NP: After writing about Saddam’s crimes, do you think the status quo ante was stable?
M: That’s another issue. The status quo under Saddam, in fact, yes… What I wanted to say is, before, they lived under a terrible dictatorship like all the Iraqis. Now the lid’s off, the Pandora’s box was opened, and now look at the result…
NP: You know about the honeypot idea? Iraq is a honeypot for these people. They’re drawn in but…maybe it’s not so good for them either in the long run. They’ve been losing a lot of their members, haven’t they?
M: They don’t care…. For them it’s a great opportunity, it’s close to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is their next target…
NP: If Saddam were still in power…
M: What I mean is, by going to war, you see the problems you create.
NP: So tell me, what would be the French approach… I know, you’re not speaking for the government, you’re speaking as someone who has been living in the Middle East, writing about it, thinking about it. Let us say the American approach is, in your opinion, no good. What would be your approach—or the French approach—to the same problem, the general problem…Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon etc. What is the French approach? What is France’s position in the Middle East?
M: Exactly the same question my hijacker asked. There is a difference between the French and the American approach. Especially with Bush. The American approach is ideological. The French approach is more subtle, closer to reality precisely because it’s not based on an ideology of the type “we are good, we are going to promote good and they promote evil.” The French approach is closer to the problem. It’s based on the idea that the root of many of these problems is the Israel-Palestine conflict. That has to be solved first and then, afterward, Saddam’s case would have to be solved. But it’s a mistake to think that the road to peace in Jerusalem goes through Baghdad, like the Israelis said, The proof is before our eyes today. This thing in Iraq doesn’t settle the Israel-Palestine conflict, it has nothing to do with it. The French approach is much more subtle because it is based on experience… the English have it too, because they too occupied those countries. We were the persecutors in Algeria and when you occupy a country…the Israelis occupy Palestine…they know how to handle them
NP: What is the occupation of “Palestine”? What do the Palestinians mean when they say “end the occupation?”
M: To have a country in Gaza and the West Bank. That’s all.
NP: That they refused in 2000?
M: No. They didn’t refuse it. That’s the myth of Camp David.
NP: Who has the correct version?
M: Look at Robert Malley…
NP: Some people say they never even saw him at Camp David.
M: Look at Barak. There was no written offer…Arafat…
NP: So they didn’t offer that…
M: It was a huge PR stunt. The Israelis are great at it and the Palestinians are terribly bad.
NP: There’s no relation between Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, Hamas, Fatah…there’s no ideology there?
M: Between the Fatah and Al Qaeda, it’s like between Saddam and Bin Laden… You know, Saddam was a beer drinker, he detested religious people, it really wasn’t the same school of thought. Between Hamas and Bin Laden there’s really no contact for the moment. What I mean is, the French approach is closer to reality. Like the British troops in Basora, in southern Iraq… The Americans, you get the impression they just landed from the Far West…
NP: But if you look at the manners of the résistants in Iraq, it’s a bit more rough than the Far West, non?
M: Yes yes yes.
NP: The Americans don’t know how to handle them?
M: They should never have gone in there. They should have read the history books…
NP: OK. They shouldn’t have gone in, but they are there now. So what do you think they should do?
M: I don’t have a clue. They shouldn’t have dismantled the secret service…
NP: The French position is that the problem in Israel has to be solved first?
M: Yes, it’s the root of many problems of resentment. When you go all over the Arab world…in 2002 when Bush said “Sharon is a man of peace” nobody in the world believed him.
NP: And Arafat was a man of peace and that’s why couldn’t be satisfied at Camp David?
M: At least Arafat went further than Sharon, from Arafat the terrorist to Arafat the negotiator. What political gesture did Sharon make in his whole career that would permit him to say I am a man of peace? Invade Lebanon in ’51, invade the villages…everyone knows Sharon is not a man of peace, he’s an admirable tactician.
NP: Arafat had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, the homicide bombings in Israel?
M: Arafat handled the Intifada very badly. He never should have let it start or continue, he mishandled it. He was a pitiful politician.
NP: But not a terrorist?
M: In ‘48 when Begin asks the Irgun to bomb… Here I’m going to have big problems with the American Jewish community…[laughs] You’re a terrorist one day, a man of peace the next, history is full of stories like that. Arafat was a terrorist, of course.
NP: But not in the past few years? The documents aren’t authentic?
M: What documents?
NP: The money he gave to terrorists. And Saddam, the money he gave to…
M: Yes, I agree with you, madame, but …
NP: It’s not just the position of the Jewish community in the United States. What we are talking about here is the difference between the American and the French approach. The Americans don’t think we have to solve the problem in Israel first…
M: That’s where they’re mistaken. And they’ll regret it in Iraq.
