(Q) The cycle of violence in Iraq continues. There are daily attacks in which scores of Iraqis are killed or wounded. This takes place at a time when Iraq is preparing to enter an important political stage with the approach of the referendum on the constitution and the elections. How optimistic are you about the possibility of holding these elections on time?
(A) I am optimistic. The latest criminal acts and the war of annihilation Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared against the Shiite Muslims are an expression of despair and frustration after the failure of these criminal gangs in Tal Afar. They were easily expelled from this city and hundreds of them were killed or captured. Their morale collapsed and they could find no weapon other than car bombs. It is difficult for one to locate and stop these car bombs. These bombings, however, do not influence the Iraqi public opinion. The Iraqi people, including the Sunnis, are determined to participate in the elections and in the referendum by voting for or against the constitution. He (Al-Zarqawi) also threatened the Sunni Arabs the other day to prevent them from casting their vote. I do not think this threat will influence them. The Iraqi people will largely participate in the elections. We are determined to hold these elections as we did in January in spite of the terrorist threats.
(Q) But some have reservations about the possibility of abiding by the set timetable. Carina Pirelli, head of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, who is currently in Iraq, expressed reservations about the possibility of holding the elections on time if the current situation continues. She also expressed reservations about the new election law, which turned all Iraqi governorates into electoral units.
(A) They are mistaken. Even if the current situation persists, the Iraqi people will participate in the elections and will not yield to terrorism or the terrorists.
(Q) But some strongly object to the election law.
(A) Is there a consensus on everything in any country of the world? When the elections were held in Iraq, the overwhelming majority of people participated in them. Compare this with participation in some other countries. Take Egypt, for example. What was the percentage of people who participated in the elections? Let us compare this percentage with the percentage of people who participated in the Iraqi elections. The presence of an opposition is a sign of democracy. Some brothers support the election law while others do not. The final say is for the majority.
(Q) How do you view the statement made by some that the election law does not serve the interest of some communities like the Kurds because voting is done for an electoral bloc and not candidates from each governorate?
(A) On the contrary, the new election law gives all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic nationalities and religions a chance to participate in the elections. There are two types of voting. One is for the governorates and another for 45 seats from all of Iraq. Even the Iraqis living abroad can participate in the elections to elect these 45 deputies.
(Q) How do you deal with the strong Sunni objection to the constitution?
(A) I would like to say that the phrase of "Sunni objection" is incorrect. First, we the Kurds are Sunnis but we participate in the elections. Second, the Sunni Arabs belong to several groups. Some of them participate in the elections and others object to them. What I know is that the overwhelming majority of the Sunni Arabs have decided to participate in the elections even if they vote against the constitution.
(Q) Do you think you have made a mistake in selecting the 15 Sunni members who participated in drafting the constitution?
(A) No comment. They were selected so that the extremists and troublemakers will not come and participate in drafting the constitution. They are not all the same. There are reasonable and balanced ones like the Islamic Party and Dr Mashhadani. There are also those who adopt an extremist line and make mistakes.
(Q) How do you view the continuation of clear divisions among the various factions in Iraq? How will you deal with them?
(A) These divisions are not based on sectarian or ethnic grounds. They are based on ideological differences and such differences exist in every country. There are differences among the Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, and Turkomans. This is a sign of democracy. Iraq lived for a long time under a dictatorial regime, which suppressed every voice and every person. Democratic freedoms have now been unleashed and the people have started to express themselves freely. A society of diverse ethnic nationalities, sects, communities, and classes will certainly have differences. This is normal and it is one of the manifestations of democracy.
(Q) recently , you said in Washington that you expect the US forces to withdraw within a year. You then stressed during the news conference with US President George Bush that you want these forces to stay. What is your position on this issue?
