‘Suppliers of arms to opposition want to destroy the Syrian people’ – Iraqi PM
"He who starts a fire will be destroyed by fire in the end,” Al-Maliki stated, predicting that sponsorship of the Syrian opposition will backfire on supporting states.
RT: What do Iraq and Russia have in common in terms of their approach to the Syrian crisis; and do you think the two countries can come up with a joint proposal on how to settle it?
Nouri Al-Maliki: Of course, the crisis is a matter of serious concern both for the countries in the region and for the world’s major powers. And it’s not only countries – this issue has been on the agenda of many international organizations. We have repeatedly said that we take the Syrian crisis as our own problem. It is a very important country, with its own political position. We did warn everyone earlier – and keep reminding – that the fire that started in Syria will spill over the borders to engulf other countries of the region and, in the end, it will have a global impact. The Middle East is one of the major energy producers of the world.
Just like Russia, we believe that the use of force cannot be a solution to the crisis. Many other countries now share this approach, even those that used to think that supplying arms to the opposition would be sufficient to generate regime change. They now recognize that it is impossible to settle the Syrian crisis through the use of force. This is also Russia’s position.
Russia, Iraq and many other countries are united in their conviction that force will not end the crisis in Syria – we need to look for a peaceful solution through political dialogue. It is our joint task – I mean Iraq, Russia and the whole international community – to help both sides find common ground, to agree on a mutually-acceptable form of government.
This new government must be based on the principles of freedom and democracy. The Syrians must have the right to vote, they must have a Constitution. These are the things that the Syrian people demanded when they started the revolution. But of course, not everybody in Syria agrees with these demands, some groups don’t think that reforms are needed. We’ve heard different statements and demands. Of course dialogue will continue, because we are very much concerned about what’s going on in Syria. We have been seriously affected by the situation in Syria. We have experienced some spillover effects of the Syrian crisis here in Iraq.
We will discuss this issue with our Russian counterparts; we will talk about possible ways to make existing initiatives effective, including the original peace plan put forward by the Arab League, as opposed to the flawed proposals made during the sessions of the ministerial committee and the Geneva agreements. According to them, there is no military solution to the conflict. The agreements call for an end to arms supplies both to the opposition and the regime. Unfortunately, a number of states ignore these initiatives and continue to send arms to Syria, which only makes the situation worse.
This is where Russia, Iraq, China, and many Muslim and Arab countries in the region agree. It is our duty to address this issue and try to find ways out of this turmoil which, we are afraid, might turn into a fully-fledged regional war.
RT: How would you assess the calls by some countries, especially Arab countries that have the support of the West, for military intervention in order to resolve the crisis in Syria?
NM: I’d give them a piece of brotherly advice: “Forget it! He who starts a fire will be destroyed by fire in the end.” Those who want Syria to follow this path have to understand that it will destroy the Syrian people. This is what’s happening in Syria right now. Cities lie in ruins, the war rages on and is likely to spill over involving new actors – international, regional, religious and political ones. If they care about themselves and their people, if they seek stability and security, if they care about Syria and its people, they have to stop sowing the seeds of discord by supplying arms. They also have to stop thinking it will be them who will shape Syria’s future.
I met with several representatives of the Syrian opposition and I felt they understand the threat that is coming from the Arab forces that provide them with weapons. These forces openly declare that they want to interfere in Syria’s affairs. But the Syrian nation is against it.
RT: Do you share the view that it’s foreign interference in Syria’s affairs that’s made the situation in the country so dangerous?
NM: Absolutely. And they will keep driving it to an even more dangerous degree until eventually it will backfire on the states that are now sponsoring the Syrian opposition. All these states will face upheavals and unrest due to sectarian violence, foreign interference, the spillover effect and expansion. They’re already feeling it. If these countries keep sending arms and using force for a regime change, their stability will be in jeopardy, and the situation inside these countries will be no better than in Syria.
RT: What do you think about the “national partnership government”? Is this the best form of governance to help to move Iraq forward or are there any negative aspects that make that government less effective? What do you think of “the majority government”, something many other countries rely on?
NM: A partnership government has exhausted both its capacity and agenda. It was necessary during previous stages, but not any longer. Right now everyone, even the people of Iraq, feel that the regime of national partnership keeps our hands tied, hinders our development, stands in the way of the breakthrough that Iraq could make in the development of infrastructure, the services sector and economic recovery.