NP: This interests me very much. I just want to ask a few questions and then we’ll come back to it, ok?… Former members of Saddam’s regime are fighting in groups like the Islamic Army?
M: I don’t know if most of them are. But some are…you know, people who had Islamist ideas before.
NP: Why didn’t they fight when the Americans came in March 2003?
M: The balance of power…
NP: Don’t you think they had a plan? A plan to not fight, and then do what they’re doing now?
NP: You say that the Americans did everything wrong, they don’t understand these people. Okay. But…if these people who kidnapped you, who kidnapped others…who are wreaking havoc… What if they’d said, “We can’t win against the American military, so we’ll take part in the political game and try to get power.” We wouldn’t have this picture of a battered and bloody Iraq.
NP: Because it’s not the Americans who are killing Iraqis.
NP: Those people are doing the killing! [pause] Why don’t the French help the Americans?
M: By doing what?
NP: Well because they understand better and they could have helped the Americans handle the situation better.
M: Ms. Rice said “the French will be punished.”
NP: When did she say that?
M: After the war.
NP: But before? Why didn’t you help the Americans as the crisis was brewing, ever since ’91, to get rid of Saddam? Do you think Saddam should have been left there?
M: The Americans had a great opportunity on the 9th of April to win the hearts of the Iraqis. 95% of the Iraqi population was happy to be rid of Saddam. But afterward they should have handled it differently, they made a mess of it, it’s obvious, everyone agrees…
NP: The Iraqis had a great opportunity too.
M: The UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi says Mister Bremer was a dictator. Look how badly Brahimi was treated by the Americans when he tried to…
NP: You don’t think the Americans want to leave?
M: But the Iraqis had nothing to say at the beginning. The approach with Chalabi, wipe the slate clean, people were saying they’re heading for disaster, and that’s what happened.
NP: You don’t think they’re trying to do better now?
M: It’s too late. You say okay we will bring you democracy, and then you can’t go outside without getting kidnapped…people judge by daily life, my daughter can’t go to school, the electricity is cut off for eight hours, we had that, we were in the dark for eight hours because they destroy it, the resistants or the terrorists, it’s easy, they are on familiar ground, all they have to do is sabotage…
NP: Do they think they’ll chase the Americans away?
M: They think so but I am sure they will not win. But the Americans can’t get away with this arrogance. Iraq is a country that is not rebuilt, it’s chaos, and it’s going to go on that way.
NP: And do you think that the population, the masses of people who never express themselves anywhere, are more on the side of the jihadi than with the Americans?
M: I think they were all with the Americans before all the mistakes…
NP: But the American mistakes are in fact what has been done to them, to the local people, by the insurgents.
M: Yes in a way but no… It’s the humiliations. The checkpoints. The Arab is proud. When you humiliate an old man before his son it’s a humiliation for the rest of his life. [pause] It’s true, you can’t remake the past but you have to ask Iraqis. According to some polls they feel like they were better off under Saddam. Not that they regret Saddam. It’s the insecurity.
NP: But who is creating the insecurity now? All these different groups…
M: Of course. You have two movements that have drawn Iraq downward: the American mistakes in management that we mentioned and the action of resistance or terrorist movements.
NP: Even if as you say the Americans did everything wrong…it’s so important. Why don’t the French help?
M: The Americans went too far against France. When you have been humiliated…
NP: So why not get together with other countries and…
M: Even Powell understood. He is an intelligent man.
NP: How about Lebanon? Can France do something about Lebanon?
M: They made a joint resolution with the Americans.
NP: With the Americans, okay, but before. They have so much influence, can’t they…
M: That’s over. I mean the Syrian occupation of Lebanon…
NP: How about Ivory Coast, I mean where France has power and the Americans aren’t present. How about Darfur. Pick any place where the Americans aren’t, what is France’s action in those places based on this more subtle understanding of the world.
M: I don’t know. I’m a specialist of the Middle East. I will only answer questions about the ME. You have in America a national journal that said the French were right. So that’s it. We’re not going to redo the war but it is obvious that the French position was closer…it’s recognized by The National.
NP: You know we have diversity in the American press, one can say the French were right, another that they are wrong.
M: You know the NY Times was against the war. Everyone has his own opinion but we think it was a mistake.
NP: What about the problem of dictators. Isn’t that a problem we are facing? Don’t you think that the Americans used to believe you could just deal with them?
M: OK, Saddam was a terrible dictator, nobody liked him, but you get rid of Saddam and at the end of the day you have twice as many problems. If you want to talk only with democrats around the world you have just a small family of countries, about 30 countries. You have to be realistic. The United States, like France, you maintained dictators in South & Central America. Realpolitik. Tomorrow you’ll have North Korea, Iran…
NP: If dictators get nuclear weapons…
M: So go to war in Iran, go to war in North Korea.
