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A Talk with National Alliance’s Muwaffaq Al-Rubaie | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, former Iraqi national security adviser and leading member of the National Alliance headed by Ammar al-Hakim, chairman of the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council [IISC], has admitted that their alliance with the State of Law Coalition [SLC] headed by outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has “entered a dark and inaccessible tunnel”. In an extensive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the former government official diagnosed the reasons for the failure of the government’s performance, saying “We employed thieves, ignoramuses, and illiterates in the government”. Adding that he holds many secrets, Al-Rubaie said, “I write and document everything; I record events days by day”. He said that he will publish these secrets “one day when I am sure that the Iraqi democratic train is on the right track and going in the right direction and when I ascertain that there is a constitutional parliament and a smooth rotation of power; it is important to have a rotation of power”.

The text of the interview is as follows:

[Fayyad] You once occupied one of the most important security positions in Iraq and you must know many secrets. Do you intend to write your memoirs?

[Al-Rubaie] Yes, there are many secrets; imagine seven years abounding in secrets. Those that are now public are less than half of what I know. I write everything and I record and document the events day by day. My problem – and I feel it is important for the people to know – is that I had two roles, two personalities. The first was a professional one related to carrying out my professional duties; the second was my personal one related to my viewpoints that often differed from those of the prime minister. I was appointed at a time when Paul Bremer was heading the ministers. I was appointed by the Governing Council after Dr Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Nuri al-Maliki. They all differed from one another. In my position, I had to defend the government of the prime minister with whom I worked although I did not believe in many of his policies.

[Fayyad] When do you intend to publish?

[Al-Rubaie] I will when I am certain that the train of Iraqi democracy is on the right track and going in the right direction and when I ascertain that there is a constitutional parliament and a smooth rotation of power. It is extremely important to have a rotation of power.

[Fayyad] When do you expect this to happen?

[Al-Rubaie] I think we need two or three parliamentary rounds.

[Fayyad] Are these secrets related to Iraq’s security or to its relations with the neighboring countries or to its relations with the rest of the world or to all of the above?

[Al-Rubaie] These secrets are related to the security situation in Iraq and how the various prime ministers that assumed power – from Bremer to Dr Iyad Allawi to Al-Jaafari and to Al-Maliki – dealt with the security situation and how the civil war started and how we emerged from it. They also deal with the formation of the armed forces and the security and intelligence establishments, that is, the intelligence and military intelligence departments. They also deal with the regional security system, the role of the regional countries in the violence in Iraq, their role in helping us put out the sedition in Iraq, and our intelligence relations with these countries. The secrets also deal with our relations with the United States, Britain, and NATO. There are secrets related to the first and second Al-Najaf battles, the first and second Al-Fallujah battles, and how the people dealt with them.

[Fayyad] Under which prime minister did the civil war erupt?

[Al-Rubaie] The civil war began near the end of Al-Jaafari’s government and the beginning of Al-Maliki’s government; in other words, at the beginning of 2006 until the fall of 2007.

[Fayyad] In your opinion, what are the biggest failures that were committed by the Iraqi government?

[Al-Rubaie] Our biggest failure is that we could not achieve national reconciliation. Some politicians likened it to chewing gum that we used to distract ourselves, distract others, and then to spit it out. This is a fact. We did not have the necessary courage to cross over to the other side and bring over our foe – if this is the correct term to use – or our partner or our rival to share the rule with us.

[Fayyad] Who is the rival or the partner that you were unable to bring over?

[Al-Rubaie] There was a sector with a specific identity that ruled Iraq since the establishment of the Iraqi state in 1920 until 2003. This sector enjoyed specific political, denominational, economic, and urban characteristics; it even formed a politico-economic class of its own. This sector suddenly lost the power and the wealth and this partner in the homeland raised arms. But why did it raise arms? It raised arms because we kept it 100 percent distant from the power and the wealth. We robbed it of its life and existence. For instance, a senior officer in the Iraqi army with the rank of staff major general or brigade commander was like a king in Iraq enjoying material and moral privileges. We threw him out in the street and stripped him of his rights and privileges. This is very serious. Therefore, we had to accomplish national reconciliation in order to absorb the other. Another serious issue is that we failed to build a state of institutions. Instead, we built an authority. Authority dominates; in other words, it enforces the law and the stick to those that disobey. Authority is tantamount to a policeman. That is why we created men in authority but did not create statesmen. In other words, we sat behind the steering wheel and looked at the others as mere passengers allowing some and barring others from riding.

[Fayyad] Is this not similar to Saddam Hussein’s authority? He too did not erect state institutions.

