A Conversation with Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki

Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.


(Note: Prime Minister al-Maliki's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate, I welcome all. I now would like to speak about an experience related to Iraq. Iraq -- (inaudible) -- went through a dictatorship in the past and went through all the stages till today. And major things took place since then. And all these changes really took place.
 
Now we're going through a constitutional and organizational state. All the challenges that we really face, and the main one was the security. And as you may know, the terrorist umbrella came to Iraq and really occupied Iraq, in the sense of making it busy and in order to put Iraq backwards.
 
And we had fierce confrontations. And we had a fierce confrontation with the terrorism outlaws. And we had fierce fighting with them. And when really the terrorism took over, because Iraq was destroyed from the past.
 
And based on this, they found a nice -- a good forum for them to work in Iraq. And due to that, they created -- tried to create sectarian war and also, things related to religions. And we are working towards enforcing democracy. And these are the main pillars for building Iraq.
 
And all sects, the nationalism, all are respected in Iraq. And all -- the democratic path, we had some memorable days and elections, and we had four major elections in Iraq. And in peril, we had the process of rebuilding Iraq in the parliamental (sic) system -- parliamentic (sic) system.
 
Democracy in Iraq is a unique democracy in the region. The democracy confronted severe objection from the region in Iraq and in the regional states. And in order to protect the democratic process in Iraq, we had to build professional systems.
 
As we were fighting terrorism, we were building systems and we were building the army. And as we were fighting terrorism, we were campaigning towards rallying all the people of Iraq to side with the government and the security system.
 
As we were building on the tier of the security in the region, we were rallying the people of Iraq in building unions and rallying the tribes in Iraq. And we have all the Iraqi people to integrate as one unity and system.
 
And in order to have that peace and security, and to avoid the sectarian, we had to rally and have the Iraqi national reconciliation front. It is a strategic opinion going towards building Iraq. This is a continuous process, and this is really trying to bring back the Sunni and the Shi'a live in harmony, as they were in the past. And the national reconciliation really found -- that put the foundation for the harmony of the Iraqi people. And part of that is really returning more than 100,000 troops and also reinforcing more than 200,000 pensioners.
 
And also, we address all the issues relative to the ministries, and one of them is the media ministry; and also, reconstructed the army service to the civilian service. And we were really reconstructing all of that, and we dealt with about more than 96,000. A large group of them has been now -- has joined the police and the army, and another portion of them are going to be joining the ministries and other agencies of the government.
 
National reconciliation has achieved most of the foundation of what's needed for the building of the state, and especially state that belongs on suspension. And one of the challenges facing us is in -- while we are rebuilding our state, is political reform, and especially political reform in terms of rebuilding the institutions that are part of it.
 
INTERPRETER: (In English.) I'm trying my best to -- (laughs).
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: And we are now heading towards a national reconciliation that can promote the -- the political process that is ongoing.
 
(Pause to switch interpreters.)
 
What would be the success in constructing and building the state is the ability of the security forces to have control over the security. And the -- (inaudible) -- of the agreement would not have been possible without the national reconciliation, and because of the good cooperation between the U.S. forces and the Iraqi forces. And it is also a support that would be on standby if the Iraqi forces need further assistance.
 
We have inherited a country that was loaded with corruption because of the previous regime. And this was one of the fronts that we fought -- that we fought, and we have achieved a great victory at that level. We have fought a battle to -- against financial corruption, administrative corruption and also political corruption. And by political corruption I mean the interference, the regional and international interference, in the affairs of Iraq, or by some people trying to implement agendas that are -- that do not go along with the national interest in any shape or form.
 
What helps out, in fact, in this corruption is the national awareness among the Iraqis of the need to do so. And that success was seen in the latest elections, when we put forward the national platform as a substitute for any sectarian tendency or platform.
 
And the Iraqi citizen has proved and demonstrated that he or she is with the national platform, versus any sectarian tendency.
 
And therefore the elections at the end of this year and the beginning of next year will be based on this national platform that will be along the national tendency, versus any racist or sectarian tendency. And our success in that national project is to fight corruption and to foster the national reconciliation and also to -- (inaudible).
 
And therefore our state shall be based on security, on the basis of security, economy and services, a political system that will be based on also the constitution. And therefore we will have this foundation to move forward, towards the modern time of Iraq.
 
