Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What is the current situation in Iraq?
H.E. Ambassador of Iraq in Brussels, Dr. Jawad al-Chlaihawi: Currently, the situation is obviously much better than a year, two years or even a few months ago, especially after the announcement of the final victory over Daesh and terrorism, and the total liberation of the Iraqi territory from the terrorist group. Iraq is now experiencing a period of national, political, and security consolidation. The Iraqi people clearly see the almost total absence since about four or five months cases of explosions that were previously observed in Baghdad or other cities. This shows the complete annihilation of the terrorist group’s capabilities. I can confirm the disappearance of the so-called Islamic State of the Caliph al-Baghdadi as a state-structure with ministers, services, institutions, etc. This phenomenon, which is foreign to our state structural culture in Iraq, in the region or in the world, is almost totally destroyed. But in truth, the ideology of Daesh remains alive. In other words, the terrorist group is defeated, the terrorist actions are over, the territory is liberated, but the ideas that created Daesh, which formed this terrorist group, still remain operative in Iraq and abroad. Simply because the birthplace of this ideology is not Iraq, it’s another geography, another country and it’s found almost everywhere, in the region and abroad, and it’s engendered other phenomena such as al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, etc. The ideology of Daesh remains operative, I will not say intact but it keeps certain dynamism. That is why, in Iraq, we remain very vigilant in this state of affairs as well as in other countries of the world, especially Europe, which remains very vigilant with regard to the presence of the ideology of terrorism. Thus, yesterday or the day before yesterday, President Macron announced the will of France to organize next April a symposium on the financing of Daesh. This means that the countries of the world are aware that the ideology of Daesh remains alive. In Iraq, especially, we are aware of this, and the government and the people of Iraq warn everyone that while it is true that we have achieved a military victory over Daesh, we still have an ideological victory to achieve over the Daesh phenomenon.
This reminds me of the former chief of staff of the Algerian army, the late Gen. Mohamed Lamari, who, at the time when Algeria was fighting terrorism, said that Algeria had defeated terrorism militarily but fundamentalism remained Intact. What about the ideological fight against jihadism in Iraq? Is this the next step?
The fight against general fundamentalism, against the ideology of Daesh, against the ideology of terrorism, is different things. The ideology of fundamentalism, we experienced it in the years ’80-90. This ideology existed in Muslim countries and in European countries too, but perhaps in different terms: fundamentalism in Muslim countries, extremism in European countries. The exclusion of certain entities in society is a phenomenon that exists in European countries or in the United States, in Muslim countries or in Arab countries. This phenomenon exists and will always exist.
This phenomenon of fundamentalism or extremism must be differentiated from the phenomenon and ideology of Daesh, of the pure and simple terrorism we have experienced in Iraq.
Do you mean Daesh and al-Qaeda or only Daesh?
Daesh and al-Qaeda, it’s the same thing. Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, Daesh, al-Baghdadi, it’s the same. All these groups emanate from the same ideological source so these phenomena fundamentalism, terrorism, extremism, ideology of Daesh, must be fought totally, not only by military tools but also by actions that promote social justice and peace.
And the religious texts too, the texts that appeal to this jihadism?
Of course, that is to say everything: justice, social peace, stability, the fight against inequalities. There is something very important concerning the ideology of Daesh, and to avoid its expansion. This thing is about respect for the rules of international law. When States or major powers do not respect international law or attempt to apply unilateral rules that are not adequate with international law and with the sovereignty of countries, these actions promote violence.
And they allow recruiting.
Exactly. People are unconsciously moving towards violence when the great powers flout international rules, occupy countries, and say anything.
As for example the Palestinian question, especially the arbitrary decision of President Trump to recognize al Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Israel.
Exactly. Many people in the region say that the situation of the Palestinian people is the source of all the problems we are currently experiencing. Therefore, it is very important for the leaders of the countries to show the people their will to respect international law, the will of the peoples, and the sovereignty of the States, whatever these States. Democracy or international law should not be used as a means of oppressing certain peoples.
As we have seen for example with Iraq.
