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Q & A with Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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(Q) What is your assessment of the security situation in Iraq?

(A) Terrible explosions targeting civilians continue to take place. However, our accurate scientific assessment of the situation shows that the security forces of the Interior and Defense Ministries have made remarkable progress. I was in Jordan, where I sponsored the graduation of 1,500 policemen. They were trained on the use of sophisticated weapons, criminal evidence, human rights, and protection of the law. Some 3,000 to 5,000 policemen graduate every month. We hope to reach the international rate of having one policeman for every 150 people. Currently we have one policeman for every 300 citizens. We need more policemen. Our armament has started to make progress through the support of donor states, headed by the United States. When I assumed my post at the ministry, I did not find any information about the security situation in the country. Today, we have accurate information about the hotbeds of crime and terrorism. We have tracked down the movement of terrorists and their locations, groups, pictures, passports, and the border points they use in crossing. This facilitates our deployment in case of emergency. We now have the most accurate network of information about them. Our intelligence effort to pursue the terrorists has developed mainly in Baghdad and nearby areas. We coordinate with the army and carry out joint operations every now and then. Even the coalition forces have started to feel the strength of the Iraqi security services. Therefore, they began to hand entire cities over to the Iraqi security forces as happened in Al-Najaf and Karbala. We seek to have full control of security in the Iraqi cities so that the foreign forces will be deployed only outside them.

(Q) What are the nationalities of the terrorists?

(A) They belong to various nationalities. We have an American terrorist and another British terrorist. There are also terrorists from France, Denmark, and Italy. They are of Arab origin but hold western passports. On the Arab level, there are terrorists from Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. There are others from India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. There is a strange mixture of them.

(Q) What is their approximate number?

(A) The number of Arab terrorists was between 2,500 and 3,000 three months ago, but they are no more than 900 now. The rest were killed during Al-Fallujah, Al-Qa”im, and Tal Afar operations, or left Iraq.

(Q) Why did they leave Iraq?

(A) At first, I did not know why, but things became clear when we found a letter from Abu-Azzam (Abdullah Najm Abdullah Muhammad al-Jawari) (whose death was announced in Baghdad two weeks ago). In it, he called on Al-Zarqawi to start sending fighters back to their countries after having gained experience in booby traps, explosions, assassinations, killings, preparation of explosive charges, kidnappings, and other crimes. It seems that Al-Zarqawi has abided by this directive as earlier confirmed by our intelligence information.

(Q) Iraqi officials said the number of Saudi fighters in Iraq has gone down.

(A) During my meeting with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif Bin-Abdulaziz in Ankara, we agreed to form a joint committee to look into the nature of the work done by the Saudis who come to Iraq in one way or another. We agreed to form a committee, which met in Istanbul. I received a letter from Prince Naif a few days ago. It stressed the importance of coordination and expressed the Kingdom”s readiness to receive an Iraqi Interior Ministry delegation in Riyadh. There is no doubt that our response will be very positive. We will take with us the passports of some Saudis who took part in terrorist operations in Iraq. These passports will give the Saudi Interior Ministry an idea about the route taken by these Saudis after leaving Riyadh. They traveled from one Arab capital to another until their passports were finally stamped by the last country from which they crossed into Iraq. (Asharq al-Awsat saw some of these passports, which carry the stamp of the Syrian border point as the last station from which they entered Iraq) This applies to other Arab terrorists and not only the Saudis.

(Q) Have you extradited any Saudi nationals after interrogating them?

(A) Our ministry has not extradited any terrorist or criminal. We have decided to try them in Iraq in accordance with the Iraqi laws. The issue depends on the nature of agreements between Iraq and the rest of the Arab countries. We signed a memorandum on security cooperation and extradition of criminals with Jordan. I hope to sign other such memorandums with the other Arab countries.

(Q) Why were you upset by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal”s remarks on Iranian influence in Iraq? He said that out of concern for the Iraqi people.

(A) I followed up the visit Prince Saud al- Faisal paid to the United States and his meetings at the strategic studies institutes. I was surprised by his statement, as published by Asharq al-Awsat, in which he said that he understands having a federal system of government for the Kurds but not for others. We do not say we want a federal system for the Shiites. We say we want a federal system of government on a geographic basis. Federalism does not mean partitioning the country but uniting it. There are world experiences in this regard. It is this position, which I talked about. I greatly respect the wise, balanced, and calm Saudi policy, which is accepted by all.

