No foreign troops in Iraq by the end 2011 – Iraqi FM

All foreign troops and detachments will be pulled out before the end of 2011 without delay, insists Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, though military instructors will stay because Iraq needs them.

­RT: What do you think of the demonstrations and revolutions that keep shaking the Arab world? What is the position of the Iraqi government regarding these events – is it positive, negative or neutral at this stage?

Hoshyar Zebari: It is positive. Iraq was one of the first Arab states that welcomed the revolution in Tunisia. Probably, our official representative was the first one to arrive in Tunisia and Egypt to congratulate them on the revolution. We've got good connections with other protest movements as well. They consider Iraq to be an example. Despite all our drawbacks, Iraq is pursuing a line of new democracy. It is an example of achieving democracy, freedom, and respecting human dignity. We are aware of all our drawbacks, however – they are looking at us. We recognize the right of people to self-determination, to fulfill their political will and make their own political choices, while being free and preserving their dignity. Iraq is anything but neutral in this situation. But at the same time, Iraq is unwilling to interfere in other people’s affairs. We can set an example – that's how we see our role, which does not consist of choosing leaders.

RT:Do you have the same position regarding the events in Syria at the moment?

HZ: Yes, the government has the same position regarding what's going on in Syria. However, the events in Syria are different due to the country's geopolitical position in the region and the role it plays for Iraq. Syria is different from Libya, it is different from Yemen. Our good relationship and permanent contacts with our brothers in Syria show that still we have time for the reforms that would be really felt by the ordinary people and that it is impossible to resolve the issue by force solely.

RT: You've been officially and constantly demanding that Iran should stop bombarding the northern neighboring regions of Iraq, stressing that such actions negatively affect the relationship between the two countries. Why doesn’t Iraq react to it? Is it  a weakness on the part of Iraq?

HZ: No, these bombardments are unlawful and very harmful. They have been a cause of concern for our previous and current government. The people of Iran and Iraq are close. We are friends and allies, and actions like that do not serve to improve our relations, which is what we keep telling them. Iran wants the Kurd “Free Life” party to cease activity in the border regions. This demand is completely understandable, but that is not the way to solve this problem. You have witnessed the shootings. They are chaotic and pointless. We have worked in the mountains and we know that these bombardments will not lead to any result.

Recently Iran proposed solving the issue through negotiations at the level of security committees of the two countries, and we support that proposal. I believe that today's decrease in intensity of bombardments will ultimately lead to their end. We let the Iranian government know about the position of the Iraqi government. I often hear that the Iraqi government does not have any final position on this issue. That is not true. We do have such a position, and it has been stipulated in relevant treaties and presented to the Iranian ambassador more than once. This position has been officially presented via diplomatic channels and in personal meetings of the leaders. I personally carried out negotiations on this issue with the Iranian Foreign Minister. Such talks have been conducted by other ministries. Our position has been published and voiced in a parliamentary address in the mass media.

RT: Mr. Minister, the leaders of political factions are carrying out negotiations with the government on the issue of American military instructors staying in the Iraqi armed forces after America pulls most of its troops out. How many of them are there going to be and how long are they going to stay in Iraq?

HZ: Yes, Iraq needs military instructors. Probably, the military instructors won't be from the troops that are being pulled out from Iraq. Probably, the training itself won't be conducted in Iraq. We must be precise – the published statement only says that the government is willing to start negotiations, rather than conclude an agreement. The agreement to pull out the troops of the coalition before the end of 2011 remains unshakable.

RT: Does it mean that before the end of this year all the American troops will be pulled out from Iraq?

HZ: All troops and detachments will be pulled out before the end of 2011 without any delay. But there is another problem here. Iraq has purchased tanks, airplanes and military boats, and this equipment requires thorough preparation and good instructors. That's the case throughout the world. Let's say, tomorrow we buy Russian tanks. Then the instructors must be Russian as well. We should not mix up two different things and talk about the troops staying there longer. Until now the number of instructors and other details have not been defined.

RT: Mr. Zebari, I’m sure you are very well acquainted with the report presented by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to party leaders of the political parties and the Parliament on the current status of the Iraqi Armed Forces – what does this report say?

