Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq


September 17, 2005 11:00 AM

Q & A

by President Lee C. Bollinger

Lee Bollinger: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I would also like to
recognize some special guests that we have. First lady Hero Ahmed is here.
Please recognize her. I believe your son has also joined us here, and his name
is Qubad Talabany. We have the Minister of State for Women's Affairs, Ms. al-
Shakly, the Minister of Labor, Mr. *Sali, and the Minister of Technology, Ms.
Putros. We would now like to open the floor for questions. Please go. I'd like to
give priority to Columbia students.

Casey Barnett: Good morning. My name is Casey Barnett. I am a student with
the business school here at Columbia. I'm also the director of Cam-Ed, a
research and training Institute in Southeast Asia. Your Excellency, you
mentioned that the Iraqi Constitution is the best in the region. Yet, Article7 of the
Constitution forbids Ba'ath Party members from becoming part of the political
system. Now, most people became Ba'ath party members to go to college or get
a job. Wouldn't it be smarter for your government to focus on the leaders of the
Ba'ath Party, rather than the rank and file?

Lee Bollinger: We also should, take this occasion, you can just lineup behind
the microphones to ask questions.

President Jalal Talabani: This is not true. Not all Ba'athists are prevented from
participating. Only the criminals and special rank of Ba'athists are prevented.
But the big majority of them are permitted. They are considered as Iraqis. They
can participate in the democratic process. And even many of them are still in
jobs, in universities, in schools, in departments, in administration, and only who
are prevented from that, those who committed crimes according to law.

Lee Bollinger: Next question.

Garth Stewart: Sir, my name is Garth Stewart, and I'm a general studies
student here at Columbia. And, I was in the Third Infantry Division in 2003 and I
was a very active participant in the liberation of Iraq. And I have to say--

Lee Bollinger: I'm sorry. Let me just ask, put the microphone up so that you
can be heard more clearly.

Garth Stewart: Is this all right? Is this acceptable if I just bend my head a little

Lee Bollinger: That's good. That's good.

Garth Stewart: I was in the Third Infantry Division, an active participant in the
liberation of Iraq. And I have to say, it's an honor to hear you speak here today,
sir. My question is, in your speech, you referred to a new Iraq. And I wanted to
know, do you ever plan on seeking some sort of reform in the Middle East as it
concerns other governments that aren't so enlightened as what Iraq is

President Jalal Talabani: Of course. For this reason, many of our neighbors
are very, are not happy and satisfied because a democratic, federal, stable Iraq
will inspire all people of Middle East to free themselves from dictatorship and to
enjoy democracy. For that, I think you; when you're in Iraq, observe that many
neighbors are not satisfied with the liberation of Iraq or having democracy and
democratic rights in Iraq.

Manal Alam: Hi. Mr. President, my name is Manal Alam, and I'm a student in
the engineering school. What will it take in the future for Iraq to have a separate
political identity not linked to the United States?

President Jalal Talabani: I think we are an independent country, and Iraqi
people are proud to be independent and we always struggle to be an
independent country, but we are in need to a kind of core operation and alliances
in this global of we are so far living in it, and this globalization is demanding that
countries must look kind of cooperation and coordination among them.

Lee Bollinger: Next question.

Cham Laden: Mr. President, my name is *Cham Laden, I'm a journalism
student here. And as I understand it, you have the very admirable policy of not
signing execution warrants which Iraq courts pass up to your office and delegate
this duty to a deputy. And I also understand that this is because the Democratic
patriotic alliance of Kurdistan is obliged under treaties you signed not to endorse
the death penalty. I think that's wholly admirable, but I was wondering if you
thought it was a problem, or set a poor precedent for the president of a sovereign
country of Iraq to be bound by regional obligations, not to fulfill sections of his
office. Thank you.

