Moscow has decided to convene a November 18 all-Syria (presumably opposition and government) dialogue in Sochi. Having shaped the military situation on the ground with its air intervention starting more than two years ago, the Russians are figuring they have the clout to shape the political landscape as well. While nominally still committed to the Geneva process and UN Security Council resolution 2254, Moscow wants to short-circuit that laborious effort and try for a quick solution. The Security Council can endorse it after they fact, they figure.
The Syrian government says it will dialogue. It no longer fears the t-word: transition. The Americans will likely not oppose the effort, as they have little interest in Syria once the Islamic State and Al Qaeda are routed. The Iranians and Turks may not be pleased to see the Russians take the lead, but they won’t object either. Turkey is getting what it wants most: a license to keep the Syrian Kurds from lining their entire southern border. Ditto Iran, which wants to keep Bashar al Assad in place as president, as he will allow Hizbollah free rein in much of Syria, including transferring arms from the Iraqi border by land to Lebanon.
The opposition doesn’t like the idea. But it is fragmented and parts will go along to get along, hoping that something decent will emerge from the process, or just hoping to snag some benefits for themselves. The harder-line Islamists and some devoted liberals will likely continue the insurgency against Assad, but they are unlikely to get far any time soon. Both Tehran and Moscow will try to ensure that no significant threat to the regime emerges.
If the more moderate opposition can get itself organized at least in some communities and convince the Russians that local elections should be held even before a new constitution is approved, then some genuine, organic voices of political dissent might emerge. Otherwise, the most organized political force in the country–the Ba’ath party–is likely to win the day, even if national elections are not fixed. Assad won’t get his usual >90%, but he will win and claim democratic legitimacy, no matter how few people vote.
The Russians are figuring they are entitled to determine the political outcome, but they are also trying to avoid responsibility for the reconstruction of Syria. That’s where American indifference needs to give way to determination. Beyond its modest contributions in Raqqa–demining and rubble clearance are all the Americans want to do there–Washington should refuse to foot the bill, or allow the IMF and World Bank to do so, for what is mostly Russian, regime, and Iranian damage to the country’s housing, commerce and infrastructure.
Beyond the political realm, there are no real spoils to speak of in Syria, only a big bill for destruction. As Colin Powell said, you broke it, you bought it. To the victor…
Last week at the Middle East Institute, Tim Eaton of Chatham House defined “war economies” simply as an economy during wartime, including but not exclusive to the parts of the economy that directly fuel conflict. Eaton was joined by fellow Chatham House experts Lina Khatib and Renad Mansour on October 19 in a panel on “Wartime Economies in the Middle East: A Look into Libya, Syria, and Iraq.” The Middle East Institute’s Paul Salem moderated.
Eaton provided an overview of the economic situation in Libya, identifying four modalities: individuals with goods to sell, those who generate rent money, those who prey on state revenue, and those who receive salaries from external backers. Concerning those who sell goods, one of the main avenues for such activity has long been the smuggling of subsidized products, an industry which persists post-revolution. Criminalized trade, especially in drugs, has also been a major source of revenue, generating $400-$500 million per year. Additionally, since 2013, the movement of people has been included in this category. The biggest industry, however, is still oil and fuel smuggling, which generates about $2.5 billion.
Rents are another avenue for certain individuals, the money coming from the establishment of checkpoints and the control of territory. This has led to extortion through blockades imposed on roads and oil fields, with such blockades costing the state over $160 billion in the East alone. The state has also been experiencing losses due to those who are able to “prey upon state revenue.” Since 97% of revenue comes from oil and gas trade, Eaton considered this a critical area from which revenue has been taken. These losses have also been augmented due to the discrepancy between the US dollar to Libyan dinar exchange rate both in the official sector, where it is 1.4 dinars, and in the black market, where it is 8 dinars. Those with the means to buy products at the official rate and sell them in the black market have seen major profits.
