OIC chief: Yemen is on verge of total destruction

The Middle East is a region in never-ending turmoil, with Iraq and Syria, Libya and Yemen ravaged by war, and terrorist groups wreaking death and destruction on the population. The US is trying to intervene, but so far to no avail. Violence is just spiraling further and further out of control. Is there a force able to stop the chaos? Will we see other states falling into the pit of war? Who needs to take the lead in the battle against Islamic State? We pose these questions to the secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. His Excellency Iyad Ameen Madani is on Sophie&Co today.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, your Excellency Iyad Madani, it’s great to have you on our show today, sir.

Iyad Ameen Madani: My pleasure, my pleasure.

SS: Now, you have urged sides, all sides in Yemen, to avoid military confrontation and to opt for peaceful dialog. Now, looking at the reality at the ground, and the way things are right now in Yemen, what makes you think that a peaceful solution is still a possibility?

IAM: Because there’s no other way. Political process is needed, sometimes you need military action for a specific purpose, but eventually a political process has to take place if crisis within Yemen or anywhere else is to be resolved. So it is that sense of necessity and the sense that a political process will bring in all the parties involved and therefore, its output will be a reflection of the different parties’ positions. This is what makes us hopeful that such a process is possible, that it will take place and that it will be fruitful.

SS: ”Necessity” is the right word, but the sides haven’t been able to come up with acceptable decisions or decision for all sides. What will change now?

IAM: Mediation, you know. What the sides need is mediation, a stage that they all accept to sit down and talk. What is the question here is not who wants what – it is Yemen itself. If Yemen is to continue as a country, as one country, as a cohesive country, as a country that has any hope of development and stability and security of its people, this has to come to an end.

SS: Let’s try to analyze the strategies that are in place right now. Do you think the continued airstrikes against the rebels led by the Arab Coalition is helping to end the conflict?

IAM: This is of course, a matter of judgement, but we have to look at how the situation was or was developing towards before the coalition started military action. It was chaos; it was an attempt to take hold of Yemen, of its political capital, of its political institution by just one group. That wasn’t right, and something needed to be done about it. But you know, Yemen is not in an easy political stage. Yemen is a combination of many things: there are ideologies, there are tribal competition and differences, there are political institutions that have been built by former president Abdullah Saleh, there is the south of Yemen, there is the condition of that south after the unification of Yemen, there’s Hadramaut which is the bulk, though it is mostly desert, the bulk of Yemen to the east of Aiden. There are no simple answers, but there’s no way out of this except the political process.

SS: I understand there are no simple answers, and you’re such a great diplomat, your Excellency – but you didn’t answer my question. Do you, in your personal opinion, do you feel like these airstrikes are helping to end the conflict or helping the conflict at all at this point?

IAM: Well, they will not end the conflict, but they certainly helped define the conflict, that there’s not one group that can or should take over Yemeni institution and dictate its will.

SS: Like you’ve fairly pointed out, the situation in Yemen is very complicated from all sides; and I’ve spoken to the other side, I spoke to the former mayor of the capital Sana’a and he actually told me that Houthis have wide-spread support amongst people and the army, still, up to today. So, people who are watching this thing from the outside, they are wondering, why are the people who have the popular support being targeted and bombed?

IAM: Houthis by themselves, as you know, represent, what 10% of the population…

SS: But they are supported by the people and the army.

IAM: Well, they are supported by the forces of the former president Abdullah Saleh – this is the alliance, and president Saleh as we all know, has ruled Yemen for more than 30 years. I think if there was Abdullah Saleh, no alliance with the former president, we would not be in the situation we’re in now. But, what I don’t know, is what the agenda of former president Abdullah Saleh – what it is that he wants? You cannot keep going under the impression that you can be forever in the seat of power. It would have been more useful had the president been involved in the political process, rather than creating alliances that led to violence and use violence. But, we are hopeful, I think now that these meetings in Geneva, we very hopeful that they will create a new impetus for settlement.

SS: But it gets even more complicated than just finding solution for a settlement, because there’s the Islamic State there as well – they are carrying out their attacks, you know, they’re executing Houthi rebels – do you feel like the airstrikes and the rest is actually playing into the hands of the IS?... Because they tend to operate in situations of chaos much better.

IAM: The chaos is because of the violence that was in Yemen, the violence was not started by the air campaign, but the IS is an opportunistic state. It will find any hole, any cave, any opening to present itself, but it has no solid foundation – it’s an opportunist movement…

SS: You mean, in Yemen?

IAM: In Yemen and all over. It’s a phenomenon we’ll perhaps talk about later.

SS: We will have to, absolutely…

IAM: But in Yemen, it’s not a major force, it’s not a major player.

SS: It’s not a major force yet. How do you know it’s not going to grow into a major force? Look what happened in Iraq, now in Syria? Isn’t Yemen next in line?

