Transcript from the March 20, 2017, event, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi on U.S. Ties, War with ISIS, a discussion with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi moderated by Nancy Lindborg.
[Nancy Lindborg] Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the United States Institute of Peace. My name is Nancy Lindborg. I am the president here. And it is my distinct honor today to welcome back to USIP His Excellency Dr. Haider Al-Abadi, the prime minister of the Republic of Iraq. Welcome back. I'd also like to give a very warm welcome to the distinguished members of the Iraqi delegation who have joined you here today. Welcome, delegation. And I'd also like to welcome our colleagues from the US government. We have with us acting Assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones, the US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman. It’s a pleasure to have you both, gentlemen. As many of you know, the U.S. Institute of Peace was founded a little more than 30 years ago, by Congress, as a bi-partisan national institute dedicated to the proposition that peace is practical, it's very possible and it is essential for our national and international security. And so, we work with teams in conflict-affected areas around the world, supporting local partners with the tools, the information, the approaches that they need to be able to prevent, manage and resolve violent conflict.
And Iraq has been a priority country for USIP since 2003. We're very proud to have been continuously present since that time on the ground working with our Iraqi partners including the National Reconciliation Committee of the Council of Ministers, Sanad for Peacebuilding, the Alliance of Iraqi Minorities, the Network of Iraqi Facilitators and more. And our focus is to provide the training and the support that our partners need to conduct dialogue and diffuse the communal tensions particularly in the aftermath of the terrible Daesh occupation so that displaced families can return home safely, and to short-circuit the potential cycles of revenge violence among tribal leaders. And this is an issue that the Prime Minister spoke about with great concern the last time he was here. And we agree that it’s essential to diffuse those tensions for a more stable, peaceful future. And in the past two years, we have concentrated our local reconciliation efforts in Tikrit and Yathrib in Salahuddin [province], Ramadi and Anbar, Hawija and Kirkuk and Tal Afar and Bartella in Nineveh.
We've seen that these efforts can pay off and make a real difference. The efforts of very courageous Iraqi facilitators working with tribal sheikhs and many others successfully address the sectarian accusations of complicity with Daesh in Tikrit. And the result is, they converted the liberation of Tikrit into a more enduring peace in that area. These efforts can be replicated and we're pleased to be working with the government of Iraq, the U.S. government, the United Nations and our Iraqi civil society partners in this effort to connect local reconciliation with national efforts. And most importantly it’s the many Iraqi leaders at every level who are at the forefront of this important work of reconciliation. Prime Minister Abadi, we are pleased to see the important progress, the progress that Iraq has made since we last met in Baghdad in September 2015. And under your leadership, and with support from the U.S.-led coalition, the full liberation of Mosul is within sight. The Iraqi army has gained a great deal of strength, I think, as well as additional respect from the citizens of Iraq and very importantly relationship between Baghdad and Erbil is improved.
We understand none of this has been easy. We also understand there's a very long road with many challenges ahead. We are very pleased to have you here today to hear more of your thoughts and to share your vision. Dr. Abadi became prime minister in September 2014 at a particularly difficult time in Iraq's recent history. Large swaths of the country were taken by Daesh; trust in the government and in local security forces was dangerously low. And in fact, when you were last here I believe one of my colleagues asked you why you wanted the job. But you have demonstrated openness, Prime Minister, to new ideas for solving problems in ways that even your political opponents have given you credit for. You’ve shown remarkable commitment and energy to overcome difficulties that could paralyze many. There are many challenges ahead; we look forward to hearing your thoughts and views of how to meet those challenges for a more peaceful Iraq future. Please join me in welcoming Prime Minister Abadi to the podium.
[Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi] Thank you, Nancy. Thank you, USIP, for this gathering. It’s a pleasure for me to be here. We have gone a long way since two years ago. Nobody had imagined even when I was here last year that we'll be in Mosul today. And we have liberated the majority of Nineveh and the majority of Mosul. And now the advance that our security forces have made is very courageous. They didn’t have only to fight, but they have to fight and win over the population while keeping the citizens at home in order protect them. Because if we would have allowed the citizens to flee their houses as some probably suggested at the time we wouldn’t have been able to care for these civilians, probably a million or over a million of the population in Mosul itself and the areas surrounding it. But we have managed through our security forces to liberate the people and to have the trust of the people. Most of the intelligence about the whereabouts of arms, of [explosives], and terrorist elements are provided by the locals who were supposed to be loyal to Daesh according to the assumption of many.