NP: No, this time it’s France’s turn. [laughs] This insurgency, or résistance, or Al Qaeda in Iraq—do they have any chance of winning?
M: No. Just making trouble. The same with the Sunni nationalist résistance, like the Islamists, they have no common project. It’s just a combat against the American occupation. And they don’t get along with each other. Saddam hated the religious. He killed thousands of Islamists. And they know it. They’re not about to make an alliance with the nationalists.
NP: Now if we can go back to what was happening in Afghanistan before 9/11. Wouldn’t that explain why the Americans acted as they did? Do you understand the way the Americans feel about being attacked?
M: Of course. Afghanistan, I agree with you. But the relation between Bin Laden and Saddam…we are still waiting.
NP: Do you think that was the only reason?
M: The war was made against the AMD, connections between and Al Qaeda. We’re still waiting.
NP: That’s not all. The ’91 war it was only a truce, there were certain conditions
M: The conditions were fulfilled. When Albright says 500,000 Iraqi children were killed as a result of the embargo and as long as Saddam is in power the death of 500,000 children doesn’t mean anything. You think the Iraqis don’t remember? That’s where the Americans are mistaken.
NP: The sanctions caused the death of children. If the sanctions were stopped Saddam had no plans to…
M: Saddam was very happy to have sanctions because he could control everything. If the Americans had lifted the sanctions the demand for regime change would have come from the interior. By continuing to impose the sanctions the Iraqis said we are Iraqis first: we don’t like Saddam but the Americans are the enemy. That’s where they messed up. They developed a nationalism of resentment. Rolf Ekeus, head of UNSCOM, said in 1997: “95% of the ADMs have been discovered. Is the remaining 5% a danger to the world?” The answer is No. But the UN Security Council never had the courage to lift the sanctions.
NP: And the Iraqi people would have been able to get rid of Saddam?
M: You should have said to Saddam…that was the French position. We make a gesture and you do something for your country. There were contacts between Tarik Azziz and the opposition. But no, they said to Saddam from the beginning, “You are the bad guy.” So he says “I’m going to blow up the whole thing.”
NP: What about Iran? France knows how to handle the situation in Iran?
M: Iran is different. We were friends with Saddam, we gave him everything, more than the Americans and the Brits. Twenty-nine countries gave weapons to Saddam in 1980 for the war against Iran, he was our friend. So there is friendship between Iraq and France, so France knew a lot about Iraq, that explains the finesse of our approach.
NP: And Iran? Who is going to take care of that problem?
M: Iranians, or Americans…I don’t know.
NP: Do you think the Iranian people are oppressed today?
M: They are living under a terrible régime, absolutely.
NP: Subject to atrocities similar to what was going on in Iraq?
M: I don’t know but Iran is a theocracy.
NP: And France doesn’t have any…
M: France can do nothing. Just talk. We’re in a world governed by the Americans. Thanks to a few European leaders they try to reduce the role of Europe to the strict minimum.
NP: But if you could do something about Iran that would give you power?
M: France is a small country. Europe doesn’t exist.
NP: There’s no European foreign policy, so each country is on its own?
NP: But if France came with a good project for Iran?
M: I don’t know if we have a good approach for Iran. More or less because of the Americans the system has been blocked. Khatami was a great hope but the Iranian system is very complicated you always have radicals who control the main keys.
NP: Do you think there is any inherent reason why the countries of the Middle east could not have democratic governments?
M: It’s troubling because it’s the last region in the world where there is no democracy …even in Africa…well it’s due to many…there are all kinds of reasons…historical…other reasons…it’s true…it’s rather drastic for those people…they all live… The only country in the region—here again I’m going to please you but it’s the truth—in the ME with the exception of the Iranians, the only Arabs in the ME who voted for their president is in ’96 the Palestinians, in elections supervised by the international community, by Jimmy Carter, and validated. And as luck would have it, it’s Arafat who won…and you don’t like him. But that’s another story. None of those régimes is democratic and the problem is, again, none of the countries in the ME is democractic, but if you intervene in Syria, what’s going to happen? Syria is Al Assad, a religious, Alaouite minority in power, that oppressed the Islamists. You open the Pandora’s box, you have the whole country exploding. That’s what I mean about the more subtle approach.
NP: Two questions: the Palestinian state would have a government likely to be democratic? [“No not democratic.”] Dictatorial? A bit terrorist?
M: Both. Terrorist, no, I don’t know what you mean by terrorist.
NP: Still dangerous for Israel?
M: [exasperated] I don’t think that many people believe that with stones and RPGs you can threaten the security of Israel! You can make terrorist bombing…that’s finished, you have to stop talking about the insecurity of Israel.
NP: OK, so there is a Palestinian state and there would no longer be strife and conflict?
