Syrians Cooperating on Security Issues Says Ambassador
Alaa al-Jawadi is the first Iraqi ambassador to Syria in some 30 years. Following his recent appointment Niqash went to speak to him on the eve of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s August 18 visit to Syria.
Niqash: What are the aims behind Prime Minister al-Maliki’s forthcoming trip to Syria? Is the main focus going to be security issues between the two countries?
Al-Jawadi: It’s not just about security. There are many purposes and many issues will be discussed and maybe one of them will be security. According to my information the visit will be multi-point focused. We are looking for improving the Iraqi-Syrian relations on all levels to achieve a strategic relationship between the two countries; that is our main goal. That contains a lot of things: there is a long border between us, we can speak about the custom efforts, about security, about transportation, about oil and vegetables and fruits coming back and forth between the two countries. So it is a very complicated relationship between two countries and contains a lot of files to discuss. Unfortunately some of our friends just focus on specific points and miss the big picture. It is at the end of the day a picture with all its elements, not just one element. The economic relationship is one of the important issues and maybe it’s at the top of our agenda.
Niqash: But is the Iraqi government happy with the steps the Syria is taking on security issues such as border controls?
Al-Jawadi: We can’t use such words. It is not accurate to say happy or not happy because both the governments work seriously and practically to deal with all the issues. So there is no space for happy or not happy. There is serious working, continuous working, daily working upon this issue. The Syrians have been positive with us dealing on this issue.
Niqash: What about Baathist opposition groups based in Damascus. Do you mind that the Syrian government lets them stay in Damascus?
Al-Jawadi: Let me tell you firstly, we respect the sovereignty of the Syrian government. If we have any kind of such problems we will firstly contact the Syrians through the foreign ministries, through the Iraq embassy and everything will be put clearly on the table and everything will be discussed. Some people are opposite to us, they have other ideas and they don’t like this government. They would like to establish another government through the democratic and political process and we haven’t any problem with those people. Our problem, the problem of the Iraqi people, is with those who kill. We will follow and catch criminals through the legal system. But if anyone has his own ideas in opposition, in political opposition, it is accepted in Iraq.
Niqash: Strategically how important is Syria in helping Iraq gain stability though its regional alliances?
Al-Jawadi: In our foreign policy we regard all our neighbouring countries as very important and every country can be positive with the future of Iraq. And one of them is of course Syria and Syria is very important on every level.
Niqash: What is your long-term plan for the Iraqi refugees here in Syria?
Al-Jawadi: Everyone is looking forward to returning to his country, to live in an ordinary and stable environment because you know if you are outside your country that will bring you a lot of problems. However, we deal with this problem with a scientific approach. We try to attract many of them to return back to Iraq, encouraging them to do that. And those who can’t return back to Iraq we try to provide them with the services that we are able to give to them. But naturally every one of them has the ambition to return back to Iraq so it is not a matter of decisions, it is a matter of practical things. We and the Syrian government and the UN organization try to open the closed paths for their return to Iraq.
Niqash: Are you contributing financially to supporting refugees here?
Al-Jawadi: Of course. For example, we have provided the tickets for many people returning back to Iraq, as well as with pocket-money. We try and support them inside Iraq in some aspects such as helping them return back to their jobs. But I don’t like to speak just a rosy way. There is a reality and there is a difference between ambitions and reality. The challenges are very big.
Niqash: What about economic relations. What is your vision for the economic relationship between Iraq and Syria?
Al-Jawadi: All parties are challenged and are striving to find a better future and I hope the two countries will have a very good relationship. In his visit to Syria the Finance Minister discussed these issues, for instance the banking system, the transportation system, customs, free trade areas, and accordingly we established a theoretical basis for future economic relations between the two countries.