Mr. Pachachi, week after week Iraqi politicians are being killed by terrorists, and the chain of bloody attacks continues. You too are in permanent danger. How do you cope with this?
Pachachi: I am a target like many others, especially the members of the Governing Council...
SPIEGEL: ...who will no longer be in office when the Americans transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government on June 30.
Pachachi: We must live with fear, both now and in the future. Attacks or not, we all have a mission to fulfill, and it is the highest priority for me and my colleagues: We have pledged to build a new, better Iraq and to set the course for this process.
SPIEGEL: You could become the first president since the removal of the despot, Saddam Hussein - and in a country in which various faiths and ethnic groups must be accommodated. In the past, this was a completely intractable problem.
Pachachi: If I become president, I will take this office as the country's supreme arbitrator. I would like to be the president of Iraqi unity. Although I come from a Sunni family, I have never been particularly driven by my religious affiliation. The new Iraq may not be dominated by religious narrow-mindedness.
SPIEGEL: You face a serious problem. The UN mandate that granted the United States the status of an occupying power expires at the end of June. US President George W. Bush insists on keeping his troops in Iraq for an indefinite period of time. This smacks of limited sovereignty.
Pachachi: Sometime in June, the UN Security Council will adopt a resolution that defines the role and authority of the multinational troops who, under an agreement to be reached with the new Iraqi government, will replace the American occupation force.
SPIEGEL: The Americans will be reluctant to give up their supreme command.
Pachachi: As soon as an Iraqi government has been sworn in, it will be the legal representative of the Republic of Iraq, under international law. I wish to make it unmistakably clear that as of July 1, the Iraqi government will also assume full responsibility for security and for the stationing of foreign troops.
SPIEGEL: It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people now view the Americans as occupiers and not as liberators.
Pachachi: The new Iraqi government will have the right to demand the withdrawal of the foreign contingent whenever it deems necessary. This is not just theoretical.
SPIEGEL: The Americans are unlikely to cooperate.
Pachachi: I know what you are suggesting, so let me tell you this clearly and concisely: Any American military units that remain in Iraq after the end of June may no longer assume the role of occupying forces. At that point, they will be part of the multinational force deployed by the United Nations, which will consist of troops from various countries, including Iraq - in close consultation with the Iraqi government, of course.
SPIEGEL: Will it also include troops from Islamic countries, as German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is suggesting?
Pachachi: There are no military units from Islamic countries in Iraq at present. But that could certainly change. I would welcome troops from the Islamic world being part of the multinational military presence.
SPIEGEL: The Iraqis, especially young people, had placed high hopes in a new beginning after the collapse of the old regime. This faith in the future now seems to have dissipated.
Pachachi: Both the invading countries and the Iraqis acted on the basis of false assumptions. The Americans thought they were marching into an underdeveloped country, expecting to face little resistance and be welcomed with flowers. The Iraqis assumed that everything would work out for the best in no time at all.
The Americans quickly realized that the Iraqi is a patriot, one who defends his country, just as his ancestors have done for thousands of years. Iraq is not some third-world country.
SPIEGEL: It seems that Bush' warriors knew very little about the Iraqi mentality.
Pachachi: We are an educated people with a long history, and we are a cultured people. The Americans also did not expect the infrastructure they found in Iraq. They were surprised. They couldn't understand that a dictator like Saddam Hussein had invested a large share of oil revenues in infrastructure projects, such as highways, modern irrigation canals and industrial plants, which one doesn't find in just any country.
The marines were confused by this new realization, as well as by their failure to achieve a swift victory and by the ongoing resistance. It also confounded the American concept, that is, if a sound and credible concept ever existed. The Iraqis, in turn, realized that the Americans are not magicians, that they could not quickly raise the standard of living of the masses and reestablish the general order that had collapsed during the invasion.
SPIEGEL: The Abu Ghareib torture scandal has also shaken confidence in the Americans. Even General Sanchez, the soon-to-be-replaced head of coalition forces in Iraq, allegedly witnessed some of the abuses.
Pachachi: What kind of reaction do you expect from the Iraqis? Regardless of age, profession and political affiliation, we are all horrified and furious about these atrocities.
SPIEGEL: How did you learn about the torture?
Pachachi: I had already heard about the brusque approach taken by the Americans during house searches early on. However, I was completely taken aback by the gruesome scope of the torture and human rights violations that have now come to light.
SPIEGEL: What do you believe the consequences should be?
Pachachi: Not just I, but all Iraqis demand a tough investigation and punishment of the perpetrators and the people behind them. We also need guaranties that such atrocities will cease once and for all. What has happened cannot be undone, and the long-term psychological consequences are unforeseeable.
