Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Interview Part 2 of 3
Q - Can you confirm that Iraq will agree to a cut in production in this week's OPEC meeting?
A - Yes, we have agreed to cut production. Iraq will stick to this because the current level of oil prices is inadequate. It is not sustainable for us or for other countries. So, we are prepared to take our own share in this and cut our own production.
For others, they should commit themselves as well. So, I understand that the production level will be lowered by between 900,000 to 1.2 million bdp, which is enough to push prices up. Yes, we will take our share and we agreed to this.
Q - What impact will that have on Iraq's economy?
A - According to our own calculations, I think that the rise in oil prices, every one dollar for a barrel of oil will add one billion dollars to our budget. So, I think we will have more by cutting the production and increasing the price.
Q - Under your rule, Shiite militia and tribal fighters have grown in power as they have fought IS, but they also continue to be accused of committing abuses against Iraqi civilians. Moving forward, how do you plan to bring these groups under control to ensure the security of the Iraqi people?
A - We are doing this. If you look carefully at the Mosul operation, I have not received a single claim or complaint against the PMF. I have received some reports in Fallujah and I have started a full investigation into that. I am waiting for the final report on this.
Everyone, including the local security forces in Anbar, is taking part in this. I am not revealing a secret if I tell you that many of the PMF members have been sentenced in Iraq for crimes during the war, including some in our own security forces. I give zero tolerance for any excess against human rights or against human rights abuses. I don't allow it.
Any time I hear there is a violation or abuses, I immediately start an investigation. My role is not to cover up for the crimes of others. These PMF members are mainly volunteers, Iraqi nationalists who rise up to defend their own country.
They are prepared to sacrifice their own lives, their own families for the defense of Iraq. I was overtaken by a statement by these injured people, and I have been visiting injured people in hospitals, and all that they are telling me is to look after the combatants on the ground.
They don't want anything for themselves. And I have seen families who lost their loved ones and they are ready to sacrifice others of their loved ones to defend the country. So, I think these are very important people for us.
We have to look (after) them. But for somebody else, who will enroll themselves in these forces and then taint the reputation of these forces, I am not going to allow this. These people who make human rights abuses must be held accountable and we must cleanse this organization and other security forces.
That is why I have a list, I have asked for that list, of people who have been sentenced to death, although probably some countries reject the whole idea of sentencing people to death, but the death sentence in Iraq is still there.
So, there are tens of thousands of people from the PMF who have been sentenced to death for crimes they have committed during their work in the PMF (The prime minister's office later clarified that al-Abadi meant scores sentenced to death, not tens of thousands) and there are many hundreds who have been sentenced to 15, 20 years in jail because of the abuses.
So, I think we are not allowing any abuse of this kind. And the whole performance of the PMF has become better.
Q - You've legalized the PMF and they're part of the armed forces now. Will you still allow Iranian and Hezbollah advisers to train and guide them on the battlefield? Or will they now fall under Iraqi command?)
A - In actual fact, we have welcomed all the countries who were willing to help Iraq in our war against Daesh. The Iranians have been forthcoming at the start of the campaign for a simple reason. In this war, Daesh took the war near the Iranian border in Diyala. The Iranians were very much alarmed.
Don't forget this ideology is calling for the slaughter of others who are not like Daesh, including Iranian Shiites and others. So, I think the Iranians were alarmed by this.
The Iranians had to come to the forefront of supporting and helping Iraq fight Daesh with advisers, with other help, logistical support for our armed forces and we very much welcomed that. Of course, there were the Americans, the Europeans, the Australians and many other countries who came to our help, including the Jordanians as well.
We have very good relations now with Jordan because we have a common enemy, which is ISIL, that is threatening Jordan and Iraq at the same time. So, I hope this will continue. Iraq has the longest border with Iran.
If you look at a map of Iraq, the major population centers of Iraq are toward the eastern border which borders Iran, we have a common relationship and a common interest. Iraq is not prepared to become a proxy to settle grievances between countries or competitions between countries.
Iraq has suffered enough in the eight years (of war) between Iraq and Iran. Iraq acted as a proxy in that war on behalf of others. We have ruined our country and ruined our economy. Hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers and others injured. We are still suffering from that war. We are not prepared to become a proxy. We want to live in peace with our neighbors, including Iran and that is exactly what we are doing.
So, the PMF has become a legal force by the Prime Minister's decree and now this has been legislated in parliament this week, which I very much welcomed. This will bring the whole force under the control of the Iraqi security forces, under the legal authority of Iraq and anyone who is outside this force will be treated as a militia which is forbidden by the Iraqi constitution.
