Q: What is your view on the current situation in Iraq?
A: The security situation is tied to the political situation, and the former is in a state of absolute chaos. The country is slipping into the abyss − not just towards it but rather into the depth of the abyss. At the critical core of the security situation lies the internal political state in Iraq, one that depends on divisions and affiliations based on a sectarian and orientation basis, non-regulated armed entities − both those that have penetrated state agencies and others that operate outside of them. This is the Iraq political situation, which is still living in the tumult caused by the elimination of the Baath, the notorious anti-terrorism laws and the assaults on Iraqi citizens and those participating in the political process.
In all honesty this casts a shadow on the security situation and further deteriorates it. Sectarian divisions and affiliations [entities in Iraq represent different sects in accordance with their affiliations] is undoubtedly one of the primary causes for this deterioration. This is further reinforced by Iraq’s detachment from its natural Arab and Islamic environment, and as such, the country has reached an absurd, immoral and inhumane state.
Personally, it is my belief that Iraqi politicians must shoulder their responsibility, either by resigning or by immediately tackling the Iraqi situation. However, I believe that they cannot achieve the latter because the regime is based on internecine sectarian feuds.
Q: Do you ascribe the bad security and political situations to sectarian divisions and affiliations alone?
A: These divisions and affiliations have underlying causes and outcomes. Causes include interference by neighboring countries, and outcomes include further interference by neighboring countries, which has trapped us in a vicious circle, where such interference is fueled both internally and externally by allowing the situation to continue.
The evidence is simple and self-explanatory. For example as Iraqis, we have no information concerning the five Iranians detained by American troops in Kurdistan, why they were detained and who they were. The Iraqi government has not explained anything and did not state reasons for their detention. Those Iranians were arrested in Iraqi territory and it is the Iraqis’ right to know the facts. Another example is when the US administration met with Iran officials in Iraq and the main topic of discussion was Iraq rather than nuclear arms, Lebanon or Palestine issues.
So what does this mean other than interference in Iraqi affairs? Let me reveal something else. During the second Sharm el Sheikh Conference held in early May, the Iranian government presented an official document that stated what should and should not to happen in Iraq, including Iranian objection to myself becoming prime minister. This was an official Iranian document; not rumors or illusions. The document did not explicitly mention me by name but referred to those with roots in the Baath Party. Well, there are Iranian friends who have Baathist roots and are in power, which shows the negative intervention in Iraqi affairs and is a result of the sectarian divisions and affiliations, which unfortunately was even adopted by the US administration. It is also unfortunate that many regional countries, including the Arab states, believe that national reconciliation in Iraq is one between Arabs and Kurds and Shia and Sunnis, whereas everyone knows that on the level of the average citizens there is no such problem as a Kurd and an Arab or a Shia and a Sunni. There are parties who are committed to divisions and affiliations and the sectarian approach, which is utterly unacceptable.
Q: Iraqis are vocal about mistakes by the US administration in Iraq, which has apparently entered an endless dark tunnel. How do you view these mistakes?
A: America has actually entered an endless dark tunnel and unfortunately made mistakes before, during and after the war. These mistakes lead to other fatal ones. Six months ago, I called upon US commanders to seriously review a real strategy for the region. A simple strategy that is based on the backing moderate forces and resolving issues in areas of tension, notably Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. I offered solutions regarding the Iraqi situation and said in the message that it was time to rethink a real and realistic strategy that is fit for the particularities of the region. If these problems and evils plagued our region, they would not remain confined to the region but would also affect the entire world. Furthermore, America has become unable to come up with real solutions to situations; therefore, we have to think up alternatives. These alternatives are important and can help the Iraqis and also set up a climate that restrains new tense spots in the region. These are legitimate international and regional alternatives and include the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League and Iraq’s neighboring states. These states have grown concerned with the situation and want to move and take part in stabilizing Iraq. My opinion is that these countries ought to be encouraged to intervene and help America.
Q: Why are the European, Chinese and Japanese roles excluded from the Iraqi issue?