Eaton emphasized that all actors in Libya have been benefiting from the conflict, finding ways to take advantage of the country’s situation. Since armed groups have been able to obtain salaries as a result of the conflict, this has encouraged them to maintain the status quo. There is little incentive to find a solution to the conflict or undergo a political process. On a state level, economic difficulties, as well as “administrative chaos” and questions of legitimacy, have hindered the functioning of the three most important state institutions: the National Oil Company, the Central Bank, and the Libyan Investment Authority.
Mansour focused on the effect of economic factors on the survival and functioning of ISIS in Iraq. The international community has tried military and political solutions. The one solution most overlooked has been the economic solution. The key concept here, according to Mansour, is that organizations and individuals are opportunistic: they go where jobs and money are available, such as ISIS. In looking for ways to defeat ISIS, creating alternatives that would allow potential members to survive economically is important. ISIS has three key sources of revenue: trade (goods, oil, antiquities, etc.), fees (through taxation, rents, and licenses), and state resources. Looking to the future, ISIS is now investing in “legitimate industries” such as hotels, pharmaceuticals, and currency exchanges, to maintain their economic power and facilitate a future revival. In response, Iraqi state institutions and international actors have been working on limiting ISIS’s influence. Their flaw, according to Mansour, has been that none of these actors are working together.
Khatib gave an overview of the war economy in Syria, grouping the different areas of the country into three categories: areas under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, areas besieged by the regime, and areas under regime control. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has been following a similar model to that of ISIS in that they have been investing in formal industries while also setting up private companies to maintain the group’s economic independence. They have also been benefiting from their control of water and electricity in Idlib, collecting charges from residents. There has also been much trade activity between such rebel-held areas and regime areas, which has encouraged both sides to maintain the status quo, much like the situation in Libya.
Besieged areas have also witnessed trade activities, primarily through tunnels operated by middlemen. The government has been manipulating the formal exchange rate, making the rate inside besieged areas higher than elsewhere and consequently accumulating more revenue.
Regime-held areas have experienced much change. Since 2011, the state budget has decreased from $18 to $4 billion, with half now coming from external actors supporting the regime, and inflation has increased by 700%. To evade sanctions, the regime has set up front companies in loyalists’ names. For example, the Syrian Council for Metal and Steel set up in 2015 has contracts with its international partners Iran and Russia. Iran has militias and business-people working for it in the country. Khatib noted that the extent of outside interference has begun to worry the regime, and that true reconstruction, particularly including a return of refugees is not a goal of the state.
A key takeaway from the speakers’ overviews of the topic and the ensuing discussion is that economic alternatives to the present situation–which presents many economic incentives–must be found. The importance of political processes will not surpass the importance of economic security for citizens and state institutions alike. So long as the current situation is more profitable than any alternatives, it will persist.
I did this interview last week for Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh of the Islamic Republic’s Tehran daily Iran. I was informed today that it has been published. I’ll appreciate it if anyone can let me know whether it has been fully and accurately translated into Farsi:
- As a experienced Counselor who knows about the functioning of international institutions, do you think the UN can help to end the Syria crisis ? Some people say institutions like UN don’t have executive power and can not take positive steps toward peace in conflict regions. What is your opinion about the view?
A: The UN is already playing important roles: it provides a great deal of humanitarian assistance in Syria and to refugees in neighboring countries, it has a commission that has reported extensively on human rights violations in Syria, it has established an international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in investigating and prosecuting international crimes committed in Syria, and it also sponsors the Geneva talks on political transition. Behind the scenes it has played a role in some particular ceasefires and other agreements that have saved lives. Of course it lacks executive power to determine the outcome of the war, but is doing things that lessen the war’s impact, make it possible to hold parties accountable for their wartime behavior, and may lead to an end to the fighting. Those aren’t bad things, they just aren’t all I might hope for.
2. After the end of ISIS in Raqqa, which actor can take control of the city and restore order and public services? Iran and Russia along with the Syrian government, the Kurdish forces or the Syrian armed opposition and their Western allies?