Q - Symbols mean a lot. Why is the Iraqi army going into battle in Mosul with Shiite flags waving from their tanks? Can you not order them to have a lower profile if reconciliation is the ultimate goal?
Well, yes, I think we are very careful about this. It is very clear direction that Iraqi security forces should only carry Iraqi flags. The majority of the times they do that. The majority of our armed forces, they do that. But what happened is the start of this operation of Mosul coincided with the 10th of Muharram, which is the day of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.
So, I think for some of these combatants, they consider this ... because they were not visiting the shrine, they were not performing their religious rituals, they exchanged this for having their own little flag with them when this operation started.
So, I think this was a coincidence that was reflected in the media, otherwise you will find that Iraqi security forces in general they carry Iraqi flags.
Q - Would you have liked to see the U.S. and Iran work more closely together in the battle against IS? Do you think this impacted Iraq's overall ability to fight the Islamic State?
A - Yes, exactly, but I think we will manage to minimize their differences in Iraq. I told both sides: look, you have your own differences. That was before the Iran nuclear agreement.
Then, differences between Iran and the United States were much, much greater than this. I told both sides 'look, if you are serious, and I know that you are serious in combating terrorism and to help Iraq in this, I don't want any disagreements in Iraq.
I want you both to work together to help the Iraqi government and to keep from causing trouble to each side.' I think both have been performing well in Iraq. I have not seen much problem in that sense.
We have received a good support from the US to Iraq in terms of supporting Iraq from the air, logistically and by training and the same for Iranian advisers and trainers who helped us as well in fighting Daesh. I think I am happy with this cooperation and I hope it will continue.
Q -You came to office over two years ago promising to unite Iraq. You have won a string of military victories, but have passed very little legislation to make Iraq a more inclusive country. Do you feel like you have lived up to the promises you made when you first became Prime Minister?
A - Well, legislations, we have sent legislation to parliament but parliament staled some of them. It is not a matter of legislation, it's a matter of practice. What you do on the ground. The main message to the Iraqi population, is this government working for the whole of Iraq, is it working toward providing services and security to the whole population regardless of their sect, their religion, their ethnic origin?
This is the main question. I think in this sense, we are successful. We are much more successful than before. It is a huge departure from before, where now many Sunnis in these areas are welcoming the Iraqi government.
They want to be with the Iraqi government, they want to support Iraqi security forces. They now consider the Iraqi army as a national hero. They want the Iraqi army to be in their areas. They want the Iraqi federal forces to be in their areas. Even some, they don't want locals.
They are asking me to send, including Basra and Missan in the south, Diyala in the northeast of the country, including Mosul. They tell me they want Iraqi federal forces to come to our aid because they trust them. They can now see the Iraqi federal government working toward Iraq and support Iraq.
I think we have even now moved away from that conflict between Iraqi federal forces and Peshmerga. The first time in the history of Iraq, where the Kurdish Peshmerga are fighting alongside Iraqi federal security forces and they have a common aim.
They are working together at a very high level without any friction, without any sensitivity. I think this is a new Iraq. In my opinion we have succeeded and have gone a long way but we still have a long way to go. I am talking about community cooperation. I think we have to work toward this.
Daesh has committed a lot of atrocities. You have seen it in terms of their training of their children to cut the throat of their own neighbors. We have seen these videos. We have seen these videos of how they burn people alive, drown people, terrorize people, torture people.
So, they have started to divide the communities, they have set one tribe against the other, they have set one community to commit crimes against another community. So, this has been very challenging for us. We have been much afraid, I don't hide this.
I was very much afraid when I liberated Ramadi and other areas that one tribe will be acting outside the law to have revenge against another tribe, some members of which happened to side with Daesh at the time and probably committed some atrocities against another tribe.
So far, there have been single incidents, but it is not widespread. It is the same in Mosul. Our fear was there is going to be huge vendetta from one community against another, but so far this did not happen.
Yes, there are some isolated incidents when locals have taken the law into their own hands before even the Iraqi security forces (arrived) because what we do is that the Iraqi security forces go around the city, they don't enter the city immediately but Daesh will collapse and then they will enter the city.
Before that some civilians would take the law into their own hands to have revenge on other civilians whom they consider to have sided with Daesh and committed crimes against their own families, by killing their families, demolish their houses.
So, I think this is the challenge which we have to face. In my opinion, if we were successful in making society, communities working together we would have won this war. If we don't, I think military victory will not be enough and I hope we will win at the end.
