Teamwork between visionaries, technologists, and Iraqi and American politicians may just give us the solutions we need to end the killing that is continuing in Iraq. A live video-conference with members of the Iraq Parliament and the U.S. House of Representatives was convened by Representative Jim McDermott with the help of me and Raed Jarrar, of the Progressive Government Institute who produced the Iraqi side.
The exchange between the members of Parliament and the Congressmen demonstrates the importance of thinking outside the box and listening to varied perspectives.
Over the course of the conference, it became very apparent that there are solutions - concrete solutions that are likely acceptable to all sides - to ending the killing in Iraq.
A half hour edit of the two hours of video is available online at the Progressive Government. A transcript of this edited video is also available from that same page or directly at Progressive Government. Or, if you prefer, you can read the transcript below:
Iraqi Voices Project: Transcript of Video Conference Between Members of Congress and the Iraq Parliament (Edited)
Start of Video Conference
Congressman Jim McDermott:
Good Morning. I'm Representative Jim McDermott from Seattle, Washington. Today we are trying to do something that we have never done before. And that is to use technology to build a virtual bridge that will enable members of Congress in Washington D.C. to talk face to face with Members of the Iraq Parliament. The people joining us from Iraq are in Amman today and they are coming over by Satellite and there is a translator with them.
Congressman Jim McDermott:
Well we are here actually to have a dialogue. Members here will have questions and we would like to allow members to answer from that side. My question is this. You have an opportunity today for the first time to talk to the American people through their representatives here. And I would like to know from each of you what you think is the most important thing the American people need to hear from those of you who have come today to this dialogue.
I think we will start with Mr. Osama al-Nujafii ; he is representing the Iraqi List. It is one of the secular lists having 25 seats in the Iraqi Parliament and led by Mr. Allawi. Mr. Nujaifi.
Osama al-Nujafii :
Salaam is the way we greet people in our country Iraq. And our culture is the culture of peace before anything else. The American intervention in Iraq has committed a number of catastrophic mistakes in the past four years. Iraq needs a new formulation of the regime for ruling the country in a way that is different from the old way that was proven to have failed. And I think that the Baker Hamilton group represents the wise American voice.
Raed Jarrar (080916)
Now we will move onto our second guest Mr. Khalaf al-Elayyan. Mr. Khalaf al-Elayyan represents one of the groups of the Tawafuq Coalition (Iraqi Accord Front); it is the biggest Sunni coalition in the Parliament. The big coalition controls 44 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, but Mr. Elayyan's Tawafuq group controls around 10 seats within this coalition.
M.P. Sheik Khalaf al-Elayyan: (084327)
successful. We are very sad and at the same time we are very happy about this meeting. We are sad because the Americans have previously closed their ears to the correct and honest Iraqis who represent the actual Iraqis and not foreign influence. At the same time we are glad that this approach has changed and now the American side is ready to listen to the truthful Iraqis that have no other interest but Iraq. Please understand that we are not against and will never be against the American people at any time. We have always wished and we continue to wish to have a very good relationship with all of the developed countries with America. And we also want you to know that we do not want the United States out of Iraq as a defeated nation.
Raed Jarrar: (111404)
Now we will go to Mr. Saleh al-Mutlak. He is the head of the National Dialogue Front; it is one of the secular groups in Iraq. It is one of the biggest secular groups. His group controls around eleven seats in the Iraqi Parliament.
M.P. Saleh al-Mutlak: (115512)
First there will be no settlement in Iraq without direct talk with the resistance 122626 in Iraq. If the resistance will continue raising their arms then against the law there will be no security and no settlements. So there should be a direct talk with them. The second thing Iraqis have been grown up in a patriotic way and they will not accept the language of occupation. So we have to understand that. The third thing Iraq cannot be run by a sectarian government. (130803) Because sectarian governments will only lead to divide the country and dividing the country will lead to a civil war eventually - over the natural resources and over the border and some other things. And the third one is de-Baathification which was also a very serious mistake because you neglected and isolated a very important party from having a role in the country and you are making problem with time as an enemy for you and for the government that you are bringing. And that was also a very serious mistake.
