Former Iraqi ambassador will teach a course on the United Nations

Interview by Dan Landau
 
Hamid al-Bayati, former Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations, will teach a class on the U.N. this spring at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus. Serving from 2006–2013 at the U.N., al-Bayati has had a long career in diplomatic service, which also included a stint as a deputy foreign minister for Iraq.
 
Besides his diplomatic experience, al-Bayati has a Ph.D. in politics from Manchester University in England and is also the author of several books in both English and Arabic. His most recent book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam,” was published in 2011. Earlier this year, he appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to discuss the emerging threat of ISIS.
 
We caught up with al-Bayati recently to talk about his class, his views on the U.N., and the current sectarian violence in Iraq.
 
 
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Above: Hamid al-Bayati, while he was Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations. Al-Bayati will be teaching a class (POLS4632.51 Selected Studies: Introduction to the UN) at FDU's Metropolitan Campus on Thursday evenings from 5:30-8 p.m. during the spring 2015 semester. (Photo courtesy of U.N.)
FDU: What do you plan to cover in your class on the United Nations? 
 
HAB: The basic thing I want students to leave with is the ability to think like leaders. I will address the parts of the United Nations — the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the six Main Committees — as well as current issues the world is concerned with, such as terrorism, the Middle East, sanctions, etc.
 
I will focus on the practical elements of my experience. During my seven years as ambassador, I was the chair of the Third and Sixth Committees, vice president of the General Assembly, a member of the General Committee (which decides what the General Assembly will discuss), and the chair of the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC). I’ll draw from these experiences to teach the students how to lead and to build consensus around issues.
 
By the end of the class, my students will know everything they need to work with the United Nations, either with an NGO, or with the United Nations itself.
 
I’ll also want reward students who really apply themselves in my class. I can help them secure internships at the United Nations and take them to sit in on meetings of the General Assembly and the Security Council.
 
FDU: What should students do to prepare for class with you?
 
HAB: Students should read about the U.N. They should have some theoretical knowledge about it, which they can then compare to the practical experience I will share with them.   
 
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Above: Al-Bayati appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" in June 2014 to talk about the current situation in Iraq with ISIS. Watch the interview here. (Image from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart courtesy of Comedy Central. © 2014 Comedy Partners. All rights reserved.)
FDU: What do you believe the role of the United Nations is today? 
 
HAB: The United Nations is the only international organization we have which has all the countries as members. The U.N. played, and still plays, an important role in the world. The United Nations is here to help provide international peace and security. Since its creation after World War II, the United Nations has managed to prevent a third world war — as well as other wars and helping with natural disasters — and that is a major accomplishment.
 
It has its problems and needs reforms and improvements, just like any institution in the world, but that doesn’t affect the fact that this is the only organization with 193 member states.
 
FDU: What reforms and improvements does it need?
 
HAB: A major issue is the Security Council. It was established back in 1945 and the five permanent members were the victorious nations in World War II. Since then, there’s been a lot of debate about other countries which deserve to be on the council, how large the council should be, and who should have a veto. There are also rules and procedures that need to be reformed. For example, when I chaired the Third Committee, we encountered rules that were no longer practical

"I felt that it was my duty to stand up to Saddam Hussein and help my country get democracy, freedom, and civil rights." 

-Hamid al-Bayati

because they were made in 1945.  The good news is that United Nations recognizes that it needs to change. The problem is how to get 193 countries to agree what change is needed. We’ll be covering both the positive and negative sides of the United Nations in the class.
 
FDU: Jon Stewart interviewed you on the “Daily Show” earlier this year. This is a very popular show among FDU students. What was it like to be on the show? 
 
HAB: This was not my first time on the show. I was interviewed while I was an ambassador — I was actually one of the few ambassadors who accepted requests to be on the show. This latest time, the show approached me and asked me to come on the show and talk about what is happening in Iraq. The show is a political comedy though, so I declined the invitation. I said, “There’s a tragedy in my country and I don’t want to make humor about the suffering of my people.” Jon assured me that it would be a serious discussion with some humor, but it would not disrespect the Iraqi people.
 