A: My impression is that initial control of Raqqa lies with the Kurdish-led but partly Arab-manned Syrian Democratic Forces, with support from the Western coalition. In the east, Iran and Russia have focused on Deir Azour.
3. Do you think the American troops will enter Syria directly after ISIS defeat in the country?
A: American troops have been in Syria for months fighting ISIS. I don’t know if they will stay. The Trump Administration might prefer that they withdraw, but that will leave US allies open to attacks from both the regime coalition (including Russia and Iran) as well as Turkey, which regards the Kurds who fought against ISIS under US protection as terrorists because they are connected to the PKK inside Turkey. If the Americans stay, it will be to ensure ISIS does not return, to restrain the Kurds, protect Arabs who have fought ISIS, and to prevent attacks from either Turkey or the regime coalition.
4. What will be the consequences of ISIS defeat for the neighboring countries in the region in your opinion? Do you think we should expect more confrontations and problems or it could help to bring stability and peace in the region?
A: I am not seeing an end to instability yet. With Assad still in power, I expect an insurgency to continue against his dictatorship, by both relatively moderate and extremist forces. Assad will not be happy with US troops in the east and Turkish troops in northern Syria and Idlib, or relatively moderate rebels in the south. Turkey, Iran and Russia, which have collaborated in recent months, may have a falling out, as their visions of a future Syria may well conflict.
4. Analysis shows that for example around six thousand Tunisian joined to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Do you think the jihadists will return to their countries and cause trouble for their countries?
A: Trouble from jihadis returning to their home countries is certainly to be expected. Local grievances in those countries played an important role in recruitment. Now that they are trained and deadly, their return could generate big problems.
5. Do you think that ISIS defeat in Syria will be an opportunity for re-rise of Al-Qaeda in the country and the region?
A: Al Qaeda has played a savvier game in Syria and elsewhere by embedding itself with local forces, whereas ISIS sought a monopoly on power and was content to be led and partly manned by people who were not native to the country they were fighting in. But I also think a lot of people are fed up with the jihadis and will get rid of them if empowered to do. That is certainly true in parts of Idlib.
6. Some analysts believe that the Arab countries of the region especially Saudi Arabia have directly and indirectly contributed to ISIS. Do you agree with the opinion? What will the effect of ISIS failure in Syria on Saudi Arabia?
A: Wahhabi ideology has had a role in generating ISIS, but it has been clear for some time now that ISIS and Al Qaeda are enemies of the Saudi monarchy and Saudi Arabia does not support them through official channels. There may be Saudi private individuals who do however, including of course Osama bin Laden. This, too, the Saudis have tried to stop.
7. Saudi Arabia consistently criticized Obama’s policy toward the Syria crisis and and accused Obama of passivity and strengthening Hizbollah and Iran in the region. What do you think about current Saudi Arabia approach about US policy on Syria ? do you think Trump is able to satisfy the Saudis in this regard ? What will be the impact of the recent US and Saudi Arabia getting closer to each other on the future of Syria?
A: The Saudis haven’t shown a lot of interest in Syria lately. Trump has doubled down on what Obama started–the drone war plus cooperation with the Kurds and their Arab allies against ISIS–but I haven’t heard a lot of applause from Riyadh, which is far more focused for now on Yemen. That said, the Saudis clearly prefer Trump to Obama, because they think he will do more to counter Iranian influence in the region, even if not in Syria.
8. Which one will be winner in a possible conflict in Syria in your opinion? Iran or US?
Both will win the war they are fighting: the US will win its war against ISIS; Iran will win its war to keep Assad in power, at least for now. Tehran may also gain its desired land bridge through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, as well as a permanent presence for Hizbollah in Syria. Washington has, oddly, not yet begun to counter those efforts in a serious and concerted way.
9. What do you think about Israel policy after ISIS defeat in Syria? It seems that ISIS presence in Syria to have benefited Israel. What do you think about the view? Do you think Israel will get into the phase of military operation in Syria fearing that Hizbollah will be closer to Golan and the borders of that country? Will ISIS failure be a threat for Israel?
