The Last Word Ashraf Qazi: 'Serious'--Or A Civil War?

Since the February bombing of the sacred Askariya Mosque in Samarra, Iraq has been consumed by sectarian violence. Hundreds have died in reprisal killings carried out by Sunni and Shia militias, while the insurgency continues to hamper efforts to form a government. But despite the evident chaos, U.S. leaders continue to insist they're seeing progress. President

George W. Bush last week hailed the city of Tall Afar as a "concrete example of success in Iraq." Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi was less optimistic: "If this is not a civil war, then God knows what civil war is," he said. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Beith asked former Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Qazi, currently the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, who just returned from the country, for his take. Excerpts:

BEITH: Allawi says that Iraq is in a state of "civil war." You've said that it is not.

QAZI: I don't want to [debate] the semantics. There is a serious sectarian situation, a serious security situation, which needs to be addressed by a broad-based government as soon as possible. As to whether you would apply a definition of civil war to the present situation is a matter that can be debated. What is important is that you have a very serious situation which has become more serious in the aftermath of the Samarra incident. That is more important than how you define it.

So what must Coalition forces and the Iraqi government do right now?

You need a broad-based approach, of which training and handing over greater responsibilities to the security forces--which includes the Army and the police--is one part. The other, of course, is dealing with the human-rights situation, and making the political process inclusive. Once you have a government and you have the Parliament--which includes more parties than it did in January--then you have a very good beginning.

With respect to building up capacity for delivery of services, which we've been doing and will continue to do, [we need to be] working with ministries, with U.N. agencies and Iraqi nongovernmental organizations to continue to try to deliver essential services to the people not only at the local level but at the national level.

There's not only an insurgency but also serious sectarian violence now. Can the Iraqi authorities translate what you call a good beginning into a good reality?

Yes. I think the leadership recognizes the absolute need to have a broad-based government in every sense of the word. Not just including numbers of parties, but agreeing on structures and procedures which would enable decision-making to be consensus-based.

So how can security be improved?

[The effort to improve] the security situation has various strategies. One is strengthening and enabling security forces to live up to the responsibilities that they will be taking over progressively. And also maybe reaching out to those who want to come into the political process and who are not guilty of crimes. Those elements that are beyond the pale need to be progressively isolated from those who might have political grievances and might be willing to come into the political process--provided, as I said, that they aren't guilty of atrocities, crimes or acts of terror. So it's a broad-based effort that's required, which includes training and bringing security services up to par.

But training has proved difficult and slow. Are efforts being made to speed it up?

This is not something with which United Nations is directly concerned, but we know this is happening. The Multi-National Force-Iraq is facilitating and helping the Iraqi government in this respect.

President Bush has hailed the Iraqi city of Tall Afar as a symbol of success. How so?

I know what the president has been saying. I haven't been to Tall Afar, so I couldn't really give you a personal point of view. I've been to Fallujah and Ar Ramadi and I've met with the governor of Anbar, and there's a problem there of restoring places that have seen military activity. Many displaced persons have returned, but businesses and homes need to be restored, compensation needs to be given, human rights need to be protected ... There's a long list of things that need to be done.

How do you foresee the United Nations' role in Iraq?

Essentially, our role is an advisory role. We don't have an executive role as such. People think that we formulate the constitution or that we run the elections. We don't. The political process has to be a sovereign independent Iraqi political process. But we are there to facilitate it and promote adult compromise.

There are claims from some aid groups in Iraq that the reconstruction efforts have stalled.

The reconstruction and development of course is related to the security situation, and the security situation has indeed been a constraint on reconstruction and development.