Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki revealed that he believes that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could hold out for at least another two years. Al-Maliki said that he made these comments to US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington in response to the American view that Assad could be ousted within two months. Al-Maliki retorted that Assad would not fall “even after two years.”
Maliki said, “I know Syria well. They will fight, along with the secularists, Christians and others”. He also called on Washington not to back the Damascus regime into a corner, warning against what would happen if Assad found himself in a no-win situation with no choice but to go on the offensive. He said, “The reality is that the Alawites are already displaying courage born out of desperation, and that is why they are fighting—men and women—for survival.”
As for the domestic situation in Iraq, and the controversy surrounding his decision to extend his premiership for a third term in office, Maliki said, “This was the decision of the Iraqi people, not my decision. We are not a one-party system; rather we have a group of parties and political forces, and mechanisms that seek decisions from the Constitution and the Iraqi people’s views.”
He added, “I would like to retire, but the decision belongs to the Iraqi people.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister also criticized Turkey, claiming that Ankara is seeking to control Iraq and Syria, as well as other countries, including Egypt. He said, “Turkey is relying on the sectarian element and financial support in its interference in Iraq” adding “dissidents and extremists are always gathering in Ankara.”
As for Iraq’s relations with the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, Maliki said, “We wanted such relations from the beginning, and my first visit was to Saudi Arabia because I know that good bilateral relations will reflect strongly on the region and the Arab situation. We still have the intention to seek strong relations with Saudi Arabia, and we want there to be cooperation with the countries that we believe, in light of recent developments, are representing a state of moderation, such as Saudi Arabia.”
Answering a question about his reading habits, al-Maliki cited Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, and Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddine, as well as books by Sayyid Qutb and Abdallah Al-Nafisi.
Asharq Al-Awsat will publish the full text of the interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the coming days.