Iraq’s foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari: Iraq needs American military help if it is to defeat Isis

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By ITV News Middle East Correspondent Geraint Vincent

Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, is a natural diplomat. Polite, immaculately dressed, and like all good politicians, blessed with a great memory.

As we sat down for our interview, he recited to me the names of the ITN correspondents who had interviewed him in the past.

Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. Credit: ITV News

This was pretty intimidating, and at the end of our chat, I was left wondering whether he had dealt as deftly with my forbears’ questions as he did with mine.

Zebari is clear that Iraq needs American military help if it is to defeat the Isis extremists, and he echoed the US conditions for providing that help in his remarks.

“Without a government to include all Iraqis, really no security measures can succeed,” he told me. “This is the lesson we have learned.”

He didn’t admit that his government had made mistakes in alienating the Sunni population, but he did concede that the Sunnis “do have grievances, some of them legitimate”, and that they "should be included in the decision-making.”

Iraq's army is trying to retake lost territory. Credit: ITV News

Zebari’s conciliatory tone contrasts with that of his boss. In his weekly TV address, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to reject American calls that a new, more inclusive government should be established in Iraq.

His critics accuse him of routine discrimination against Iraq’s Sunni minority, and say that any ‘unity’ government cannot possibly have al-Maliki at its head.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Credit: ITV News

But Al-Maliki’s party won many more seats than any of the others in parliamentary elections two months ago, and he shows no sign that he has any intention of sharing power.

In his speech, he went so far as to compare demands for a ‘national salvation cabinet’ to an attempt at a coup.

Zebari says Iraq needs American military to defeat Isis. Credit: ITV News

Under Iraq’s constitution, a new government does have to be formed in the next few weeks, but no one’s sure who will be in it, or whether it will be able to save Iraq from catastrophe.

I asked the foreign minister whether he expected al-Maliki to be prime minister of the next government.

Tellingly, that was one of the questions to which he so skilfully avoided giving me an answer.