With Iraq and with other countries like Libya, Syria… It is not by chance unfortunately that Daesh is in this region. Daesh did not go to Venezuela or Spain and Europe. It was operating in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt… The Daesh phenomenon is concomitant to what was called seven or ten years ago the Plan of the New Middle East, the New World Order.
The « creative chaos » of Mrs. Condoleezza Rice.
Exactly. Daesh was born with this plan.
So, we can say that they are the creators of Daesh?
It’s not me who decides, it’s experts who said it.
Moreover, Mrs. Clinton said that the United States had created Al Qaeda.
Yes, she did. That is why we must insist on the will of States and their leaders to respect the rules, the International Convention, the will of peoples, and to promote peace and stability. Currently, unfortunately, why does the ideology of Daesh remain operative? Simply because one can not find a real will among the leaders of the great powers to respect the international rules. Look at the war in the Yemen. The war in Yemen is a significant case of non-observance of its will, of flouting the sovereignty and authority of the country, of destroying the people, and no one is talking about it, no one reacts.
The media are silent about it.
It’s an example. Look at the case of Palestine. It’s the same thing. Look at the relationship between the international community and Iran, it’s almost the same thing. Iran is a country that works politically, that is, if there is an Iranian influence in the region, it is politics. Iran is not a lucrative association; it is a State that seeks its interest like all countries.
Do you think like some of my European friends who do not want to revisit the Iran nuclear deal? And especially with this Trump administration that behaves in a warmonger way and wants to review the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Exactly. There must be a real desire of the leaders of the great countries to respect the will of other peoples, to respect the sovereignty of other States and not to interfere in the internal affairs of countries. When you see that Daesh is only in this part of the Middle East, you have to ask questions. Why? You see, in this region, there are three things that the great powers have been very attached to since 1920-30-40. The first thing is Israel, the second thing is oil, and the third thing is Islam as civilizational and not just religious. These three things determine the policy of other States vis-à-vis the region: Israel-Palestine, oil, Islam. These three parameters determine the foreign policy of the powers, that is to say the United States, France, Great Britain… and their actions in the region vis-à-vis Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, are modulated according to these three parameters. It is not by chance if in 1990, we started talking, writing, discussing on “the clash of civilizations”. What does civilization mean? It means Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. And it is no coincidence that Israel is satisfied that its security is assured.
In your opinion, why the neocons have they focused strategically their choice on Iraq to carry out all these actions to destabilize the region since the first intervention in the 90? Why especially Iraq?
Because Iraq, compared to other States in the region, has both natural wealth such as oil, etc. and also human wealth. Saudi Arabia, for example, has natural wealth but lacks human wealth. Egypt has human wealth, but does not have natural wealth. Iraq has two rivers (note: Tigris and Euphrates), natural wealth, civilization, history, culture, it is a country with a history of seven thousand years. So, human wealth, natural wealth. Destabilizing Iraq means destabilizing the region.
That’s the reason they hit and they played on Shiism and Sunnism, that is, they used the variants of Islam to burn the region.
Exactly. Religion is used as a cover for political reasons. That’s why I told you about the three parameters: Israel, oil, Islam.
I would like to come back to what Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said: “the fight against corruption is the direct extension of military operations”. He formulated this extremely courageous sentence meaning that the real fight against Daesh is led by military actions but also by fighting against corruption. I think he’s talking about what you said about social justice.
Of course, social justice is necessary. To reach a standard acceptable stage of national social justice, it is necessary to fight corruption, of course. To achieve national security, you have to fight Daesh. To achieve social justice, we must fight corruption. A society without justice is a dead society. That’s why our second fight is against corruption. Fighting corruption means fighting for social justice.
Is there coordination in the fight against terrorism between Iraq and Western countries?
Yes, there is a very important collaboration between the Iraqi State in all its services, military, police, customs and the Arab States, the regional States and the western States that fight Daesh. Our humble human mission to fight Daesh in Iraq is also to fight Daesh for France and other countries.
Finally, countries like Iraq and Syria, and I can also mention Algeria and Egypt, are at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. Do you also have coordination with those countries that know about terrorism?