And one of the challenges that we are facing is the financial crisis. And with this, we are facing some challenges with developing the economy and providing services to our citizens. Nevertheless we have had successes in providing services and raising the level of income of the Iraqi citizen.
 
The average income for the Iraqi was $500. And today, it has reached an average of $4,000. And from a budget that was in 2005 around $24 billion, today, it is up to 79 billion (dollars). And with electricity sector that was one of the issues in Iraq, today, we have the production up 32 percent.
 
And we had inherited an infrastructure: the water level, the electricity level, the services and the sewage system. All this infrastructure was destroyed because of the adventures and because of the wars.
 
However, in 2008 we were able to boost it and (ready it ?) further. And we have tried to further improve the infrastructure in 2009 and tried to improve the services and the economic sector.
 
However, we were touched and affected by the global crisis, the global financial crisis, because of the drop in oil prices in general. And you know that oil has been our sole income in Iraq because of the old -- the previous regime and because of the policies that were put in place at the economic level by the previous regime.
 
With this trend, we have worked on trying to use the Iraqi oil income, and we have sought to further contract to increase the production of oil, to try to provide the state with further resources. We have sought contracts with various countries and various companies in order to boost the building and reconstruction of the infrastructure, and to trying to find a way of paying off long-term at that level.
 
Previously Iraq was known as the land of fire, if you will. Nevertheless, with all these efforts, now today Iraq is a country where many officials come to visit and head of companies and the head of many capitals come to Iraq. This is a country today is that dealing with its regional and international surrounding as a state that is capable of interacting politically, economically and at the other levels.
 
One of the transformation is that the international community today has confidence in Iraq and has opened up towards Iraq. The return of the ambassadors and the reopening of embassies that were closed, the visits of senior officials and people to Iraq -- we have international and regional conferences taking place in Iraq.
 
And we will have soon our conference on the international side of the compact. That will take place in Iraq. Delegations from major companies -- from international major companies and regional companies come to Iraq to discuss further cooperation with us.
 
Iraq, that was in the past a place that was deemed to be a state of disturbance and argument, today is a post where a lot of people meet to discuss the issues, because our policy, that is a policy of opening and dialogue towards all the countries of the world. And we are geared towards finding resolution to all the issues based on a dialogue and mutual interests, to stay away from interfering in other people's businesses and not allow others to interfere in our own businesses.
 
All these achievements highlight what we are today. We are a strong country based on constitution. And we here thank the international community and all the countries that have cooperated and helped Iraq. And it was a successful experience that the international community has embraced this country that was torn apart by sectarianism and dictatorship.
 
And what you are working on today is furthering the openness towards the international community and the various other entities. We ask for supporting a democratic, new experience of Iraq because it benefits both a peace and stability in the world.
 
And Iraq has become today an important factor in fostering the peace and security of the world. Today Iraq has become a peaceful, democratic country that relies on its democratic institutions.
 
Our war on terrorism has given us a great experience, so we hope that the international community would benefit from our experience and will cooperate with us on draining of the sources and the roots of financing for terrorism, and will join us in fighting terror.
 
And also, we hope that we will be able, through our fight against terrorism, to remove all -- to work against all the fatwas that are also within that issue. Also, we ask the international community to help us in our efforts, and to help us with respect to the resolutions pertaining to Iraq, and to remove us out of Chapter 7 -- you know, the Chapter 7.
 
Of course, these are the transformations that are taking place in Iraq. However, I do not want to depict a rosy picture and say that we do not have challenges and issues. We do still have challenges to face, but what I can say here is that we are back in the position where we can face these challenges.
 
We have now -- we are now moving forward towards -- in very solid steps towards the future. Of course, we still have a long road ahead of us, because to build a democratic state on the remnants of a dictatorship and with an infrastructure, social infrastructure, that is still -- that needs to be enhanced, is a challenge.
 
Nevertheless, the whole world can see and witness our achievements. We have achieved great strides in -- at the democratic level and at the -- with respect to pluralism in our country. And the success of the election has been a great indicator that we have succeeded as a democratic state and we are moving forward.
 
And also, we are at this stage, Iraq at this level and stage of the history of Iraq, where the will of our people is now clearly demonstrated that our people want a democratic life, want to be good citizens and we want to also fight terrorism.
 
Thank you very much. And now I open the floor to questions. (Applause.)
 
MR. SERWER: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.
 
