Iraq's U.K. Envoy: Strong Baghdad Lobby Wants Ties With Israel

LONDON - A powerful lobby is developing in Baghdad to promote the idea of diplomatic relations with Israel, the new Iraqi ambassador to Great Britain told Haaretz on Thursday.

Dr. Salah al-Shaikhly, who was appointed two months ago, said that the issue will be raised after the general elections, and "now is not the right time." Al-Shaikhly told Haaretz that he did not have "any problem with Israel or Israelis who wish to visit Iraq," but he also noted, "I really don't know what is the position as of yet, but you should know there is a strong lobby working for you in Iraq."

When asked if he was referring to the Americans, Al-Shaikhly responded, "No, I mean Iraqis, in Iraq, who want to establish relations with Israel, who are in favor of this idea. But the current situation is so uncertain, so volatile that any attempt to push this through, at this point, will most certainly backfire.

"The situation in Iraq is not directed at present by rational and clear thinking, but by strong emotions. The situation is very dangerous, like in the Israel-Palestine conflict and I would advise to proceed with caution. The right things need to be done at the right moment. We need to find the moment, like in music, when all the instruments are in tune. We have so many problems before we can consider the issue of Israel; we need to bring people together from all sections of the society, to persuade them violence never pays."

Al-Shaikhly leveled veiled criticism at the Western media's presentation of a gloomy and pessimistic picture of events in Iraq, without balancing it out with more positive elements.

Al-Shaikhly described the rebuilding of the country from the ground up, after the deposition of a murderous regime and the collapse of all state institutions, and the difficulty of rebuilding systems at a time when terrorists were invading the country and fighting the coalition forces.

The new Iraqi ambassador said he believed the decision to disband the Iraqi army and all the security forces and the police was a mistake, which made efforts to enforce law and order very difficult. He said the Iraqis would ask for the presence of the coalition as long as they could not manage on their own.

Al-Shaikhly says he believes all terror organizations and the armed underground cells in Iraq cannot be regarded equally or categorized with the same label. He noted the presence of Al-Qaida operatives working against the United States, those who were oppressed by Saddam and are seeking vengeance, militias from various countries, including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, and in the middle, ordinary Iraqi civilians who have lost work and property and want to live in a properly run country.

Al-Shaikhly also says that despite the difficulties, there are improvements in Iraq. "Barely two months in operation, and all the government ministries are active, and people work there on a daily basis. Baghdad has more policemen and security personnel than ever before; all public places and government buildings are secure and we are also working on $1.8 billion investment plan to rejuvenate the economy."

He noted that the new regime was conducting training programs, but that people find out about only when those studying in them are killed. The secret to stability, he said, was giving people work. He noted that the insurgents in the Al-Mahadi army who are fighting the coalition forces receive $400 a month, and that was the only reason they were there.

However, the real test would be the elections, he said, noting that the government is working now to stabilize the situation, to draft support and to bring all the streams and factions into the political system to convince them that violence doesn't pay.

Al-Shaikhly told Haaretz that he himself has encountered logistical difficulties. "We have some real technical problems: for instance, we didn't even have a work place until a few days ago. Shortly after the fall of the regime, people broke into the Iraqi Embassy in London. They destroyed equipment, and smashed everything. Even the windows were broken, and during the heavy rains the place was flooded. Now the situation is much better, and I hope to be able to offer consular services next week."

Al-Shaikhly avoided mentioning Iran as an enemy, despite accusations by the Iraqi defense minister of Iranian interference in internal Iraqi affairs and his definition of Iran as "public enemy number one." According to al-Shaikhly, "Iraq has good relations with the official structures of government in both Iran and Saudi Arabia. The problem is that these structures do not have control over the fanatical zealots that send forces across the border to Iraq. We approached the two governments and asked them to deal with this, as they are better equipped than we are to do so."