Of course, in Algeria in 1989-90, you experienced the first war against Daesh.
So for you, terrorism is Daesh? Even al-Qaeda, we can call it Daesh?
Qaeda – Daesh embody terrorism, of course, either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan… It’s the same engine, it’s just the brand that changes, the title. But it’s the same strain, the same fabric.
For you, Algeria fought Daesh already in the years ’80 -90?
Fought terrorism? Of course. What happened in Algeria at that time is the same phenomenon that we experienced in Iraq, slaughtering people, etc. it’s the same thing. The difference is in time, in Algeria, it was in ’89-90, before the occupation of Iraq.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yes. The second difference of terrorism experienced by Algeria is that it is a phenomenon experienced in Africa. The terrorism experienced by Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, is happening in the Middle East. Talking about the Middle East is not the same as talking about North Africa. The Middle East is something else. In the Middle East, as I told you, there is oil, Islam and all civilization. Not only Islam, moreover, since Jesus was born in Palestine, he is an Arab.
Do not you think that Algeria, which has oil and which also has a civilization, lived what Iraq experienced and was almost dismantled? Because we had come close to collapse.
The difference too is that there is an occupation in Iraq with the American presence. From the moment there is an American presence, there are foreign phenomena. Certain situations allow the birth of foreign phenomena. And there is an American presence in areas of the Middle and Near East. There is something else too. After the American occupation, there was the dismantling of the Iraqi army.
I was going to address this question. I interviewed an American diplomat, Mr. Matthew Hoh, who resigned because of the US intervention in Iraq. He was a diplomat for the State Department and Commander of the Marines in Iraq. In your opinion, was it not a strategic mistake of the Americans to dismantle the Iraqi army?
For us, we consider this a strategic mistake. On the American side, some consider it so, others interpret it differently. But the result observed by the Iraqis after the occupation shows that it is a strategic mistake. Algeria’s victory over terrorism is due to the existence of the Algerian army, to the existence of the Algerian State. If there had not been the Algerian army, if there had not been the Algerian State, I am convinced that Algeria and the region would be like the cradle of terrorism, Daesh, al-Qaeda, etc.
The sanctuary, as now Libya collapsed.
Exactly. The dismantling of the Iraqi army has played an important role in inflating terrorism.
Let’s talk now about the repatriation of Western jihadists who are in Iraqi prisons. We talk a lot about it for the moment. Have Westerners formally contacted the Iraqi State to repatriate their terrorists?
To my knowledge, yes, there have been contacts between the relevant services of the Republic of Iraq and the relevant services of certain Western countries such as France and Belgium. There have been contacts about this and other issues.
Can you give us the number of terrorists incarcerated?
All countries combined, about 500-600. This is not an exact figure, but approximate.
They risk the death penalty?
It depends on their participation. It’s case by case.
The Western countries who bear the full brunt of the terrorist phenomenon have they learned the Iraqi lesson, especially in the fight against terrorism, or didn’t they retain anything as it was the case in relation to the Algerian experience?
It is obvious that the Western countries are alerted by the situation of terrorism, not only with regard to Iraq but also what is happening in their own countries, in Paris or in Belgium, and so on where they face this phenomenon in a direct way on their territory, and not indirectly by what is happening in Iraq and other countries. But I think we have to reverse the situation. It is us, the Iraqis, who are suffering terrorism coming from abroad, coming from Belgium, France, Asia, etc. Most of those who constitute the terrorist group operating in Iraq or Syria, that is to say 70%, are foreigners. They are trained in Afghanistan or Syria, Iraq, but their home is in other countries.
Do Western countries take the lesson?
Of course. The proof is that Western countries, in recent years, are beginning to take draconian measures of security, police, and developing contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian secret services.
They have contacts with the Syrian secret services?