(A) I said the United States can withdraw tens of thousands of its troops next year, but the decision to do so is up to the Americans. I am not the US forces” commander. I was asked when the Iraqi forces would be able to replace the US forces. I said we would have several units that can replace 40,000 to 50,000 US troops by the end of next year. It is up to the Americans to withdraw their forces or not. This is not done upon our decision. This is the first point. The second point is that I said that during the next two years we will continue to need the US forces in Iraq for several reasons. These include training our forces and helping us fight terrorism. Now I call on the Iraqis to assume responsibility for protecting the various Iraqi areas and cities as happened some time ago when the Iraqi security forces assumed responsibility in the holy city of Al-Najaf. I think the Iraqi armed and security forces must right from now start playing a basic role in protecting the country. I think it is time for the Iraqis to take the lead in fighting the terrorists. The Americans will then stay far behind the Iraqi forces and will be called in only when needed. I hope the Iraqis themselves will assume responsibility for maintaining security and stability in the region.
(Q) Can the Iraqi forces assume security responsibilities if they continue to be targeted?
(A) Yes, they can do so in certain areas and at certain times. What the Iraqi forces did in Tall Afar is a good example. They performed the basic task of liberating the city and destroying the terrorists there. There are trained Iraqi forces, which can carry out these tasks on a limited scale and in specific areas.
(Q) During your participation in the summit meeting hosted by the United Nations, you delivered part of your speech in the Kurdish language. Why?
(A) I delivered the whole speech in Arabic but there was a small part in Kurdish on the Iraqi Kurdistan Region”s development experience, which is based on democracy and freedom. I included that part to prove that all of Iraq is capable of making progress and achieving prosperity. I seized the opportunity to stress that the Kurdish people are part of Iraq. I said in my speech that the people of Kurdistan are part of Iraq. I used the second language and this is a natural right. I wanted to stress that there is another official language, which is the Kurdish language.
(Q) In the light of the intense differences between some ethnic and religious factions, how worried are you about the possible eruption of a civil war in Iraq?
(A) Iraq will not fall into a civil war. There are differences and personal opinions, but a civil war is ruled out. The extremist terrorists seek to incite sectarian sedition, but they will not succeed.
(Q) You have repeatedly complained about the level of Iraqi-Arab relations. We noticed that you did not meet with many Arab leaders during your presence at the United Nations. Why?
(A) No, during my presence in New York I met with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Jabir al-Sabah, and Jordanian King Abdullah.
(Q) Are you satisfied with the level of these relations?
(A) We hope that Arab relations will improve and hope Iraq will continue to play an active role within the Arab League. Iraq is an active founding member state of the Arab League and is committed to its charter and decisions. Therefore, the Arab brothers must boost their relations with Iraq, but this is left to them.
(Q) Recently, there has been a noticeable deterioration in Iraqi-Syrian relations following your criticism of the Syrians for not preventing infiltrations into Iraq.
(A) I have absolutely not criticized Syria in spite of my remarks. I did not criticize Syria publicly and will not do so. Syria did us many favors. It was a safe haven for us when we were in the opposition. It extended valuable assistance to us during our struggle against dictatorship. We are loyal people who do not forget favors. We, however, have some observations which we will discuss with the Syrian officials when we meet with them. We will not discuss these observations in the media no matter how much the media men try to drag us into criticizing the Syrians in the news media.
(Q) The last few days witnessed intensive Israeli moves toward the Arab delegations participating in the summit with the purpose of pushing it toward opening channels of communication with Tel Aviv. Is Iraq among the Arab countries, which might soften their stance on Israel and establish relations with it in the near future?
(A) No, Iraq is not among the countries nominated for establishing relations with Israel. I expressed this clearly when I was asked this question during my participation in a meeting held at the US-based Brookings Institute. An Israeli television correspondent asked me if we will follow Pakistan”s steps. I said no and stressed that we are an Islamic and Arab country committed to the Arab League decisions. Normalization can take place when Israel approves Saudi King Abdullah”s initiative, which was approved by the Arab countries at the Beirut summit. If Israel approves this initiative, then it is welcome. We can then think of establishing relations. Israel must also reach agreement with the Palestinians. When this is achieved, we will not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves. This is what I frankly said. I said we support the Palestinian people. I also said Iraq is committed to the Arab League Charter and supports the Palestinian people in their struggle to obtain their rights in accordance with the international legitimacy resolutions.