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We'll talk with Iraq expert Edwin Black next.

Aired December 21, 2004 - 18:00   ET


We'll talk with Iraq expert Edwin Black next.

And, how will the new violence in Iraq's first elections impact President Bush's second-term agenda? Three of the country's best journalists will join us. That and a great deal more ahead.


PILGRIM: My next guest has just written a new book that chronicles the last 7,000 years of Iraqi history. Edwin Black is the author of "Banking on Baghdad." And he says understanding Iraq's past is the key to solving the problems of the present and the future. And Edwin Black joins me now from Washington. Thanks very much for being here.


PILGRIM: Great book, lots of history in it. But sort of boiling it all down, it really comes to oil, doesn't it?

BLACK: Yes, it does. Over the past 100 years or so, there's only been one attraction for the western world in Iraq, and that has been a fatal attraction, the attraction has been oil. And since the first World War when the British went in and said our army's come not as conquerors, but as liberators, we've been using our best militaries and our best diplomats and corporate surrogates and much of the same language to continue to get the oil that the western world and the industrialized world is dependent upon.

PILGRIM: You point out about the colonial bickering that has gone on over Iraq and also you point out that many people have used this line that we'll come as liberators. Yet, in some cases it does apply and other times it's really an ulterior motive that brought people to Iraq.

Is there a way to distinguish between the different attempts?

BLACK: Well, there never was a nation Iraq. Iraq, of course, was fashioned out of three provinces on July 24th of 1920 by the British and the League of Nations for the purpose not of creating a cohesive country as much as creating an oil state and installing a ruler who could sign on the dotted line and approve the oil concessions that France and England had divided between themselves.

And then the United States joined in as well. And the three of them created a massive, the world's greatest monopoly, oil monopoly, within Iraq. And to do this, we wanted to create democracy to allow the oil to flow in a productive fashion. So we can say democracy from morning until night. But when the people of Iraq hear the word "Democracy," they hear a code word for we want your oil.

PILGRIM: Let's call upon your expertise in a historical sense to fast forward now to the future about 40 days forward to the Iraqi elections. What, in your opinion, is the chance that these will come off well and that we will have a coherent government formed?

BLACK: Well, the elections are coming up, if they do come off at the end of January, are a lose-lose situation. A lose-lose proposition. Either they're going to be completely invalidated by what is know as the Arab street and what we see as the Arab insurgency. Or even before that, they are going to become the new target du jour.

Instead of blowing up police stations, we're going to see polling stations become the new target in just a few days ago, we were horrified to see an election commissioner and two bodyguards pulled from their car in broad daylight by men who didn't even bother to put masks on Haifa Street in Baghdad. Made -- kneeled down on the street and just shot them in the head. These elections are identified with the west, with the invaders, with the infidels. And although there are forward people in Iraq who want this to happen, the Arab street and the forces of history that will reassert themselves are going to turn this into the new devil of the west that the people will rise up against.

PILGRIM: You're not very optimistic.

Is there any sort of hope we can take from the current situation?

BLACK: No hope. Basically, there will be no success in Iraq. We can survive, but there will be no military disengagement. There will only be an energy disengagement. When we no longer have a need for the oil that we get from Iraq and, from indeed, from the larger Middle East, we will no longer have a reason to be in that part of the world. Remember, it's not our policies that the Iraqi people revile, it's our presence. It doesn't matter how many bridges we rebuild or schools we repaint, it's our very presence. And as for elections, elections don't make democracies. Democracies make elections.

And if you compare the hundreds of thousands of people standing in the rain and the snow in the Ukraine and the people of Afghanistan that stood for eight hours for their moment at the polls is and compare that to what you see in Iraq, you understand that really we are imposing this election. And it really doesn't matter whether it happens or not. Will the people validate that election? Elections have been tried in the past in Iraq. They have always failed. There has been no democracy there. And the people don't want democracy because they've got a 7,000-year head start on the United States. And if they wanted democracy, especially western-style democracy, they don't need a permission slip from New York and London.

... PILGRIM: Well, let's hope the Iraqi people find the will, the collective will, to move forward. Thank you very much.

Edwin Black, thank you.

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