(150012) The other point is the militias which were established during Bremer's time. And I think that that was a very big mistake done in Iraq. We had been working to establish the National Salvation Front since seven months. And we've been moving through our Arab brother's governments especially those whom you consider as moderate, the six plus two. You know Egypt and Jordan and the Gulf States. And we have been trying to announce this front. We believe this is the only way to have the alternative government for the existing government now. That front contains over 32 political groups, important political groups from inside the Parliament and outside the Parliament. From inside the political process and from those who oppose the political process including many parties from the Parliament and also those like the Baathists the nationalists the previous Iraqi army supported by this Islamic ruler supported by some of the Shiite religious people. But the government and the establishment 165221 we are trying to do as a non-sectarian front leading to a non-sectarian, a non-ethnic, a non religious government.
Now we will try to put in one of our guests on the phone from Iraq on the phone. We will have Mr. Hassan al-Shammari he is one of most prominent members of al-Fadila Party who is with us from Baghdad.
M.P. Hassan al-Shammari: (on the phone) (220509)
The problems that we are facing in Iraq are actually a political problem not a religious or sectarian problem. It is not a security problem it is a political problem. This is what our party has been saying for the last year. So that is why the solution must be a political solution because the problem is a political problem. So the solution will neither be a military solution nor will it be a religious solution. We will need a political solution to deal with the situation in Iraq.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (250925)
We now have other members who have joined us. The first question will be by Mr. Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts who is on the International Relations Committee having involvement in the oversight function of the that committee.
**Congressman Bill Delahunt: (253907)
Thank you Jim and let me simply begin by saying that this is a conversation that should have occurred a long time ago. I've discussed with other colleagues the possibility of meeting in a different venue face to face over a period of time for a more in depth conversation and I would ask the question whether that idea would be welcome by members of the Iraqi Parliament. Let me pose one additional question. It is important for the American people to understand the wishes of the Iraqi people. Would you provide us with an estimate of the opinion in Iraq about whether there should be a withdrawal in terms of a time certain by American military forces. If there were a vote today in the Iraqi Parliament what you estimate the vote to be in favor of a withdrawal by the U.S. Military from Iraq in a specified period of time.
M.P. Osama al-Nujaifi:
Definitely the percentage would be very high if the principle and core request for the Iraqis is completely American withdrawal, except for the ones who are benefiting from this odd and abnormal situation, I assure most Iraqis would want quick withdrawal of American forces. However this is not, the request is not for a withdrawal that would leave a security void in Iraq.
M.P. Sheik Khalaf al-Elayyan:
We wish for a rapid exit of American forces after it has secured Iraq and to build military and security institutes and organizations and to protect Iraq from Iranian influence and to establish an Iraqi national government that covers all Iraqi people from different cities away from secular and sects that nationalist, patriotism, efficiency is the core of all of this.
M.P. Saleh al-Mutlak: (313213)
I think the question, or part of it, says if the Parliament would vote tomorrow would they vote for the American presence in Iraq or to leave Iraq. As a parliamentary person as the head of a block in the Parliament I would like to tell you now that the Parliament is not representing the Iraqi people anymore. People who elected us at some point they would not elect us now if the government will continue as it is. Because we failed. We failed to bring to a government that can bring peace and security and services to the people.
Raed Jarrar: (interrupting Saleh) 342807
So what is your party's position towards demanding withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
M.P. Saleh al-Mutlak:
I will say a timetable for withdrawal and parallel, as I say before with a timetable to correct the mistakes you have done in Iraq and I have mentioned them before and on top of these you have to create a government a secular one to lead Iraq before you leave and do not leave us with a pro Iranian government because it is not for your benefit neither for our benefit.
And now we will hear from Mr. Mohammed al-Dynee
M.P. Mohammed al-Dynee: (361108)
And my heart is bleeding for our youngsters and yours that are being killed every single day. All nationalists want a scheduling of American forces withdrawing from Iraq. However, this withdrawal has to be scheduled and studied by both, the American side and the National Iraqi movement for the nationalists. This has nothing to do with the influence of the Iranians who have interests in Iraq.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (384425)
The question that is on many people's minds in this country as we debate this issue if we decide to have a withdrawal. If we make that decision people say you will create chaos in Iraq. You will make things worse if the Americans come out. And what I am hearing today is a belief that there has to be a parallel thing - the question that I am struggling with is how do you start one and not the other - and get the other thing going if we say we are going to leave by the first of December 2007 how do we get that second track going so that the Iraq government is recreated or whatever is necessary for security in Iraq. I would like to hear you talk about this because most members are afraid to bring the troops home because they are afraid it will make it worse in Iraq?