Q - Half of the Sunni population is displaced, according to the U.N. Many are sidelined. You recently lost your highest-ranking Sunni minister. Is there any substance to your talk of reconciliation when facts on the ground speak of another reality?
A - The good thing about this, although I don't like it to be honest with you. Parliament sacking my own ministers. No prime minister would like that. But the good thing about this is that it became political rather than sectarian. The defense minister was sacked by his own Sunni bloc, not by the others.
So, It was not sectarian. As a matter of fact he received more support from the Shiite side than the Sunni side. So, things are moving toward more political differences rather than sectarian or ethnic differences. You can see now a bloc in parliament, they cross these barriers, which are sectarian or ethnic barriers.
It is a good thing and I think we have to move more to encourage it. Yes, I agree, most of the displaced people are Sunnis because Daesh has occupied Sunni areas. The slogan of Daesh is that they have come to these areas to defend Sunnis.
They ended up damaging their own cities, their own infrastructure, making Sunnis displaced from their own homes and country. We are rectifying this right now. Yes, it takes time for refuges or the displaced to come back to their own homes, but we are doing it and we are reversing the whole thing in Nineveh.
I don't want to create more displaced people from Nineveh or from Mosul, In actual fact, we have about 1.5 million people from Nineveh who are displaced at the time when Daesh took control of Nineveh. They are now displaced in Kurdistan or other parts of Iraq.
I want to return these people back to their homes, I want minorities to go back to their homes, including Azidis, Christians, Shabak and Turkmen whom Daesh forced to leave their own homes in Nineveh. We are very eager to return these people to their own homes and I hope the Sunni population will no longer be displaced.
Q - Are you concerned that after retaking Mosul the province will be divided between Iraqi forces and Kurds?
A - According to the agreement between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdish regional government, the Peshmerga should withdraw from areas which they have advanced after the start of the operation of liberating Mosul. This is an agreement and I think Mr. Massoud Barzani has said in public he will abide by this. There is no reason for me to believe they don't.
They said to my face, they said that in the agreement, they said that in public. I can see some Kurdish politicians are saying otherwise. But they are not responsible people and they are not controlling events on the ground.
I think this is some of the political competition between different parties in Kurdistan. Kurdistan is now split between different political parties and I think there are a lot of problems in that region. It is not my job to take advantage of these differences. My job is to unify all Iraqis toward one Iraq.
If you look carefully at the map of Iraq, Iraq has been or is at the moment much more united than any time since 2003 or in 1990 when Saddam attacked and occupied Kuwait. Iraqis are now more united than before. They see Iraq as one. They have more faith now in one Iraq, a unified Iraq. I hope this will continue, especially after the liberation of Mosul.
Q - Might it be better to have a federal or confederal structure? Why must you preserve national borders created in colonial times that at times feel fictitious and clearly generate conflict?
A - Federalism is not a problem. It is in the Iraqi constitution. I don't have anything against it. If, within the legal frame of the Iraqi state, people want to create another federal entity, I am not against it. But it should be created in the correct way according to the constitution, the legal framework of Iraq.
But from my own judgment, if you look carefully three or four years ago, areas like Mosul, Anbar or Salaheddin were more inclined toward federalism. The population is much less inclined now toward federalism than before, which means Iraq is more united than before.
As to the border, yes, I agree. I mean, we were all taught at school that the Sykes-Picot drawing of borders between countries was a western plot against our region, that it is one region and for a 100 years it was partitioned according to imaginary borders.
But we are pragmatists, we live in this world. This is a state of Iraq that was created 100 years ago, including the state of Turkey, Syria, Jordan. If you want to go back in history, which history should we go back to?
I mean, probably, the Turks are talking about a history which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Or do we go back to the Abbasid era, where the whole region was controlled by Baghdad?
I think we are the sons of today. These are the borders there. If we change the border now, this is a new quarrel, a new fight a new war. I think we have had enough of these wars. We should instead, as I said to the whole region, we should work together.
I am pro-removing trade embargo, opening the borders for trade, for movement of people, for more cooperation. This will give more incentive to the people to cross borders and find work somewhere else. I mean, probably similar to the European thing.
If we are successful in this, the borders will become meaningless for us in terms of the movement of people. We have to remove the mindset of the borders of people. This is more important than removing borders themselves.
You can keep the borders for organizational purpose, but it is important to move the border in the mindset of people, so people can cooperate instead of fighting each other.