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Interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

Interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

Interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

(Q) There are Iraqi forces, which do not want to see an active and influential Arab role in Iraq. So, how can these forces be confronted in order to make the Arab initiative a success?

(A) I believe that all active forces in Iraq see the need for the presence of an Arab role. This role should serve the new Iraq to save it from problems and division. I see no interest in opposing an Arab role. On the contrary, our interest lies in the presence of a large Arab role to help the Iraqi people solve their problems and achieve progress, development, and reconstruction.

(Q) Were you expecting the Arab League secretary general to visit Iraq, or were you in doubt, especially after a diplomatic delegation that came to prepare for his visit was attacked?

(A) I never doubted his sincere words. I was sure that he would fulfill his promise, in spite of the threats that he received and the incident, which happened with the Arab League delegation. I was expecting him to come to Iraq. I contacted him. Also, I met him in Brasilia and New York and became sure that he would come. However, I did not expect him to visit me in Al-Sulaymaniyah.

As president of the republic, I had to be in Baghdad at the time, but he graciously visited the Kurdistan province where he met with the head of the province and parliament speaker. I was in Baghdad when I was informed that he was coming. They told me that he wants to see me either in Baghdad or Al-Sulaymaniyah, but I took the initiative and went to Al-Sulaymaniyah, so that he would come and we see him here.

I would like the brothers, Arab officials, to come to Iraqi Kurdistan to see for themselves a Kurdish people who love the Arab brothers and are allied with the Arab nation. The Kurdish people believe that it is in their interest to achieve their goals while they are under the wing of this glorious nation.

The reports in some Arab newspapers on the presence of 120,000 Israelis (in Iraqi Kurdistan) are baseless. That is why I hoped that the Arab League secretary general would visit Kurdistan, and he fulfilled my wish.

(Q) Why was it decided to invite the Arab League secretary general to visit Iraq at the time when Saddam was tried?

(A) The visit was not planned to coincide with the trial. We welcome him at any time. We told him that Iraq is his country. Iraq is a founding member of the Arab League, and he is the secretary general of the Arab League. As a member state of the Arab League, we are attached to him. He can come any time he likes, and when he comes, we will give him a warm welcome.

(Q) Demonstrations were held in Baghdad against the Iraqi Government. The demonstrators accused the government of being weak and having no clear political agenda.

(A) We are a democratic country where demonstrations are allowed. People can demonstrate and say whatever they want. The Iraqi people enjoyed democracy for the first time. They had longed for democracy. Therefore, they express their opinion at any opportunity available to them.

(Q) What will happen to the armed party militias? Some people accuse them of targeting civilians and adopting agendas of their own.

(A) The situation will be different when the constitution is applied and when security and stability have been established. Then there will be no presence for the militias under the constitution.

(Q) And what about the charge that they target civilians?

(A) It may be true. However, the state will work to put an end to these incidents.

(Q) A lot of Iraqis say that they truly hate Saddam, but hate the presence of foreign forces more. What is your comment on this point?

(A) This is their opinion. But I hate Saddam”s dictatorship more than I hate the presence of the foreign forces. I believe that what we suffered under dictatorships is a lot worse than what we suffered from colonialism.

I once met British Prime Minister Tony Blair and told him: &#34When I was student at the Baghdad University, I participated in many demonstrations that called for the downfall of British imperialism. We used to chant: ”English, go back to your country”. However, after what we suffered under dictatorships, allow me to say to you: please come back.&#34

No one can imagine what we had suffered in Iraq. In the days of Saddam, there were detention camps and mass graves in Iraq. This country suffered a real war of annihilation on a daily basis. The Iraqi people”s aim was to rid themselves of Saddam in any way. I would like to ask a question. The dictatorship lasted more than 30 years, but how many years will the foreign forces” presence last? One year? Two years? Four years?

They would like to withdraw now. We are now in the process of holding elections. We are the ones who govern Iraq. In one or two years” time, we will say to them: Goodbye friends. But who dared to say goodbye to Saddam?

(Q) How true are the reports that Saddam can participate in the elections from his prison?

(A) He cast his vote in the previous elections, and I do not know whether he voted yes or no. Is this not a democracy? I am proud of this democracy. Besides, did the world not watch him as he publicly said during his trial: &#34I am the president of the republic and you are nothing&#34?

We allowed him to come to the court and say whatever he wanted. He is alive in spite of the mass graves that he dug and the acts of annihilation that he brutally carried out against the civilian population.

(Q) But we heard that the occupation forces too targeted civilians. Is this not described as terrorism?

(A) I did not sanction this. I have not heard that foreign forces target civilians.

(Q) Do you not believe that the lack of a timetable for the foreign forces” withdrawal weakens the political leaders and embarrasses them in front of the citizens?

(A) There is a set date. It is the 15th of October 2007. We said that when the formation of the Iraqi security forces has been completed and when we are in a position to stand on our feet and confront and eliminate terrorism, we will say goodbye to the coalition forces.

Besides, the coalition forces are present here under a resolution passed by the UN Security Council, which determined this period. It is this Security Council that can change this time period. This is not an Iraqi-US issue. The United Nations is involved. Currently, we decide on our issues, including dates of elections and voting on the constitution.

(Q) Some people hold the view that the trial of Saddam is a trial of the Sunnis in Iraq.

(A) This is a wrong understanding of the situation. Saddam killed a large number of Sunnis and committed crimes against both the Sunnis and Shiites. Besides, we, the Kurds, are Sunni, and he committed horrible crimes against us. The trial is not held on a sectarian basis. There are Kurds too who are tried.

(Q) I mean to say that the Sunnis are paying for Saddam”s crimes because Saddam is a Sunni. Therefore, they feel that they are wronged.

(A) This is not true. The Sunnis now participate in the political process. The vice president of the republic is Sunni, the speaker of the parliament is Sunni, and the overwhelming majority of us, the Kurds, are Sunni.

(Q) Is it true that Syria continues to pose a threat to you and that it facilitates the infiltration of terrorists into your country?

(A) You will not be able to make me say any word against Syria. Syria has done favors to me. If there is something, I will keep it in my heart until I meet the brother, President Bashar al-Assad. I will discuss it directly with him, not through the media.

(Q) In light of the US threats against Syria, will you allow Iraqi territories to be used as a base for carrying out military operations against Syria?

(A) I absolutely reject the use of Iraqi territories as a base to deliver a military strike against Syria or any other Arab country. I make this statement in my personal capacity as Jalal Talabani. In the end, however, my capabilities in confronting the US force remain limited. I cannot impose on it any opinion.

(Q) Some people say that the federal system in Iraq is transitional and that it is a prelude to separation, namely in the Kurdistan province.

(A) They do not understand the situation. Historically, federalism unified various regions, provinces, and ethnicities. Federalism unified a nation like Germany, which is a federal state even though it is one nation that has one culture.

Federalism and democracy proved their ability to hold out and survive, while the states that were forced to unite failed and disintegrated. Those who understand federalism well know that it serves and reinforces Iraqi national unity. Nevertheless, we have our own federal system and circumstances and imitate no one.