President Jalal Talabani: Well, you know, we are in Iraq now enjoying
democracy. We have different parties and groups from Left, extreme Left to
extreme Right. Of course, different attitudes. I am, as a lawyer, I signed an
international appeal against the death penalty. And I'm respecting my signature.
For that, I am able, (applause) even I said, if I was one day obliged to choose
between my principles and the post, I will leave the post and keep my, protect my
principles. (applause) I know that perhaps the next president will not be in the
same way and the same kind of thinking. But it's my belief, and I cannot deny
my signature.

Lee Bollinger: Next question.

Patrick Luhem: Hello, Mr. President, my name is Patrick *Luhem. I'm a student
of Japanese literature here in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and I
wanted to thank you for your speech and also welcome you to Columbia. During
your speech, you spoke about the kindness and generosity of American troops.
And, with that attitude, I was wondering how you interpret an event like what
happened at Abu Ghraib.

President Jalal Talabani: Yeah, that was, in Abu Ghraib something was very
bad happened, that some American soldiers, simple soldiers violated the human
rights. But I'd like to remind you, Abu Ghraib was a prison in Iraq when
thousands and thousands of Iraqis were executed. It was a prisoner of tens of
thousands of Iraqis visited this prison, and suffered worse kind of torture and
violating of human rights. For that, of course, we condemn what happened
against Iraqis, because we want to have the human rights everywhere in Iraq,
and human rights must be respected by Americans, Iraqis, everyone. But, when
Iraqis remember prison of Abu Ghraib, they are remembering thousands and
thousands of the martyrs who were killed in that prison.

Lee Bollinger: Next question.

Marin Dunnaheim: Mr. President, my name is Marin *Dunnaheim. I'm Masters
of Laws student from Ireland. In light of the Constitutionalization and the
problems that have sewn in Iraq, what is the possibility of the complete
secularization of Iraq in light of the role that religious law plays and religious
diversity plays in Iraq?

President Jalal Talabani: Well, we couldn't reach a secular state, hundreds
person (inaudible). There was a kind of compromise, as I told you in my speech.
There is of course we have strong Islamic parties. There were, even some of
them were asking for an Islamic Republic. For example, we couldn't reach
agreement with a group of Sunni Arabs about the article, which says that Islam is
a source for laws. They insisted that it must be the main source of all laws. We
refused it. We tried to reach a kind of compromise that we could in the same
time, respect the democratic principles and respect Islam as the religious of the
majority of Iraq. Of course it's respecting other religions, like Christianity, like
*Azadis, like *Sabbis and others which mentioned in this Constitution.

Lee Bollinger: Next question.

Shirley Shavit: Hello, Mr. President. My name is Shirley Shavit. I'm the
director of an international department, and biggest women's organization in
Israel. First of all, it was a great honor to hear you and to listen to what you said.
And I'm very concerned and would like to ask your attitude regarding the state of
Israel, regarding the future coexistence with Iraq. And I think we have a lot in
common regarding our concern for world democracy as well as the Al Qaeda
threat to the whole world. Thank you very much.

President Jalal Talabani: Well, thank you for question. And we are in Iraq
committed to our member and active member and founder member of the
league, Arab League. We are part of the Arab world. Iraq participated on all the
summit, Arab summits. The last one, which was in Beirut, decided that a
doctorate, proposal, presented by then president, now King Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia, according to this proposal, there is some kind of promise if Israel will
respect all resolutions passed by the United Nations and recognize the existence
of a peaceful Palestinian state. The Arab countries will normalize relation with
Israel, and will have full kind of contracts with them. It's now up to Israeli people
and Israeli government to decide to accept this proposal of King Abdullah, and
then I think everything will be normal and open.

Lee Bollinger: Yes.

Carmack MacGee: I'm *Carmack *MacGee. I'm his master student at the
school of International and Public Affairs. (speaks Arabic) Columbia.

President Jalal Talabani: (speaks Arabic).