Over the rule of Daesh over two and a half years over this area we have managed to win over these areas, to liberate them, and we are at the last stage of liberating the whole of Nineveh; in actual fact, liberating the whole of Iraq from Daesh and the terrorism of Daesh. We have established a very good working relationship which has not happened in the history of Iraq: for the Iraqi security forces, for the Iraqi military to fight alongside the Peshmerga and vice-versa. There is a mutual trust which has never been before, which is a very positive sign by moving from confrontation and trust to more working relationship. I wasn’t, to be honest with you, expecting things to be that smooth. Me and President Barzani were, well, troubled at times that because there were a lot of frictions in the past, a lot of enmities, but believe me there was not a single incident of misunderstanding between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces while they were fighting together against a very vicious enemy and despite the difficulties of the past.
So, this is a new Iraq which we would like to see, a new Iraq which we would like to establish, and it is possible to establish it. My point is about stabilization and reconstruction of the areas which we have liberated. So far, 1.6 million people, internally displaced people have returned to their homes. It’s a huge accomplishment when the war is still there when the oil price has gone down so far in a country where 93 percent of the budget relies on oil. And despite that we have been able to stabilize these areas, to provide the minimum of the services to the people so people can return to their areas. This is one of the accomplishments. The other one is, which we're relying on local forces now in the liberated area to protect the civilians inside. We're keeping our military as a national army representing all the people. I remember two years ago, when I took office many of our military commanders would tell me they feel very uncomfortable at checkpoints when they go to the southern governorates and other areas because the people would catch them and tell them, "You let us down. We're not proud of you."
Now, Iraqi people are proud of our military. They're proud of our security forces. They see them as national heroes. They represent all Iraqis because our direction to them is to respect people, to respect human rights. For you to fight for the country you have to win over the people. When you want to arrest a terrorist or a criminal you should just arrest that criminal or terrorist and you should behave properly with his family and the rest of the population. You don’t want to arrest one person and make another 20 enemies of the state or enemies of the society. I think the whole behavior of our security forces has been transformed. I'm not saying there are not [violations] of human rights. It still happens. This is a war and you can't control the whole apparatus of our security forces and the community at large, but at least we hold them accountable. We're not allowing any incident which we know about. There may be other incidents which we don’t have proof about, we don’t have any of the information about. But where we know about, we have enough information about, we take action and we reprimand those responsible for these acts. And I think commanders and others they know that if they make something wrong they'll be held accountable for all their actions. And this has transformed the way our military, our security forces are dealing with the public at large. I think we have won over our population, we have extended our hands to all communities inside Iraq.
One major point of the policy of my government is to delegate more responsibility to the regions and to the governorates, and we've been doing this successfully. There was fear that once you delegate more responsibility the country may disintegrate. I say it’s the opposite. When you give more delegation to the regions they will be more feeling within one country. They will feel they are part of the country and they have to defend it. Of course, there is a balance between federal authority and regional authority and anyone who knows about federal systems, they know this fact. We have to keep this balance according to the constitution and according to the law. And of course, we have to build our institutions. Iraq has been always a central state where it’s governed from the center. So, most checks and balances are made from the center. We don’t have checks and balances, many checks and balances in the regions. So, I think we have to make these checks and balances in the region more powerful, we have to build them in the institution way, and we have to give more support so that politicians can be held accountable for what they do.
And this is very important for us, of course. I'm not saying things that are happening in Iraq is easy. Of course, a lot of people don’t… a lot of… we have a lot of opposition. I mean, welcome to democracy. But this is a new democracy where sometimes the line between democracy and non-democratic behavior is not well defined. And sometimes they feel the freedom of speech means freedom of encouraging terrorism, encouraging havoc, encouraging breaking the law and encouraging all sorts. But we're moving, and I can claim that in the last more than probably 20 months there have been demonstrations in Iraq weekly in many governorates at the same time. And the security forces were keeping peace with these demonstrations, protecting them and protecting the population at large. I don’t think this is a phenomenon which is witnessed in the Arab world or in the region at large. And we are happy with that: for people to speak out their grievances, to say what they want. And in this way, I think we can build better Iraq by listening to others.
