Washington, D.C., Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obeidi is facing a tough mission, which is manifest in ensuring Iraq’s security and making sure that the Iraqi forces will fill any security vacuum as a result of the US forces’ withdrawal from the Iraqi cities. Asharq Al-Awsat met with the Iraqi defense minister, who was accompanying Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on an official visit to Washington.
Al-Obeidi emphasized the Iraqi Army’s competence and its cooperation with the US forces, despite the news reports that referred to some coordination problems between the two sides. He was firm in answering questions about the fears of a possible confrontation between the Iraqi Army forces and the Kurdistan Region Government forces (the Peshmerga), particularly at the borders of disputed regions. He said that he will not allow such “foolishness” to take place.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What did you accomplish during this visit to the United States, and did you reach any agreements for the purchase of arms or military equipment?
[Al-Obeidi] I believe that this visit carries surprises in the full sense of the word. Since 2004, I have followed in detail all the aspirations that the US Army and Administration have had for Iraq. I expected to find less support (from the new US Administration) or face the notion of having no responsibility toward Iraq. Nevertheless, I discovered that the current US Administration and even the US Army command adopt the notion of providing greater support and have a firm belief in Iraq’s future. At the same time, they have a greater belief in the need to offer more support than any other time. I also sensed a great deal of enthusiasm, particularly during the meeting with US President Obama and his Vice President (Joseph) Biden. I was surprised by the ideas they presented and their support.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the areas of such support?
[Al-Obeidi] I did not expect them to offer the same level of support that the previous administration (under former President George Bush) had offered. However, I found the same level of support from them and they showed full responsibility in terms of continuing the journey until the ultimate goals of the new Iraq are achieved.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Iraqi Army today meet the required standards, and what are its needs in terms of arms and military supplies, particularly from the United States?
[Al-Obeidi] The Iraqi Army is like any other army. It comprises land, air, and naval forces. There are priorities. In the beginning, security was the top priority. Therefore, the focus was on land forces. We formed 14 divisions that are now up to the standard at all levels. Then a very important stage began, that is, the stage of building the naval forces to protect oil-export ports and harbors. We have plans to complete the building of these forces before the end of 2011, as long as they are now under the protection of the US forces. Next, we moved on and started a new good, proper, and scientific beginning as far as the air forces are concerned. The United States has played a real role and has offered great and exceptional support in this regard.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us go back to the issue of weapons. There are reports that Iraq needs weapons and supplies. What are these weapons and of what is Iraq short?
[Al-Obeidi] This is a vital issue as far as we are concerned. For example, today, we have modern US tanks. We are in the phase of providing continued training in the use of these tanks. Such tanks need expensive rather than cheap equipment, which is available in Iraq and is provided by the US Army forces that are currently present there. By getting such equipment in the form of aid without the need to purchase it, we will save this money to be spent on other areas. The same applies to spare parts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you reached an agreement with the Americans in this regard?
[Al-Ubaydi] We almost have a green light on this issue. This was among the surprises that emerged from the time we arrived here. We were expecting a certain response, but we received another. There is a plan in this regard that includes spare parts and electronic training equipment.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us talk about the internal situation in Iraq. The situation in Mosul is still critical and we have witnessed some disturbances in Al-Anbar. Do you fear that the security situation could worsen once again?
[Al-Obeidi] No. Not at all. No acts of terrorism can take over a police station in any distant area any more. In the past, police stations in entire governorates used to fall [into the hands of terrorists]. Now, terrorism is no longer capable of recruiting elements to carry out operations and attack any target they want. Terrorist operations are limited to the use of booby-trapped cars or bombs. Moreover, 90 to 95 percent of these operations target innocent people in a market, hospital, or mosque. As far as we are concerned, if we are to set priorities for dealing with terrorist operations, we will begin with Mosul, then Diyala, and finally Baghdad. As for the other governorates, of which there are 15, they rarely witness any incidents and we can give them a green light.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the situation in Mosul is critical. What are your plans to control the situation there?
[Al-Obeidi] In Mosul, we are launching very good operations. There are two important factors in this context, which are: First, the leaders, whom we have accurately targeted; and second, the financing, which we have also targeted with accuracy. Frankly, our problem in Mosul lies with the borders. We are also improving ourselves in this regard. You are talking about Mosul and not about the Ninawa Governorate. The entire Ninawa Governorate is secure, except for Mosul. We are making very good efforts. Most importantly, we need to activate the role of citizens in Mosul. Honestly, the role of citizens falls short of the required standard, unlike the case in Al-Anbar, Basra, Baghdad, and even in Diyala. If this goal is achieved, it means that we can reach a good level [of security] in Mosul and we are working in this direction. We have plans, but not only security plans. We have political and economic plans, as well as national reconciliation plans.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some statements have referred to a possible confrontation between the Iraqi Army forces and the Peshmerga forces, particularly in sensitive confrontation areas. Is this a possibility? What are your preparations to prevent this from happening?
[Al-Obeidi] All our preparations and efforts are directed toward preventing such a foolish thing from happening. The Kurdish forces are part of the national defense system. We will work toward preventing such a confrontation. We cannot risk the outbreak of such clashes in any way.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that you have plans to prevent this from happening?
[Al-Obeidi] Certainly. We also have understandings on every minute and big matter. We exchange liaison officers in order to create a clear picture of whatever is taking place at our and at their side. We meet as ministers and as brothers. God willing, we will overcome this problem. We will not give joy to our enemies in this regard.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does your coordination with the Americans meet the required standard?
[Al-Obeidi] We enjoy the highest level of coordination with the US forces. However, we are at the beginning of a new stage of coordination and mistakes can happen. Nevertheless, day by day, the coordination between us is improving in an excellent way.