We're going to take questions from the two microphones. I see people are already lined up. That's the right thing to be doing.
 
Mr. Prime Minister, you emphasized in your opening remarks your commitment to a national program for Iraq. Could you give us an idea of what that will mean for improving relations between, let me say, Erbil and Baghdad?
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: Indeed, this is a problem that has been inherited from the dictatorship and the evil of the dictatorship that was then dominating in Iraq. And perhaps it's one of the most dangerous issues that has been a concern for all the Iraqi government.
 
Many -- in that, I say that many weapons and many -- and subjecting the Kurdish people to famine was then seen. And if you want to talk about the Iraqi citizenship -- (inaudible) -- and if it has to be away from any sectarian affiliation or any other type of affiliations.
 
The relationship between the Kurds and the Iraqi -- Iraqis -- Iraqi people in general has seen some hoops, if you will, and it needs to be resolved. Perhaps there were many (accusations ?), more than what the reality was. Perhaps there were many concerns, more than what the reality was.
 
Nevertheless, with the stability of the constitutional state in Iraq, these (accusation ?) now wouldn't be as much as before, and these concerns wouldn't be as much as before, and the solutions must be found on constitutional foundations for all the components of the Iraqi society or population.
 
These are the issues or the problems that are still standing or remain, and they must be solved on the basis of the constitution, and they cannot be solved by force or -- by force, whether by the Iraqi government or by the Kurdish region government. And we will see -- in the upcoming elections in the next few days in Kurdistan, we will see that we'll try to resolve these issues based on dialogue and based on the constitution and not away from it.
 
And I am confident that we will be able to resolve all these issues, not only with the Kurdistan region, but also with the other provinces, as this is a new political system and it will see some hoops along the way.
 
MR. SERWER: Let me move to the questioners, and ask you to be brief, but introduce yourself before asking your question.
 
Q    Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, my name is Claude Salhani. I'm the editor of the Middle East Times.
 
You said in your address today that Iraq -- democracy in Iraq faces serious opposition in the region. Could you explain a bit more what -- where this opposition is coming from? Thank you.
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: In reality, democracy, with its true definition, is not a system that the region was accustomed to, and because democracy is a sound solution in a system that is composed of various components.
 
And all the countries of the region also have various components, and here I would say at the level of ethnicities and, you know, sects -- various religious sects and components. And therefore, we feel that the mechanisms in place in these countries have not yet reached the level that we have witnessed today in Iraq with our mechanism for democracy, whether at the election level or by legislating a constitution -- you know, putting forth a constitution that prohibits discrimination in Iraq.
 
Perhaps what would be -- the most serious opposition against democracy would be those that have been all along accustomed to dictatorship, and even within our own society some of the components within our Iraqi society. Nevertheless, this opposition that was very strong at the outset now is regressing and not as strong as before, because democracy has shown -- has given a strong positive image of itself, whether in how the state is managed, or also with respect to the equality among all citizens.
 
MR. SERWER: (Off mike.)
 
Q     Thank you. Spencer Ackerman with the Washington Independent. I was wondering, Mr. Prime Minister, what you think the U.S.-Iraqi security relationship ought to be after 2011. Should there be any form of residual U.S. military presence in Iraq? What size, and for what purpose, if so? And do you foresee a situation where the status report to the agreement might need to be renegotiated?
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: Today the security relation between the U.S. and Iraqi -- the Americans and the Iraqis, and after the withdrawal of the Americans from the cities, is a relationship based on cooperation and all the foundations and rules that were put forth in the agreement.
 
Pursuant to the agreement, in 2011 the presence -- the military presence of the Americans will take end in Iraq. Nevertheless, if the Iraqi forces required further training and further support, we shall examine this then at that time based on the needs of Iraq. And I am sure that the prospects and the will -- desire -- the prospects and the desire of such cooperation is found among both parties. Nevertheless, the nature of that relationship as well as the functions and the amount of forces will be then discussed and re-examined again based on the needs.
 
MR. SERWER: Michael.
 
Q     My name is Michael Gordon. I'm a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace, and a reporter on leave from the New York Times.
 
Sir, a couple of years ago there was concern that the prime minister might be too weak. These days, one hears criticism that the prime minister might be too strong. And specifically, there's been concern that there have been detentions and arrests in Diyala province that maybe may have occurred on the basis of political calculations more than security calculations, involving provincial council members, Sons of Iraq and other figures, that they're being targeted because they're allied with groups that are in opposition to the government.
 