The distinction between a belief and being in government, it must be defined. The government is responsible for the whole population regardless of their affiliation of their belief. And people in a position of responsibility should act according to this. And I think this government has been very eager to demonstrate this behavior in its dealing with the citizens. I'm not saying we were successful in all departments but at least we have drawn a line, a new line in the policy of a government towards its population. The last thing is reform. Reform is important for us. We have to bring back the trust of the people in the system, in the way we govern the country. This is a new democracy. It will be a sad day for all of us if people believe dictatorship is better than democracy. Because if democracy didn’t protect them, didn’t provide for them, if there is corruption in the political system and the political system is unable to correct the corruption of politicians, and that is their responsibility, I think we will have failed.
So, reform is a must. We must go through reform. But I tell you, it’s not an easy task. From my experience in reforms, you get people who are very close to you who become against you, because in reform you do things which people don’t like, especially people in position and people who have authority. I've been through this. I say probably I'm lucky that I’ve survived so far, but I think we're almost there. I think this is a job of a leader or a prime minister of a country to deliver, at the end of the day, to the people. We are liberating our areas despite our economic difficulties, and we are killing Daesh. We are proving that Daesh can be killed. Daesh can be eliminated, and we can do it not only in Iraq, but also in the region. I am encouraging our allies and our friends to stay focused. We shouldn’t lose focus; we shouldn’t give Daesh a second chance or the terrorist organizations similar to Daesh. If we stay focused, we can eliminate this terrorist organization and we can prevent similar terrorist organizations from coming back. Working together, I think we can be successful. Thank you very much.
[Lindborg] Thank you, your Excellency. Thank you for those comments. And we now have an opportunity to have a conversation and I've already received a chief of questions that people are eager to ask of you. But maybe we can start with what probably is on many people's minds. You’ve come directly from the White House to this event. What are your reflections on that conversation? Did it… did you hear what you needed to from President Trump and how plans are going?
[al-Abadi] Well, the important thing for us was that we see an administration and a president who sees and appreciates what we're doing and gives us support and will continue their support. And I think we've seen plenty of that. I think the administration and the President recognize the importance of Iraq, the role Iraq played in Iraq and in the region and we have been given assurances that the support will not only continue but will accelerate for Iraq to accomplish the task. I think we're happy with the meetings and we're happy with the meeting with you here and we're looking forward to meeting Congress as well and others in, well, other companies. I've seen a lot of interest. I've heard now there is double the number of companies who have shown interest to work inside Iraq, and we're meeting them today as well. And we hope through this cooperation in trade, commerce, energy, education, culture, other aspects, I think we build a better relationship between Iraq and the United States.
[Lindborg] And you are here, of course, for the anti-ISIS conference. What do you most want out of that?
[al-Abadi] Well, there is a problem here. Well, it is to do with terrorism. Now, some countries, unfortunately, they see terrorism…Well, when it's for them they see it as terrorism when it is not - maybe the same group acting somewhere else - they see them in a different style, they don’t consider them as terrorists. I'm not happy with a lot of media outlets in the region who are still providing support for terrorists under different names. Terrorism is an ugly phenomenon. We have seen it in Iraq. It separates families, it separates communities, it destroys the whole lives of people, it destroys infrastructure. Now is…Our ministry worked on the cost of the damage Daesh caused before…This is before Nineveh. Nineveh is not included. It’s about 35 billion USD to the Iraqi economy. That’s not counting the effect on the public at large, that's only in terms of infrastructure and others. So, I hope we see it that way. I still don't see a coherent media campaign against Daesh. Still –
[Lindborg] Regionally, you're talking?
