Shiite Politician Urges Faster Iraqi Takeover of Security
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RAY SUAREZ: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the biggest party in the Iraqi government. He’s one of the country’s most important Shiite power brokers. The only Shia leader with whom the administration talks directly, he was in Washington this week and met at the White House with President Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: And we talked about a lot of important issues. I appreciate so very much his eminence’s commitment to a unity government.
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM, Iraqi Shiite Cleric (through translator): Our conversation today focused on ways to advance the work of the Iraqi government, elected government, as well as to advance the whole situation in Iraq and move it forward.
RAY SUAREZ: A descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, al-Hakim is a fierce rival of a fellow Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Hakim spent more than 20 years in exile in Iran, helping form the Supreme Council to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.
His ties to Iran were highlighted in the Iraq Study Group report released yesterday. The report also said the military arm of al-Hakim’s party, the Badr Corps, has infiltrated the Iraqi police force and has carried out attacks on Sunni-Arab civilians.
I interviewed him in Washington earlier today with the help of two translators.
Eminence, welcome to the program.
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): Thank you for providing this opportunity.
Hakim: speed security transfer
RAY SUAREZ: What is your overall reaction to the report of the Iraq Study Group?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): There are very important points that the report has mentioned concerning the security in Iraq, the security forces. We agreed to all that was mentioned on these points, but the information that was not included, for example, in the report was the political processes that were occurring in Iraq, like the election process and the reconciliation process. The report had not mentioned the regional support for Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: So the report doesn't give Iraqis enough credit for all they have accomplished so far?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): Of course, the report had been written from the U.S. view, and we respect that. But it does not represent our own point of view.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the major suggestions was to begin phasing out combat troops in favor of trainers, in the belief that this would speed up Iraq being able to take care of itself and for the Americans to get out. Do you agree?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): Iraqi people are just like any other nation in the world. They don't want to see foreign troops on their land forever taking responsibility for the security there.
Iraqis are capable. The government is so strong. It is enjoying a great popular support from millions of Iraqis. We want to accelerate the timings of the transferring for the responsibilities and for the prime minister, because he's the head of the Iraqi armed forces, to have the ability to arm, and equip, and use the Iraqi security forces, and for them to take responsibility of the security.
Iraq and the greater Middle East
RAY SUAREZ: One of the major points in the group report is to take a regional approach to solving the problem of Iraq and greater involvement of Syria and Iran. What did you think of this idea?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): Of course, this is from an American point of view. But regarding to us, as Iraqis, we have made our efforts, our moves towards the regional countries, the neighboring countries. And we are still doing such efforts, getting benefit from all the capabilities and relations that we are having amongst the Iraqi people to stop the blood-shedding and the terrorist activities in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: But that approach suggested by the Iraq Study Group goes wider and also says that a solution in the problems between Israel and Palestine is also necessary to help solve Iraq's problems.
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): The Palestinian issue exists in the region, the Islamic and Arabic world as a problem. And there are resolutions and decisions by the United Nations, should deal with that problem. And I don't see any connect with that problem with the problems of Iraq.
Adjusting security responsibilities
RAY SUAREZ: One thing the commissioners insisted on was moving away from an open-ended commitment to Iraq, towards something that Lee Hamilton calls "conditional assistance," that you would withdraw aid if the Iraqi government fails to live up to its obligations.
The Americans who wrote the report think that that's a way to make Iraqis move faster. Do you believe that would work?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): We as Iraqis, our task, our duty is to do whatever we can, all the efforts that we have to build a government, a constitutional, strong, enjoys with, you know, implements the order and law.
This is something that we have committed to do whether -- and we feel that it is a religious duty, a legitimate, a moral commitment that we have to do, whether it was mentioned in those recommendations or not.
RAY SUAREZ: If you achieve that, if you achieve those ambitions and desires, will your political party be able to disarm the armed group associated with it, the Badr Corps?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): The Badr people don't have any weapons. They got rid of the weapons after the collapse of the regime. You know that they resist and they fought for more than two decades the previous regime.
And after the collapse of that regime, they got rid of their weapons. And they entered the political process, and now they are -- they do have representatives in the parliament and in the government. And, secondly, all the loyal, the good forces are now in Iraq working beside and supporting the prime minister in his job, in his duty. And we don't accept any carrying for any kind of arms or weapons outside of the frame of the government.
RAY SUAREZ: You say the Badr Corps has disarmed. What about the Mahdi Army? Would you like to see them disarm?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): I want to see all are committed with the political process, with the law, with order. This is the will of all the Iraqis.
RAY SUAREZ: More American politicians are saying publicly that America has done what it went to Iraq to accomplish and now it's up to the Iraqis. Who's responsible for the conditions in your country today? Is it the invasion, the aftermath of the invasion, or is it really the responsibility of the Iraqis who want to kill each other?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): The first responsible side are those real enemies for Iraqi people. Those are the Saddamists and the Takfiris.
RAY SUAREZ: And who are the Takfiris?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM: Al-Qaida.
(through translator): Those are the al-Qaida terrorists.
The future of Iraq
RAY SUAREZ: What do you see coming in the future? What is your desired Iraqi state in five years or 10 years? And what is the role of Islam in that future state?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): Of course, God only knows what might happen in years from now, but we are making our best or doing our best to build a democratic constitutional Iraq, respects the human rights, the rights for the women, not to see any extremism, Iraq which could be for all Iraqis to live and prosper, and to secure all of their rights, and, of course, the constitution is securing their rights, because all of the rights were mentioned in it. And we will move forward strongly with our people to achieve the goals.
RAY SUAREZ: If you could speak to regular Americans, would you tell them that what they've just done for Iraq has been worth it, even though many Americans now oppose the war?
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): Of course, the American people had a great role and stood beside the oppressed Iraqi people, and they gave sacrifices for this, in this regard. Today, great changes happened in Iraq, and we wish to see the country being built. And for the Americans when they come to see as guests Iraq, they will see the great achievements and changes happen there. And, absolutely, I'm certain that they will be glad to see that.
RAY SUAREZ: Sayyed al-Hakim, thank you very much.
ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM (through translator): I also want to thank you for giving me this great opportunity to talk to your audience.