HZ: The report gives an assessment of the country’s domestic security, and it says that our Armed Forces have reached the level of proficiency and equipment status sufficient for maintaining it, but I would like to point out again that we have no aircraft, no air shield, no air defense system. Our ports in the Gulf and in Basra have no cover from the sea since there is no Navy in place; and there still remains a need for intelligence services in view of the threat from Al-Qaeda and terrorism. Quite honestly, we still need to build up our defense capacities; we need equipment and armaments, as well as qualified instructors who would be able to increase our army’s performance to the level where it would become fully operational and self-sustained.

RT: Given this, when can we expect the Iraqi Armed Forces to complete building up their defense capacities and take over the task of maintaining domestic security?

HZ: This is beyond my authority so I am not prepared to answer this question, but I can say that it will take some time, no doubt.

RT: There is an opinion that the decision to employ the US forces personnel to train the Iraqi army was made by Iraq’s political leaders under direct pressure from the USA, what can you say about that?

HZ: No, there was no pressure. Americans helped us lay the foundation and start building up our new army, that’s one sure thing. They are still helping us and monitoring progress. They give advice on what strategic armaments we can buy from them, we have a need for them, and they have their own interests in Iraq. And they are protecting their interests, but not by way of putting pressure or telling us to do this or that, there is nothing of this kind. They say that they are ready to stay only if Iraq asks them to. But we are not asking them, our government hasn’t announced such a request. As for the military instructors, this issue will be discussed by the government and the country’s leaders. Iraq has a need for them.

RT: What achievements have been made by Iraq regarding the issue of the termination of Clause Seven on the international isolation and what remains on the way to complete removal of sanctions?

HZ: We are now beyond all the decisions about Iraq's isolation by the international community, disarmament and WMDs, oil in exchange for food and other contracts that have expired. The issue of Iraqi assets has been solved. Dozens of agreements have been canceled and are not relevant any more. A number of decisions concerning primarily Kuwait are still effective. This is a very sensitive issue, to say nothing about Port Mubarak. There are also other decisions that we should comply with. Resolution 833 on Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Demarcation – Saddam's regime took this decision, while our constitutional power must adopt this resolution. As part of the humanitarian record, we must solve the issue of prisoners and those missing. The issue on Kuwait's property should be resolved. But we also have casualties and separated families, a lot was stolen from our country in 2003. But we must solve these problems, and we started this work. Five per cent of our oil revenues are going to Kuwait as compensation, and that will continue to be the case.

RT: What is your assessment of the relations between Baghdad and Moscow, is there a program to develop co-operation and a relationship in all areas?

HZ: Thank God, our relations are developing well and we’re making significant progress. I think that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Baghdad is a good confirmation of this. Our relations in political, economic, trade, construction, and military areas have become quite advanced. There are very well thought-through plans for Russian-Iraqi military co-operation aiming at improving the combat-readiness of the Iraqi Armed Forces which for many years have used Russian military equipment and armaments. There is also a plan for Russian oil companies to participate in a number of projects to develop the Iraqi oil industry, including some investment projects. I think that we have proved that we make no preferences and do not obstruct Russia’s interests on Iraq’s markets – as Russian business circles might have thought at one time. Despite the fact that the US and Great Britain are also active in Iraq’s market and pursue their interests, I’m sure that fair competition will allow Russian oil companies to take up their fair share in Iraq’s oil market.

RT:You have retained your position as foreign minister in Prime Minister al-Maliki’s cabinet for a second term in office. What is your opinion of the premier and the government’s work as, primarily, a citizen of Iraq and secondly, the minister of foreign affairs?

HZ: A man learns. Al-Maliki never expected to become prime minister. He never thought about the position. I, for my part, never thought I would become the minister of foreign affairs. I was just doing state service. But a man learns. I am sure al-Maliki has learned a lot about resolving the country’s problems and countering threats to Iraq during his first term. He and I worked side by side for 24 hours a day following and managing our affairs. We would not have achieved anything if we worked separately. The country needs every one of us to work. The country needs a stronger political leadership, stronger parties and parliament, more unity. Al-Maliki, despite being the extraordinary and experienced man he is, would not have achieved anything if he had worked on his own. You cannot clap with one hand. This is my opinion. We have learned a lot and we still have a lot to learn. We have to define the criteria of national unity and national interests and rule the country based on these criteria and the will of the people. The people will decide who rules the country via elections. No-one can rule forever. The people will change and replace their rulers. This is what democracy demands in all countries of the world.