What's your response to these concerns? And as Iraq moves into its election process, what steps do you intend to uphold the rule of law?
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: We draw our strength in fostering the rule of law in the country. And the Iraqis have confidence in us because we have dealt all along based on the law and not based on any sectarian or ethnic background.
 
Yes, we take into consideration and move along the political process. But for those who kill people or commit killing of people, we will not stop from implementing the due process against them. And we do have a good judicial system and a modern judicial system that will deal with the violations, with those who commit violations of the law in Iraq.
 
And you are talking about imprisonment in Diyala, Karbala, Najaf and Al Basra. Yes, there will be a prison in any city where there will be (exactions ?) and violations against the law and against the people.
 
The problem is that those who are affiliated with political blocs or political parties do not want to recognize that they are committing crimes against other citizens. What would be a source of concern is if one particular sectarian group or one political group was only targeted. But if this is only -- if this is accountability and holding up to the law all those who are committing violations to the law, this is not a source of concern to us, even if we -- there are some political voices that are heard at this time.
 
What is a source of concern to us is those who have caused women to be widowed and who have caused children to be orphans.
 
These people need to be subject to accountability. We have sympathy with the victims, with the families of the victims, and not those who are committing crimes.
 
This operation is happening away from any politicization or any sectarian calculation. And what we have proved so far in Iraq is that we have dealt with everything without any of such considerations.
 
MR. SERWER: Please.
 
Q     Thank you. Jessie Moore (sp), with the BBC Arabic Service. I'll leave Nina to translate my question, if you don't mind. (Speaks in Arabic.)
 
INTERPRETER: The question from the BBC reporter, BBC Arabic reporter, is the following: Mr. Prime Minister, it is heard today that the Iraqi government intends to send a message or a letter to the U.S. embassy requesting a clarification about a protocol that has to do with some talks, or the holding of talks between a representative from the U.S. government and those in the opposition in Iraq. You have considered this to be an interference in the affairs of Iraq. And also, have you discussed this issue with President Obama?
 
Q     Sorry, just -- just to clarify, it's also with representatives from Turkish government, as well.
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: The U.S. government and President Obama will not -- told us that they will not be tolerant against those who kill the Iraqi soldiers, kill the U.S. soldiers and kill Iraqi citizens. So there will not be negotiations by the U.S. government or any of its representatives with those killers. Of course, there may be some issues here and there, but we have open communication with the Americans and we continue to talk to them about all the issues.
 
For those who have committed wrong actions or who are involved in similar activities, we will look into all this within the national reconciliation process, because we want through the national reconciliation process to find solution to many of the problems.
 
Nevertheless, for those who are involved in spilling blood, they will have to be referred to the judicial system for the judicial system to give its opinion, and then, you know, things will be looked at then.
 
MR. SERWER: Mr. Prime Minister, we're hoping you have a couple of more minutes for three questions. We'll take them all together, I think. Trudy?
 
Q    Trudy Rubin, the Philadelphia Inquirer. Mr. Prime Minister, to follow up on the nature of your thinking of relations between United States and Iraq in the future, you talked of victory when U.S. troops pulled back from the cities. It seems that this relationship is delicate, in your mind. So in the long term, can you say do you want an openly close relationship with the United States, civilian as well as military, or does Iraq's history and domestic politics require you to distance yourself from the United States?
 
Q    Eli Lake from the Washington Times.
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: The withdrawal from the cities is a victory and is not a failure for either the Iraqis or the Americans. In that withdrawal from the cities, we, the Iraqi forces and the American forces, we have defeated al Qaeda and all the other gangs. And after -- and also later on the Iraqi army itself will withdraw also to its own camp, and you will only see the police on the streets of Iraq.
 
After all the success that you have achieved with the SOFA, we are now gearing towards furthering our success at the Strategic Framework Agreement at all levels -- political, economical, educational, cultural. We want and we seek and we see a very strong, solid relationship that is open with the Americans, and there are no internal politics of Iraq that prohibit us from having such a solid relationship with a great and strong country as the United States.
 
MR. SERWER: Eli.
 
Q     Eli Lake, Washington times. Last month U.S. forces released Laithe Khazali from custody. The New York Times quoted a member of your government saying that his release was part of a negotiation to free British hostages taken in 2007. Is this account correct?
 