M.P. Mohammed al-Dynee: (400303)
Personally I accept we need an organized scheduling we need an arranged scheduling of the American exit from Iraq. This organized scheduling has to be coordinated by all Iraqi national forces that are in the Parliament and out of the Parliament. Why hasn't Iraq settled down? That we have to head to our enemies who are your enemies as well. And the first step is returning the armed forces of Iraq, the army of Iraq that has fought Iran for eight years. We would want an organized and declared timetable or schedule for the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq. This schedule or time table should be discussed with all national forces and sects in Iraq that are representing the Parliament that are representing the government and the parties that are not represented by the Parliament.
M.P. Saleh al-Mutlak: (431112)
I think that what you have to do is announce that you are going to leave Iraq in a year or two so the resistance will have no reason to fight. The second thing, establish a national government which is non-sectarian neither ethnic or racist government. And this can be done through a National Salvation government based on technocratic people by independents who are strong enough to control the situation. Third bring the previous Iraqi army and the previous police army back to power after cleaning up them from the bad people that they had bad reputation before - they do not exceed 2 percent of those forces. If you do that I can guarantee you the security will come back to the country. American forces will leave in an honorable way and Iraq could join the world in a decent way and a civilized way. But you have to be brave enough to say we have done mistakes. We are going to correct these mistakes. (445524) We are going to withdraw from Iraq. And we are going to acknowledge the Iraqi patriotic movement that they were ignored before.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (453105)
May I ask a follow up question. That in response to Mr. Mutlaq who is suggesting that somehow we set up an alternative government. We can make the decision to leave Iraq but how do we make happen a change in the Government as you described from sectarian to non-sectarian what can we do in that process. How do we recreate the Iraqi army and the Iraqi civil service, the Baath Party workers who were dismissed the school teachers and so forth. What can we do about that or is that something that will happen if we announce that we are leaving and the forces will go to work inside of Iraq to recreate the government?
M.P. Saleh al-Mutlak: (462924)
(473116) How do we do it? We can do it now either through the Parliament or through an international conference. Doing it through the Parliament - it can be done because we (editor: we is nationalist coalition forming) are almost reaching fifty percent of the votes inside the Parliament. (Raed Jarrar interrupts: you are almost gaining the majoring of the Parliament). No not the majority. I said almost 50%. What we need now (looking at Raed) is to either get the sadrists (al-Sadr party) whom they are being followed by the American troops in Iraq or get the Kurds. The Sadrists, it is you who decide whether they are in the political process, you know can they be accepted, they can be gained by this group. And the Kurds, and when I say the Kurds I say the Kurdish Parties I don't mean the Kurdish people. So it is the United States who can tell the Kurds look you cannot get Kirkuk because Kirkuk will create civil war. And you cannot go beyond the lines that you had when we (Americans) came in at the 19th of March 2003. These are your borders. You can have a federal state there. You can have independent - you can have whatever you want but do not extend more than you should. Because this will create instability in the country. And the United States alone can convince the Kurds to vote for changing the government. (501823)
So we are there, we are almost gaining the 50% of the Parliament but what we need is the support of the United States to achieve a solution for the Iraqis and for the Americans.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (570003)
I have a number of members who are here who would like to ask some questions. The first question will be from Mr. Christopher Shays from Connecticut who is a republican. Chris has been over to Iraq several times and may have met with and talked with some on the members on the panel today.
Congressman Christopher Shays:
The Sunnis say the Shia aren't giving us enough and the Shia say the Sunnis want too much. What we call that in the USA is a perfect way to have a compromise. The best way for us to leave is for Sunni and Shia to work out their differences then gang up against the criminal element and gang up against the insurgents. We can't wait to leave and I'm going to ask this question. We can't wait to leave. What would be the likelihood one that you could have a vote in your Parliament to tell us what you want us to do. And secondly have a plebiscite in other words give it out to all of the Iraqis. And I will tell you this if sixty percent don't want us to stay I would vote to leave. But there are consequences to that. Then you have to tell us what leaving means. Do you still want us to be on your border to prevent Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Turkey and even Kuwait from not coming in.