A: The European Union definitely has a share in assisting the Iraqis. As prime minister, I laid foundations for good EU-Iraqi relations and the formation of liaison offices with EU members. Some of the Achievements include training courses for Iraqis in various important fields, including training the Iraqi army and police by the NATO. Now as the European political map has changed with the coming to power of a new French president and a new German Chancellor who has mounting powers and the departure of Blair, the European Union and others showed willingness to help. I met with a South African presidential envoy who requested an appointment for meeting us, and now Japan has requested the same. These countries said they were ready to help Iraq, whether through bilateral relations or through international organizations. There are many countries that want to help stabilize Iraq, including China and India. We have to expand our relations and involve the UN as well. It is my pleasure that former US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has a sort of perception of Iraqi problems and he is now the US ambassador to the United Nations. He is calling upon the organization for a bigger role in Iraq. This is all due to the US declining capability of managing and overseeing the conflict.
Q: Last week you met with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. What did you discuss during the meeting?
A: Today there is a European group, made up of France, Germany, Britain and Italy, that wants and seeks to use international forums to resolve the world’s tense spots. I believe there is a sort of understanding with major economies like Canada, Russia and Japan to help Iraq, because the negative situation and the disadvantages of what is happening in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and the Sudan began to have negative impacts on them. The proof is that the US has embarked on unilateral procedures, including the economic embargo of Sudan. This is a purely American decision and America alone is enforcing such an embargo. That is why other world countries are seeking to contain and resolve crises in the region, including Iraq. Therefore, INL members are engaged in intensive activity to meet ambassadors of these countries to Baghdad. We prepared delegations to visit European countries, including Russia and Germany, Canada and Japan. We will not rule out any country, such as China and others. We the INL took upon ourselves to look for all possible solutions that better serve Iraqi interests, help Iraq get through the ordeal and lead to stabilizing Iraq and the region. Accordingly, we will not omit any regional or world state. This is one approach adopted by both the INL and INA, simultaneously with the efforts we make with the Iraqi political forces inside Iraq and with Arab and Muslim brothers to help us get through the crisis.
Q: You were on an Arab tour that included Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States and Egypt. Practically what are these states’ contributions to the Iraqi people?
A: Frankly, in Saudi Arabia and all the Arab states I visited, I felt (from them) sincere regret over and extraordinary interest in the Iraqi issue and real willingness to support Iraq and the Iraqis.
What our people need is support and real efforts towards national reconciliation, building Iraq’s capabilities, writing off debts and setting up a government apparatus that is capable of building and stabilizing Iraq, as well as financial support. This was stressed by the recent conference in Sharm el Sheikh. In the so-called international convention, which is overseen by Brother Barham Salih, we found exceptional care for Iraq’s future and sovereignty. Unfortunately, it seems that the government in Iraq, or rather the administration of the remainder of Iraq, does not communicate fully with Arab or Islamic states. The government even creates crises with those who are careful to set up lasting relations with the Arab and Islamic states to the extent that if one, like myself, visits these states and seeks to maintain Arab and Islamic relations, they are labeled traitors and conspirators by the Iraqi government. I say to them, this is our natural environment, real depth and right affiliation. As part of the anti-Saddam opposition we visited Arab and Islamic nations and had bases in Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, why weren’t we labeled conspirators then? Was the late King Fahd (May God rest his soul) not the first Arab leader to call on the opposition to set up an Iraqi government in Iraqi Kurdistan? Was the late Sheikh Zayed (May God rest his soul) not the first Arab leader to publicly call on Saddam to step down to avoid what was to happen in Iraq? Are these not the Arab states that receive Iraqi refugees and extend help to both Iraq and the Iraqis? Once again I would like to remind them that the pursuit and killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, took place with the help of Jordan and other Arab countries.
I also remind that the first Arab states to invite Iraqi prime Minister brother [Nuri] al Maliki were Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and brothers in both countries informed him that they were ready to support Iraq and the Iraqi people. I played a pivotal role in extending such invitations and others to al Maliki. Former US ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad was with me at that time. I arranged for these invitations at the request of Khalilzad and some political forces in Iraq. Bilateral security, economic and other agreements were supposed to be signed, which did not take place. On the contrary, complication and terrorism further aggravated and insults mounted from some Iraqi government officials against Arab states to the degree of accusing some Arab embassies in Baghdad of being nests for terrorists, and thus they began to fight them or kidnap their members. One example was Egyptian ambassador Ihab al Sharif, one of the best Egyptian diplomats who was accused of being on his way to meet with terrorists. Imagine! That is why Iraq ceased to tap into Arab efforts. I say, nothing is left for those who part with their identity. Iraq has an Arab and Islamic identity, whether we like it or not, and has ethnicities that are sharing power, notably the Kurds. If we denied these facts, we would enter the world of the unseen. The government must deal with this reality. Unfortunately, it did not and is taking a different path.