A: I don’t think the Israelis think they benefited from ISIS in Syria. They do not want ISIS on the border. Nor do they want Hizbollah on their border. Many have thought they would prefer Assad, who has done nothing against Israel despite a lot of talk. Hizbollah and ISIS are both threats to Israel, and I expect it to take what measures it needs to protect itself. Assad has shown little will or ability to respond effectively.
10. Recently, The King of Saudi Arabia traveled to Russia. Some believe that in exchange for economic privileges he urged Russia to persuade Iran to withdraw from Syria and limit its role in the country. Do you think he has succeeded in convincing Putin on the matter?
A: I think the Russians already want to withdraw some of their forces from Syria, no matter what the Saudis say. Syria has cost Moscow quite a bit in money and lives. I don’t expect Iran to reduce its influence (presence is a different matter), so long as Assad is in power. He is now essentially an Iranian puppet.
11. What will Russia program for Syria after the ISIS defeat in your opinion? How long will Russia be able to move between the Shiite and Sunni poles? Don’t you think Putin finally will have to choose one side? Do you think Russia will leave Tehran and cooperate with Saudi Arabia and Sunni countries or will continue to cooperate with Iran on the Syria issue?
A: Russia has already chosen the Shiite side, though it maintains Sunni links even inside Syria. So long as Iran is not hostile to Russia’s military presence in Syria, I think Moscow will continue to cooperate with Tehran.
12. Do you think the situation of Syria without ISIS will be better for all of the region or this is only beginning a new phase of war among the main international and regional actors? Are you optimistic about the future of Syria after ISIS and the consequences? Read more
- Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood | Monday, October 23 | 11:30 am – 5:15 pm | Hudson Institute (held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center) | Register Here | This full-day event includes two keynote addresses, the first by Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and the second by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, as well as two panels titled “Sinews of Terrorism – Communications, Funding, and Ideological Support” and “New Dynamism in Congress.” General David H. Petraeus, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Ambassador Hussain Haqqani will also speak at the event.
- The Future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and America | Tuesday, October 24 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Over the last two thousand years, the Church of Antioch has played a major role in the formation and development of Christian theology and philosophy. Today the Church is facing tremendous challenges in its native homeland, Syria. Six years after the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the country is in ruins and millions of its citizens have become refugees or are internally displaced within Syria. The ongoing war has flamed sectarian tensions that threaten the existence of Christianity in one of its earliest locations. Though suffering at home, the Church of Antioch is flourishing abroad with a growing congregation in the United States. What place do Christians and the Antiochian Church have in the future of Syria? What role has the Church played in humanitarian assistance to the millions in need? Why is Orthodoxy finding renewed appeal in Western countries? For answers to these and many other questions regarding the future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and America, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom will host a conversation with His Beatitude, John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, Metropolitan of All North America and Archbishop of New York. Hudson Senior Fellow Samuel Tadros will moderate the conversation.
- Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion | Wednesday, October 25 | 12:00 – 2:30 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | Corruption in Tunisia is perceived to be even more pervasive today than under former president Zine el Abidine ben Ali, despite numerous legal measures and civil society initiatives working to fight it. In their upcoming Carnegie paper, “Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk,” Sarah Yerkes and Marwan Muasher argue that corruption has become endemic, as more and more people engage in and benefit from corrupt practices. For the democratic transition to survive, Tunisia must simultaneously address the kleptocracy of the previous regime and the emergence of widespread petty corruption. Can Tunisia’s government and civil society win this fight? Yassine Brahim will provide keynote remarks, and Chaima Bouhlel and Safwan Masri will join Carnegie’s Sarah Yerkes in a discussion of the paper’s findings moderated by Marwan Muasher. Tunisian Ambassador to the United States Fayçal Gouia will provide closing remarks. A light lunch will be served at 12:00 p.m. The discussion will begin at 12:30 p.m.