M.P. Osama al-Nujaifi: (585326)
I thank you I assure you no Parliament member dares to say that he wants the American forces to stay in Iraq. However the truthful wish and desire of seventy percent of the honest Parliamentary members which excludes the ones that are loyal to Iran and the Kurdistan coalition that has interests in the American forces staying in Iraq. There is a clear desire for American forces to exit Iraq.
Establishment of an Iraqi government is the first step in the American withdrawal. The second thing is the international conference which will include neighboring countries the United Nations and first world countries. This will definitely cut down on the Iranian influence in Iraq. The American forces or troops can be replaced by international forces until security is established in Iraq.
Congressman Christopher Shays: 1:00:5002
The international community would come in, I would pray that they come in. They have avoided coming into a place where there is so much killing.
M.P. Osama al-Nujaifi:
Nobody would be opposing these International forces however this has to be reached with an agreement of a national government and the national parties the political parties and the Iraqi national resistance. Then the time table and the scheduling of these forces coming in can be agreed on.
M.P. Saleh al-Mutlak: (1014312)
What I was saying - we don't need the international forces. We need to bring the Iraqi army which fought Iran for eight years and did not lose the war. The Iraqi army and the Iraqi police in which there was security and there was stability. You dissolved that army. Please do not go to far. You have an easy step an easy solution. Go and allow this army to come back and clean up the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense that exists now from the militias that is existing now.
Congressman Jim McDermott:
Our next question will come from Jay Inslee from Washington State. Jay has a question that he would like to ask.
Congressman Jay Inslee: (1032107)
My question has to do with the lack of the formation of a truly consensus government in Iraq. There is much frustration here in this country I believe in the inability of the Iraqi political factions to reach a consensus on variety of issues including disposition of oil revenues, disposition of jobs, the very contentious issues that we realize are difficult but after four years still elude compromise to form what we would consider truly stable a government. There is some sense in this country that the failure to compromise is in part the result of the continued presence of our security forces providing some security. And that if we give Iraqis a deadline for our withdrawal it may concentrate the minds of all of the parties Shiite, Sunni, Kurds of the necessity of compromise to find a form of workable government. The question I have is, does our setting a deadline
perhaps help focus the minds of all the factions on the need to
compromise because they will be facing their own faith without the military at the end of that deadline. Thank you.
M.P. Mohammed al-Dynee: (045211)
We can agree on a timetable however before we schedule this withdrawal we have to agree among ourselves. The problem of Iraq has two sides. Side
one the American presence and the current government that is linked to Iran and specifically the political aspect and the other pivot is the Iraqi people. If we can agree on these issues we can schedule a timely and expediently withdrawal of troops.
Yes there is a huge Iranian influence and this influence will not end unless the previous Iraqi army, the professional army is returned to service. This army that is today is part of the Iraqi resistance and constitutes 500,000 men of resistance this is the ex-army. And these members of army are under the umbrella of the resistance. This will solve 70 percent of the dilemma we are all in. And the return of 60 percent of the ignored parties - politically ignored parties in Iraq.
Raed Jarrar: (095315)
Thank you very much for Mr. al-Dynee. We are having very important and prominent Shia leader on the phone. Dr. Nadim al-Jaberi is one of the most important Shia leaders in Iraq. He is the head of al-Fadila party the Virtue party. It is a party that controls sixteen seats in the Parliament. His party just announced that it withdrew from the Shia dominated coalition yesterday because they are trying to create a new political environment that is not sectarian.
Congressman Jim McDermott (140803)
Why have they decided at this point to pull out of the support of the government. What is it that this has occurred why is the Shia coalition breaking up?
M.P. Nadim al-Jaberi (on the phone):
We have been thinking of this decision for the last year. And this decision by the way is withdrawing from the coalition not from the government. (Raed again paraphrasing) They are still a part of the government. They withdrew from the Shia coalition. And they are functioning as an independent political party.
(Raed back to translating) and we have tried even to run independently and not run as part of a Shia coalition that is a sectarian based coalition but unfortunately at that time the commission of the election rejected our demand and they made us be a part of this coalition. We think that the way the American administration dealt with Iraq was wrong from the beginning.
