London, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned against the presence of “those who are committed to violence [who] want to disrupt the political process and deter people from participating in it,” by increasing and intensifying the number of terrorist attacks over the next few months before the general elections that are due to take place next March.
Miliband, who refused to accuse Iran or Syria of supporting terrorism “without any evidence,” stressed the importance of neighbouring countries respecting Iraq’s sovereignty and independence. “It is in everybody’s interests that the vision of a secure, stable, democratic, pluralist Iraq is fulfilled,” said Miliband. The British Foreign Secretary further added that all countries must recognize that “fuelling violence in Iraq is in nobody’s interest, least of all the Iraqis, but also [it is] not in the interest of the region.”
In response to a question on Syria and Iran’s possible role in nurturing terrorists by accommodating and arming them, Miliband said, “I don’t have [any] evidence of that and I think it’s very important that I don’t make allegations without evidence. It’s very important that Iraq’s sovereignty and independence is respected by its neighbours.” The Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader Obeidi stated last week that most weapons that are smuggled into Iraq are coming from Syria. His comment came in the wake of a series of deadly bombings in Iraq, claiming the lives of 130 people in one day.
The British Foreign Secretary alluded to diplomatic representation of all regional countries in Iraq and stressed that this step “is part of the renormalization of Iraq’s relations with its neighbours.” Equally, he called for Iraq to be a “good neighbour” stating that “a pact needs to exist between Iraq and its neighbours with responsibilities on both sides…Iraq has to make sure that any disputes it has with its neighbours are settled in an appropriate way.” Miliband did not mention any country in particular, however he mentioned that “in all regions of the world there is history – long term history but also recent history – and I think that it’s very important that we learn from history and don’t live in it.”
Asked about whether there is concern that Iran might interfere in the upcoming general elections in Iraq, Miliband repeated that he would not make any accusation without evidence. He stated however, “The people who are running for election in Iraq of any party are representatives of the Iraqi people…not representatives of any other country and it’s very important that that is respected across the region,” adding that this is part of the pact between Iraq and it neighbours to which he referred in the context of mutual responsibilities.
In reference to the recent bombings that have rocked Iraq – the most recent of which occurred at the beginning of December and struck five different parts of Baghdad killing and wounding 500 – Miliband stated, “Those who are committed to violence want to disrupt the political process…but I think that the vast majority of Iraqis know where their future lies. It doesn’t lie with bombs and bullets.” Miliband further stated that he believes that the number of security attacks taking place in Iraq has reduced in the past nine months. “It is relevant that the will of the majority, which is to settle differences through politics, is getting stronger, and the capacity of the minority [resorting to violence] is being weakened,” Miliband said.
Asked about the internal political disputes in Iraq, Miliband said, “Politics without debate is not really democratic politics so one expects debate but it must be debate that comes to conclusions, it must be debate that is respectful, and it must be debate that at all stages says to the followers of different parties that their place is inside the political system not outside it.” He underlined the “ability of politics to resolve disputes to show that politics works and violence doesn’t.”
Miliband expressed his optimism for the situation in Basra after the withdrawal of British troops last summer and stated that “different parts of Iraq all have different pressures, different sensitivities, different challenges, but Basra has wealth and a strong sense of community…Basra has every reason to feel that there’s a future worth working for and good reason to believe that it can fulfil the economic and social hopes of its people. That’s certainly what we want to see happen.”
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the British Foreign Secretary on the sidelines of the Iraq Human Rights Forum held at the British Foreign Office recently. Miliband spoke about the British government’s priorities for the issue of human rights in Iraq and named three areas of priority: women’s rights and in particular the fight against violence and honour killings, press freedom so that journalists are able to shed light on the issue of corruption in the state, and security.
In response to a question on the conditions of Iraqi prisoners and reports of torture and mistreatment, Miliband said, “Any serious reports about the abuse of detainees are taken very serious…We are very clear that our own security within this country or for other countries depends on whether or not you fulfil the values that you live up to.” He added, “Detention is about punishment for those who are found guilty but that punishment has to operate within the confines of international and national law and so we support very strongly any investigation of any serious allegations that relate to human rights abuse whether in Iraq or anywhere else.”
Asked about the cases of Iraqi detainees abused by British soldiers in Basra and whether or not their families can expect compensation, Miliband stated that this was an issue for the Ministry of Defence. However he stressed that Britain sets high standards for its forces and that “where wrongdoing is found we are very open about it.”
Miliband also touched on the issue of Afghanistan as London prepares to host the International Conference on Afghanistan on 28 January 2010. Miliband was eager to relay the following message to an Arab audience through his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat and said “that we all have an interest in Afghanistan being more stable and no one has an interest in trying to create a colony in Afghanistan.”
In reference to US President Obama’s new plan for Afghanistan, after he ordered 30,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan early next year, Miliband said, “Afghanistan has a massive challenge from a determined insurgency, which is not just a threat to the West, but as has been shown tragically in recent years, can affect people of all religions, Muslims, Christians, Jews, whoever.”
The British Foreign Secretary described the participation of Muslim armies in operations in Afghanistan as “important” in order to change the view that the war in Afghanistan is a Crusader war against Muslims.
“I think it is very important that there are now Muslim countries sending troops to Afghanistan, that’s true of Turkey, I think it’s true of Bahrain as well. The fact that Turkey is a leading member of NATO and [at] the heart of the discussions about the future of Afghanistan shows the foolishness of pretending that this is somehow an anti-Muslim war.” Miliband further asserted that the war there is “in defence of the rights of Afghanistan, which is an Islamic republic after all but whose sovereignty and freedom is threatened by other Muslims.”