I think so. I can not speak for the Europeans, but in a logical way, in general, European countries, Iraq and other countries are very concerned and very attentive to the security of their citizens. When the question of security and national security is mentioned, there is no limit to speaking with Iraqis, Syrians, Iranians, Russians, or Algerians. Here, security, public safety, public order, overrides other aspects, other secondary or strategic disputes. We can not tolerate the danger to the public by refraining from contacting Syrians or Iraqis. The interest of public order is greater than the details.
Do not you think that the US administration should apologize to the Iraqi people for its two deadly interventions and the blockade that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths?
Sincerely, this question is not on the agenda. Between us and the Americans, there are now strategic agreements, there is a fight against terrorism. We are fighting it in a very excessive way, the Americans or others are fighting it to contain Daesh.
Precisely, is it not a mistake to want to contain the terrorist phenomenon?
This is a debatable question. In any case, asking for apologies to the Americans for the mistakes made is not the priority of the Iraqis. Our priority is that we have succeeded in fighting Daesh and now we must fight corruption and then move on to rebuilding the country.
I also wanted to ask you an important question. When we see the Daesh membership that was huge at first and even President Putin told the coalition that they had seen water on Mars but had not seen the pickups in the desert. The number was huge and one wonders where all these terrorists went. Do you think, like the Iraqi specialist of Daesh, Hicham al-Hashemi, that they still have weapons caches?
Certainly. We are discovering weapons caches here and there. There are still dormant cells, but we are cleaning them up.
We are talking about a redeployment of Daesh and al-Qaeda to Libya. Do you have any information about this?
They are redeploying themselves to Africa in general. Libya, Nigeria, in the Sahel.
So there is a threat to the countries of the region? Do not you think terrorists will focus there?
I think so. Moreover, a conference on terrorism was held recently in Jordan about a month ago. It was organized by Jordan and inaugurated by the King and many Western persons in charge took part. The theme was Daesh’s move to Africa.
On the crisis of the Iraqi central State with the Kurds, is this crisis finally settled?
It is currently in the process of settlement.
Have the Kurds abandoned their claims of independence?
There are divergences between the two parties and these divergences are based on the contribution of the national budget, the economic aspect, and after the referendum, the Kurdistan region no longer dreams of independence. Discussions now focus on economic issues, cooperation, customs issues, airports, and not political issues. It’s a part of Iraq, so we’re staying in a federal State. I think in a few months or weeks, the situation will be settled.
You had a foreign or UN mediation?
No, it’s settled between us.
In your opinion, can the Iraqi State rebuild itself in the long and medium term with strong institutions? And can we hope for an economic recovery of the country?
The economic situation of the country is correct. I’m not saying it’s what we would want, but it’s a good situation. We obviously hope to develop it, and it is under development, we now have a reconstruction base. Unfortunately, there is a limitation of oil resources because of the price. The export quantity is correct, and we currently have a production around 5 million per day. It’s a lot. There are 4 million for export and 1 million for local consumption. So, the economic situation is correct and we are considering the reconstruction, the development of the country according to a sound economic and financial plan, hoping that the situation will develop within two, three or four years.
I worked a lot on Iraqi issues, including the trafficking in works of art looted in Iraq by Daesh and resold to finance their criminal actions. Are you going to start concrete actions such as seizing international tribunals to recover this heritage that belongs to the Iraqi people and is scattered all over the world?
Yes. Iraq has for quite some time been taking very concrete steps in cooperating with the United Nations and with other countries such as the United States and Europe, and we are seeing a very positive outcome. We recovered a lot of art objects that were stolen by Daesh or during the occupation. Iraq has recovered a lot and it continues.
Are you optimistic for the future of Iraq?
Of course. After our fight against Daesh which was very hard, we saw an undeniable success for Iraq; it’s a kick-off for the Iraqis as a society, as a State and as political class, in order to go beyond this limit at the economic, political and military levels. I am very optimistic and Iraq is now a center of balance between all the States in the region. It has political stability; it is a democratic State, a State of law that is developing in its democratic path. That is the asset of Iraq.
Interview realized in Brussels by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Published in American Herald Tribune, January 10, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/2091-jawad-al-chlaihawi.html
In Palestine Soidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.110118.htm