[al-Abadi] Yes, regionally. Still, Daesh is receiving funds. There are still recruits coming from all over to Daesh. Yes, it's declining. At the moment, young people are not going for Daesh in as large numbers as before, and Daesh is really running out of fighters, and we're glad to see that. But still, there are still we need, probably…If you look carefully in the Arab world, in the region, there are many terrorist activities in there: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and other areas. Probably Yemen as well. So, I think we have to stay focused on this and we have to remove terrorism from being used in the regional conflict. Countries are using terrorists for their own regional conflicts, and that's what gave rise to Daesh. Daesh was not spontaneous. It was not just grown overnight and crossed the Syria-Iraq border. They're being enabled. A lot of support was allowed to go to Daesh to build their capabilities, then they became this force, this ability to destroy and to kill.
[Lindborg] And building on that, we have a question from Carol Morello of the Washington Post who's asking whether in your talks with President Trump and Secretary Tillerson, did you get the sense that this administration has an anti-ISIS strategy that's different from the previous administration, and if so, how?
[al-Abadi] I think this administration wants to be more engaged in fighting terrorism and I can sense a difference in terms of being head-to-head with terrorism. I think they are prepared to do more to fight terrorism, to be more engaged, but of course, we have to be careful here. We're not talking about military confrontation as such. Committing in troops is one thing while fighting terrorism is another thing. I don't think now with the public opinion, especially in the U.S. and in other places, would encourage sending troops in large numbers. So, I think terrorism, you don't defeat it by military force only. There are better ways for defeating terrorism and I think we can do it.
[Lindborg] So along with the same lines, Philippe Gelie of Le Figaro, France asked if you've seen any plan from the administration to “wipe out” ISIS and if so, what are the most important improvements? You partly answered it with your last comment, but...
[al-Abadi] I haven't seen, to be honest, I haven't seen a full plan. I know there is a plan. I haven't seen it. We have our own plan, but we need to have a plan together. The region must have a plan to wipe out terrorism, and we can do it. I know there are regional conflicts still there. We shouldn't be derailing the whole thing. I'm saying we should be focused. There may be some tendency to derail our confrontation with Daesh and getting busy with some other conflicts. I would guard against that.
[Lindborg] So, you want focused, continued engagement. You talk about it not only being a military issue.
[Lindborg] And so, looking at Mosul, which has been very much in people's minds and in the news recently, what's the immediate plan for governing Mosul, for addressing the deep divisions that have been left behind by that terrible two years?
[al-Abadi] See, from day one when we planned for Mosul... I've been planning for Mosul for over a year now. We said, "Look, what we don't... What do we want to achieve in Mosul? If we liberate it, then what's next? How are we going to govern?" Then we said, "Okay, we want to establish peace in Mosul. How do we do that?" If you want to establish peace, lasting peace, you have to win over the people and you have to be careful not to antagonize people or to polarize the situation. So, that was the strategy: to win over the people. People will corporate with you and then they will rebuild their own region. Now, of course, now we brought all the ministerial efforts and we're looking at the humanitarian need of the people.
And we are relying partially on the local authority on this and of course heavily from central government support and the international community. I think the UN has been involved in the humanitarian side and we have stabilization efforts which many countries contributed to it, but still, the funds are limited. We need... we'd love to see more funds so that we can quickly retain prosperity and civilization to these areas. I think this is the key. If we can show people they're the better off...of course they're better off in security terms but we have to show them they're better off even in their own living, in their economical work circumstances than they were before, I think we have made the day.
[Lindborg] So, one more question from Barbara Plett-Usher - excuse me if I've misread that - from the BBC: Are you satisfied with the pledges you're receiving from the international community and is this administration committed to rebuilding and stabilizing Mosul?
[al-Abadi] Yes, I'm satisfied with the pledge, but I'm not satisfied yet with delivery.
[Lindborg] And you quite rightly talk about the security as being critical for delivering on basic services and economic needs. What about, you touched on it a little bit, this feeling of being fully included, you know, the many different groups that make up Iraq. How do you build a country and a government that enables that sense of inclusion?
[al-Abadi] Well, to be inclusive is to treat people as they are. And this has been tough because of people after the fall... I mean, this is not... This only appeared to the surface after the fall of the regime, the previous regime, the Saddam regime, but it was there all the time. People were oppressed, the Kurds were oppressed, the Shia were oppressed, other minorities were oppressed. So, that has produced this agony among the people which showed itself when the regime has been toppled or removed. And people are very free. I mean, people may tell you differently after 2003, but the Iraqi people are much happier after 2003 than before. They have this freedom now. Their freedom of expression, freedom to do what they want, freedom of travel. They wouldn't even have been allowed to travel before. They haven’t seen the rest of the world.