MR. SERWER: And I'm going to finish with Margaret Warner. Margaret?
 
Q     Mr. Prime Minister, I'm Margaret Warner from the "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS. U.S. commanders say that Iraq has imposed very tight restrictions on U.S. troop movements since the June 30th handover, preventing them, for instance, from conducting raids with time-sensitive intelligence, and even when the safety of U.S. troops is at stake.
 
So my question is, did you -- did President Obama raise this with you? And can you guarantee that U.S. forces will never be prevented from defending themselves in whatever manner they -- in their judgment is most effective?
 
PRIME MIN. MALIKI: With respect to the release of Laith Khazali, this is not -- there was not negotiations, and this was not a deal, if you will, but that happened within the scope of the national reconciliation. And Mr. Khazali and others, thousands others were also released within that national reconciliation. The condition was that these individuals were not involved in spilling blood or any explosions acts or any acts of that nature.
 
Now, with respect to the question on restrictions -- i.e., Iraqi restrictions being imposed -- I am a little bit surprised by the media that raises such questions, because there is a security agreement in place between the two parties, and this has been agreed upon within that security agreement among the two parties. Everything was put in place, then, about the movements and everything else.
 
The agreement guarantees for the U.S. forces to defend themselves. Cooperation and coordination is still found at all levels. Teams of support are found side by side -- the Iraqi forces. And in any moment where the Iraqi forces will need the help and the support of the U.S. forces, this will happen at that -- at any moment.
 
And if there is any problem or anything that arises, whether partial or urgent, something that arises, that does not mean that there is something that is not right with the agreement, and that does not mean that there is a question of removing guarantees or assurances for the U.S. personnel.
 
MR. SERWER: Mr. Prime Minister, will you allow us one more?
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: (Inaudible.)
 
MR. SERWER: (Inaudible.)
 
Q     Thank you very much, Dan.
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: I allow it because she's Iraqi, otherwise -- (laughter) --
 
Q     (Question in Arabic.)
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: "Shukran."
 
Q     (Question in Arabic continues.)
 
INTERPRETER: The question -- (inaudible) -- "shukran" -- the question is from Ms. Rend al-Rahim from the U.S. Institute for Peace, and the question pertains to the political reform in Iraq.
 
Mr. Prime Minister, you have talked about this, and you also talked in Iraq that there should be a -- the formation of the -- of a presidential -- particular presidential system in Iraq. And some of the consensus formulas within the governance there perhaps may not be the best. Can you give us what's your take, what's your perspective on reform in Iraq?
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: We may need an entire lecture to talk about issue of reform in Iraq.
 
Nevertheless here what I mean by political reform in Iraq is to build a strong Iraqi state that is unified, strong, based on a constitutional foundation. But that does not mean that there isn't some particular issues about some vocabulary in the constitution, if you will, that we may need to look at further.
 
We have noticed that the consensus-based system or the parliamentary system may need to -- (inaudible) -- some of the process of the state. If we reject consensus-based system, that does not mean that we're rejecting the need to have blocs and alliances among the various factions within the government.
 
Nevertheless with the parliamentary system in Iraq, we found that when it stipulates that all those who enter the elections must be involved in the formation of the government, we saw that this may not be helpful much.
 
Partnership is needed. Nevertheless a consensus-based system might mean in Iraq perhaps a quota system, if you will. And a quota system is a system that might breed sectarianism and other similar considerations.
 
And when I talk about this issue, I see that whoever is elected by the people would be there and would be strong. And this might happen with a modification to the constitution, if you will.
 
Nevertheless if this does not happen, then we will go along with the parliamentary system that is in place, until we can have some reform to that parliamentary system.
 
And there is a document for political reform that is in place. And I invited the heads of the parliamentary blocs every week or every two weeks to meet, so we can discuss it and move forward towards reform and have it in place, if it's necessary, for Iraq to be a strong country and for Iraq to gain more democratic momentum.
 
Thank you very much.
 
MR. SERWER: The Secret Service has asked me to ask you to stay in your seats for a moment while the prime minister and his delegation leave. But before he does that, I think we all owe him an enormous vote of thanks for an extraordinary presentation about Iraq today. We wish you well in your future endeavors. (Applause.)
 
PRIME MIN. AL-MALIKI: "Shukran jazilan."

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