(Q) Were you expressing a personal point of view or an official one representing the Iraqi Government or the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (in Iraq)?

(A) My statements had nothing to do with the Iraqi Government. As for the Supreme Council, you can ask it about this.

(Q) How is the situation now?

(A) I hope that these statements and what was said and written were a passing summer cloud. When I read Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz letter last week and saw our positive stand toward Saudi Arabia, I felt very happy. I will send a delegation to Riyadh with important security information. I hope to sign a joint security agreement with our brothers in Saudi Arabia as we did with Jordan. I hope that we will develop our relations and support one another. We support every Arab country that stands by our side and supports us.

(Q) Back to the internal security situation, we find that more than 700 were killed and about 1,000 were wounded last month. Most of them were Iraqi civilians. These figures do not include the victims of the Bridge of Imams. How do you explain this?

(A) The number of victims depends on the type of the terrorist act. The explosion of a car bomb can cause the fall of hundreds of victims. Another car bomb may kill only tens or a smaller number of people. The methods used last month were sly as happened with the workers in the city of Al-Kazimiyah. The workers were deceived. They were gathered in a transportation vehicle and a terrorist then detonated the car and killed the poor workers. When I assumed the Interior Ministry”s portfolio, 14 car bombs were detonated in Baghdad daily. Today the number has dropped to 6.06 percent. In the past, 80 percent of operations were effective and 20 percent ineffective. Today I can say that only 25 percent of them are effective while 75 percent are ineffective.

(Q) The Iraqi people”s main preoccupation now is security. They are worried about the bad security situation. Even the Iraqi officials are captives of their homes and offices. What is your comment?

(A) This is not true. I go out daily to inspect the situation. I pay visits and hold meetings. Our ministers move freely, too.

(Q) The oil minister was the target of an assassination attempt two days ago.

(A) Yes, he is targeted. He visited six governorates. On his way to another governorate, an explosive charge was detonated. I visited several governorates. The transportation and sports ministers also made several tours. The prime minister visited Al-Diwaniyah Governorate a few days ago.

(Q) A curfew was clamped on Al-Diwaniyah during the prime minister”s visit. According to what the people of Al-Diwaniyah and the governorate”s radio station said, an army brigade went there to protect him.

(A) I do not think so. Were you personally there?

(Q) No, but this is according to what more than one citizen in Al-Diwaniyah said. You can make sure of this.

(A) As far as I know, there was no curfew there.

(Q) What about the presence of armed militias in Iraq?

(A) There are no public militias in Baghdad. They might be present in their homes, and this is a private matter. The Badr Organization members are present around the residence of Abdulaziz al-Hakim in Al-Jadiriyah for protection purposes. If the members of any armed militia appear on streets, they will be arrested.

(Q) There is a campaign to dismiss the Sunni officers in the Interior Ministry.

(A) Officers and employees are not dismissed by me but by the inspector general. If you examine the dismissal of any person in our ministry, you will find that he was dismissed perhaps because he did perform his work. We do not allow administrative corruption at the Interior Ministry. The other reasons are perhaps due to security violations. I do not care if the dismissed ones are Sunni or Shiite. When we appoint someone we do not consider his sect. A week ago we appointed Brigadier General Thamir al-Janabi, who comes from the Al-Latifiyah region, as director general of the Capital Offense Department. He is one of the pillars of the ministry. Baghdad police commander is Major General Abdul Razzaq al-Samarra”i. The Special Forces, which are the main forces of the Interior Ministry and which include the Commando Troops and Public Order Troops, are led by Major General Adnan Thabit, the maternal uncle of former Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib. These three main posts at the ministry are in hands of our Sunni brothers. Hussein Kamal, a Sunni Kurd, is the ministry”s undersecretary for intelligence affairs. Halah Mustafa al-Ani is the ministry”s undersecretary for financial affairs. All leading posts at the ministry are assumed by our Sunni brothers. By the way, the Interior Ministry will not remain in the hands of the Shiites. The Unified Iraqi Coalition today officially informed me that we are seriously thinking of assuming the Defense and not the Interior Ministry after the next elections.

(Q) Why are things discussed in such a sectarian way at the Iraqi ministries? Why say this is for the Sunnis and that is for the Shiites?

