Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
TUESDAY 8 JUNE 2004
Q300 Chairman: We have a number of
months before we get there. Under the proposal, the occupation
will end at the end of this month and sovereignty will pass to
an Iraqi group. To what extent will that alter the situation of
ordinary Iraqis, in your judgment?
Mr Hughes: I think that a lot
of ordinary Iraqis do see the Coalitionthe US forces, the
British forces and the multinational forceas an army of
occupation, and they want them out. That is the bottom line. They
want them out as soon as possible. The arguments over sovereignty
that we saw a couple of weeks agois it going to be full
sovereignty, partial sovereignty, and when?Colin Powell
saying that it will only be partial sovereignty . . .
Q301 Chairman: Have we moved on from
Mr Hughes: Yes, we have, but I
do not think that helps the people of Iraq understand what is
going on and I do not think that it will help the credibility
of the new administration about to be set up.
Q302 Chairman: Surely the US has
now made its own moves in terms of the Security Council resolution?
France, Germany and Russia have, in the judgment of many of us,
improved that. The US should properly be on the defensive in terms
of the next months. Is it your view from those to whom you spoke
that there will be a sea change? That things will move more positively,
now there is a timetable established and a UN cover?
Mr Hughes: I was there in April
and events have moved on enormously quickly since then, but I
think that it will help, yes. There will always be those people
who, as I have said, do not trust the UN and feel that it is a
stooge of the United States but, for a lot of ordinary Iraqis,
it will help that there is international legitimacyI did
not mean to sound too negative earlierthat international
approval has been given to this new administration. In particular,
I think that it will help that there are people like Ayatollah
Ali al-Sistani. It is people like him who have the most credibility
and support in the country, rather than the people who are the
politiciansparticularly exiled politicians who may not
have been in the country for 30 years and who are now trying to
garner support. Ayatollah al-Sistani has a lot of respect among
ordinary Iraqis and so, if he gives the new administration some
sort of legitimacy, I think that is a big help.
Q303 Chairman: I have a question
about de-Ba'athification or the role of the Ba'ath party. The
impression we had until recently was that there was a deep division
between the current groups, in that the Kurds and the Sunni were
keen on having movement to accept those former members of the
Ba'ath party who were not guilty of human rights abuses, and it
was the Sunni who were blocking those movements.
Mr Hughes: Do you mean the Shia?
Q304 Chairman: I am sorry, yes, the
Shia blocking the movements. Now it is a Shia prime minister who
is saying that he wishes to embrace the right-minded, former Ba'athists.
How helpful will that be?
Mr Hughes: At the time we were
saying it was a reversal of the de-Ba'athification policy, and
that was hotly contested by the Coalition spokesman we were in
conversation with; but I think the changewe will call it
a changeto the de-Baathification policy was absolutely
vital. First for the armed forces, because the Coalition was presented
with an enormous security problem which they just could not deal
with without the help of Iraqis who had served in the armed forces.
So I think that was what was driving it a lot. I did not pick
up on the Shia-Sunni split over de-Ba'athification. What I did
pick up on were the exiles and the people who had stayed within
Iraqthat was where I saw the division, and particularly
with Mr Chalabi, who was very, very anti the whole change to that
Q305 Mr Illsley: You have mentioned
the CPA being unpopular and that the UN may also be. We have always
assumed that, come 30 June and the handover, the security problems
will, unfortunately, continue and probably continue until the
elections in January. Is that your view? Is there any sort of
hint that, perhaps with the formation of the transitional or interim
government these last couple of weeks, the appointment of cabinet
members and a prime minister, and the handover to Iraqis now,
that will alleviate the situation at all? Or is there still this
feeling that it is an American-dominated situation and the attacks
will carry on?
Mr Hughes: The good thing about
what is going on in Iraq is that you can see an end game. There
is light at the end of the tunnel. In some areas of the world
I do not think that you can see that, but I think that you can
in Iraq. As I said at the beginning, there are these different
conflicts, different difficulties that the Coalition faces. If
you take them out of the equation one by one, you will probably
always be left with this sort of resistance movement. I think
that will be a long-running problem, even after the elections.
Q306 Mr Illsley: Regardless of who
is in charge there?