Carmack MacGee: Being Middle Eastern, specifically from Lebanon, I just want
to let everyone know that any change in the Middle East is better than the status
quo. So some people who argue--at this point in time--so some people who
argue about whether the U.S. should have gone in or out, I think the change was
very important. However, I do have a concern. In your speech, you said a
repeated number of times that you are killing and capturing the terrorists. I was
just wondering, these people strive and breed on the blood of their martyr
brothers. Do you think that by killing and capturing these terrorists, you will be
solving the problem of insurgencies? Because I find that this is only addressing
the symptom of terrorism rather than the radical cause of terrorism. So what
measures are being done by the Iraqi government to address social welfare and

President Jalal Talabani: Yes. Well, killing is not enough. But don't forget, we
are killing those terrorists in defense of ourselves. They are attacking us, and we
are killing them. This is a very important point you must take it in consideration.
When they are coming for example to occupy a town, we are not ready to
surrender to them, we are going to resist, to liberate the town, and we are killing
those who are trying to impose their rule by force on the people. This is one.
Second, we believe that there must be a comprehensive plan for facing terrorism.
This plan must be political, economic, media, public opinion, relation with
diplomacy, many things here. And I think those who came, terrorists in Iraq are
different groups. Some different, some groups are from Al Qaeda, and
fundamentalist Islamists who came and declared the order of annihilation. They
openly say it.

And statesmen, that are killing all shades, and consider all shades out of Islam.
And also, they're killing all Kurdists. Because they are allies of the United States
of America. Well, a group coming to declare the war of annihilation, what do you
want for us? Maybe we got to (inaudible). This is one. Second, second, as you
said, any change in Middle East is very, very important. And especially,
democratic change is very important. It will change the Middle East. And those
who are afraid from new Iraq, they are afraid from democracy and from
democratization in Middle East.

Andrew Monaghan: Mr. President, it's an honor to have you here today. My
name is Andrew Monaghan and I'm with the School of International and Public
Affairs. We learn from the American experience as the oldest democracy in the
world that one of the true potential threats of the federalist system is Civil War.
What assurances do you give the world that Iraq can become a true federalist
democracy that will stay together? Thank you.

President Jalal Talabani: Well, it depends on the will of Iraqi people. It's also
mentioned in the Constitution that Iraqi people, through their free will, decide if
they want to have regional governments, kind of, we think that Federation, with
democracy are necessary for building a multi-nation country, and without
Federation and democracy, it's impossible to imagine a united, strong Iraq, with
all these different nationalities and religions, etcetera.

Rachel MacMillan: Thank you. Mr. President, my name is Rachel MacMillan. I
am in the Columbia College. One of the main reasons that President Bush gave
us for going to war in Iraq and for Operation Iraqi Freedom was the allegation of
nuclear weapons, which we now know didn't exist. Now, of course, in Iran and
North Korea, we see large nuclear weapon arsenals being developed as well.
Do you think that if it was a basic human rights tissue, that we would have gone
to Iraq in the first place, or was that lie actually needed to garner international
support and attention?

President Jalal Talabani: Well, I think there were mass destruction arms.
According to our information, our own information, there was massive chemical
weapons, which was used against Kurdish people in *Halajan, against Iranians
and against South of Iraq. And there was also, in the (inaudible), biological
weapons also. Now we are discovering graves, for example, that contain the
children between six to, one to six year, some other six to 12, some 12 to 18.
We think that there was a kind of exercise of the chemical and the biological
weapons. We were sure that there were chemical weapons and there were
biological weapons. But they could hide them.

You know, Iraq is a big country. This is one. The second, I think liberating 27
million Iraqis and building a democratic center in Middle East was deserving to
be, to participate in this war of liberation. And don't forget that this is a tradition
of American people. America participated in the Second World War, first World
War, in Asia, liberating Afghanistan and Belkan, in many places. That's the
glorious people of the world. They have their own responsibility to pay the price
of it. Although I'm sorry for all kinds of American casualties.