- Trump and the Arab World: First Year Assessment and Policy Recommendations | Thursday, October 26 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Arab Center DC (held at JW Marriott Washington DC) | Register Here | The Arab Center’s second annual conference will begin with an opening keynote titled “US Policy in the Arab World: An Arab Perspective given by Tarek Mitri of the American University of Beirut and will consist of four panels. The first panel, “What Arabs Want: Arab Public Opinion and US Policy,” will feature panelists Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center DC, Dalia Mogahed of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland- College Park. The second, “US Policy and Political and Economic Challenges in the Arab World” will include Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hani Findakly of Potomac Capital, and Najib Ghadbian of the University of Arkansas and Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the US. The panel will be moderated by Dina Khoury of George Washington University. The third panel is titled “US-Gulf Relations and US Policy in the Arabian Gulf,” and moderator Khalid Al-Jaber of Qatar University will be joined by Abdullah Baabood of Qatar University, Sheila Carapico of the University of Richmond, David Des Roches of the National Defense University, and Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council. The final panel, “US Policy Recommendations in the Arab World” will feature Marwan Kabalan of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut, Ibrahim Fraihat of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Ellen Laipson of George Mason University, and will be moderated by Laurie King of Georgetown University.
- Public Perspectives Toward Democracy | Thursday, October 26 | 12:30 pm | Council on Foreign Relations | Register Here | Panelists discuss global public opinion towards democracy amid the rise of populists and autocrats, and the implications for the future of democracy and U.S. foreign policy. Speakers include Stewart M. Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ken Wollack of the National Democratic Institute, and Katie Simmons of the Pew Research Center.
- The Path Forward on Iran: Contain, Enforce, Engage | Thursday, October 26 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | What comes next after President Donald Trump’s decision not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal? Experts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for a New American Security offer a suggested way ahead in a new joint report: Contain, Enforce, and Engage: An Integrated U.S. Strategy to Address Iran’s Nuclear and Regional Challenges. Carnegie President William J. Burns will introduce the report, and Carnegie’s Jen Psaki will moderate a discussion with some of the report’s authors. Speakers include Ariel E. Levite and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as Ilan Goldenberg and Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security.
I talked yesterday with some young, DC-based Kurds after yesterday’s Middle East Institute conference on Iraq here at SAIS. They are fried. The retaking of Kirkuk and other “disputed territories” by Baghdad has made them feel humiliated and furious. The split between President Barzani’s PDK and the PUK, whose peshmerga did not resist the Iraqi security forces, surprised and horrified them. The battle for Kirkuk may be lost, but they are expecting the war to continue.
I hope not. President Barzani miscalculated in holding the referendum. He thought it would consolidate his political hold on Kurdistan and lead to a negotiation with Baghdad, not a military push. He also miscalculated the international reaction, which has been almost universally negative. Only Israel has supported the referendum and an independent Kurdistan, which condemns the effort in most Middle Eastern eyes. Tehran and Ankara have vigorously opposed the referendum. Washington and Moscow have done likewise.
Going to war with Baghdad would be another colossal miscalculation on Barzani’s part. He wisely is indicating that he won’t do that. The reconstituted Iraqi security forces appear more than adequate to overpower the peshmerga, at least until they retreat into the mountains. But it would also be unwise for Baghdad to push its forces past the constitutional borders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is foolishly what former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is urging. That would trigger an insurgency, throwing Iraq into even more chaos than it is suffering already in the aftermath of the successful campaign against ISIS. Iraq needs reconstruction and reconciliation, not a new rebellion.
Kurds are not going to give up the autonomy they won in Iraq’s 2005 constitution. Even in the disputed territories retaken by the Iraqi security forces governance may be extraordinarily difficult unless the KRG’s civilian authorities are allowed to return. Wisdom now lies with calming the situation, maintaining law and order as best can be done with local forces, and enabling both Baghdad and Erbil to go back to the negotiating table without losing face. Humiliation, especially on the basis of identity, is a powerful motive for violence and irredentism. A Kurdish rebellion in Iraq would be supported by Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran. That’s the last thing Iraq needs now.