Q: You, the INL, are part of this government and have threatened withdrawal several times but did not. Please comment?
A: Not only did we threaten to withdraw but we actually were about to quit the government altogether. This was clear from the last statement issued by the INA last week. There was a consensus among the INL to withdraw from the government. At the last moment, we were faced with a barrage of contacts from the US administration and leaders of Arab and Muslim states requesting that we be patient and not withdraw because that would have had considerably impacted the security and political situation. They asked for one more chance for the Iraqi government. For its part, the Iraqi government made promises that I no longer trust. For over a year it has been talking of national reconciliation; yet there are no signs of such thing. For these reasons we decided to be patient this time. However, the INL’s withdrawal from the executive authority is still possible. On various levels, the INL and its orientations are being intentionally sidelined by the government. This includes assassinations, detentions, threats, dismissals, deprivation of rights of INL members or proponents in addition to a long list of martyred INA members who were liquidated by militias and government agencies. In spite of INA members who have been sent to jail for about a year, abuses continue against INL members. Most recently they abused INL MP Abdul Lateef al Badri, a professor of medicine who educated generations of doctors. Governmental security agencies beat his guards, entered his house, insulted him, robbed him, destroyed his furniture and left. He has fallen sick. Being on his own and unguarded – his guards left him after being beaten and threatened – we asked for a simple flat for him in the Green Zone, but the government denied him the simplest of his rights—a simple Green Zone accommodation although unknowns who do not work for the government have been given mansions and houses in the Green Zone or other safe areas. That is why I say that this government is no longer a national unity government. It is rather an authority trapped in a vicious circle as the country slips further towards the abyss. Therefore the INL withdrawal from the government is very likely, but we do not want to cause the so-called hampering of the security plan, which is already absent. Casualties today are more than ever.
Q: Based on your political experience, do you believe that this government will last and how long?
A: I believe that whether the government is to stay or be removed is the responsibility of the ruling coalition, which has to consider a change in a government, which has grown incapable of offering anything to the Iraqi people. Now services do not exist. There is electricity and water supply shortage, especially in Baghdad. There are no medical services or hospitals, and we had to receive medical aids from the United Arab Emirates to build a hospital in Najaf. We assigned INL MP Radwan al Kilidar to prepare a study on the hospital. Now the peoples of al Kut, al Anbar, Karbala, Mosul and other provinces need hospitals. Security is on the decline, and political and criminal gangs have come to rule Baghdad. An Iraqi citizen either is displaced or falls victim to ethnic cleansing. Unless the coalition is pleased with this government, it has to change it and find from amongst its members a prime minister who can rectify what has gone wrong in the country. The problem is not about replacing a person with another. Rather it is about an entire approach—one of sectarian divisions and affiliations that afflicted the Iraqis. Otherwise, a major disaster would afflict Iraq and the country would disintegrate.
Q: It has been over a year since you were reported to have staged a coup against the government. What is the story of that coup? When will it take place, if ever?
A: I believe there are many possibilities. Either Iraqi rulers are considering a coup or the government is fanciful. It does not make sense that a year into the coup rumor, nothing took place. What kind of coup is this? It is about the government’s intentions. When we travel and request the world to help and be open to Iraq, the government regards this as conspiring and we are reported as conspirators against democracy. Is meeting with Arab officials for the sake of Iraq a coup? In the government’s view it is alright to meet with the intelligence agencies of a neighboring foreign country. Our meetings with officials in Arab and Muslim states for the Iraqi issue is conspiring but their meetings and sharing security information with the Iranian intelligence are not a coup. Our brothers in the government are totally comatose and live in delusional state. The government has been talking about a coup for a year. They flew planes over our houses and set off explosives inside them. Where is democracy and rule of law? This approach brings to mind the former regimes that are gone and are no longer acceptable to the people. What to do? If we travel, we will be accused of conspiring. If we meet with an Arab, Muslim or Western official, we will be accused of conspiring. If we stay home, we will be accused of conspiring. If we say we do not want sectarian divisions and affiliations, we will be labeled infidels and against democracy. So what about those many years of struggle against Saddam Hussein? Here is the outcome: we are being persecuted and our people who are struggling are killed and dismissed. Imagine, when I was prime minister I gave a car to Iyad Jamal al Din, who long struggled against the former regime. At that time he was not an INL or INA member. It was not acceptable for a political leader like him not to have a job, money or a car. He was not a thief and did not steal. I gave him a car but the succeeding government seized it. There is a war against the INL, the INA and Iyad Allawi. They regard us as a source of danger.