(A) We in Iraq have never spoken in this manner, but this style was imposed on us by Al-Zarqawi when he began to target the Shiite areas with his terrorist operations. He began to make the people feel that he is launching a war on the Shiites. This is what he said in his latest statement. He said he will leave the Americans and concentrate on killing the Shiites.

(Q) But Zarqawi”s victims are also from the Sunnis.

(A) This is true. Al-Zarqawi plans to trigger a civil war. This is his declared target.

(Q) Do you think Al-Zarqawi works individually and no country or organized group other than Al-Qaeda is behind him?

(A) Yes, a country is behind him. He is also supported by the Baathist generals and the former intelligence officers and Republican Guard. These believe that they will come back to power. We have their names and all information about them.

(Q) The bodies of many Iraqis are frequently found here and there. Who kills them?

(A) We have committees investigating these issues. Investigating such crimes is very difficult because we see the crime but we do not know the reason. Today I met with Baghdad Police commander and the Special Forces commander. We drew up a plan to follow up these crimes. We drew some conclusions. Some of these operations are retaliatory in the sense that they are carried out by persons seeking to avenge the killing of some of their family members. We call these crimes mystery killings. We will put an end to such killings, God willing.

(Q) How do you explain the killing of pilots and senior officers who participated in the Iraqi-Iranian war?

(A) I have such information about the killing of officers. Scientists, physicians, and teachers are also killed. No specific segment of the society is targeted; all segments of the Iraqi people are targeted. This is due to the dissolution of the security services and the spread of mystery killings. Give us five years to restore security and state prestige. Security men carry old Kalashnikovs while the terrorists carry all types of modern weapons.

(Q) What about drug trafficking, which has flourished in Iraq?

(A) We have a department in charge of combating drugs. These drugs reach us from Afghanistan via Iran and then go to the Gulf states. This issue requires tight border control. Drug trafficking was active during the days of the former regime. We have tightened the noose on this trade and will terminate it, especially since the Iraqi law punishes drug traffickers and dealers with the death sentence.

(Q) Are you delaying the implementation of the death sentence under international pressure?

(A) This issue is not up to us. The Justice Ministry is the side which judges and implements. The death sentence was carried out against three terrorists. I have learned from the justice minister that the death sentence against some criminals will be carried out within a few days. Some Iraqis are demanding that the terrorists” bodies be hung in streets, but this is not possible.

(Q) The Iraqis are talking about a clear Iranian influence in Iraq, particularly in Basra. As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire. Senior Shiite clerics, university professors, media men, politicians, and ordinary citizens are talking about this influence. What is your comment?

(A) What is the number of Iranians in Iraq? Are there millions, for example?

(Q) I do not know their number. You know.

(A) Point out a person for me and say he is Iranian, and I will then break his back.

(Q) They are talking about intelligence centers hiding under the names of imaginary organizations, orphanages, and other such bodies.

(A) I have investigated this and found that it is baseless. We are Shiite Arabs and take pride in our Arabism, our Islam, and our Shiaism. We are the ones who laid the foundations of Shiaism. We did not and will not be the followers of anyone. Our leadership in global Shiaism is in the city of Al-Najaf. No other city will replace the city of Al-Najaf, which has been the headquarters of the Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah (Shiite seminary) for over 1,000 years. It will continue to be the center of Shiaism.

Let me tell you this story. We once arrested four from a neighboring Arab country. The charge d”affaires of that country came to see me. He asked me to release them. After investigations with them we released them. We also arrested two Iranians — one officer and one border policeman. They crossed the borders and we arrested them inside Iraq. They might have lost their way and entered Iraq unintentionally. They are still in prison although the Iranian ambassador asked us to release them. I did not release them. As an interior minister, I will not allow any Iranian to enter Iraq without a valid visa. If talk is about the Iraqis who lived in Iran during the opposition era and are now accused of being agents of Iran, then this is unacceptable. This means the one who was in Britain and returned home is now an agent of Britain. Also this means that the one who was in Syria, the United States, or any other country and is back in the country today is an agent of that country. This is illogical.

(Q) Do you mean there is no Iranian influence in Iraq?

(A) These are rumors which accuse 16 million Shiite Arabs of being followers of Iran. This is not in the interest of the Arabs. We are all Arabs. I come from the Al-Zubayd tribe whose roots extend to Yemen. The same applies to the other Arab tribes in Iraq. Why should the Arabs push us in the opposite direction? Why do the Arabs not embrace us and open the doors for us instead of circulating these rumors?

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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