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NIQASH interview with iraqi vice president
US withdrawal ‘nothing to worry about’

Mustafa Habib
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi talked to NIQASH about the US withdrawal, the influence of Iran and Turkey and Arab League sanctions on Syria. He also asks whether the current Iraqi government can go on.
13.12.2011  |  Baghdad

Tariq al-Hashimi heads the Renewal political party, which he founded in 2009. Previous to this al-Hashimi, a Sunni Muslim, was head of the largest Sunni-based Islamic party, the Iraqi Islamic Party. After the 2010 elections, al-Hashimi, whose new Renewal party is part of the mostly secular Iraqiya political bloc, headed by Ayed Allawi and the main opposition group to the current Iraqi government, was made second Vice President of Iraq.

NIQASH: In your opinion, what are the major problems that will arise after the US troop withdrawal?

Al-Hashimi: There is nothing to worry about because there is no security vacuum in the country. In fact, the internal security situation might improve after the US withdrawal. However the Iraqi armed forces’ insufficient training – in particular, the absence of well trained air and naval forces – will mean that Iraq’s borders are undefended in case of any attack from outside the country.

The ground forces alone are not sufficient to protect Iraq’s borders because these forces are busy with internal security-related tasks. And [after the US withdrawal] there may also be internal issues that arise because of different Iraqi ethnicities’ claims to different provinces. So we really need to find political solutions to these problems quickly.

NIQASH: You visit Turkey regularly. What kind of role do you believe Turkey can play in Iraq after the US withdrawal?

Al-Hashimi: Most of these visits are actually personal, for holidays. In fact, last year I only made one official visit to Turkey and this was because of my involvement in the second Annual International Investment Conference for the Anbar province, held in Istanbul. So I think that the amount of time I spend in Turkey officially has been exaggerated.

However I can say that the Turkish relationship with Iraq is based on common interests with a Turkish respect for Iraqi sovereignty and no desire to interfere in Iraqi affairs. Turkey is effectively contributing to the reconstruction of Iraq. Turkish contractors, construction companies, businesspeople, educators and doctors - as well as Turkish NGOs – have been in Iraq from early on, and at a time when nations closer to Iraq were reluctant to be here because of the difficult security conditions. I’m not exaggerating here.

After the US withdrawal I know that Iraq can very much depend on Turkish expertise in the training of armed forces and other security services.

NIQASH: There are fears that, after the US withdrawal, Iran will have even more influence over Iraqi affairs.

Al-Hashimi: Iran does not hide its influence in Iraq. Iran’s influence has increased during the past few years – it’s done this under US eyes and ears and with US complicity. So even when the US troops withdraw, Iraq will not have its sovereignty back. A neighbouring country will still have some control over Iraq and the real challenge for the Iraqi people is how they’re going to manage their own country, by themselves.

NIQASH: What impact would a US attack on Iran have in Iraq?

Al-Hashimi: Not much. Although perhaps Iran would be forced to tackle its internal issues rather than exporting its problems beyond its borders. But I would never want to see a neighbouring nation suffer and I would call upon Iraq to act in a wise and responsible way.

NIQASH: How are you feeling about Iraq’s foreign policy at the moment?

Al-Hashimi: A nation’s foreign policy is always a reflection of its internal policies. Which is why Iraq’s internal conflicts are seen to be reflected in Iraq’s foreign policy.

NIQASH: What’s your assessment of the current security situation in Iraq?

Al-Hashimi: There is no doubt that we have been able to make progress. Both in regard to the general condition and preparedness of the Iraqi security services and to the general state of security in Iraq – especially when compared to the very difficult years between 2005 and 2008.

But obviously there are still some security breaches. The recent car bomb attack on the Iraqi parliament is clear evidence of the need to continue re-assessing our security requirements and to continue developing the armed forces. Additionally we need to keep taking decisive action against those who violate the law and those who are suspected of having done so.

NIQASH: Speaking of which, over the past few months the Iraqi government has conducted a campaign of arrests – those arrested were allegedly part of the outlawed Baath party, the political party led by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and were plotting a coup against the government. What’s your opinion on these allegations?