Q: What do you believe is the reason the government feels you pose danger?
A: Simply because we are the moderate national current and because we are against the government’s approach of sectarian divisions and affiliations. If I changed my approach tomorrow and adopted sectarian divisions and affiliations, then I would pose no danger for the government; however, I would pose danger for the national approach just as they believe the national approach current poses danger for them.
Q: What is the alternative situation?
A: The alternative is an approach rather than a person. It is for a government to come that does not believe in sectarian divisions and affiliations, maintains Iraq’s unity and sovereignty, returns Iraq to its Arab and Islamic identity, protect Iraqi citizens, be they Shiite, Sunnis, Christian, Kurd, Turkmen, religious or secular, and build a modern powerful state. This is the right approach. It is not about a change in names, whether Maliki is gone and Adel Abdul Mahdi or Allawi took his place. It is about an approach. If we follow such an approach, then why do we have to fear? The question is, can the present government resolve the crisis of proportionment and its obligations and of the destructive and disintegrating laws? There is the so-called political council of national security, which I proposed to include representatives of the political forces participating in the political process in order to outline a security strategy for Iraq. Much to my surprise, they dealt with this council in terms of sectarian divisions and affiliations and members were distributed accordingly. That is why I did not join it. It includes two INL members and one member from Salih al Mutlaq-led dialog council (DC). We were recently surprised that a committee within the council was formed that excludes the INL and the DC although they have 25 and 11 parliamentary seats, respectively.
Q: There were reports of a political front led by you that seeks an alternative situation in Iraq. Where have you arrived in this regard?
A: We diagnosed key issues in the political reality. Through our meetings with the Iraqi political forces, we arrived at many things to resolve the dilemma. First is to set up a non-sectarian front to build an Iraqi state, and this should be coupled with practical procedures that serve security and security and security. Real national reconciliation ought to be adopted to build the unity of the Iraqi society. This is our internal diagnosis. On the external level, America is split and we have to help it to help us. We have to find solutions for it, which includes efforts to further involve regional and other world countries to play a bigger role in the region. The third approach is for the United Nations to assume a bigger role in Iraq and the region and to restructure the multinational forces. I believe that the next few weeks will see a major development in the declaration of the front as we meet with members of the INA, al Fadila, the Sadr movement, the DC, the coalition and the Dawa Party in order to mature our views and contacts with world countries.
Q: There are reports in Baghdad of a US warning to remove the Iraqi government if the US conditions are not met. To what extent is this true?
A: This is true. There is an American warning and it is not a secret. The US administration declared that and said that time was running out fast. Within a short period, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other American and British officials went to Iraq to make it clear to the Iraqi government that there was no longer sufficient time for this government. The US administration made 18 conditions that the Iraqi government has to meet or else be removed. The official US statement explicitly says “We will not wait,” according to Bush in his speeches.
Q: Will the government agree to that?
A: What else can it do as long as it entirely depends on US decisions and proposals? Furthermore, it is the American or multinational forces that protect Baghdad and the government today. If the US administration decided not to protect the government and wanted to remove it, what could the government do considering that it is incapable of protecting itself?
Q: Do you expect early elections in Iraq?
A: This is ruled out because the security situation will not allow it.
Q: Are you preparing for a comeback as prime minister?
A: It is not about preparation or the position. In light of the current situation, this position shall not lure a man of understanding. Nor is it about replacing a person with another. Once again, it is about the approach. If anyone is brought while sectarian divisions and affiliations persist, what will change? Our concern should be the approach. When this is changed, we will see the right person in the right place.