Niqash conducted the following interview with Aqeel al-Khaza’li, Governor of Karbala, in which he explains the security situation in the city and accuses certain parties of the assassination attempt on his life.
Niqash: Karbala province has been witnessing hostile security infiltrations. What are security forces doing to stop these infiltrations?
Al-Khaza’li: Security problems started more than two years ago when al-Qaeda members began infiltrating the province from the Northern Babel road, or what is known as the “death triangle”, and other bordering areas and began terrorist acts against citizens and security forces. The situation deteriorated further with the bigger role played by militias and illegal gangs who have caused lots of problems, most recently the violence during the Zyarah al-Sha’baniyah festival in 2007 [when fighting broke out between members of the Mahdi army and the Badr Organization supported by government troops]. This provoked the government to take the decision to end all illegal, armed elements inside the province after recognizing their dangers. It is not fair to underestimate the role of security forces who have achieved tangible results in fighting terrorists and banned groups and who are currently enjoying high level of combat proficiency.
Niqash: Is the province implementing the trench barrier project along the borders of Karbala and Anbar provinces? Do you believe that this trench will put an end to the infiltration?
Al-Khaza’li: The idea of the trench was initiated during the last year. We have allocated the necessary amounts of money for the project after receiving the approval of the prime ministry. We were also able to obtain the approval of the tribes living on this side of the trench. Now, security forces and tribes are ready for the project and control towers have already been built to prevent the infiltration of terrorists. In fact, this project has solved the problem of terrorist infiltration from Anbar to Karbala.
Niqash: Is the big campaign against armed militias related to the assassination attempt on your life which took place in southern Karbala a few days ago?
Al-Khaza’li: The campaign started more than three months ago because security in the city has become a game played by militias trying to oust and replace the legitimate government. Certainly this is not possible, because democracy does not mean anarchy. If there are some people who think that way, it is our duty to lead them to the right path by reinstating the rule of law which should apply to everybody without exceptions.
Niqash: Do you accuse any particular party of the assassination attempt?
Al-Khaza’li: Yes, we accuse the banned groups and specifically the Mahdi army.
Niqash: There are rumors saying that you have signed investment contracts with external parties without informing the government. Does your authority permit you to sign such contracts?
Al-Khaza’li: We have not gone beyond the limit of our authority and accusations made by some members of the provincial council in this regard are unacceptable. The accusations came from members allied to banned groups who have infringed the law and killed many officials and innocent citizens across the province.
Niqash: Does this mean that you accuse the province’s council of supporting militias and banned groups? More specifically, who do you accuse?
Al-Khaza’li: I personally accuse certain persons and not the province’s council. I accuse those who support outlawed activities practiced by militias, the Mahdi army being one of them.
Niqash: A few weeks ago, the Integrity Commission declared that some members of the province’s council had submitted counterfeit school certificates and do not hold the necessary educational certificates. How would you comment on such declarations?
Al-Khaza’li: We cannot deny these facts but we should not generalize. We did not object to the procedures adopted by the commission in investigating the certificates of all members of the province’s council and other leading officials in local authority. Those who counterfeited certificates will be treated according to the law.
Niqash: Following the recent Basra operation you said that you were ready to create awakening councils in the province to fight militias. What is the status of this project after the signing of the “charter of honor” between tribes?
Al-Khaza’li: The project is still in its infancy and the number of needed awakening members has not yet been specified like in Basra. But, we have initially started to implement the “charter of honor” signed by 86 tribal leaders from Karbala in which they commit to support the security forces in the province. The code contains important points including the cutting of ties by the tribes with those who attack government forces and the payment of one million dinars by the tribe if their members commit an assault. I believe that this code will give security forces support in the coming period and will restrict the practices of militias and banned groups.
Niqash: Do you support the creation of an awakening council in Karbala’?
Al-Khaza’li: Not now. I think that the charter of honor is enough for the time being. We can plan for the creation of an awakening council if the need arises. I am sure that the tribes can put an end to banned groups and militias emerging from within these tribes. But I do not think that it is now necessary to create an awakening council.
Niqash: What about your efforts to curb the influence of Jund Al-Sama’ (Soldiers of Heaven)? Do you think it is easy to defeat the group, Karbala being one of its strongholds?
Al-Khaza’li: I admit that we were surprised by the rapid growth of this group in the province and especially in the tribal areas. Most of those who joined were former Bathists, which is a clear indication of the roots and reality of this group. But I believe that monitoring the expansion of this group is an important issue, especially as it grew rapidly from within the tribes. Its sudden disappearance is something we doubt. The group may have turned itself into a sleeper cell waiting for the right moment and conditions to reappear, similar to the manner in which al-Qaeda reacts when it is severely attacked.