Mr Hughes: Yes. If you take the
Muqtada al-Sadr element out of the equationwhich they appear
to be working on, or at least close to being able to dothat
will help things a lot in the southern and central parts of Iraq.
The Fallujah question is gradually working itself out. But I think
that there is always going to be thisnot always, but for
a long time...
Q307 Mr Illsley: What about the prisoners'
treatment? You must have been there when that was played out.
How badly did Iraqis react to this?
Mr Hughes: It was a disaster for
the Coalition, I thinkon all sorts of levels. First, the
Iraqis have enormous shame that their fellow countrymen were being
treated in this way. It is perhaps hard for us to understand that.
Perhaps there is a cultural barrier to our understanding that
element. However, that was incredibly important: that they saw
fellow Iraqis being humiliated in that way. It was also immensely
damaging because of where it took place. Abu Ghraib is a prison
with this terrifically awful reputation, notorious under Saddam
for executions, beatings and torture, and here are pictures of
American soldiers beating and humiliating people. Obviously it
was not to the same degree, and I think we should remember that,
but it was enormously damaging.
Q308 Mr Illsley: The images should
have been of our closing that place down as opposed to carrying
on the abuses.
Mr Hughes: Yes.
Q309 Mr Illsley: There must be some
light at the end of the tunnel. I have seen a photograph this
weekend in one of the national newspapersit might have
been the Sunday Timesof some men sitting outside
a café in Baghdad overlooking the Tigris. The article referred
to 37 elections which had already taken place in local government
in that area of Baghdad. When you look at the national news and
the continual reports of car bomb attacks, and so on, and then
look at this type of photograph of apparent normality, you have
to ask where you pitch it in between. Where is the reality of
the situation now? Is there some normality around?
Mr Hughes: Very much so. It is
difficult for us, reporting that situationbecause people
getting on with their daily lives probably will not get on to
the 10 o'clock news. It is important that we try to reflect that
people do get on with their daily lives but, when I was there,
there was so much violence going on that it was very difficult
to find the time to do all the rest of it. On the occasions that
I did get out into the city, however, you did see people go to
work, taking their kids to school, sitting in shops gossiping,
drinking tea. We went to the old souk, and people were haggling,
buying and selling and, as far as I could tell, business was booming.
All around them, however, the city is a mess. There is rubble
everywhere. The traffic is absolutely chaotic.
Q310 Mr Illsley: Is reconstruction
happening or is it being hindered by the violence?
Mr Hughes: Yes, it is definitely
being hindered by the violence. When we were there, we saw that
the Russians pulled all of their people out; Siemens pulled a
number of people out, and those who stayed were essentially confined
to barracks, so to speak. They were staying in their compounds,
were doing paper work, but were not reconstructing. This comes
back to the point I made to Mr Chairman. It is these sorts of
thingsthe power supply, the water supply, sewagethat
really get up people's noses. What I was going to say about the
state of the city was that there is rubbish and rubble everywhere,
and buildings teetering overbombed buildings. There are
no traffic lights that work. All this makes an enormous difference.
I have never seen anything like the traffic. It was extraordinaryabsolute
gridlock. All these things make an enormous difference to people's
quality of life. Those are the sorts of things that the Coalition
do not seem to have grasped. They are so busy dealing with the
security situation, I suppose, that it is very difficult for them
to take on projects like that.
Q311 Mr Olner: Just following that
up, I think that the media have a rolethe al-Jazeeras of
this world and the BBCto be able to level the blame about
the fact that the reconstruction is not going forward because
of the attacks that are being made on the people who are trying
to do it.
Mr Hughes: Yes.
Q312 Mr Olner: I understand what
you are saying about it. It is a good story, people living normal
lives, and so on; but the downside of it is that the people, who
are perpetuating this violence and stopping real help and assistance
getting to the people of Iraq, seem to get away scot-free.