(151728) The U.S. administration established a sectarian based way in ruling Iraq. The important point that I want to mention is that we have never had an Iraq any kind of sectarian fight or violence among us before the U.S. came. We had although we were suffering because of the dictatorship, the political dictatorship. And we don't think that this sectarian way in dealing with Iraq is suited for Iraq we think that this sectarian way is made for more primitive societies but the Iraq society is a more modern society.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (161219)
What about the party of Muqtada al-Sadr? Where does he fit in this? When will he make a move to pull out of the Shia coalition and work for a non-sectarian government?
M.P. Nadim al-Jaberi (on the phone):
We have opened a very wide door in re-drawing the Iraqi political map. And redrawing the creation of Iraqi groups in the Parliament and outside it.
Many other people were hesitating to take this first step. Because sectarianism has been controlling our political debate for the last year. So we have tried the sectarian way of dealing with Iraq and we tried very much and if failed very obviously in controlling our country in a successful way.
Congressman Jim McDermott (174213)
It seems like perhaps if we announced a withdrawal date that would put the pressure on groups who have been reluctant to step forward to make a move towards a non-sectarian government.
M.P. Nadim al-Jaberi (on the phone): (175703)
We think that setting a timetable for withdrawal will be very good for the Iraqi different groups to reach a compromise and a political solution. This step from your side will make the process of reconciliation even faster it will push Iraqi different political groups take more steps toward dialogue among Iraqis and it will help us reach our goal.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (183127)
There are only ten minutes left and I would like Wayne Gilchrest who has been sitting here the whole two hours. A republican who was an early opponent of the war to have the next question.
Congressman Wayne Gilchrest: (184915)
We are trying to understand the complexities of the situation that now exists in Iraq. We would like your view on a bigger American picture as far as an aggressive negotiation dialogue with the Israeli and the Palestinians to find a solution there. The U.S. directly dialoguing with the Syrians and the Iranians. In the context of a broader international effort to have the U.S. being viewed in a more positive fashion in the Middle East countries. So I would like your view on the U.S. overall dialogue with your neighbors, the Palestinian Israeli question. And how that would help solve some of the problems in Iraq.
M.P. Sheik Khalaf al-Elayyan: (195708)
We don't want any neighboring countries to interfere in our business, especially Iran. Because Iran is part of the problem and not a solution. The Iraqi issue is an Iraqi issue and it concerns Iraqis only.
M.P. Nadim al-Jaberi (on the phone): (215502)
I realize that the issue has extensions it has extended to the other regional countries. The regional intervention in Iraq and the superpower intervention in Iraq is our problem. We think that American dialogue with Syria and Iran will be good if it was just for reaching to agreements among themselves. The U.S. and Syria and the U.S. and Iran. But unfortunately we find ourselves sometimes paying the price of conflicts between some regional powers and superpower. We think that the American and Iranian conflict and the American and Syrian conflict is happening in Iraq now.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (231406)
I would like to return shortly to Mr. Gilchrest's question. I did not hear an answer about the Palestinian Israeli question. Is that effecting what is going on in Iraq? And how would resolution of that effect the Iraq situation?
M.P. Osama al-Nujaifi: (240517)
What is happening in Palestine right now does influence the situation the condition in the Middle East and Iraq. Any solution any balanced solution to the Palestinian would have positive consequences on the Iraqi situation.
Congressman Jim McDermott: (251517)
I have to break in and say we are almost at the end here. I want to thank my colleagues on the American side who have been here. And we will hope we can continue this in the future. Thank you for the opportunity to have this dialogue with you.
End of Live Video Conference
Congressman Jim McDermott (252704)
I hope that you have found the comments by Iraqi Members of Parliament interesting and thought provoking and I hope that you will share your thoughts with me by emailing them to the address on your screen. ( href="mailto:Dal@progressivegovernment.org">Dal@progressivegovernment.org.)
I'm Congressman Jim McDermott Member of Congress from Seattle Washington. Thank you for watching.
 Patriotic for him means nationalist - one who wants one Iraq.
Written in collaboration with Jennifer Hicks
Follow Dal LaMagna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DalLaMagna