President Bush gave a prime time speech last night outlining his vision of Iraq after June 30. We get a response from Al Jazeera senior producer Samir Khader and the Iraqi-born poet Sinan Antoon. They question how sovereign Iraq will actually be after June 30 and whether Bush’s re-election campaign is driving his Iraq policy more than his concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people. [includes rush transcript]
In a prime-time address at the Army War College in Pennsylvania last night, President Bush outlined his vision for the future of Iraq. The speech came just five weeks before the so-called June 30th-handover and five months before the US elections. The address kicked off a White House campaign to shore up public support and will be followed by a speech every week until the June 30 transition. Bush’s approval rating hit an all-time low of 41% last week.
The main body of his address focused on a strategy for the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq. The speech came after the US and Britain tabled a draft resolution at the UN on plans for the so-called handover on June 30. The Washington Post describes the strategy as a “repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan.”
Bush also said that he would maintain US troop levels in Iraq at the current level as long as necessary and defended their continuing presence.
Although Bush didn’t announce any significant policy changes, he did promise to demolish Abu Ghraib prison, the site of the now-notorious photos of physical and sexual abuses committed by US soldiers against Iraqi detainees.
His speech was carried live in many parts of the Arabic speaking world, including on al-Jazeera. Today, we are going to get a response to his remarks from 2 people.
- President George W. Bush, speaking at the Army War College last night. [ Read transcript of Bush’s full speech]
- Samir Khader, senior producer with Al Jazeera, the Arab-language satellite TV news channel, based in Doha, Qatar.
- Sinan Antoon, Iraqi poet, novelist and translator. He studied English literature at Baghdad University before coming to the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. He is featured in the new film “About Baghdad.” He currently teaches Arabic and Arab Literature at Dartmouth College.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re joined by two people to respond to the President’s address. Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi poet, novelist and translator. He studied English at Baghdad University, before coming to the United States after the Gulf War in 19 91. He only recently returned to make a film there. We are also joined by one of editors of Al-Jazeera. There’s a new film just out on Al-Jazeera in which he is one of the people featured. His name is Samir Khader, who is senior producer of Arab Language T.V. News Channel based in Quatar. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!.
SINAN ANTOON and SAMIR KHADER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well let us begin Samir, with your response to the President’s address last night.
SAMIR KHADER: Well frankly, it seemed that there has been nothing new. In the speech he laid out more clearly what the United States wanted to do with Iraq, except for one single thing that really surprises me, when he said by the 30th of June, the occupation will end, and the C.P.A. will no longer exist, but American troops will remain there. If the American army will remain in Iraq, what do you call the situation? What is an occupation? An occupation is the presence of a foreign army.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s put that question to Sinan Antoon.
SINAN ANTOON: Well this is obviously fodder — prime time fodder for the campaign. Everything that Bush says and does from now on is all just about the re-election campaign. It has nothing to do with the Iraqis as you said. It’s broadcast at 4:00 a.m. in the Arab world. Who is going to be listening to it? But also this whole sovereignty on June 30 is just really a distraction. It’s actually handing over sovereignty to Negroponte. That’s what I call it. Will, let’s remember that Colin Powell said a number of times that it will give the Iraqis enough sovereignty so that they ask to us stay, but more importantly, there’s a number of outright lies in Bush’s speech about the C.P.A. ceasing to exist. As we speak now, Bremer had already formed a number of committees dealing with each ministry that actually have control over those — the ministry’s affairs in Iraq. It doesn’t matter who is going to be in those governments, and it’s really disastrous that here we’re going to hand sovereignty over and we don’t have one or two names. They don’t even know who they’re going to hand sovereignty to. The whole thing is a big chaos on the ground, but, of course, it’s going to be repeated time and again in the next few months to try to salvage Bush’s re-election.
AMY GOODMAN: Samir, how does Al-Jazeera talk about this handover of partial sovereignty, if you will?
SAMIR KHADER:We can’t take a position of course. We can’t take a position. We report politics, but we don’t do politics on Al-Jazeera. Generally speaking, we hope for the best for the Iraqi people, but we are not very optimistic. We know that there will be a transfer of sovereignty, but what does this mean exactly to us. You are — you just had bush last night saying that in every ministry there will be technical expertise and technical American experts. I tend to see that these technical experts will play the role of commissars that used to be played by the Soviet Communist Party within the ministries and the army. So, who will be having the power, the minister or the technical expert? We have to wait and see.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you even use the term sovereignty?
SAMIR KHADER:We ask — when it’s pronounced by the American president, we use it, but we don’t think that up until now there is one single Arab state who has complete sovereignty.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, we’re going to talk about two films today. One is “Control Room”, about Al-Jazeera. We’ll be joined by the filmmaker as well. Then we’re going to talk about an unusual film that has just been made called “About Baghdad,” that brings you the voices of Iraqis of all walks of life, responding both to Saddam Hussein and to President Bush. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.