Iraqi President Shares Views on Terrorism Threat, Security
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JIM LEHRER: And as I said, we now get a second and different opinion on that intelligence estimate, and it comes in this Newsmaker interview with the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. Ray Suarez talked with him this morning at his hotel in Washington.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, welcome back to the program.
JALAL TALABANI, President of Iraq: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Have you heard about this report? And what do you think of its conclusions?
JALAL TALABANI: I don’t agree with this. I don’t agree at all. I think the liberation of Iraq reduced the danger of terrorism on the United States of America because all terrorist groups are now concentrating on Iraq, focusing in Iraq, sending their troops to Iraq, busy with Iraq; otherwise they’re concentrating their efforts against the United States of America.
RAY SUAREZ: So it made America safer, but it made Iraq more dangerous?
JALAL TALABANI: Well, it made America safer, and it make Iraq as a country struggling for peace and democracy in the Middle East under the threat of terrorism. But it was something normal. After the collapse of a dictatorship, which was in a good relation with terrorism, the international terrorism lost a big friend in Iraq, with Iraqi dictatorship.
They came to revenge and concentrate in Iraq, preventing the progress of Iraqi democracy, preventing the democratic process of the Iraqi people, which will be a great danger on terrorism all over the area.
The safety of Iraqi civilians
RAY SUAREZ: But if you're just an average Iraqi, a storekeeper, a housewife, a taxi driver, is Iraq a more dangerous place to live in today than it was in 2002?
JALAL TALABANI: Which Iraq? If you look to Iraq, you see many provinces in Iraq now calm, quiet, secure. We have troubles in three provinces in Iraq.
If you look to that Iraq, Iraq was under the danger of a dictatorship, which was launching a war of annihilation against the people. This dictatorship left behind mass graves, with hundred thousands of innocent Iraqis who were buried in the desert of Iraq without any kind of trail.
This dictatorship was a real danger for Iraqi people of all, especially in the north, against Kurdish people in Kurdistan, and in the south against Shias. And even it killed hundreds of Sunni Arabs in Iraq.
The dictatorship was the same time a great threat for peace and stability in the Middle East. This dictatorship invade Iran, invade Kuwait, and was ready to repeat these crimes again. So I think that liberation of Iraq has been a big, important, historical achievement for Iraqi people, for Middle East, and for the peace and stability in the area.
RAY SUAREZ: You say the violence is pretty much limited to three provinces, but that includes the capital.
JALAL TALABANI: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: And in the year since the last time we spoke, Iraq has had two of its most dangerous months -- July and August -- for civilians in your country. Nearly 7,000 were killed.
JALAL TALABANI: Yes, no, I recognize that. There is still the danger of terrorism. But compared with last year, it's reduced.
Now many places which were under the control of the terrorists has liberated. It's now under the control of Iraqi government. Even in Baghdad, five months ago, there you had between 10 to 12 car bombs; nowadays, we have daily between one to two to three car bombs, which means that the number of car bombs are reducing.
What we suffering from it is these car bombs and this assassinations, suicide, then extremists from both Sunni and Shia groups are -- months ago started to kill each other. But nowadays, also these crimes also reduced, and we hope that it will be finished after the national reconciliation started to go forward.
Room for only one army in Iraq
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Americans have put more troops into Baghdad. And some of the battles that are going on in the capital are between the national army of your country and militias that are tied to members of your own cabinet. It's a strange situation.
JALAL TALABANI: You see, we have decided that there is no room in new Iraq for militia. There will be only one regular army, which must belong to the government. Some militia sometimes committing some kind of violation of law. Iraqi National Guard is obliged to go to arrest them or to go to punish them. So this is the reality. But in general, the main militias are now calm and not acting against the regime as the terrorists are acting.
RAY SUAREZ: As president, have you been able to push the prime minister to be more active in trying to disarm those militias?
JALAL TALABANI: Well, I have complete agreement with the prime minister. I don't think prime minister is needed to be pushed. The prime minister is convinced. He believes that he must stop the violation of law from everyone, and he must stop the activities of militias, and he must oblige militias to obey the law.
So prime minister is not in need to be pushed by me. I have full trust on him, and I think he is doing his job very well.
RAY SUAREZ: But, for instance, the party that's tied to the Mahdi Army also has six members of the cabinet.
JALAL TALABANI: Three.
RAY SUAREZ: Three, OK.
JALAL TALABANI: Three. They have three members of the cabinet, and they promise to obey the law. And Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, also promised that he will avoid any kind of confrontations with American forces and with Iraq forces. He ordered his followers to obey the law.
Some people, disorder people, are making sometimes this kind of violation of law, but in general we have agreement with the leadership of the Mahdi Army to stop any kind of interference in internal affairs of Iraq.
Changing U.S. involvement
RAY SUAREZ: The top commanders of the United States forces in your country have recently said that they don't see many troops leaving before next spring. Does their continued presence also make it more difficult to calm the country down? That's part of the debate right now in our country.
JALAL TALABANI: No, I don't think -- I think what your generals said is correct, perhaps in next spring they can leave the country gradually, because until next spring we'll be able to retrain our army, prepare it for replacing coalition forces.
Now we're starting each month to take responsibility of the security of one province. We are replacing -- the Iraqi army are replacing the coalition forces in many places in Iraq. At the end of this year, we hope that the majority of provinces will be under the control of Iraqi security forces.
RAY SUAREZ: Because right now we're having an election in the United States. And there's arguing between different candidates about what would happen if we left quickly. Some candidates are saying, "Let's make a plan and leave, because that will force the Iraqis to take care of their own country." While some are saying, "If we leave quickly, we would leave behind a very dangerous Iraq."
In your view, what would happen if the United States left quickly?
JALAL TALABANI: Personally, I do not want to interfere in the debate among Americans. I don't want to interfere with the internal affairs of the United States of America.
But I think leaving Iraq without final success will be catastrophe for American prestige, and influence in Middle East, and for Iraqi people, and for democracy and peace in Middle East, will help terrorism to grow and even to control some places in the area.
Holding a country united
RAY SUAREZ: You are the president of a unified country, but you also spent much of your life struggling for the rights of the Kurds to live in peace and not be targeted by their own government. Meanwhile, in your country, people are being even more, let's say, open about their desire to live on their own and not take any orders, guidance from Baghdad. Are you being pulled in two directions?
JALAL TALABANI: I think we achieved our goal, our aims. Now Kurdish people live in peace, and stability, and prosperity in the area. They have the right of federation (inaudible) country, participating actively in the center of government. And they are enjoying all democratic rights.
And because the area is calm and quiet, there's prosperity. There is reconstruction. There is development of agriculture, of our economy, of culture, everything. And the Kurds, within the framework of a united, democratic Iraq, are happy, they voted for a constitution.
I think there is now a good example in Iraq for others that a multination can live in peace and stability if there will be democracy and human rights and federation for all (inaudible)
RAY SUAREZ: Right now, the parliament is debating a plan to give a great deal of autonomy to the different regions, split the country up in administration. And your own people support that. Do you discourage it?
JALAL TALABANI: You know, according to the constitution of Iraq, which was approved by Iraqi people in a referendum, which more than 10 million and half a million voted for in, the constitution -- first article say that Iraq is a federative, democratic, independent, united country. It means that federation is decide by the constitution.
But how to implement it, how to give rights to the different parts of Iraq to form regional government? It is up to the desire of the people of that area. Now we are Iraqi parliament discussing a law to formulate this article of constitution to give the right to people to choose if they want how to rule in their areas.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, thanks for talking to us today.
JALAL TALABANI: Thank you.