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Questions Loom about Iraq’s Economic Stability

December 20, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: That man is Adil Abd Al-Mahadi. He’s in Washington for a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Joint Economic Commission, whose goal is to promote economic growth in Iraq.

As part of that effort, the two nations Friday signed a deal to forgive $4.1 billion in Iraqi debt to the United States.

And, Minister Mahdi, welcome to the program.

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: It was a very bloody weekend in Iraq, and today at his news conference the president said, “American people are taking a look at Iraq and wondering whether the Iraqis are ever going to be able to fight off these killers.”

Is he right to have that concern?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: He is. Yes, I think he is right. One of the needs is the election process taking place.

And this is one of the most important needs to encounter the insurgents, who tried all last year to stop the political process, starting from the governing council, then the transfer of sovereignty, to the national conference and now elections.

So their agenda is clear; ours is clear. And I think the president is right.

The election process is one of the most important needs to encounter them, and, of course, security measures also should be taken into consideration to encounter them.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there some worry about the confidence of the Iraqi people in these elections, in this process, being shaken?

The president today said, “No question about it, the bombers are having an effect. They’re trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people.” What do the day-to-day people on the street…

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: They might shake for a short while, but the Iraqis are more resolute really on this process on elections.

And if you read the newspapers of this morning, people are expressing such resolute desire to go for elections and really to encounter the projects of the insurgents and the terrorists.

RAY SUAREZ: Also in those papers this morning were, right on the cover, photographs of men being dragged out of cars and being killed in broad daylight on city streets in your country by men who don’t even bother to cover up their identity anymore.

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: That shows the resistance of the Iraqi people, how resolute they are.

Thousands and thousands of people are participating in organizing those elections, and they are resolute to do so, so the terrorists have set sometimes some soft targets, some easy targets.

And that shows how resolute the Iraqi people is.

RAY SUAREZ: So you’re reassuring Americans that these elections are going to come off as planned, and…

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Those elections should go on, and they will take place.

RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about what the nature of the conflict is that we’re seeing right now.

Both in your country and in the United States, observers are starting to talk about sectarian conflict, Shia versus Sunni.

Is that what we’re seeing now when we see attacks in places like Karbala?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Well, I think the major factor is that a minority coming from a certain geography, they are not… don’t call them Sunnis or Arabs, but they are coming from Sunni and Arab geography, because we have a lot of Sunnis and Arab participating in this process.

So those people, this minority, had the power for so long time, for decades.

And because this process is a democratic one and all the communities have to share power, that’s why they are trying to stop this process, fearing that they are losing their control and their privileges.

RAY SUAREZ: You don’t want to describe them as being Sunnis, but…

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: No, because the majority of Sunnis are with this process.

Don’t forget that the majority of Sunnis are living in Mosul, Baghdad… so those people really are a minority of people from the remnant of the old regime and fighters coming from outside the country.

And if you look at how brutal they are using their methods, you would see that they are unpopular.

If they were popular, they would be much easier with their people, instead of putting car bombs in worship places, markets, killing people in the streets.

Those are their people, if really they are looking for the interest of the Iraqi people.

RAY SUAREZ: But that’s exactly it. Aren’t they choosing these targets? Aren’t they choosing the towns where they strike — the funeral procession of a senior cleric? Aren’t they choosing in a way to provoke the Shia majority?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Yeah, of course. They want to provoke the Shia majority. They also want to provoke other Sunnis against them. They want to provoke Kurds.

The letter of Zarqawi, the first letter, was very clear in its message and mentioning those three parties as their enemies. So it’s very clear those are minority, one organized, one financed, very brutal, using Nazi methods, fascism methods, and the Baathist methods of the ’60s and the ’70s are very similar.

They are using the same methods today to intimidate our people and really try to silent the voice of liberty and democracy.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you standing in those elections yourself?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Yes, sir.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you part of the united Iraqi list?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Yes.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, let’s talk a little bit about what it would mean to have your party’s vision, if you’re successful in the election, take a big role in the running of Iraq.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is a name that probably a lot of Americans don’t know.

But what kind of Iraq do you want to see in the future if many voters support your party and its list?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: We want a democratic state. This list contains the major parties and personality that participated in struggling against Saddam Hussein, that participated in all the opposition conferences — participated in the national conference in the early ’90s so those parties, those personalities are very well known to our people.

And those parties and personalities participated from the early days in the political process in our country after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

RAY SUAREZ: Is this a government in which religion would play a very large and influential role?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Well, religion reflects values in Iraq, but politically speaking this will be a democratic government, and I think it will be much similar to the government that is running Iraq today.

That is, we will have the minister governing this government, and we are all willingly taking that really as our guideline to administer the country until drafting the new constitution, then having new elections the end of 2005.

RAY SUAREZ: A lot of the members of the list spent parts or all of their exile in Iran.

Will Iran have a lot of influence in the new Iraqi government?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Yes. A lot of Iraqis– Shias, Kurds, Arabs, Syrians– refuged in Iran because Iran is a neighboring country and because it opposed Saddam Hussein at that time.

Iran showed in a conference their willingness to support this election. But as Iraqis we don’t accept any interference in our affairs.

We are independent Iraqis, and we are running this election in the interest of our people.

RAY SUAREZ: You’re here in Washington to talk with financial leaders in the United States. The United States just wrote off your debt.

Do you think that’s something a lot of other countries are getting ready to do?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Well, we hope so. What the United States did is very important in this debt relief.

As you know, we had already 80 percent from the Paris Club creditors, so now the United States is offering a cancellation of 100 percent.

This will be a model to follow by other countries. And we are discussing and negotiating with other countries to imitate the United States in this behavior.

RAY SUAREZ: Which are the countries that are owed the most by Iraq?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Well, Japan, Russia, those are some of the main creditors to Iraq. Of course, beside the Gulf states, such as the Saudis, the Kuwaitis.

RAY SUAREZ: And any encouragement from those countries?

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Yes, we are hearing their responses after, reaction after the Paris Club agreement was very positive, and we will have direct and bilateral negotiations with them.

RAY SUAREZ: Minister Mahdi, thanks for being here.

ADIL ABD AL-MAHDI: Thank you.