Mr Hughes: You are absolutely
right, but I think for ordinary Iraqis, it is very difficult for
them to make that connection between the lack of a regular power
supply and the violence which is going on. All they see is their
food in their fridge or freezer going up to 40-degree heat and
they view the Coalition as being responsible for security, which
frankly it is, and when then there are lapses in security, they
blame the Coalition. People have said to me, "You have come
here to our country and the least you could do is make sure that
we are safe and you are not doing that". That is why we saw
after the bombings in Basra, for example, remember in April when
they bombed the police stations and the police academy, big demonstrations
after that directed against the British because they had failed
to prevent those bombings. Now, we all know it is very difficult
to prevent those sort of bombings, almost impossible perhaps,
but nonetheless people get really angry.
Q313 Mr Olner: But the point I am
getting at is whether there is press in Iraq which will turn around
and say, "There will probably be reconstruction and the fact
is that there are many ex-Saddamists who have their own agenda
and they are the ones destroying our country, not the Coalition"?
Mr Hughes: Well, there is not
that much press outside of the Coalition, as far as I know, though
I have to admit I am not an expert on the Iraqi media, but outside
of the Coalition-run and funded TV stations, newspapers and radio
stations and then the ones run by political parties, I do not
think there is that much in the middle which would be classed
as neutral or even-handed, so it is difficult for indigenous press
to get that message across.
Q314 Mr Olner: The biggest problem,
having listened to you, Mr Hughes, was the fact that you thought
the UN had not got a role to play.
Mr Hughes: No, no. Sorry, but
if I gave that impression, I did not mean to.
Q315 Mr Olner: Some of us think that
the UN is key to getting more aid, so it is not just America and
the United Kingdom which are going there, but we are doing it
globally. I actually think that the biggest set-back to Iraq was
when they drove out of Baghdad the United Nations compound.
Mr Hughes: I am sorry, I did not
mean to give the impression that I thought it had no role to play.
I think the UN is probably the only body which could have sorted
out the political impasse which they had reached and come up with
this sort of technocrat government. I mean, who else could have
done it? I did not mean to give that impression that I felt they
had no role to play at all. I believe that they have an enormous
role to play and I do think it will help. What I was trying to
get across was that not every Iraqi respects the UN and feels
that they are an organisation above influence, but I do think
that there is support for the UN, yes.
Q316 Mr Pope: I was in Iraq for a
short visit in December and one of the impressions that I came
away with was about the difference between the British sector
based in Basra and Baghdad. Obviously they are very different
places, but there did seem to be a different style to the British
compared to our American partners. What I would like to know,
in the aftermath of the photographs which were published, particularly
The Mirror photographs which were later shown to be fakes,
but presumably which were widely circulated in Basra . . .
Mr Hughes: Yes.
Q317 Mr Pope: . . . is whether that
really utterly and disastrously altered people's perceptions of
the British or was there some sense afterwards that the pictures
were fake and that the British were this bad?
Mr Hughes: Well, if I am absolutely
honest, I am not sure I can answer your question because I could
not get to Basra. We were stuck in Baghdad partly because of the
security situation and partly because of the amount of work which
two of us had to deal with, so I am afraid I cannot give you an
on-the-ground report from Basra.
Q318 Chairman: Nevertheless, to have
an eye-witness account from someone who has been there more recently
than the Committee has been extremely valuable, so thank you,
Mr Hughes: Well, I am happy to
have been of service. Can I just say one more thing, which is
that my colleague, Barnaby Mason, who is the diplomatic correspondent
of the World Service has just retired and he wrote a final From
Our Own Correspondent about being a diplomatic correspondent
and his last paragraph in that was absolutely fantastic because
it summed up the whole thing about the transfer of sovereignty.
If you do not mind, may I read it to you?
Q319 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Hughes: I could not do justice
to Barnaby's delivery, but he says, "American and British
politicians and the media now talk of transferring sovereignty
to an interim Iraqi Government at the end of June. Pedants object
that they cannot do that because they do not possess the sovereignty
in the first place. All right then, they are going to hand over
power. Are they? Really? Perhaps the transfer of limited administrative
authority would be more accurate, but that does not have the right
ring to it. It certainly does not like sound like a clear end
to the occupation". I just felt that was worth bringing to
your attention. If you want to read the whole thing, it is on
Q320 Chairman: Not today.
Mr Hughes: Maybe when you get
back from Russia.
Chairman: Many thanks.