At yesterday’s conference, both Iraqi Ambassador Yasseen and Iranian Princeton professor Mousavian supported resolution of the disputed territories based on the Iraqi constitution. That is obviously easier said than done, since it has not in fact gotten done in 12 years. But it is still the best solution on offer: local referenda allowing the populations in different communities to decide whether they want to join the KRG or not. What has made that difficult is deciding who should be able to vote, because Arabization during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and population movements since the American invasion could determine the outcome.
That is a soluble problem. Elections in territories that have been demographically engineered have become common in recent decades in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some combination of voter registration (outside the US usually done via the census) and absentee voting can be worked out. The main thing is to negotiate a compromise and proceed with it. That is true as well for other issues dividing Erbil and Baghdad, especially oil revenues and who can export oil with or without someone else’s permission. These are soluble problems that should no longer be allowed to fester. And Haider al Abadi is the most sympathetic prime minister the Kurds can hope to deal with in Baghdad. Making some deals with him before next year’s elections would be smart politics.
Iraq needs to settle its internal issues so that it can begin to play its proper role in helping the region to overcome more than a decade of war. American diplomacy should stand ready to help. It is time to cut deals.
Think of Kirkuk as the keystone that holds Iraq together. When the Kurds had it, they could claim possession of the oil resources as well as their cultural capital. Independence was a credible goal. Without it, independence is a pipe dream and maybe even a nightmare.
What caused the loss of Kirkuk, and now other disputed territories? There has so far been relatively little fighting. The peshmerga associated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who held Kirkuk, apparently surrendered most of their positions. The PUK is aligned in part with Iran, which commanded at least some of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that led the re-occupation of Kirkuk.
Iran is in fact a big winner from this latest military development, since it opposes Kurdistan independence vehemently. But so too do Turkey and the US. Sovereign states are loathe to see other sovereign states partitioned, not least because of fears for their own territorial integrity (Turkey and Iran) as well as their relations with the country in question (the US, Russia and others). Preserving the state structure in the Middle East is in fact one of the few things on which all the states there, and their foreign allies, agree.
The Kurdish independence referendum last month was a colossal miscalculation. KRG President Barzani tried to take advantage of his own momentary dominance in Kurdistan’s politics as well as the victory over ISIS to take what he saw as a giant step towards a goal he knows all Kurds share. But the PUK, Gorran and other political forces in Kurdistan were not happy to see Barzani get the credit and dissented from the process for preparing the referendum, which was shambolic to say the least. The foreign powers that count also objected. In this contest between national aspirations and geopolitics, the latter has won this round.
What now? Baghdad’s forces are apparently trying to restore their control to the situation in 2003, which means taking back most if not all of the so-called “disputed territories.” That might be a bridge too far, but in any event the main thing is to avoid bloodletting as much as possible, since that is what would make a bad situation more intractable. Baghdad already has in Kirkuk what it needs to block independence. What is needed now is to calm the situation and get Baghdad and Erbil back to the negotiating table, where they can discuss Kurdistan’s relationship with the rest of Iraq.
The retaking of Kirkuk and other disputed territories will strengthen Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and weaken KRG President Barzani, though the latter may gain inside Iraqi Kurdistan if the PUK is blamed for the military debacle. Abadi has suffered from his predecessor Nour al Maliki’s political maneuvers and was thought to be at risk in elections that are supposed to be held next year. He will now be able to face down criticism from those who thought he was soft on the Kurds.
The KRG is appealing to the Americans to engage. Washington had apparently tried hard to prevent the referendum by doing so. The Kurds made a big mistake in not making sure that effort succeeded. The US may now engage, but with entirely different facts on the ground. While sympathetic to the Kurds and anxious to keep them fighting against the remnants of ISIS, no one in Washington can force Abadi to give up Kirkuk. To the contrary: the Americans will want to maintain as strong a relationship with Abadi as possible, to counter Iranian expanded influence in Baghdad.
Kirkuk makes a big difference.
PS: Lukman Faily, former Iraqi Ambassador in the US, seems to me to do a good job in this interview with Wolf Blitzer: