From The Timeshttp://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article4931119.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1
October 13, 2008
October 13, 2008
Transcript: interview between Nouri al-Maliki and The Times
Edited transcript of interview between Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, and The Times on October 11
Deborah Haynes and Richard Beeston
Do you think that the "Status of Forces Agreement" between Iraq and America will be decided by the end of the year?
The agreement is important to us and necessary and signing it before the expiry of the international resolution that covers the legal side for the presence of the coalition forces on December 31, 2008.
We want to sign such an agreement so that we don’t go to the Security Council (for an extension of the mandate) ... You know that the Security Council is now going through crisis. There are differences among the members. Our desire is to sign the treaty but this desire is also governed by the national will, which are represented by demands that are still the point of dialogue between us and the American side.
We have made clear advances in many demands ... We reached agreements, that are considered important and crucial in Iraq, for the final withdrawal (of all US forces) by the end of 2011, and the withdrawal from (Iraqi) cities by June 30, 2009. Laying down rules for the movement of the forces and their activities and not to carry out military operations or arrests unless they have permission from the Iraqi Government ...
Like I said yesterday after I met Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, there are obstacles along the road before signing the agreement in the near future.
We have presented a full view to the American side about these obstacles, which include the issue of legal sponsorship (Iraqi jurisdiction over US soldiers) and the issue of the inspection of weapons and machinery that come into Iraq to ensure that they are suitable for the security mission.
By responding to the Iraqi demands we will be very close to signing the treaty, but if they (Americans) do not respond to them I believe that the treaty will go through difficult circumstances and may not get the approval of the Parliament. Any agreement must be approved by Parliament, which has the final decision.
Is the biggest obstacle America's demand for immunity for its forces when they are not on duty?
Yes, yes definitely. If Iraqi and American soldiers move in an operation that is pre-agreed by both sides then they have the immunity unless he (an American soldier) commits a deliberate crime during the operation. He is just like the Iraqi solider in the operation. He has immunity...
The sticking point is about if the American soldier was not on a mission and commits a crime that is accountable to the Iraqi judicial system, whether small or big. The Iraqi judicial system should have jurisdiction over the American soldier. This is the point of difference.
Is Iran's open opposition to the agreement complicating the situation? Would you prefer if they did not interfere?
The Iranians have their own interests. They think that the agreement is a danger to their national security. So when they make a statement they do it to defend their interests and their policies. Also Syria, Saudi Arabia and other countries ? This does not affect much the pace of negotiations. In the first place, we do not want to jeopardise the security of these countries. The Iraqi constitution does not allow the Iraqi Government to grant permission to use Iraqi territory to harm the interests of neighbouring countries. Among the contents of the agreement is a specific section that prohibits interference in the interests of the neighbouring countries either politically or militarily. Therefore it is true that the Iranian statements may complicate, but this is an Iranian issue that has nothing to do with our decision as Iraqis in accepting or rejecting the agreement.
If the issue of immunity is not resolved how concerned are you that the treaty will not be signed by the end of the year?
Definitely if the Parliament rejects it then we will have to go to the United Nations which is a not a great choice for us or the Americans under the circumstances of the crisis at the Security Council. But we would have no choice because the American forces will lose their legal cover on December 31st. If that happens, according to the international law, Iraqi law and American law, the US forces will be confined to their bases and have to withdraw from Iraq. We always say that a sudden withdrawal may harm security.
Which is more likely an extension by the Security Council or a Status of Forces Agreement?
I am talking about ambitions. I hope that the American side will respond positively to the modifications suggested by the Iraqi side so that we can sign the treaty which is the best (solution) for us.
I think the most likely thing is that the American side will respond positively to the modifications asked for by the Iraqi side, because they are realistic modifications that do not harm the existence of the forces but achieve important national interests for the Iraqi side.
What is the situation like in Basra? Is it stable are you happy with the arrangement?
Definitely the situation is very good in Basra at the moment. The security forces and the people of Basra are restoring life to the city. It is under full control. The process of reconstruction and the return to normal life has started ... Basra was almost out of Iraqi control had it not been for the efforts of the Iraqi forces. It was a risky mission but indicated the ability of the Iraqi army and police to plan and carry out big and successful operations.
Did you fear that it might not work, it would have been a blow to you as a leader? The stakes were very high.
The state is not defeated by gangs or militias. Maybe the battle will be take a long time with them. We planned for a long battle to drain their energy. But the quick and consecutive blows quickened the pace to end the battle in nine days. But it is not possible for a government with national and political will to be defeated by gangs and militias.
Were you disappointed that the British did not move faster to help? The Americans moved faster but the British took a week to join the fray.
This is a page that we have turned over. We don’t go back to evaluate the situation that happened and the reasons. It is over, thank God. It ended on the side of the Iraqi security forces.
What did you feel about the state that Basra had fallen into under Britain’s watch?
I stress that the circumstances of Basra are difficult. The British military doctrine may have been one of the reasons that prevented the spread of security. Because in Basra there was a mixture of factors causing instability on the security front: tribal factions, organised gangs, militias, political differences between the components of the provincial council.
The British were not able to resolve all of these issues or deal with them in a clear manner. Therefore when we entered Basra, we entered in many directions, we held reconciliations with the tribes, won the tribes to our side in the battle, which was not possible for the British.
At the time Basra was not under control of the local government, but in the hands of the gangs and militias. The local government was just a screen. And didn’t have the ability to move or solve any security issue.
The British forces withdrew from the confrontation from inside the city to the area of the airport. They stayed away from the confrontation, which gave the gangs and the militias the chance to control the city.
At the time we were strongly pre-occupied with Baghdad and some other provinces, therefore our presence in Basra was not strong.
But when the British forces withdrew and the situation deteriorated so badly that corrupted youths were carrying swords and cutting the throats of women and children, the citizens of Basra called out for our help and we moved to regain the city.
The British forces did not have the capacity to do what the Iraqi forces did. For example, the British side found it absurd. They asked: 'Do you really want to go into this neighbourhood?'. And the military commanders answered yes. They said that this is insanity, because these neighbourhoods had lots of gangs and bombs and explosives. But the Iraqis are owners of the case and they did enter these neighbourhoods which were colonies for the militias.
In one neighbourhood they removed 730 roadside bombs.
The British military doctrine could not take such a risk and this is the difference between he who is fighting when he is the son of the neighbourhood and the country and those who are not from the area.
This did not happen in Basra alone. When Iraq’s sons intervened to confront (the militias) in al-Amara, the city was totally under the control of the militias and neither the British forces in the past nor the American forces later could take back the city until the Iraqi forces arrived. Also, in Sadr City in Baghdad and Sholia. For years the American forces were in charge of the security there. But they were unable to retrieve Sadr City. But when the Iraqi forces were determined they were able to do that.
That doesn’t mean that the coalition forces, Americans and the others, did not provide any help. They did provide help and their help was important. Especially in airplanes because we do not have fighter jets.
How did it make you feel when you heard about the deal that the British cut with the militias (in 2007)?
Of course we were not comfortable and we conveyed our discomfort and regarded it as the start a disaster. The disaster would have materialised, if we had not made the sacrifices. Had they told us that they wanted to do this [cut a deal] we would have consulted with them and come up with the best possible decision. But when they acted alone the problem happened.
Do you think the British withdrew from the city prematurely?
Very. Because the palaces where they were based were being shelled with mortars and missiles by the militias. When they withdrew from them we moved in. When I went to Basra I stayed at these palaces. Yes they shelled us a lot and people among us were killed. But if it was not for our going to Basra these palaces would have turned into camps for the gangs.
Why did Britain behave in this way?
I told you this was their military doctrine. Every army has a military doctrine.
How would you describe your relations now with the British, are they improved or are they still strained?
From our side what happened before will not affect a positive relationship between us and Britain or our desire is to have good relations in various fields, political, reconstruction, economic...
What happened does not affect Britain's positive role in participating in the downfall of (Saddam's) dictatorship. We recognise Britain's role in this.
Our relationship now is good and we are working to improve it further in other fields as we take over responsibility for security.
The Iraqi arena is open for British companies and British friendship, for economic exchange and positive cooperation in science and education.
We desire that our relationship with the countries that had a role in bringing down the dictatorship has a priority over those countries that supported the dictatorship.
Britain has a difficult legacy in Iraq. It established a Sunni monarch in Iraq, it put down a Shia revolt in the 1920s. I believe your grandfather was involved?
He was jailed twice by the British. He wrote important poetry about Britain, criticising British policy.
We should not allow ourselves to be controlled by what happened in the past ...Today people are motivated by common interest. And we do have common interests with various countries around the world, including Britain. We can correct the past with mutual interests and dialogue... Iraq is an old, civilised country and Britain is also a country well known for its long civilisation and democracy. This history can cooperate between the two countries to make a good relationship based on common interests.
British major-general is rewriting counter-insurgency strategy, what lessons can be learnt from Basra, what are the biggest mistakes that happened?
The military doctrine that they have and the complexities of Basra meant that they could not achieve anything.
The lesson is that military force cannot resolve civilian and political problems ? Frankly we could not resolve the battle in Basra militarily alone but we used other factors that the British could not use. Like tribes. The relationship between the British and the tribes was not good. Or they had not paid attention to the tribes. The political powers and the parties also joined us in the battle. Before they had not supported the British side.
Also, from a military standpoint we were prepared to take risks and make big sacrifices. Perhaps the British forces were not as prepared to make such sacrifices. We did not want to kill the other side, even the militias. We want to control the situation. Our principle is not to use deadly force because killing leaves orphans and widows and social problems...
For the first time the militias saw a true force confronting them. Before, the British forces would confront them (the militias) with sophisticated technology, like satellites, automatic weapons, aircraft and other advanced equipment. These are designed for confronting armies but not militias and people hiding in houses. Therefore the difference between what the Iraqi Army and the British Army did was that Iraqi soldiers entered the houses and entered small neighbourhoods and alleys and did not rely on technology and guided missiles, which had previously caused harm but not killed the gangsters.
What is security like in Iraq? Is al-Qaeda still active? Are there new forces trying to destablize the country?
Yes, the operations are going on and will keep going on. Iraq has inherited problems from the former Baathist regime that has social troubles and gangs that work in kidnapping and robbery. There are also cases of tribal revenge between the people, and activities by al-Qaeda and the Baath party.
In our latest report today attacks in Baghdad and the provinces are down 90 % on last year. The question we ask ourselves is: ‘Is the situation now in most of the provinces an internationally acceptable norm?' The answer is 'yes’, except for Mosul which is still above the average and in some areas of Diyala (province)...
We have liberated the land from the control of al-Qaeda and the militias. Entire cities, provinces, and districts were under the control of the gangs, the militias, and al-Qaeda. The roads that connected Baghdad to the rest of the country were all under the control of the gangs, al-Qaeda, and the outlaws. This is over now. There remains al-Qaeda gangs in hiding, but they are very weak ? We concentrate on intelligence work. The raids on terrorist elements and the gangs are based on intelligence information. This needs time to wear them out and dismantle their cells that have started breaking down gradually.
Maybe there is a noticeable escalation in the recent period, involving sticky (magnet) bombs on the cars of some citizens or officials. This is connected to the atmosphere of the [status of forces] agreement and the dialogue. It is also connected to the US elections, and the upcoming Iraqi elections.
We have laid down security plans and measures to confront it and reduce its impact so that it doesn't go beyond the accepted limit.
Generally, the security situation is satisfactory and under control and is improving. Improving the security situation, is not only connected to the military and intelligence work, but also improving the economic side, the turn of the reconstruction wheel in Iraq, the national reconciliation that took place between the components of the Iraqi people. This is advancing in big steps and is the biggest of the factors supporting the security, military, and intelligence effort. So we have many factors moving in one direction. We believe that security is not achieved only by weapons and security forces, army, and police.
What about the talks about the status of forces agreement with the British?
Until now, they have not started. We are prepared to talk to them about Iraq’s need for a number of British soldiers for training and for technical purposes (to pass on technical expertise). We would like to conduct this dialogue if Britain has the desire to forge such a treaty to support the capabilities of the Iraqi army.
Why haven't those talks started yet?
I do not know why. We had decided to start them.
When Gordon Brown came here, he mentioned that there will be working groups to look at this issue.
That is what we agreed. May be the situation in Britain is one of the issues. Now that there are changes and political movement, which may have an effect. There are ministerial changes, elections, the international financial crisis, maybe they are connected.
The agreement was also that there would be a presence of British companies in Iraq across a broad scale which also did not happen. Today or tomorrow we are expecting a British power company to approach us on how to solve our electricity crisis. We welcomed them.
Is the presence of the (4,100) British troops no longer crucial for security in the south?
Definitely, the presence of this number of British soldiers is no longer necessary. We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control.
There might be a need for their expertise in training and some technical issues, yes, but as a fighting force, I do not think it is necessary.
What about Kirkuk, is this a serious problem facing your Government? The area is controlled by Kurdish militias, can you ever imagine re-imposing Government authority by force?
Kirkuk is a city that belongs to the federal government and is outside the boundaries of the Kurdistan region. The existence of any force that is not formal and governmental is considered, as you said, outside the legal rules and goes by the principle of militias.
Kirkuk is a very sensitive area. Our opinion about Kirkuk is that it will not be solved by using force to impose a solution ... It is shared by Turkomans, Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and a small ratio of Christians.
The only suitable solution, at this time, is to treat it as a special case, like being an independent region ...
The different ethnic groups accuse each other of bringing in people from outside the province and granting them residency. The province is under Kurdish control at the moment. The others, the Turkomans and the Sunni Arabs, accuse the local government of manipulating the census and the figures. It is better to have a solution between the groups based on consensus.
Do you have any information about the fate of the 5 British hostages?
We had some information earlier, which was not certain, but now this source has dried up. We tried to follow up our lead with the British Embassy and the Coalition Forces, but it did not lead to any result. The search is still going on.
What is going to happen at the end of the year if the talks on a status of forces agreement between Iraq and Britain aren’t finished?
Either the resolution will be extended by the Security Council, so they will have legal cover according to international law – and this seems to be unlikely at the moment. Or they lose will their legal cover and they have to leave Iraq.
What is the message you would like to give to the British Government? You said that you are ready to start talks but they have not started yet.
It’s a message of friendship and desire for cooperation in civilian, political, economic fields.
As for the British forces, to avoid reaching the critical deadline I wish for the negotiations between the two sides to start quickly to determine what elements of the force should remain and their specialities.
Do you think the British should reduce the size of their 4,100-strong force?
Definitely, there will not be any need for 4,000 troops. The size of the need is determined by the size of the required tasks. For example to train the naval force, how many forces do we need? I don’t know. Also, to train the 14th Division in Basra, how many do we need? (Training on) some technical issues about how to use weapons and equipment. This will be determined in the negotiations.
The Americans plan to leave the Republican Palace by the end of the year. Will you move your office there?
The palace will need more than a year for refurbishment. Our intention is that this will become the headquarters of the Government, the Cabinet and the offices attached to it. The Cabinet now is divided among many buildings. They will all gather in this palace when it is finished in a year or more.
Will the green zone be opened up?
Yes and we have a definite desire that the green zone at the beginning of next year will be open, but security precautions will be taken to guarantee continuing security. Keeping a green zone in Iraq and a red zone in Iraq is finished. The whole of Baghdad must be green.
What about you personally, do you intend to stand for re-election next year?
I did not nominate myself previously so I won’t be doing it now. They chose me for this post.
If they chose you again would you accept?
It would be easier not to accept, but if the national interest requires, then I have to serve Iraq.
Do you enjoy this job?
What do you do for entertainment or relaxing?
Entertainment is rare in our lives in Iraq. I only do some light sports [at the gym].
A documentary will be broadcast this weekend about the execution of Saddam. It alleges that you pushed hard for a guilty verdict and the death sentence. You allegedly changed a judge at the last minute and then signed the death warrant. Are the allegations fair and do you have any regrets?
My signature to the death warrant was a legal procedure. The Prime Minister has to sign after the ruling of the court. My signature came after the court gave its ruling and was approved by the supreme appeal court. It has to be signed to be carried out.
I would like the documentary to bring a document or a witness saying that the Prime Minister has interfered or exercised pressure on a judge or a court.
In this place, the whole court committee was here at the night before they issued the sentence. They spoke a lot about the trial. When the meeting ended, before they stood to leave, they said that you have not asked about the sentence that will be issued to Saddam. I said that I will find out at the same time as all the other Iraqis tomorrow.
What happened after the execution should not have happened. But these are people who do not have experience in carrying out executions. This was a speciality of the Baath Party. His men were good at executing people quietly.
We were not happy with the way the sentence was carried out. Those who chanted were punished. There was no major violation apart from the chanting... We have punished those who chanted and they are now in jail.