WASHINGTON - Rend al-Rahim Francke, an Iraqi-American and Washington representative for the Iraqi Governing Council, is well known in the capital as a low-key but passionate advocate for democracy in her homeland. Born in Baghdad, she left Iraq in the 1970s and earned degrees at Cambridge University and the Sorbonne. As founder and executive director of the Iraq Foundation, a research organization, she stayed outside the factional disputes of Iraqi opposition figures. She was interviewed recently by Mark Matthews of The Sun's Washington bureau.
Q: How did you get the job?
As you know, I've been active in Iraqi politics through the Iraq Foundation since 1991. I testified in Congress, I visited the State Department often, and met with Defense Department officials and NSC officials over the course of many years. I had dealt with successive administrations in Washington. ...
I think also ... they wanted somebody who could represent all of Iraq, rather than a particular political group. I am not in favor of atomizing and fragmenting Iraqi society, either on the basis of religion or sect or ethnicity.
Q: Are you increasingly worried that Iraq is developing along ethnic lines?
No. There is still a danger that this could happen. But I'm very happy that 10 months after liberation, [Iraq] is still a unified country. In fact, if you look at any ethnic or religious group, whether it's Arabs or Kurds, Sunni or Shia, there are many, many statements by leaders that affirm their commitment to Iraq's unity.
Over a period of 35 years, Saddam [Hussein] worked energetically to fragment Iraq society, to set one sector of society against other sectors of society and to throw people back, in self-preservation, to aggregate around the smallest unit possible - family, clan, neighborhood, region, tribe, religion. What Iraqis are trying to do now is to transcend that.
Q: Is the insurgency taking on a more nationalist complexion?
Far from it. If they were nationalists they wouldn't be killing Iraqis. Iraqis have become the major target of the terrorists. I don't even call them insurgents; I call them terrorists. How can you be nationalist when your targets are Iraqi civilians, how can you be nationalists when your targets are Iraqi police stations and Iraqi police, who are patriotically helping in all sorts of ways to prevent looting, to prevent acts of violence?
Q: Are those targets being attacked because they are seen as collaborating with the occupiers?
I don't think so. The terrorism is against people who in any way, shape or form are working for stability, peace [and] prosperity in Iraq.
They are sabotaging oil pipelines. That has nothing to do with the Americans; it has everything to do with Iraq's rise from poverty and destruction.
Q: Do Iraqis feel more liberated or occupied?
Certainly, Iraqis feel liberated. You have to be in Iraq to feel the palpable sense of freedom Iraqis enjoy today ... whether in the newspapers being published and read, articles that are being written, appearances on television, women's associations, political parties that are being formed. People are making plans for their future.
I have just come from a meeting at the White House with 25 [Iraqi] Fulbright scholars, for the first time in decades. These students didn't dream of ever getting out of Iraq, let alone coming to the U.S. on a Fulbright fellowship. The economy is much better, people are making more money, they're buying satellite dishes, they're buying radios, they're traveling.
However, Iraqis want to have sovereignty back in their own hands. I think the coalition waited too long to hand over sovereignty. Iraqis are a proud people. They want to feel that they are the decision-makers in their own country and they're masters of their own fate. To the extent that they're deprived of that, it is an uncomfortable feeling for them. To that extent it's occupation, and they don't want occupation.
Q: If large numbers of American and coalition troops remain in Iraq to maintain stability, what difference will June 30 make to Iraqis?
Right now, most Iraqis see value in having the coalition in Iraq, and they think it is extremely important to security and stability. We don't have an adequate internal security infrastructure. ... We are very vulnerable to infiltration from outside, to terrorism within Iraq, to meddling in our affairs by our neighbors.
The Iraqi Governing Council and ministries are working with the coalition to build up our security capability. Policemen, elements of an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, border police and an Iraqi army [are] being trained. What do we do in the meantime? We need help. And this is where the role of the coalition comes in. I think most Iraqis recognize this interim need. The question is, how long is this interim period?
Q: What do you think of the idea of empowering militias, such as the [Kurdish] peshmerga, as security forces?
Nobody's talking about empowering the militias. That was not the intention. We need to build the security infrastructure that I talked about on pillars of people or groups who have a commitment to the new order, who have a stake in the new system and believe in it.
I don't mean loyalty to a particular party [or] to a particular charismatic leader. I mean loyalty to the idea of the new Iraq. You need to find and to pull into the security apparatus people like that. One sure place we can find them is among those groups who have been fighting Saddam for decades. It makes sense to ... use those people and not to sequester them and alienate them and push them aside.
The idea was to draw a small number from those groups and to incorporate them into the new security infrastructure. They're operating as individuals with an allegiance to Iraq and reporting to the Iraqi Governing Council.
Q: Has the reconstruction entrenched economic forces in Iraq that thrived under Hussein?
We know that there are many companies - Iraqi and non-Iraqi - that did a swell business by partnering with Saddam's family members, Saddam's friends. Most often, members of that inner circle would be silent partners. A class of profiteers grew up in the '90s that benefited from the oil-for-food program, unfortunately. And the sad thing is that whether inside or outside, they are now in a position to take advantage of the billions of dollars that are being poured in by the U.S. and the rest of the international community for Iraq's reconstruction.
In the process of privatization in Iraq, they're in a position to take advantage because they've accumulated capital. In bidding for contracts, they're in a position to take advantage because they have capital, they have equipment and they can marshal resources.
We do not want the people who benefited by partnering with Saddam's henchmen to also benefit now. I think the Iraqi Governing Council is addressing this issue. They want to address it carefully.
Q: Do you think Iraqi exiles gave a false impression to the U.S. government about the extent of Hussein's weapons stockpile or about what American forces would find in Iraq?
I don't think anybody - Iraqis or anybody else - intentionally falsified, [but] it seems to me now, looking back, that there was a lot of confusing information coming out of Iraq.
You have to make judgments based on the information that comes to you. In a situation where you get mixed information, with Saddam you had to decide based on worst scenarios, not best scenarios. And the information we got about the worst scenario was grave. You can't do policy on hopeful assumptions.