Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi has told Asharq Al Awsat that foreign troops will pull out of most Iraqi cities by the end of this year. During his most recent visit to Paris, he stated that there would be no sectarian war in Iraq. Concerning the Iraqi position on the Iranian issue, he said, “We tell Iran that any action against the Americans from our territory will harm Iraqi interests. We also tell the Americans that there should be dialogue with the Iranians because this would be in the interest of the United States, Iraq, Iran, and the region.” He added that in spite of the improvement that Iraq has witnessed regarding border control, “Syria is still a crossing point for terrorists.”
He said the national reconciliation plan that was presented by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki “broke the psychological barrier” and opened the door for Iraqis to discuss “what is forbidden,” indicating that it opens the door for dealing with armed groups. Abdul Mehdi considered this plan “a first step” and said everybody has the right to express their opinion about it and suggest ideas or plans. He expressed his willingness to discuss the remarks made by other parties, including Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Abdul Mehdi however, stressed that it is no longer possible in any way whatsoever to accept “any group that places itself above the government, practices violence, or carries arms because the government is the only legitimate authority in Iraq.”
Abdul Mehdi stressed that the reconciliation plan “unified the government’s discourse to deal with thorny issues, in addition to the fact that it gave the prime minister the ability to take the initiative, suggest solutions, and move without fear of criticism.” As well as the plan being a “first step”, he added that it has two important characteristics. The first is that “it avoids superiority complexes and past mistakes.” The second is that “it possesses mechanisms, the most important of which is the formation of committees on all levels and the presentation of practical ideas to confront problems so that it will not remain captive to assumptions.”
The Iraqi vice president also emphasized that the plan provides a political base to deal with the security situation in Iraq because “the security situation is largely due to the political situation.” Therefore, Abdul Mehdi believes that the purpose of the plan should be to classify the parties that oppose or resist. He called on them “to come to the fore, declare themselves, and state what their program is and who they represent.” He added, “We need to bring all positive elements into the political process and we must separate all that is negative, which continues to adopt violence rather than dialogue as a political tool and adheres to a despotic unilateral vision rather than a democratic one.”
Abdul Mehdi stated that the government wants to know if the groups that claim they want dialogue “are serious”. He adds that in all cases “the government is the only legitimate authority in Iraq and it will not allow anyone to carry arms under any slogan, whether it is fighting occupation, poverty, or anything else.”
Abdul Mehdi spoke about Tariq al Hashemi’s comments regarding the reconciliation plan. Al Hashemi had said that the plan does not provide a timetable for the departure of foreign forces from Iraq, does not call for the release of thousands of detainees held by the foreign forces, and finally does not recognize the Iraqi resistance or its incorporation into state institutions. Regarding the first point, Abdul Mehdi said, “A timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces depends on a number of conditions, because the biggest danger that Iraq faces is a security vacuum. If we are in a bad situation today, we will be in a worse situation tomorrow. No matter how we regard the foreign forces, we must avoid looking at them in a way that may lead us to make any mistakes.” He added, “Al Hashemi and others sometimes reject the idea of deploying Iraqi forces to protect some positions or parties. They call instead for deploying foreign forces.” Abdul Mehdi called for adopting “realism” as a method of dealing with this issue in order to secure the interests of Iraq. Therefore, he says the first condition to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces would be to have sufficient Iraqi security forces “to maintain an acceptable level of security.”
Abdul Mehdi stated, “The government prepared a plan in cooperation with the coalition forces for these forces to withdraw from most cities and not have direct contact with the Iraqi citizens by the end of 2006.” Through this, he sees “an important step to test the efficiency of the Iraqi forces.” He, however, stresses that 2007 “will be a more suitable year for analyzing the nature of the presence of foreign forces and to set more accurate timetables than this year.”
When asked about US bases inside Iraq as part of a defense agreement between Baghdad and Washington, Abdul Mehdi answered, “A lot of sensitivity surrounds this issue because public sentiment in the region is against the Americans. However, there are bases in a number of Gulf and Arab states, in Turkey and in other countries. Even though they are fully sovereign countries, US military bases are established there.”
Abdul Mehdi questioned why Arab countries would “attack the Iraqis whilst attacks on Iraq were launched from their territories.” He asks, “If these states are sovereign countries, why did they not prevent these attacks.” The Iraqi vice president, however, avoids giving a clear answer to this question because “actions are controlled by time and circumstance and today I cannot answer this question, but what is important is Iraq’s wellbeing, which is above anything else.”
Concerning the release of prisoners, Abdul Mehdi called for dealing with this issue “accurately and objectively and identifying what is useful to all parties rather than just one at the expense of another.” He also called for protecting civil peace, noting the possibility of adopting “exceptional measures under exceptional circumstances.”
The Iraqi vice president talked about the issue of sectarian division in some parts of Iraq. He attributed this to Al Zarqawi’s plans, and said it began with the Samarra attacks and its repercussions, which revealed the dangers of sectarianism.”
However, Abdul Mehdi did not seem too concerned about the possibility of sectarian division as a result of the social and demographic structure of Iraq. He, however, admits that there is “a game of duality” in words and positions on the sectarian issue and says, “Most people use a twofold discourse.” He also regrets the presence of “small and big Al Zarqawis in all parties.” Abdul Mehdi added, “mistakes should not be legalized,” indicating that acts of sectarianism by any party and reactions to them should not be covered up, so that Iraq is strengthened against sectarian war, which he does not expect will take place.
As for relations with Iran and the United States in view of the accusations made against Tehran for inflaming terrorism in Iraq, Abdul Mehdi said, “We seek to establish a new Iraq that has peace with itself and others. Our policy is to have friendly ties with everybody. We do not want action against Iran to take place in Iraq. Also, I do not want Iran to use Iraq to settle its differences with the United States.” Abdul Mehdi added, “Similarly, we will not allow the United States to use Iraq to pressure Iran.” Abdul Mehdi added, “This equation is the key. We say this clearly to both sides. We tell Iran that any hostility towards the Americans from Iraq undermines Iraq’s interests. We tell the Americans, to open direct dialogue with the Iranians because this would work in the interests of the United States, Iraq, Iran, and the region.”
Abdul Mehdi underlined the roles that Iraq and he personally played in mediating between Tehran and Washington on the Iranian nuclear file and bringing views closer together between Iran and the European troika. He said this role as well as others was adopted as a channel of communication between the parties.
With reference to Syria, Abdul Mehdi said many of the wanted and fugitive Iraqis “are still using Syria” and in spite of the improvement that Iraq has witnessed in border control, “Syria is still a major crossing point for terrorists.” He added that “a lot” is still demanded from the Syrians so that relations with Damascus can be normalized. The first thing Abdul Mehdi demanded from Syria is respect for the Iraqi people’s will, as manifested in the elections.