Now they're communicating with the world. We have very good communication inside the country, we have mobile service, we have the internet, we have all sorts, people have new cars, they're having new businesses. The country is striving. So, I think this has...We have to show the people the wealth is the wealth of the people, not the government. So, I'm eager to work with politicians inside Iraq. One reason, although this has caused me friction between me and other politicians, I slashed the salaries of the top tier of politicians to almost 50 percent. I slashed their personal security guards as well. Of course, the reason I'm doing this, it may not amount to a lot of money but this is about good governance for the people. For the people to see the politicians who are representing them, they're living with them, they're not like a different... they're aliens from different planets. They're there; they're living with the people and see what the people are doing.
So, I think this we have to move forward with. I tell you it's not easy. It’s not easy. There can be a lot of backlash. The only backlash I'm afraid of is the backlash from the public in general, we have to be careful. That's why probably there is a lot of ideas presented to me about economic reform which I didn't choose because it may affect the public at large or it may affect large sectors of the society who are not well off. They're on the sideline and probably they cannot represent themselves. I think people in office must make it their priority to look after the weakest in the public, who cannot protect themselves or who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot ask for things which they want because either they're weak or they're not able to. I think that is what I consider good governance and we are moving in that direction. It doesn't necessarily happen now, but at least we have initiated something right, and I hope others will complete it.
[Lindborg] So, along those lines, there is a debate about whether the upcoming provincial elections for this fall will move the country forward, fresh leadership, perhaps moving some of the agenda that you talked about of federal systems. Others say it might open new wounds. What are your thoughts and are you committed to holding those elections, the provincial elections?
[al-Abadi] I hope, (A), it brings new blood: it will inject new people who are not eager to replace the previous people and to take their positions but who are eager to advance the country, to advance their locality. We are eager to find these people and to give hope. What I found, if you give hope to the people you can remedy the country. The hope is there. The hope can be little things which you do here and there that give hope to the people that there is goodness in the government, there is goodness in the country. Two years ago, we had many thousands of young Iraqis leaving Iraq. Now, you don't hear that. Before you used to hear a lot of people, now people are not leaving the country.
So, it means these people have hope now in the country, they have hope in their future, this is important. We are… Look, we cannot change everything overnight, we cannot. We have inherited many problems. Some of them are intrinsic in our society, in our country. But we must give hope and continue to move in the right direction, and we are doing this.
[Lindborg] One of the groups… When you talk about people leaving the country, we heard a lot about the different religious minorities fleeing in the aftermath of the fall of Mosul. How… Do you expect that they will come back? How do you help them feel safe? How do you rebuild Mosul with that mosaic of religious minorities that made it up in the past?
[al-Abadi] Well that makes me unhappy and angry and makes most Iraqis angry and unhappy because this is Iraq. Iraq consists of these people. They are part of our society, they are a major part of our society and it's wrong to look at people as minorities. They are not minorities, they are Iraqis. They have the same right as others. The problem is Daesh has directed their revenge against them, against all minorities in Mosul. Well, of course, even against Shia Muslims, because Shia Muslims are minorities, but they are the majority somewhere else. So, they have done that and I'm afraid some people have left the country and I don't know whether they'll come back or not. But the longer it takes, the more difficult [it will be] for them to come back. I hope we have shortened the time for them to come back and I hope many of them will come back.
At least we are working on people inside Iraq and telling these people to go back to their places, to their homes. This is our aim at the moment, we are concentrating on this and we are welcoming others who have traveled probably across Europe and other countries.
[Lindborg] And a related question from Naomi Kikoler of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who asks: The Islamic State committed genocide in Iraq. We believe that when impunity prevails, violence proliferates. What will your government do to advance justice and accountability? Will you consent to the creation of an independent investigation into ISIS’s crimes?