IAM: The comparison is not exact. We can talk about Iraq when you pose Iraq as a question – but Iraq is not Yemen and Yemen is not Iraq, and they both are not Syria. Each conflict has its own context, and we have to understand that context to understand the conflict and how best to confront it. There’s a political context, there’s an economic reality, there’s a social fabric, and of course, there’s a cultural set of values. All of these are different and unique to each place, and we must analyze them, we must understand them if we are really interested in finding ways out and end conflicts. We also have to understand who uses these situations of conflicts for their own political agenda.

SS: Your Excellency, I’d to talk a bit about the international effort against the Islamic State. 80% of airstrikes are carried out by the American-led collation. Why aren’t the Arab countries more involved in it? Should they be the ones actually leading this effort against ISIS?

IAM: But we have to ask first, if I may say so, why do we have ISIS in the first place? What brought ISIS to surface?

SS: A lot of people would say: “the American interventions”.

IAM: You know, let’s not just make accusations. Let’s talk about what happened after the American invasion. They dismantled all institutions, they dismantled the bureaucracy, they dismantled the security forces, they dismantled the army, and they dismantled the party.

SS: Who? The Iraqis?

IAM: The Americans. And as you know, the political parties, and there are such systems as Saddam Hussein led, that are not really a bunch of ideas - it was a way of having a good life, to send your kids to a good school, to have access to a good hospital, to have job in the first place – you had to be a member of the party. But they dismantled all of these institutions, and then there was an emphasize on this course of “sectarian-azing” – there were no more Iraqis, there were Sunni or Shia or Kurds or Arab or Christian. If you look at the discourse since the invasion, it was a definite, obvious, clear emphasize on identifying people by sect.

SS: We have now what we have, and it is ISIS taking over territories in Iraq and Syria and spreading throughout Middle East and North Africa. So, I am asking, why aren’t the Arab countries participating just as much as the Western coalition is in this effort to fight ISIS?

IAM: It’s basically the Iraqi army that is doing the fight, the Americans are providing training, maybe some logistical support and airstrikes every now and then. It is… I think we’ve heard this from American politicians and army officials that there will not be any boots on the ground.

SS: Do you think there should be?

IAM: Americans? I don’t think so. I think this is a job only Iraqis can do. I don’t think it’s a job of anybody else. Everybody should support, should provide…

SS: Should Arab countries provide more help? Maybe, troops on the ground?

IAM: I think Iraqis have enough troops.

SS: But they are not strong enough, they are obviously not winning this fight with ISIS in the shape they are at this point? It’s quite obvious.

IAM: Then we have to remedy the reason, the cause they are not able to do so. This is an Iraqi army, that is equipped, that has spent millions since the invasion, buying equipment and the Americans have spent multitude of hours training personnel, creating its intelligence service. Why would this….

SS: It’s not working, it’s not working, okay. Right now they are not up to the job. The Kurds are the ones winning this fight so far, but the Iraqi army is not up to the job, they cannot do the job on their own…

IAM: Kurds are Iraqis. One step towards defeating ISIS is for Iraqis to be all Iraqis. I think the Kurdish leadership has offered more than once to be part and parcel of such an effort to defeat Daesh. But Daesh is passing phenomenon, I can assure you. Daesh has no inner force, Daesh has no justification. Daesh has no philosophy. Daesh is one of the strangest phenomena: why would a movement like this start by attacking minorities? Why would a movement like this stage a TV-show, like the one we’re having, to show how they burn a Jordanian pilot? Or how they behead, cut the throats of Egyptian laborers in Libya? These are strange things, these are not sane people. If you want to buy into conspiracy theory, as if there’s a bunch of thugs hired to create an atmosphere.

SS: I mean, you can call them whatever you want, but the fact is they’re still there, and they’re killing people and they’re taking over territories – and very effective force that is actually fighting and defeating ISIS are the Iranians – why do you think America or American-led coalition doesn’t want to cooperate with Iran on this particular issue of fighting ISIS? I mean, this is the common enemy. Why not fight it together? Especially, if one side is so effective…

IAM: I think, they are cooperating. You know, one of the ironies of Daesh is that the Americans and the Iranians are cooperating on the battleground against Daesh.

SS: Do you have a special information about that?

IAM: No, it’s all over the media, I don’t have to have special information. We can hear it from officials, in the Administration and in Iraq. But this is not an alliance in that sense of the word. The circumstances that created Daesh are what we should understand, because this is where the efforts should be. If we build institutions in Iraq, if we regain a sense of identity, if we have a government that is inclusive – then Daesh will no longer be.

SS: But how do you that if Daesh is taking over the territories in Iraq? I mean, how do you coordinate that?

IAM: This has been contained, their expansion is not as media-thrilling as it used to be.