M: Yes. The more you wait the more you create anger and then people are ready to blow up in Tel Aviv. They should have signed peace in 2000. The main mistake of Arafat was to stop the negotiations [at Camp David]. But he’s not the only one at fault [bitter laugh]. The world believed that, huh? It’s a bit naïve, but the truth is not always nice to hear. Don’t expect that to be known in the US, but no, it was not only his fault.
NP: Let’s say he made a mistake, ok? Let’s say he was tricked. It wasn’t a good offer…
M: He should have stopped the intifada after three days and joined with the Left in Israel to finish Camp David.
NP: But four years later it’s rather difficult…
M: It’s too late.
NP: …to expect the same offer.
M: They have time. The Arabs say we have time, inch’Allah. And they have demography.
NP: Yes! Speaking of demography, Here in Europe we now have a domestic jihad developing. We have Muslims born here, some of them third generation, deciding to make jihad in Europe against Europe. Is Europe prepared for that?
M: In France I think we have experience with terrorism, we take the thing quite seriously and I think we must. So that those people don’t develop…. We asked the jihadists who’d been in the camps in Afghanistan, they said France isn’t a priority. But France can be targeted.
NP: People are being deported. We have problems with antisemitism. I read that France has recently deported 84 people. They don’t publicize it. Is this their policy of discretion, to keep the population from realizing what’s going on?
NP: You’re going to be kept busy here. You’ll be able to do your Middle East thing right here! [Malbrunot said in a TV interview that it is too dangerous to work in Iraq, so he would follow the ME from France.]
M: Especially when you make a mistake like this law against headscarves. When you’re dealing with people like Al Qaeda you mustn’t stick your chin out so they can punch you. They feed on the shock of cultures. You and I are—except if you’re Muslim, which I doubt--we are kufars, infidels, and what they want is to recreate the caliphate from Andalusia to the Chinese frontier. France had practically nothing against us…except our presence in Afghanistan, which is greatly reduced. And now we offer them on a silver platter a law that will solve a few problems but…
NP: Do you think it will be repealed?
M: Repealed? No.
NP: Toned down?
M: Time will tell. It’s clear that the repercussions abroad…the threat of jihad…Ben Laden… When we told the jihadist that we are against that law, we think it should have been handled by dialogue, he said, “what dialogue, the headscarf is an obligation for Muslims, there can’t be any dialogue.” So you can see there are limits to dialogue… All the more reason not to give them a reason to strike.
NP: But their demands may increase?
M: Yes. That’s why you shouldn’t give them opportunities. You have to go along discreetly…
NP: And what if you do everything they…
M: You know what the jihadists told us. You are treated better than the prisoners at Abu Ghraib or the Muslims at Guantanamo. It’s true. We weren’t sodomized, we weren’t beaten, we weren’t raped. That’s why I say the difference in the approach…
NP: But some of their prisoners were beheaded.
M: Of course, of course.
NP: What you are saying is, France can protect itself [“No.”] by staying out of the conflict and French people won’t be the target [“No.”] of these people who want to kill all of us. They might want to kill me…here in France…
M: They wouldn’t want to kill you. Our jihadists told us you should strike strategically, not kill you or me arbitrarily…you should strike very efficiently…Spain…not lose your impact by killing Malbrunot or…
NP: They killed Theo Van Gogh. What if someone writes an article they don’t like?
M: You have to be shrewd. You have to outwit them. Those people are not democratic, you mustn’t play on their terrain…ideology …values…
NP: Bush is straightforward. He says “You can’t do that to me!” If you don’t just smash them, they eat away at your power.
M: That’s true. That was right in Afghanistan, but in Iraq there was no reason…
NP: You can’t teach certain things in schools in France. So you don’t confront them, you back down. Another day they might ask for something else. I understand what you mean when you say there are two different approaches. And the question is: at the end of the day which one is going to work.
M: Not the American approach in Iraq, that’s for sure.
NP: When the official voice of France says “we are friends with Iraq” what does that mean? We are against the illegal war, right? So we are friends of Iraq, so, without the illegal war we would be friends of Iraq with Saddam?
M: Friends with Saddam, no. Friends of Iraqis.
NP: When the French say “we are friends of Iraq” who are they friends with?
M: Iraqis! Not Allawi. [he goes on about Chalabi, wiping the slate clean, dismantling security services, etc.]
NP: Despite profound disagreements on the political level, is it true that the French and American secret services cooperate?
M: Of course. When it comes to terrorism we’re all in the same boat. France is in the same family as the Americans…
NP: And did France cooperate with the Americans for your release?
M: I don’t think so. I don’t think the French wanted to involve the Americans because the greatest fear of the jihadists was that the French would blow their cover. .
NP: Ah! If the French cooperated with the Americans then the Americans might have been able to arrest the jihadis?