Lee Bollinger: Yes.

Student: President, I'm international student in the School of Engineering and,
from Turkey. So, I wonder what you exactly meant in the beginning of your
speech with Kurdistan?

President Jalal Talabani: Pardon?

Student: What you meant exactly in the speech of, in the beginning of your
speech, as Kurdistan.

President Jalal Talabani: Kurdistan is a country. I didn't create it. God created
it. A few in Turkey denying it. It doesn't mean that it's not existing. This even at
the time of command pressure (inaudible) was recognize that, go back to the first
building of Turkish National Assembly, you will see on the wall, the list of military,
Kurdistan military. This country is now a part of it in Iraq. This part of Iraq is
officially recognize it. We have a regional government of Kurdistan, and this
original, we have also a National Assembly of Kurdistan that we are recognizing
in Iraq. We don't want to interfere in your own affairs. If you don't want to
recognize it, it's up to you. But we have Kurdistan as a part of Iraq.

Lee Bollinger: Yes?

Nate Jennings: Welcome, Mr. President. My name's Nate Jennings. I'm an
undergraduate student in the engineering school. You spoke a little bit about the
Constitution in your speech. And I was wondering if you could address what the
major impediments are to having some kind of consensus. I know you said not,
there's never a case where everyone can be happy. But what do you see as
being the major problems from having, I guess widespread consensus?

President Jalal Talabani: Yeah, the major problems was first the relation
between state and religion. Some people say, insisted that Iraq must be an
Islamic regime, and some people wanted to say that Islam is the main source of
the laws in Iraq. It was one of the big shifts in the discussion. Second was,
some Sunni Arabs refuse consideration for the South. They recognize a
federation for Kurdistan because they said federation is existing since a long time
in Kurdistan. It is a reality to de facto. But they denied right of having original
government for the people of the South. The third, about the relation between
Iraq and Arab World. What we have agreed with the secretary-general of Arab
League was Iraq is a founding member, enacted member of the League of Arab
Leagues, and committed to the charter and the decisions of Arab League. Some
people want to say that Iraq as a part of Arab nation, by denying the existence of
Kurds, Kurdanians, Turkomans, Assyrians, etcetera. That was the three main
issues in the way of reaching a consensus on the Constitution.

Lee Bollinger: Yes.

Hallah Al-Zaraf: Mr. President, my name is *Hallah *Al-Zaraf. I am an Iraqi
Fullbright student. I major in health policy, and if you allow me sir, I will speak in
English, and then give me the pleasure of talking in Arabic to our president. As
an Iraqi Arab Muslim Shi'a woman, I feel so privileged to stand here and talk to
you because this is the first time I have a chance to talk a president and I have
passed my 40 years. I never wanted to speak to the president before, but I am
greatly honored to be here and talk to you. I'm doing Masters, I left a family
behind. I'm doing it basically for Iraq. I want to go back as soon as possible and
try to do something and participate with all the good efforts. I have the worry,
being a woman, being, you know, I don't know what's going to happen to the
Constitution, the draft, but I do acknowledge that there are women leadership. I
mean, the existence of the First Lady here is something we would have never
thought it would happen, and the lady minister.

How can we be-- (applause) what assurances could we have in light of what you
have said about the dominance of the cleric, very strong fundamental attitude
towards women participation in Iraq? What is our assurance if we go back? And
thank you very much. I don't know if I need to it in Arabic. (speaks Arabic)

President Jalal Talabani: Well, I am, no, no, I am, I'm proud to have you with
us here, an Iraqi woman from Shi'ite section of Iraq, and proud to, to see lady like
you express this attitude very frankly. And I'd like to tell you that according in
institution, many rights of women is insured. Equality among men and women.
The right to have 25 person of Parliament from women. Of course this will reflect
in government. Now we have about six ministers, ladies. Six ladies ministers in
the--we'll have the (inaudible) prime minister, a lady also. And we have many
members in the, ladies in the National Assembly. And also, we indirectly put in
the Constitution that this Constitution will respect the universal declaration of
human rights, which it had a lot of rights of women in it. And also, the women are
free to choose in their marriage and their divorce, unlikely divorce of course to
choose if they want to go to Civil Court or to go to the mosque.

