Inquiry told Iraq military coup 'real possibility'
By Alex Barker, Political Correspondent
Published: January 9 2010 02:00 | Last updated: January 9 2010 02:00
A military coup in Iraq led by officers once loyal to Saddam Hussein remains a "real possibility", according to the UK's serving ambassador in Baghdad.
John Jenkins yesterday issued the warning over the potential threats to Iraq's democratically elected government during his testimony to the Iraq inquiry in London. "If you look at the history of Iraq, the history of military coups in Iraq, you have to think that that is always a possibility - a real possibility - in the future," he said. "But I think where we are at the moment is much better than we thought it was going to be back in 2004-05.''
His assessment of the current political landscape in Iraq came as the inquiry prepared to enter a more politically charged phase of its evidence gathering. On Tuesday, Alastair Campbell, former Downing Street spin doctor, will take the witness stand in the first examination of the political decisions that led up to the war.
While Mr Jenkins stressed yesterday that the conditions in Iraq had improved and violence had abated, he told the inquiry that the establishment of democracy in the country was not a "done deal".
One of the main risks to political stability remained the cadre of senior Sunni officers in the Iraqi army with past ties to Saddam's Ba'ath party. This fear was reflected in the widespread belief in Iraq that Ba'athist factions were behind the most recent bomb attacks. "There is clearly a balance to be drawn between using the professional competence and experience of former army officers under Saddam to provide the backbone of the modern Iraqi security forces and dealing with the suspicions and fears of others that this is the reintroduction of irreconcilable elements of the Ba'ath party,'' Mr Jenkins said....
Direct link to the video and transcript of Jenkins' testimony:
Jenkins sounds considerably more optimistic than the FT would lead us to believe:
12 MR JOHN JENKINS: I think given -- I mean, Iraq has never
13 had -- has never had a democratic system in any way that
14 we would understand. The modern Iraqi state was
15 essentially set up as a patrimonial state governed by
16 elites in their own interests, sustained latterly by
17 oil. So this transition to a national democratic,
18 accountable and responsive system is a hugely -- and in
19 many ways it is unique in the region and it is unique
20 partly because of the comprehensiveness of the
21 democratisation agenda stemmed from the CPA activity,
22 but has come through into what is happening now with the
23 mergence of Iraq as a sovereign state.
24 It is also unique in the sense that this will be the
25 first Arab state for a thousand years to have a majority
1 Shia government. So to a certain extent, they are --
2 there is no map for this. There is a map for the sort
3 of procedures. There is a map for the sort of
4 institution, you can have at the centre. There is a map
5 for the sort of elections you can conduct, but there
6 isn't a map for how, in practice, this works in a state
7 which has so many potential fissures, as Iraq does,
8 between communal, inside communities, between -- the
9 different bits of Iraq on the economic side and so
11 Given that, I think that, where Iraq has come to, as
12 we speak, is pretty remarkable. The provincial
13 elections at the beginning of this year, the turnout was
14 between 50 and 60 per cent, which is high: (a), it is
15 a real figure, and (b), in terms of Middle East --
16 probably in terms of this country as well, this is
17 a remarkably high figure.
18 I think there was a risk with the national elections
19 in March that the turnout will be lower. Because
20 I think it is still fragile, because I think -- having
21 the habit of mind which sees democracy as something you
22 actually have to work at is difficult and is not common
23 at all in the Middle East.
24 But I think this -- the way that politics has
25 emerged as an alternative to the violent settling of
1 disputes seems to be something that most Iraqis actually
2 want. I think one of the turning points, one of the
3 key -- if you can pinpoint what changed when was when
4 Ayatollah Al-Sistani essentially said to people, "Vote.
5 It is important that you vote".
6 I think one of the lessons that the Shia in
7 particular drew from what happened in the 1920s in Iraq
8 is that they didn't actually participate in the process
9 of conducting a modern state with the British mandated
10 authority at the time. They were determined not to
11 repeat this mistake and they concluded that, as the
12 majority community in Iraq, it was, and is, in their
13 interests to have a system that reflects their weight of
14 numbers in the allocation of power at the centre.
15 They also know that they need to bring along the
16 other communities with them, the Sunnis and the Kurds.
17 They know, I think -- or at least a substantial portion
18 of them know -- that they can't do this by violence.
19 You cannot impose this on the Sunnis.
20 I think that in itself is a guarantee of the
21 sustainability of some sort of democratic system in
22 Iraq. How exactly over the next ten years this system
23 will evolve and what sort of democratic system or
24 accountable responsive system we will be looking at in
25 ten years' time, I still find it quite difficult to
1 predict, but they do have the institutions. They have
2 the Council of Representatives, which is actually
3 functioning pretty well, it passes laws, it has debates,
4 but it doesn't have endless debates without passing
5 anything which happens elsewhere in the Middle East
6 where you have similar assemblies. It is not a done
7 deal. It is not a done deal.
8 If you look at the history of Iraq and the history
9 of military coups in Iraq, you have to think that is
10 always a possibility, a real possibility, in the future,
11 but I think where we are at the moment is -- it is much
12 better than we thought it was going to be back in