[Al-Rubaie] Yes, it is similar. We do not wish to replace the authority of the Baath Party with that of five parties or with the authority of a specific sect. We should have a true democratic authority that builds a state of institutions. A state of institutions produces statesmen and a statesman is like a father that treats his children equally regardless of their beliefs and trends. However, we ended up with an authority, not a state. We saw how the most powerful authority built by Saddam Hussein over 35 years collapsed on 4 April 2003 and turned into strewn rubble after one puff of air by the Americans. We must learn from the lessons of the past and build a state of institutions. A state of institutions is color blind; it does not see a Sunni or a Shia or a Kurd or a Turkoman. It should look closely to see whether someone is Iraqi or non-Iraqi and distinguish between Iraqis that are competent and those that are not. But this did not take place. A senior leader among the Iraqi Arab Sunnis told me you do not consider us as partners. I said what do you mean? The vice president, the deputy prime minister, the deputy parliament speaker, the defense minister, and others are all Sunnis. He said: No, it was you who brought all these. Let me ask you: Can you in the central government take any decision on the Kurds and Kurdistan without the approval of Masud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, in Irbil? If you happen to make such a decision by mistake, you will annul it as soon as Barzani calls you on the phone. However, you make decisions that pertain to us and that affect us and our regions without consulting us. We cannot object because we do not have the power of veto even on the regions from which we originate.

[Fayyad] Based on what you just said, why do you not retain Mahmud al-Shahwani as the chief of Iraqi intelligence?

[Al-Rubaie] This is the prime minister’s decision.

[Fayyad] Do you think it is the right decision?

[Al-Rubaie] I think this question should be addressed to Prime Minister Al-Maliki.

[Fayyad] What is your opinion? Was it a right or wrong decision? The term of the prime minister has ended and yours has ended as well. I am now asking you as politician Muwaffaq al-Rubaie.

[Al-Rubaie] I believe that we erected our three intelligence organs – the intelligence department, military intelligence and security, and defense and internal intelligence – in a hurry. Each of these organs is under the influence of a specific country because it helped us in building these organs. Thus, the commander of any one of the three organs is influenced by the country that provides him with material and logistic support and technical training.

[Fayyad] Do you think that the United States built the intelligence organ?

[Al-Rubaie] Yes, it did.

[Fayyad] And it was the United States that appointed you as national security adviser?

[Al-Rubaie] No, I was appointed by the Governing Council.

[Fayyad] So, is the issue of your appointment by Bremer a mere rumor?

[Fayyad] Of course, there are many rumors, such as Muwaffaq al-Rubaie is of Iranian origin, his aunt [mother’s sister] is from Esfahan, his aunt [father’s sister] is from Qom, he is a graduate of Meshhad University, and so on. Saddam’s propaganda machine is behind all these rumors. It is a very powerful machine that targets figures when it realizes that their records are clean. It is well known that (I am not one of Iran’s men). Since I left Iraq in 1979 for Britain I had observations and reservations on Iran. My opinions on this subject are well known. Rumors are rife in Iraq. I am the national security adviser in Iraq and when I visited Iran they said I am an Iranian agent and when I visited Saudi Arabia they said that I am a Saudi agent. When we tricked the Americans and brought them to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime they said that I was an American agent.

[Fayyad] In a past statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, you said that death is coming to us from Iran and Syria. Do you still hold this opinion?

[Al-Rubaie] Definitely; the neighboring countries are working to keep Iraq unstable and they fought the Americans on Iraqi soil. They did not want the US forces to remain in Iraq thinking that that threatens their national security. That is why every country dealt with the organs, parties, and organizations in Iraq that are loyal to it. It is very clear that the Iraqi opposition was in Iran. It was funded and trained by Iran and it infiltrated Iraq from Iran during Saddam’s era. The same is true of the opposition that was in Syria. Hafiz al-Assad, the former Syrian president, was most hostile to Saddam’s regime and worked strongly to overthrow him. Unfortunately, I do not know what happened after that and the whole situation changed. The people who gained least from changing Saddam’s regime were the Syrians and the people who gained most from overthrowing the former regime are the Iranians because they played it smartly.

[Fayyad] What is the role of Iranian officer Soleymani in the Iraqi file? His name is constantly coming up.

[Al-Rubaie] I do not wish to mention specific individuals but it is obvious that he is in charge of the Iraqi dossier. I believe, if I remember correctly, he holds the rank of major general in the [Iranian] Revolution Guard Corps [IRGC] in the headquarters of Qods Force that is in charge of world liberation movements. Soleymani is in charge of the Iraqi dossier. I think he has the final decisive word.

[Fayyad] Can he issue orders to this and that in Iraq?

[Al-Rubaie] I think that he looks after Iran’s national interests and its interests in the region. He thus views the whole region from this perspective. I frankly do not blame him; had I been in his place I would have done the same thing. I cannot blame him since he is Iranian.