Hallah Al-Zaraf: One more last thing, please allow me to ask--

President Jalal Talabani: And of course, you know, my dear sister, you know
that in Iraq we have now a strong movement, but I must be honest with you, they
are not denying the fundamental rights of women. There are some kinds of
differences, as you know.

Hallah Al-Zaraf: Yes. And this is, this is the worry.

President Jalal Talabani: But we are trying to receive compromise on it.

Hallah Al-Zaraf: And *sha Allah, He will succeed. Thank you very much.

President Jalal Talabani: We will do. Thank you.

Hallah Al-Zaraf: And please accept the great greetings from other Iraqi
Fullbrighters who are studying in Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, this is a great
opportunity to be here and talk to you personally.

President Jalal Talabani: Give all of them regards--

Hallah Al-Zaraf: Thank you very much.

President Jalal Talabani: --and my love.

Hallah Al-Zaraf: Thank you very much, Mr. President. (applause)

Lee Bollinger: The, the president has time for just two more questions. Yes?

Emil Rove: My name is Emil Rove. I am an International Undergraduate
Student in Columbia College. Mr. President, it is known that you have distanced
yourself from the Kurdish Independence Movement for the sake of working with
different ethnic groups during the process of rebuilding Iraq. What I am
wondering is what your standards are going to be in the future concerning the
Kurdish Independence Movement.

President Jalal Talabani: Well, my dear friend. I had my struggle all my life, I
was struggling for democracy in Iraq and Kurdish rights within the framework of
Iraq. I was convinced that Kurdish people, who forcibly divided in the Middle
East, has the right to serve this nation like others. But, it's impossible today to
think about independent Kurdistan. I never asked for independent Kurdistan
because I know it's impossible to--I can give you one example now. Let us
imagine, tomorrow, the National Assembly of Kurdistan decides declaring
independence, if our neighbors don't fight us, but close the border, how it can
come back to you again to be here in this presence. For example, we must be
realistic. We must struggle for what is possible, achievable of the mass of
Kurdish people, and rethink the best is democracy for Iraq and federation within
the framework of Iraq as a part of Kurdistan also. Thank you very much.

Lee Bollinger: Yes?

Crystal Foray: President. Thank you for coming today. My name is Crystal
Foray, and I'm a graduate student at the School of Social Work, concentrating in
International Social Welfare. In your speech, you said that there was no specific
time frame to pull the troops out of Iraq. So my question for you is in your
opinion, what exactly would need to take place in order for our troops to come
home? Thank you.

President Jalal Talabani: I think the best thing we can do is that to train our
forces and to prepare Iraqi Armed Forces for combating against terrorism and
defending this sovereignty independent of the country. And of course, there
must be always a kind of consultation and negotiation among coalition forces in
Iraqi to reach agreement when it will be necessary to remove. But I think when
anyone's starting a noble mission, it must be finished successfully. Thank you
very much.

Lee Bollinger: Mr. President, let me just say that it is a great pleasure and
honor for us to have you here today and to spend this time. It is interesting.
We're working on a project as part of the World Leaders' Forum to have women
from the Iraqi legislature come and speak at Columbia at some point in this year.
This, of course, with the issues that have been raised, speak to great questions
in the United States and the world, issues of multilateralism, issues of
democracy, issues of free markets, issues of intelligence. These are questions
that are being debated throughout America at this time, as you know. For you to
come here and spend this time with us and to answer questions so forthrightly
and freely, we deeply appreciate it, and thank you all for coming to join us.

President Jalal Talabani: Thank you, Mr. President. (applause) You are very
kind. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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