While on the show, I said that the U.S. should use force in Iraq against ISIS and the U.S. is now doing that.
 
It was great to be on the show. After the show, Jon told me, “You have a lot humor. You can have your own show!” I said, “Maybe one day in the future.” 
 
FDU: When you were the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N., what were some of the highlights for you as ambassador?
 
HAB: In the U.N. you meet all kinds of leaders. I remember one assembly which George W. Bush and Iraq’s former president, Jalal Talabani chaired; they were addressing leaders who agreed to join the war against Saddam’s regime. I was in the meeting with all those leaders. It was nice to see all those leaders standing against Saddam Hussein. This was near the end of Bush’s presidency, in September 2008.
 
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Top: Al-Bayati with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. Ban visited FDU's Florham Campus in 2008 to give the Convocation address. Middle: Al-Bayati walks with then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Bottom: Al-Bayati (right) greets King Abdullah II of Jordan. (Photos courtesy of al-Bayati)
Also we had a session of the Security Council on December 15, 2010 chaired by Vice President Joe Biden which adopted a resolution to lift sanctions against Iraq imposed for 20 years after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It was hard work for me from April 2006 to December 2010 and big achievement to lift those sanctions, which were the harshest in history of the United Nations.
 
FDU: What is the day-to-day life of an ambassador like? 
 
HAB: It’s a horrible life! Just kidding. It’s a busy life, not a horrible life. It starts early in the morning and doesn’t end until late in the evening. We go to meetings at the United Nations everyday between 10 am and 6pm, such as meetings of the General Assembly, Security Council, General Committees, Commissions, Special Events, and so on so forth. Then more meetings — sometimes, I would have five or six meetings a day then come the evening receptions. Every country hosts important receptions that you can’t miss, so I would have to go to two or three receptions and dinners every night. Being an ambassador was a real privilege though.
 
I am the only Iraqi ambassador to serve for so long. I was ambassador for seven years, whereas, most don’t serve for more than three or four years. I served with three French ambassadors, three Chinese ambassadors, three British ambassadors, and if I had stayed for a few more weeks, I would have worked with four U.S. ambassadors.  
 
FDU: In your book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” you chronicle the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein. What was it like to be a member of the opposition? 
 
hamidHAB: I felt that it was my duty for my country to help people get democracy, freedom, and civil rights. Saddam committed genocide, used chemical weapons against the Iraqi people, and started wars — I had to stand up. Many people kept quiet or joined, but I stood up.
 
I lost eight members of my family during that time, plus a brother who was kidnapped and killed in 2005 by the remnants of Saddam’s regime. I was imprisoned and tortured. Saddam sent people to threaten me and family if I didn’t stop, but I said, “No, I won’t stop until you step down or leave.” My mother’s life was used three times as a threat against me by Saddam, but she’s still alive now. She was my hero and was very supportive of me.
 
Standing against Saddam was just something I had to do.
 
FDU: Iraq’s recent history has been marred by sectarian violence and the country is now fighting against ISIS. How can Iraq move past these threats to become a thriving democracy? 
 
HAB: For centuries though everyone lived in peace and harmony—Christians and Muslims and Jews; Arabs, Jews, Kurds, Turkmens, and Assyrians; Sunnis and Shiites. Saddam used all the differences to divide and rule. When he fought the Kurdish people in the north, he set himself as an Arab against non-Arabs. Against Iran, he became a Sunni Muslim against Shiite Muslims. Against the U.S., he became a Muslim hero against the Crusaders.
 
Growing up in Iraq, we grew up not caring about religion, sect or ethnicity and I am sure one day that it will go back to the golden age when we lived all together and we didn’t feel differently towards each other because the vast majority of the Iraqi people love each other and love to live in peace and harmony together.