[Fayyad] Do you blame the Iraqi politicians that carry out Qasem Soleymani’s orders?

[Al-Rubaie] In view of his historic relations with many Iraqi leaders, I believe that he influences them with his ideas and in view of the resources that he has, he definitely can influence some Iraqis. Some Iraqi leaders see no harm in identifying with Iran’s policies in Iraq. For instance, I believe there is no harm that Iran wishes to hasten the departure of the foreigners from Iraq; many Iraqi nationalists wish the same thing.

[Fayyad] But Iran wishes to distance Iraq from its Arab depth and wants Iraq to be its subservient vassal.

[Al-Rubaie] We definitely disagree on this. Iraq after Saddam is different from the Iraq under Saddam regarding its attitude on Iran. This is an important issue that we should understand. We do not want Iraq to be the guardian of the eastern gateway of the Arab nation. We want this gateway to be a gateway for healthy interaction between civilizations and sects rather than a gateway for blood. The best way to deal with Iran and contain any threat to Iraqi national security coming from Iran is to totally tie Iran’s economic interests to Iraq so that Qasem Soleymani or anyone else would think one hundred times before interfering in our security affairs because that will adversely affect their economic interests in Iraq.

[Fayyad] I saw Iranian-made cars in Baghdad; according to the Iraqi drivers, they are bad. I also noticed that the four or five commodities that may be purchased using the ration card are also exclusively from Iran. According to Iraqi families, these are bad too. They say that they even throw away the soaps and detergents. Would it not have been better for Iraq and the Iraqis to import cars or foodstuffs from developed countries?

[Al-Rubaie] It depends on who makes the decision in this or that ministry. Unfortunately, the decisions made by many of our ministries are based on sect. For instance, if a minister likes Iran, he will import Iranian cars or Iranian goods. The minister that likes another country will import goods from that country.

[Fayyad] Do you think that commissions and financial corruption accompany such transactions?

[Al-Rubaie] Definitely, financial corruption has infiltrated the whole depth and width of the Iraqi state organs horizontally and vertically. It is rampant in a “disgusting” way. I am not talking about theft only but also about the appointments that are made for sectarian motives. How can a whole ministry be made up of one sect? This is a Shi’ite ministry and that is a Sunni ministry and that is a Kurdish ministry! Does that make sense? What is worse is that if one ministry is from this or that party then the entire ministry belongs to that party.

[Fayyad] You talked about authority and the party. Do you not think that the Al-Dawa party is now the ruling party? Or is the government a one-party government?

[Al-Rubaie] Looking at the government and the former Chamber of Deputies that consisted of nine Al-Dawa Party members – out of 275 deputies – and if we move these deputies to the government we see that the influence of the Al-Dawa Party on the government is much bigger than its size in the Chamber of Deputies. Perhaps the political party that influences the Iraqi government the most is the Al-Dawa Party because the prime minister is the secretary general of this party and many ministers and deputy ministers are from the same party. At present, the Al-Dawa Party leads a list of 89 deputies, that is, almost one-third of the Chamber of Deputies. This means that one-third of the next government will be from the Al-Dawa Party. I oppose this approach because it marginalizes and fully eliminates competent Iraqis and erases opportunities. A state is not built but . . .

[Fayyad][Interrupts] Is it not now a partisan government?

[Al-Rubaie] At present, the outward appearance of the government is that of a government of national unity.

[Fayyad] And what is its substance?

[Al-Rubaie] The nature of the system that we built is that the prime minister is the executive chief of the government. He possesses very road powers and can influence the decisions of the Council of Ministers. He is also the commander in chief of the armed forces.

[Fayyad] Does this bring the prime minister to the level of a dictator?

[Al-Rubaie] One of the grave mistakes in our constitution is that we set two terms in office to the president of the republic, who is a symbolic president. As for the prime minister, who possesses 99 percent of the decisions and powers, we did not limit him to two or three terms in office. This entails a huge amount of danger in our system. That is why constitutional amendments are needed quickly to prevent any future prime minister from monopolizing power and becoming an authoritarian.

[Fayyad] Has Nuri al-Maliki become part of this authoritarianism?

[Al-Rubaie] I do not wish to talk about this subject. Nevertheless, I believe that this government made very big accomplishments. I am proud of what we have accomplished amid very hard conditions of regional plotting against us and our partners in the homeland raising arms against us. This is in addition to the challenges posed by the Al-Qaeda organization, Saddam’s Baath Party, the lack of experience, and the absence of experience.

[Fayyad] Let us pause at the Baath Party. Seven years have passed since the overthrow of that regime and Saddam Hussein was executed in a manner that appeared vengeful on the first day of Id al-Adha. You yourself saw how Saddam went up the scaffold. After all those years, whenever we talk to an Iraqi official he attributes his failure to the Saddamist Baath Party. During seven years, not a single road was paved and Baghdad has turned into a village. When will this complex of yours about Saddam’s Baath Party to which you attribute all the mistakes of the government come to an end?