We hear more and more voices now, in our society and in parliament, calling for a shift to a majority government, to make parliament united so that it can pass decisions and laws that would help to rule the state; because right now the government is paralyzed. It can’t do anything. The partnership originally built to pursue a major breakthrough has now degraded to a partnership that generates obstacles. Because of that we need a majority government, and I am working hard to make it a reality.
RT: Both the Iraqi government and its citizens still suffer from regular terror attacks. Who is behind this violence – international players interfering in your affairs or Al-Qaeda militants opposing the political process? Or are there any other reasons that the Iraqi people are not aware of? Why is it so hard to take out these armed groups that are still out there?
NM: Violence continues and it’s been down to all the factors you have mentioned. Foreign intervention is fully underway. What they want to do is to use these acts of violence to prepare for the next, post-Syrian stage. It’s the same states that are now interfering in Syria. They are sending arms and militants there, over and over again. Their goal is to change Syria, then Iraq, and ultimately the entire region. Also, Al-Qaeda is back, it came to life again – regrettably, as part of the Arab Spring. It flooded the streets in the capitals of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. Its slogans, groups and terrorist attacks are clear signs of its revival, and Iraq couldn’t escape that. And those states that are interfering won’t escape it either.
But the really embarrassing thing is that the national partnership government cannot be effective in the fight against terrorism. That’s the problem. When your partner supports both security measures and terrorist acts, you get problems. I wouldn’t like to go into detail now. I am only saying that this is one of the downsides to the national partnership. How can we expect security agencies to control the situation when the government’s own money, arms, transport, and the nature of the government are used to support those seeking to carry out terrorist attacks?
RT: Mr. Maliki, when Iraq was about to buy F-16 fighter jets, Iraqi Kurds, along with some neighboring states, including the Gulf countries voiced their concerns over the future deal. Are these concerns justified? And can they be allayed?
NM: They are totally unsubstantiated. These people might still have old stereotypes of Iraq that go back to the times of dictatorship that were characterized by reckless operations, wars and invasions. Some regimes, both big and small, still have expansionist ambitions. Sadly, they have learned no lessons from Saddam Hussein’s experience. He had it all: troops and offensive capabilities, but the end of his career was a disaster. These people still believe that just like in the past, Iraq is still capable of invading its neighbors, concocting conspiracies, attacking other countries like Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia or slaughtering people in its southern or northern regions.
But today Iraq is a different country. It does not wage war on its own people. The Kurds who believe that Iraq is taking up arms to fight them are seriously deluded.
These talks are no more than political maneuvering used to make up for the mistakes and failures of the past. These countries are aware that present-day Iraq has nothing in common with the dictatorship of the past. It is a democratic country which is against the use of force, as set forth in the laws adopted by its parliament. Generally speaking, our main principle is non-interference in the affairs of other states. But we would like this to be a two-way street.
But the reality is that Iraq is located in an arms-infested region. All the neighboring states have impressive arsenals of modern weapons. Even the smaller states in the region have more weapons than Iraq, a large state with a rich history. Iraq is entitled to self-defense, so it has the right to use different armaments to protect its sovereignty. And so it can have the same weapons as other countries who claim they need the same weapons as Iraq to defend their sovereignty.
I would like to allay their concerns by saying that Iraq is not interested in offensive weapons, only defensive ones. Indeed, we would like to have very strong defensive weapons to repel any attack on Iraq’s sovereignty. But primitive weapons won’t be enough. What we need is something very strong and absolutely sophisticated to counter any possible aggression. This would make anyone who plans to breach our sovereignty to think twice before attacking Iraq.
RT: Mr Prime Minister, as commander-in-chief, when do you expect Iraq’s armed forces to reach combat readiness in terms of the size of personnel and materials?
NM: We already have the number of troops that we need, but we are still working on the list of weapons and hardware. We are receiving weapons supplies from the US, former Soviet nations and possibly from Russia, too, in line with the contracts that we signed earlier. However, we expect to ensure maximum defensive capabilities by 2020, according to the plans we have at the moment. By that time we expect to re-equip the armed forces with powerful weapons to protect Iraq on land and in the air. So currently we would still be able to defend the nation but our capabilities need to be maintained and further improved.