Bernard Kouchner in The International Herald-Tribune
I have just returned from three days in Iraq. I went to listen to the candid views of its people – Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians – in order to get a feel for what they think. I also wanted to express France’s complete support for the crucial goal of national reconciliation and for the inclusive dialogue that is needed to bring this about.
In my conversations there, I perceived a deep need among many Iraqis for recognition and for new ties with France and Europe. The Iraqis have been isolated for too long and feel abandoned by the international community. After years of debating the American presence in Iraq, the time has come for us to turn our attention to the Iraqis themselves.
I also went to Iraq because I wanted to mark France’s return to a place that is vitally important to our future and to that of our children. We have maintained our embassy in Baghdad, thanks to the courageous staff that has kept it running, but we have ignored the country politically. No French foreign minister had been to Iraq since 1988. Yet France, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has special responsibilities. It cannot turn its back on a crisis that affects not just Iraq, but entire region and the world beyond.
We cannot ignore the crisis with the excuse that Iraq has fallen prey to a culture of violence. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the Iraqis because they were – over our objections – liberated and then controlled by our American and British allies. Iraq’s troubles lie at the heart of the world’s problems – the hostility between communities, religious fanaticism and conflicts of civilization that are being played out against a backdrop of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and globalization.