[Al-Rubaie] The pro-Saddam Baathists are experienced and knowledgeable about the ins and outs of state affairs. They have the ability to plot and they enjoy funds and backing from some. They can destroy and demolish. About six booby-trapped vehicles used to blow up in the streets of Baghdad daily. Who used to do that? I am the first person to admit our inexperience in managing the state; I am the first person to admit that there are certain people that are sectarian, corrupt, and thieves. I say that some employees that we installed in the government are greedy and suffer from a hunger for money. They did not see money in their lives and as soon as they saw it they turned into thieves. They were people on whom and on whose religious reputation we depended. Some were tried and some others were expelled. But the state is still rotting with corruption. We need courageous action not influenced by political issues.

[Fayyad] But terrorism is present in other countries that have not stopped building. Did the pro-Saddam Baathists, by any chance, stop you from building a school or a hospital or a bridge?

[Al-Rubaie] I agree with you on this, but it is due to the following reasons: First, the little experience or lack thereof of this sector that has been ruling Iraq for seven years. Yes, there are some people with some experience but, at the same time, there are many that are ignorant and illiterate; they do not know how to build a state.

[Fayyad] Has the government appointed ignorant people?

[Al-Rubaie] Yes, there are ignoramuses, thieves, and sectarian people whose decisions are based on sectarian grounds. Some are influenced by countries in the region; others work for the foreigner; and some look after sectarian, tribal, and partisan interests. The country cannot be built by illiterates and ignoramuses.

[Fayyad] You have sought to build good security relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, such as the exchange of prisoners. Why did you stop?

[Al-Rubaie] First of all, I am proud of the relations that I have accomplished with Saudi Arabia. These relations were between the Iraqi government and the kingdom’s government; they took place at my behest. I believe that Iraq is an Arab country and Iraq’s Arab affiliation is not to be questioned or compromised. The second point is that the center of the political, financial, economic, and religious weight of the Muslim world is in Saudi Arabia. We cannot regain our Arab identity except through the Saudi gateway. Therefore, I believe that Iraqi-Saudi relations are a basic and fateful issue and we should demonstrate this in the next government. On this basis, one of the recommendations of the (Shi’ite) religious authority is that the next Iraqi prime minister should have the ability to open the horizons with the countries in the region and the neighboring countries.

[Fayyad] But when Dr Iyad Allawi visited some Arab countries Al-Maliki accused him of internationalizing the Iraqi issue.

[Al-Rubaie] The Iraqi issue is internationalized in the first place. We have occupation forces in Iraq and there are Security Council resolutions. We are chained to these resolutions and to Chapter VII. Whether we like it or not, we have regional intervention from all the neighboring countries, and now the problems between Iraq and Kuwait can only be solved through the Security Council.

[Fayyad] In your opinion, what is the reason behind the objection to the Al-Iraqiya List and the designation of its leader to form the next government although it won the election?

[Al-Rubaie] First of all, I wish to say that Dr Iyad Allawi is a patriot and nationalist. He fought [Ahmad Hasan] Al-Bakr’s regime and later Saddam’s regime and was almost killed. He is a brave, magnanimous, and good-natured man and his government achieved a number of accomplishments, gains, and victories under extremely difficult circumstances. Of course, he has some failures. I believe that millions of Iraqis gave him their votes and gave the Al-Iraqiya List their votes. This is something to be proud of. I believe that whether the Al-Iraqiya List has the right or does not have the right to be given the priority in forming the government is a matter of dispute.

[Fayyad] Do you think that the National Alliance will continue?

[Al-Rubaie] I believe that this alliance should have been formed before the elections were held. Had this happened, there would have been no problems. Now, however, as we say in colloquial Iraqi, “the axe has already fallen on the head” [the cow has already left the barn]. From the forum of Asharq Al-Awsat, I call on all the political leaders to get down (from their high horse), give up some of the partisan, factional, sectarian, and ethnic interests, and proceed to the broader vastness of the homeland giving precedence to national interests over narrow partisan interests.

[Fayyad] It seems that Al-Maliki’s insistence on remaining in his post as prime minister will place your alliance with the SLC in a long tunnel.

[Al-Rubaie] This is true, unfortunately. We are now in an inaccessible tunnel; I do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is a dark and inaccessible tunnel.

[Fayyad] From your experience with the US Administration, do you think that the Americans will withdraw their forces on schedule?

[Al-Rubaie] Yes, I think that the Americans will withdraw because the US Administration is largely interested in dissociating itself from Iraq.