Al-Hashimi: I personally asked [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki to urgently arrange a meeting for all the leaders of the various political blocs where the details of this alleged coup could be made public. [Editor’s note: in the absence of appointed ministers, Al-Maliki is currently acting minister of defence, internal affairs and national security]. But he never replied to my request.

I did get a response from some members of his coalition though, who told me the information was confidential and that not all political parties could be trusted with it. That seems like a strange response and I now leave it to the Iraqi people to judge. Until I see the evidence [of this coup] with my own eyes, I will continue to think that this is simply an allegation – possibly a malicious allegation.

According to my sources, those who were arrested may well have been innocent. And the government has not provided them with an opportunity to defend themselves at a fair trial – which is a violation of the Iraqi constitution and Iraqi laws.

NIQASH: And how do you see Iraq’s position in relation to Syria?

Al-Hashimi: The position – which is unjustified and different to that of other Arab countries - does not really reflect the opinion of all Iraqis. Some have said that the Arab Spring actually started in Iraq. So if that’s true, then why is the Iraqi foreign ministry taking the Syrian regime’s side? Why is the Iraqi foreign ministry working against the oppressed Syrian people, who are being subjected to murder and no mercy on a daily basis? Why did we fight the Baath party of Iraq – including the recent accusations of a coup - only to support the Baath party of Syria? Both Baath parties share an ideology. So why do we have these double standards?

We can only hope that the Syrian regime responds positively and implements reforms as soon as possible. The League of Arab States has given the Syrian regime a golden opportunity, which it has chosen to neglect unjustifiably.

NIQASH: And your thoughts about the Arab League’s decision to impose economic sanctions on Syria?

Al-Hashimi: That was a landmark decision. But the Arab League was forced to take these measures in order to try to protect civilians from violence and murder and because the Syrian regime has neglected to take up any other opportunities for change. The Arab League was forced to take this step – but I think it’s better than international interference in the issue, the aftermath of which would be disastrous.

NIQASH: What are your thoughts on Islamic political parties that have come to power in countries where Arab Spring uprisings have led to changes?

Al-Hashimi: As long as change, and the transfer of power, is being peacefully brought about via the ballot box, then I don’t think we need to worry. Throughout their history, Islamic movements have tended to be in opposition to various ruling parties. But now they’re in power themselves and they’re facing some big challenges. They may make some mistakes through lack of experience but on the whole, I think we should trust them and help them instead of challenging them.

I think the Iraqi experience of this is not a positive one. I blame it on a lack of confidence in politics and on a lack of respect for the concepts of brotherhood, tolerance and justice as it is taught in the Islamic religion. Co-existence with all creeds, sects and ethnicities is difficult.

NIQASH: What will the Iraqiya list do if the promises made when the coalition was formed – namely, that the list leader Ayed Allawi, have a special position created for him as head of a new National High Council for Strategic Policies – are not fulfilled? That promise was made almost exactly one year ago.

Al-Hashimi: We will be patient and we will continue to act as the opposition. But if conditions do not improve, our responsibility to the nation obliges us to speak out and to search for alternatives.

NIQASH: What are your opinions on the number of regions that are currently asking for autonomy: what’s going on with this?

Al-Hashimi: People in the central and southern areas are not demanding the creation of autonomous regions because they’ve become aware that they can do this, according to the Iraqi constitution. Rather, they’re demanding this because they are unwilling to accept further injustice, corruption and bad management from the central government.

If the central government made some changes, and made the various regions feel like they had some power when it came to decisions regarding their security, their administration and government services, then the regional governments would definitely take another position. I don’t think the government of Salahaddin would have done this unless it felt it was forced to.

NIQASH: How do you see the situation playing out with the current Iraqi government: do you expect it to stay in power until the official end of its term?

Al-Hashimi: I don’t know. I think ultimately people don’t care who is in power. They only care about how those in power use their authority. I wish the current government success but it seems to be insisting on failure.