[al-Abadi] Yes, I welcome that. I welcome that, but it should be inside Iraq under Iraqi jurisdiction. I think we have various discussions at the moment with other countries, I think with the UK, in particular, and other partners, and we welcome it. I think the wording of the resolution, there's ambiguity about it. So, I think we are clearing that for it to move forward. In actual fact, there are a lot of terrorists who've committed crimes, some of them are in Iraq, some of them are outside Iraq. So, I would very much encourage this tribunal to follow up who's supporting these terrorist groups, who have facilitated the recruitment of young people, [who is] supporting the group with finance and other elements? Who has caused this havoc and these criminal activities? I'm very much in support of this.
[Lindborg] You spoke quite a bit about the importance of security and some of your plans and vision for how to ensure that people in Iraq feel more secure. So, we have a question asking: What is the future of the [Popular Mobilization Units] in Iraq? How will these forces be demobilized? What's the plan?
[al-Abadi] Well, the [PMU]… The positive side of the [PMU], let me speak about this. They are volunteers who volunteer with their life to protect the country, to fight for the sake of the country. They’ve fought very well, I've seen them everywhere. Wherever I go I see young people, day and night, fighting for their own country for the freedom of the land and for the people. Of course, there are others motivated by something else. Probably their ambition to control, to have power. I know some have committed crimes, even armed robbery, kidnapping, and we are confronting them, these elements. What we have, what we are doing here, we are having a law, this law to bring discipline, include all those who fought, include them within that institution, we have to apply for law and order that the military accountability. And whoever is outside that will be considered as an outlaw according to the Iraqi constitution.
Any group who carries arms outside the state is an outlaw. So, I think this is a way which we are trying to format things for the future. We have told these people, “Accept this,” in general. Of course, there are some who are not happy, they don't want it that way, they don't want the PMF to be out of politics. We insist that PMF should not be involved in politics. You cannot carry arms and you are a political group at the same time. Otherwise, you'll use these arms in elections. First off, this is not allowed. This is outside Iraqi constitution, outside Iraqi law So, we are trying to enforce this at the moment, we are organizing, putting an organization for this forum which is the PMF to be controlled by the state and we have to be thankful to them.
We say, “Thank you, but we appreciate what you do and we are going to include you in this.” Instead of telling them, “Thank you, go to [your] homes,” and then they will have arms, they’ll be dissatisfied and they think the country has not recognized their sacrifices. Because they have sacrificed for the country and really you haven't rewarded this sacrifice. What we are telling them, “Look, we reward you, we appreciate what you’ve done. This is an organization under the control of the state. You are going to have discipline. The laws apply to you, and here you are. If you accept this, you are within this. If you don't accept it, you shouldn't carry arms, otherwise, you'll be outside the law.” It should be as blunt as this. I said it in Iraq publicly and I'm repeating it inside Iraq. And the majority of the PMFs agree with this.
[Lindborg] What's the obstacle do you see?
[al-Abadi] The obstacle is if people or some insist on being part of their military units and are politicians at the same time. This is not democracy, you cannot do it. This will push others to carry arms and we cannot allow this whatsoever. We are calling on all to accept this. That's why I think this law was passed in Parliament and I think even those who opposed it are okay with it.
[Lindborg] You spoke earlier about the very positive security cooperation between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga. We have a question from Rahim Rashidi from Kurdistan TV asking… First of all, he welcomes you to Washington. And then he asks, “You know that President Barzani has decided to go for a referendum. If Kurdistan becomes a state, what will be Baghdad's reaction?”
[al-Abadi] We'll discuss it then. [Laughter]
[Lindborg] So, looking a little bit regionally, you had a very positive visit from the Saudi foreign minister recently. How do you see the Iraqi-Saudi relationship going as a result of that?
[al-Abadi] It's warming, it's warming. I think it’s a very good track. At least there is an opening for a very good neighborly relationship. Don’t forget, no Saudi official has visited Baghdad since 1991, and not even after 2003. This is the first time. We welcomed him and I think it was good for them to see what’s happening in Iraq; Iraq is not under the influence of any other country. Our Saudi friends probably they used to think that Iraq is under the control of our Iranian neighbors, but we are not. Iraq is governed by Iraqis and they saw for themselves. We call on the Saudis to cooperate with Iraq and work with Iraq as neighbors. They are prepared to open commercial and humanitarian relationship between Iraq. They show that they interested in helping in providing reconstruction for the areas which is liberated from Daesh. And this is welcome for us, we want to normalize relations.