SS: Do you think it is blown out of proportion?

IAM: Who are the leaders of Daesh? Did you see them on television? Have they ever been interviewed like Al-Qaeda leaders used to? No, they are not. If nobody wants to speak out, if nobody takes over this place, there’s no leadership that is visible – this is something to think about. There’s something to contemplate. This is something to make us wonder: who are the prime movers in this?

SS: Who are you thinking of? Who are the “prime movers” in your opinion?

IAM: I think it’s a movement that was created by circumstances and if these circumstances, if these root causes are addressed – then that house of cards will collapse.

SS: So we’re going back to creating a stable society in Iraq, is that what you’re saying?

IAM: Creating the makings, the elements of real state in Iraq. And also, let’s talk about Syria…

SS: Let’s talk about Syria, because you’re saying Daesh doesn’t have a leader, and you support Russia’s efforts to act for Syrian peace talks, right? Do you think Syrian opposition has one single force that can talk for everyone, for whole opposition?

IAM: Syrian crisis is not one month old, Syrian crisis is years old, and it started as a peaceful demonstration for a better life. You know, during the epic of the Arab spring, demonstrations also started in Daraa in Syria, and all that these people wanted was some simple day-to-day improvements. And I think Damascus at the time decided that “if we let this happen, it will increase”, so they decided to react in most vicious of ways. The international community, personified in the UNSC, personified in the P5, those countries that have veto powers, have not been able to confront and deal with and decide on Syrian crisis. That paralysis of them, of all P5’s, is the main cause today for the continuation of the Syrian crisis.

SS: But should they have done? Intervene and bomb Syria? Because you say they just sat there and watched, but really, the international community, especially the West, they arm the FSA, and the FSA then…the arms that ended in their hands, eventually end up in the hands of the ISIS fighters, that’s a fact as well, people on the ground tell us this…

IAM: There was no ISIS…

SS: Okay, it is now, because the weapons flow that goes from the West to the FSA ends in the hands of terrorists, and that adds to the violence…

IAM: But at that time there was no ISIS…

SS: It is now, we’re talking about now.

IAM: But we were talking about the paralysis that accompanied the international community’s reaction to the Syrian crisis, which led to its growth towards what we have now. So, we have to underline the blame: this crisis wouldn’t be with us today had the international community acted decisively.

SS: What’s decisive for you? You haven’t told me…

IAM: The government of Syria is a government that is dependent on everything it does – dependent on its source of weaponry, dependent on its political support – and its army could have been deprived of airspace – but let me ask you this: Iraq is fragmented, Syria is destroyed, who benefits from this?

SS: I don’t know. I was going to ask you, because all the Western-led interventions, whether it’s Iraq or whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Libya, Yemen now or Afghanistan – we don’t see peace and stability anywhere. Do you feel like the Western-led interventions in your region are bringing peace?

IAM: When you see crime, somebody’s getting killed, inspectors, including inspector Clouseau, the first question they would ask is “what is the motive?” – Somebody must have a motive to kill that person. And here we have to ask, who benefits, who has a motive. As you know, not too long ago we all heard of that theory of “creative chaos”, that this is a region that is so imprisoned in its own mold that the only way to free it is by creating “creative chaos”.

SS: Who’s theory is this?

IAM: The neoliberal theory, as far as I know, directly expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But if you ask the question as to who benefits – I think one of the Israeli generals have answered that question for us. He was on the news, not too long ago, saying “It’s wonderful to see that your enemies are being defeated, but it’s more wonderful to see that they’re killing each other”. Somebody must be benefiting from this. These things are not natural phenomena; these things must have been somewhat a work of a strategist. It’s not all a conspiracy theory, it’s not all exterior factors, but we always have to ask the question: “Who benefits?”. You know, I was in Nigeria, to learn more about Boko Haram, and they are based in the North-East, one of the least developed areas of Nigeria. There are young people, unemployed, have nothing to do, have no purpose in life, and then somebody makes them believe that by joining these extreme groups they will have a mission, they will be part of the group, and they provide them with an income – this much I can understand. But how can these young people who have very little education, who have no experience, stage sophisticated raids within Nigeria that reach everywhere – the logistics, the planning, the way it’s executed. Logic tells you that they’re getting help from somebody – and that somebody has a stake in destabilizing Nigeria. This is how the logical thinking goes, and I think this is the same logical sequence of questions that we have to ask ourselves. But, I am here on behalf of organization of Islamic Cooperation, and we’re not concerned only with crisis areas; we’re also concerned with creating hope. The member-states have a young population and that young population…we are going through confidence-building, cultural opportunities, economic opportunities, that will create hope in the future.

SS: Your Excellency, thank you for this interview, and we wish you and your organization all the best in all your future endeavors.

IAM: Thank you for the opportunity.