SPIEGEL: Another major disappointment was the fact that the US occupiers proved to be incapable of gaining control over the security problem. Washington's civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, is losing more and more control by the day.
Pachachi: That is true, unfortunately. But the situation is complex. The tougher the Americans became in their clean-up sweeps, the stronger the resistance became. There are weapons galore in this country. And foreign elements are entering the country without obstruction...
SPIEGEL: ...such as terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.
Pachachi: Yes, as well as a conglomeration of criminals who have escaped from prison or, in some cases, have even been released deliberately. Just how dangerous these groups can be became evident in Baghdad, where shops, government offices, the national museum and empty apartments were mercilessly looted and set on fire when the city fell. The Americans did nothing to prevent this from happening.
SPIEGEL: What is now happening is even worse. Entire cities, and parts of Baghdad, are no longer safe, bandits rule the highways, car bombs explode, and foreign civilians involved in reconstruction are murdered and kidnapped.
Pachachi: The new government's main objective must be to guarantee general security, at any cost.
SPIEGEL: How do you intend to achieve this?
Pachachi: Naturally, our police forces alone are not sufficient, although more and more police officers are being trained. For this reason, it will also be necessary that the multinational coalitions become involved in the battle against bandits and terrorists.
SPIEGEL: The militant Shiites, as well as others, are demanding that the Americans leave as quickly as possible. Things are unlikely to settle down before that happens.
Pachachi: No people in the world wishes to live with occupiers, and we Iraqis are no different. But a rapid withdrawal of the Americans from Iraq at this time would only intensify the problems. The Americans do provide a certain amount of protection. As soon as the elections have been held - we have agreed to January of next year - and a democratic, freely elected Iraqi government assumes control, we will no longer need foreign troops, including Americans.
SPIEGEL: But what if this ideal situation cannot be achieved by early 2005? Will that lead to an uprising against the Americans?
Pachachi: The Iraqi people will not agree to a prolonged delay. Our elected representatives would have trouble explaining repeated postponements of the withdrawal of foreign troops to their constituents.
SPIEGEL: Bush has promised that the new Iraqi government will also control the country's enormous oil resources. But don't you think that the Americans will demand certain privileges?
Pachachi: That will not happen. Iraq's oil belongs to no one but the Iraqi people.
SPIEGEL: In the past, the American president has also said that Germany and France, both opponents of the war, should be excluded from the reconstruction effort in the new Iraq.
Pachachi: The new Iraqi government will not act on this basis. Iraq has always had good relations with Germany and France, and will continue to do so.
SPIEGEL: The new Iraqi is based on a Western-style democracy. Will all political tendencies and parties be allowed to participate in the electoral process?
Pachachi: Yes, they all will.
SPIEGEL: With no restrictions? Will the Baath Party be permitted again?
Pachachi: No, we will not allow it to be resurrected.
SPIEGEL: Don't you find it irritating that the Americans, of all people, are reactivating supposedly "untarnished" Baathists, even in the military and police force? The cease-fire in Faludja would not have been possible without the involvement of one of Saddam's generals.
Pachachi: Of course, there are many Baathists who are blameless. They are permitted to participate in the elections, like any other citizen, and can also run for political office. Only former high-ranking Baathist officials will be excluded.
SPIEGEL: You and the current president of the Governing Council have protested against the fact that the Americans declared Ahmed Chalabi, once the Pentagon's most important partner, to be a persona non grata, accused him of revealing state secrets to Iran, and even searched his offices.
Pachachi: As members of the same Governing Council, we stand behind Chalabi, which implies certain standards of conduct. For us, it is a matter of principle. I have nothing further to add on this issue.
SPIEGEL: Can there be peace in Iraq before peace prevails in other hot spot in the Middle East, in the Palestinian conflict?
Pachachi: The United States should learn from its recent experiences, and perhaps they already have. However, the Palestinian problem is not linked to the problem of Iraq. Nevertheless, we Iraqis have a great deal of sympathy for the Palestinian people, and we sincerely hope that they achieve their desired independence within the borders of 1967.
SPIEGEL: Should Europe provide a stronger contribution to the reconstruction of the new Iraq?
Pachachi: Without question. Iraq is closer to the United States, and not just geographically.
SPIEGEL: Although we certainly respect your fundamental optimism, many observers worry that the religious and ethnic conflicts will get out of hand and steer the country toward civil war.
Pachachi: Iraqis are patriots who love their country. We will not have a civil war.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Pachachi, we thank you for this interview.
The interview was conducted by editors Olaf Ihlau and Volkhard Windfuhr in Pachachi's Baghdad residence
Translated by Christopher Sultan