Our aim is to stop or to control regional conflicts. There is a conflict in the region, there is a huge conflict. You have Saudi Arabia on one side, probably eager to be a leader of the Islamic Sunni world. You have Iran on the other side who is eager to become [the leader of] the Shia Islamic world, or even beyond. You have Turkey, as well, competing for the leadership of the Muslim Sunni world. And here we are having conflict in Yemen, having conflict in Syria, and it’s been extended before to Iraq. In Iraq, we don’t want to be part of this conflict. We are looking after our own interest, and we think we are the victims of this conflict. What happened in Syria impacted us directly.
Look what happened with Daesh when they crossed the borders into Iraq. So, I think we are very eager to stop these regional conflicts. It’s tough. It happens to be we are here, Iraq is here. We cannot move it from the map. We are bordering Turkey, bordering Iran, bordering Saudi Arabia, bordering Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, of course. And we are here, we have to live with our neighbors…
[Lindborg] Yes, you’re the tough neighborhood.
[al-Abadi] Well yes, but I don't want for Iraqis to spend their life and the life of their generation fighting with neighbors. I mean, that’s not a living. You have to live with your neighbors. We have differences, yes. We have to contain the differences. If the difference is that small, we have that large of common interest we can work on. And I think we are very much encouraging our neighbors to do that. We have an opening with Saudi Arabia, I'm optimistic with this opening, I welcome it and I hope we can move very well in furthering our relationship even with Turkey, with Saudi Arabia, with Iran, with other neighbors.
[Lindborg] So, I've just been handed a huge pile of questions, we won’t be able to get to all of them. But I think related to a lot of what you’ve been talking about in terms of rebuilding a more inclusive country, the question is, do you think the Iraqi judicial system and anti-corruption efforts will function more effectively now, and if so could you say how?
[al-Abadi] Yes, I think we need more forensic evidence…
[Lindborg] More forensic…
[al-Abadi] More forensic. Otherwise, our present procedures are [enabling] terrorists and corrupt people getting away. We need more detailed and forensic evidence to present to courts. We have to catch corrupt people, criminals. I think we are still relying on an old means, while the rest of technology has advanced so far. We have the internet now. And the internet, I have to be frank, the internet, the outlaws, criminals, terrorist are working without restriction, while law-abiding people, they abide by the law. So, these are ways they abuse the internet unlimited, while as a State who abides by the law or citizens that abide the law, they are using it according to the law. It’s uneven. It’s uneven. So, I think we have to work very hard, [meaning] we should not allow them to use our democracy, our freedom against us. We should develop our means by finding them, forensic evidence, it should be scrutinized what they are doing, and present them to the court.
I think we have been working with experts on this. We have developed our new system to follow up on terrorists and criminals inside and outside Iraq. This is important for us. You are not going to catch every criminal, but at least make criminals worry, make corrupt people worry, they can be caught one day. That’s what I want to do.
[Lindborg] So, you’ve spoken quite a lot about how to rebuild this democracy, which leads me to a question in big letters, which says, “Do you think Iraqi politicians got the lesson, and if so, how?” And I think to elude to the inclusive questions that we've had previously.
[al-Abadi] I hope the new breed of politicians would. [Long pause]
[Lindborg] Okay. [Laughter] Okay, we are running very short of time, I understand you need to be off in a moment. There is an interesting question here, though, about whether you would support a semi-autonomous district in the North of Iraq, specifically the Nineveh plains, TalAfar and Sinjar, for some of the minorities going back to the security of … any quick thoughts on that?
[al-Abadi] It is a tough one. I mean, we should be inclusive. We have included minorities in their own security, but I don’t think you protect yourself by having partition from your neighbors. I think this is a tough one. It has to be looked at thoroughly. We have to build bridges with others, and to work with others, to be more secure. Otherwise, what do you do, you build walls? What do you do?
[Lindborg] On that note, your Excellency, we are very honored to have you here with us at the U.S. Institute of Peace. You have a large and appreciative audience, as you can see. Please come back, we welcome your return visit, we look forward. You have a tough neighborhood and many big challenges ahead and we all wish you well for the future success and stability of Iraq. [To the audience] Please join me. [Applause] Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.