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Iraq UN Ambassador Expects Little On The Ground Change With Obama

Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations Hamid al-Bayati.
by Ben Lando
Houston (UPI) Nov 7, 2008
The day after Barack Obama was elected to be the next U.S. president, Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations Hamid al-Bayati called it inspiring. But on the ground in Iraq, Obama really wouldn't be too different from President Bush, he said.

In an interview with United Press International on the sidelines of an energy conference here, Bayati said if talks for a U.S. troop deal fail by the end-of-year expiration of the current U.N. mandate, the U.N. Security Council is ready to extend it.

Behind the scenes of the negotiation are billions of dollars in oil revenue being held, per U.N. mandate, in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq. For now, the money is safe from Saddam-era creditors. Bayati says Iraq will keep it that way, even as it attempts to remove itself from the U.N. Security Council's oversight, referred to as "Chapter 7" (after the chapter in the U.N. Security Council charter).

Q: The next president of the United States is going to be Barack Obama. What does this mean for Iraq?

A: We respect what the American people decide in their elections, to elect Barack Obama as the next president. For us, really, it means a lot. It means there is a democracy in the United States. It means that a nation which elects an African-American for the first time in its history, they are living in a new world, really a world of change. Barack Obama promised that he'd bring the change. This reminds me of the situation in Iraq, when we have for the first time in the history of the country a Kurdish president. The Kurds were considered a second- or even third-class citizen in Iraq. They were oppressed. They were almost wiped out by chemical, biological weapons. This is real democracy, this is real freedom.

Q: Especially in the general populace, George Bush is not very popular. Do you think this will change, the Iraqi people will look at the United States in a different way, because the leadership has changed, because it's Barack Obama?

A: I believe the United States is a country of institutions, not individuals. It's not like the Saddam regime who would decide everything. So we believe there are institutions, and whether it's Barack Obama or someone else, I think the president will listen to experts on the ground, whether they're U.S. experts, military experts or Iraqi experts. We will not see a big difference between President Bush and President Barack Obama. I think both of them will emphasize the importance of a long-term strategic relationship between Iraq and the U.S.; Iraq is an ally to the United States. It's a partner in the war against international terrorism. We had several opportunities to meet with Barack Obama and his team to discuss the future, and I think they both, both candidates, emphasized they're going to listen to the experts, military experts on the ground. If there will be change in policies, we're going to discuss that, but the most important issue that we will be United States allies and partner in the war against international terrorism, especially al-Qaida.

Q: The ongoing negotiations about the Status of Forces Agreement: If the negotiations continue for the next two months when the U.N. mandate expires, will you look for an extension of the U.N. mandate?

A: Yes. We are still optimistic that the U.S. and the Iraqi government will be able to agree and to sign the SOFA agreement. However, if they can't reach an agreement by the end of the year, we have no option but to go back to the Security Council to have another mandate to extend the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.

Q: Has that discussion started, in case, a Plan B measure?

A: Yes, we already started some discussion with the members of the Security Council, and they told us if Iraq is going to request an extension of the mandate for Multi-National Forces in Iraq, they're going to support that.

Q: What is the importance of Chapter 7 from the United Nations Security Council and Iraq's place in that?

A: There are two important issues: One, it considers Iraq as a danger for security and stability. Second, it authorizes a Security Council member to use force in Iraq. Iraq and the Iraqi government wanted to get out of Chapter 7 because of those two points. We don't think Iraq is a danger for security and stability, and we think that there is no need to authorize Security Council members to use force in Iraq.

Q: Does it have any other effect? Does it change any legal status or financial issues?

A: The resolution gives us some advantages. It gives us immunities to development funds for Iraq, the DFI. It gives immunities to Iraqi oil shipments. ...

Q: From attachment by creditors, from the Saddam era, saying, "You owe us money still, we're taking this"?

A: Yes. Any creditor will be able to confiscate Iraqi money or Iraqi oil shipments, but with immunity under Chapter 7 they can't do that. So there are some advantages to having that. Though if we are going to extend the mandate of Multi-National Forces under Chapter 7 by the Security Council, then we will enjoy the extension of the immunity for the DFI and for the oil shipments.

Q: And what about the removal of Iraq from Chapter 7, whether it's Status of Forces Agreement, are you looking to protect today's Iraqi money from being held liable for Saddam's Iraqi decisions?

A: We have other options, and we are considering any other option if we don't extend the mandate of the Security Council, we have other options to protect Iraqi money.

Q: What are those? Would it be because it's in a U.S. bank, having the U.S. presidential decree like it has now?

A: Yes, in the U.S. we have the presidential decree. In some European countries we have certain banks who could have immunity for central bank money, so there are some other measures we are considering.


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