April 11 at Noon ET, to discuss Iraq's transition to a democratic government.

He is currently on leave from his job as senior program officer for the Middle East at the National Endowment for Democracy. The views he expressed in the discussion are his own.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: Mr. Kubba, thank you for being with us today from London. What is the first step in rebuilding the government of Iraq and what are you currently doing? How soon do you plan to return to your country?

Laith Kubba: We need to look at the context of building a government in Iraq before we look at the process itself -- the context specifically referring to a secure environment and initiating a process that will engage most intermediaries and voices throughout Iraq. Ideally, we need to have a U.N. flag overseeing this process. This is to enhance its legitimacy and credibility both domestically and internationally. A process should not have a predetermined outcome other than a stable representative and effective government. Ideally, we should see a transition beginning now from the American military governor to a sovereign Iraqi body.

The return is subject to conditions rather than a time limit. I would very much like to engage in this process as soon as possible.

Washington, D.C.: How do you feel about the leadership of Lt. Gen. Jay Garner given his close ties to the Likud party and his continuing involvement with U.S. military contractors?

Laith Kubba: Jay Garner's brief is interim administration and not authority governance or policy making. In that respect, his politics become irrelevant.

Pittsford, N.Y.: Thank you for being with us today. Many recent academic studies have postulated that democracy is doomed to failure in Iraq since the concept of democracy does not exist in Islam. Do you think these studies have merit?

Laith Kubba: No, the concept of sovereignty and self-rule is rooted in Islam. The traditions of ballot boxes and modern procedures for democracy are new to the Muslim culture. There is no reason why Muslims should not or could not observe democratic norms and traditions.

Miami, Fla.: Mr. Kubba, it is one thing to establish a democracy and quite another to establish a sound a stable democracy. Considering that Iraqis have lived under a brutal and controlling dictatorship for the past 30 years, what strategies are going to be employed to create a stable democratic government? How is the Committee going to prevent Iraq from disintegrating along ethnic, tribal and religious lines? Finally, what will be the new government's Human Rights and Personal Freedoms Policies?

Thank you.

Laith Kubba: It is quite a challenge to try to keep Iraq intact and law and order on millions of people who were kept in check exclusively by fear and terror. The challenge now is to maintain law and order, not only through the legitimate use of enforcement agencies, but also through civic education.

While it is necessary to address ethnic and religious tendencies that exist within Iraq today, it would be a great mistake to try to institutiionalize the religious and ethnic political insititutions. The right way to address these issues are to decentralize powers to the provinces and maintain a clear national secular basis for state institutions.

There must be unambiguous commitment to living up to human rights standars as stated in the U.N. charter on human rights.

Wheaton, Md.: Isn't it right to assume that if the U.S. and UK pulled out now, that Iran and Turkey would probably invade?

Laith Kubba: Yes, and while the U.S. is needed to maintain Iraq's borders' security and keepa check on armed groups in Iraq from extending their political influence, the only way out for the U.S. troops is to help rebuild Iraq's state institutions, including the army and police.

Harrisburg, Pa.: How possible would it be to create a Kurdish state, or perhaps a Kurdish subdivision of Iraq with a fair amount of autonomy, out of northern Iraq? How much will Turkey object, and how much influence how they lost over the matter by not joining the coalition? How much objection would the rest of Iraq have to a Kurdish state, and how could such objections be settled?

Laith Kubba: In view of the history and regional politics, it would be harmful to the Kurds to push for a separate state; however, their national aspirations as Kurds need to be addressed and can be addressed through a decentralized state system. In the long term, Kurds can benefit most if Iraq is secular and democratic rather than simply a confederation of an Arab and a Kurdish state.

The most worrying issue on the Kurds comes from Turkey. As they legitimately see a Kurdish state in Iraq as a threat to their national security. There are more than 10 million Kurds bordering Iraq and they will seek a separate state too.

There are minorities within the Kurdish region who strongly object to a separate Kurdish state as well as many Kurds who also see their interests served best within Iraq rather than a separate Kurdish state.

Vienna, Va.: I am quite impressed by your answers here -- if you and others like you are going to be the responsible parties in the transition -- I think there is great hope that it will succeed.

Laith Kubba: Write your congressman and tell him or her this.

Somewhere, USA: What are the dangers of a sovereign Iraqi government reverting to a dictatorship? How well can the different factions within Iraq hold together and prevent dissintegration of power?

Laith Kubba: In the long-term, the best buffer against dictatorship is a well-developed civil society. In the short-term, America should help prevent a military takeover in Iraq.

Laurel, Md.: What are the chances for a radical Islamic (as in Iran) political party rising to power? Or do you see Turkish-style democracy or a more secular democracy arising?

Laith Kubba: It is likely Iraq will see some fundamentalist radical groups in parts of Iraq. It is unlikely that they can take power. The ethnic and religious diversity in Iraq would ensure that no particular group or party has dominance over its politics. A Turkish model is more likely to emerge.

Tulsa, Okla.: Do the majority of Iraqis seem to be jubilant about the fall of Hussein?

Laith Kubba: There is no question that Iraqis are jubilant about the fall of Saddam Hussein to the extent that their other grievances, such as civilian casualties during this war, have been overshadowed.

Bethlehem, Pa.: Dr. Kubba: You have written about the importance of civil society groups in promoting democratization across the Arab world. Given Saddam Hussein's total suppression of civil society in Iraq, what can and should be done to promote the growth of Iraqi civil society now? What aspects of civil society do you believe most crucial for helping to foster democracy? Thank you.

Laith Kubba: The most important thing is the independent media. Second, to grant the freedom of association for political parties, trade unions and other organizations. Iraq had many professional associations which can be classified as civic organizations as well as strong trade unions. All these organizations need to be freed from Baath party members and allowed to function as they used to in the past.

Also, I would say empowering women's organizations, especially working on education and social development, would be critical.

Austin, Tex.: Some people (notably the French press) are very critical, almost mocking, of the fact that US forces haven't yet stopped the looting and brought things under control. Seems to me that's a little unfair; that even these basic steps are going to take a week or two. (Although I know that week or two will be awful for many Iraqis.)

So ... what is your impression of the situation right now in Baghdad? What does it imply for longer-term efforts?

Laith Kubba: The U.S. Army is not trained to handle this unique situation in Iraq where it was sent initially to fight the Republican Guards and ended up with a disappearing army and a city in anarchy. Still, under international law it is the responsibility of the coalition forces to maintain law and order and protect public property. Moreover, the U.S. made a point of committing itself to rebuilding Iraq and those critical days of looting and ransacking public offices and hospitals are going to make that mission much harder.

Washington, D.C.: How long do you think it will take to establish a new government for Iraq?

Laith Kubba: According to my own assessment, if there was to an agreement on a process to set up a government now, then it will take a few weeks, maximum three months. The delay is mainly political.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company