A top deputy in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a major Shi'ite political party, Jabr was appointed minister of interior after the Iraqi elections in January 2005. After his appointment, allegations surfaced that the Ministry was serving as cover for Shi'ite militia forces bent on eliminating Sunni rivals. Jabr denies this and says his forces were focused only on taking out terrorists and insurgents. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Nov. 21, 2006.
In May of 2005, you took the job as minister of the interior. Why did you take the job?
You know, the coalition ask me to take the job. And also our party, they decided that I will be minister of interior. In the beginning, I refuse because I know it is tough job. I am civil engineer. I was a merchant. I have two big factories in Iraq before that. Finally they told me, "You have to do the job."
Did you have any experience in security?
No, I haven't. Before I left Iraq in 1982 I was merchant. ...
What shape did you find the ministry was in when you took it over?
In the beginning, there are some difficulties in the ministry. The first issue was the terrorists. The terrorists were so big and effective, and I remember very well on the first day, it was 15 car bombs in Baghdad, plus the mortars, plus the killing before that. I remember in the first week I said, "Why I accept that tough job?"
You had said right away that you were very upset with the number of insurgents who had infiltrated inside the ministry. You made a remark to one reporter that you couldn't sleep at night because of the number of Baathist informants that were inside the ministry.
Yes, that's right.
What did you do about it?
... In that time we found more than 300 [people with] some doubts against them. Either they are criminals during Saddam's regime, killing or stealing, etc. ... Not insurgency. I fired them.
How many of them did you fire?
Three hundred from the criminals who we found a document against, and [proved] they are criminals by their fingerprints. ...
Steve Casteel [adviser to Iraq's Ministry of the Interior, 2003-2005], told me that you were under a lot of pressure from Abdul Aziz al-Hakim at SCIRI [Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shi'ite party] to make certain hires at the ministry.
No, no, I don't remember that. That's not right.
Totally wrong. ... We [were] recruiting from all the Iraqis.
Why would Steve Casteel tell me that you brought in Badr Brigade units intact?
I appointed only 15,000 [men], distributed in all 15 provinces. If I bring 100 person for this, 1,000 for here, this is nothing. If you know what's in the MOI [Ministry of Interior] when I came, it was 200,000 police when I came. If you add even the 15,000, it's nothing.
There have been many accusations that people were brought in who were former Badr Brigade commanders to tough jobs within the ministry after you fired the initial 300 Sunni insurgent --
No, no. ... They are criminals. There are documents against them. Kurd and Sunni and Shi'a, we don't [distinguish]. Because there are fingerprints, ... we saw that [they had] the same the finger of this criminals, and then we fire them.
Not the fact that they were Sunni?
No. The leader of the special forces was Adnan Thabit; he is Sunni. The leader of Baghdad police, he is Sunni.
Matt Sherman, for instance, tells me that it's true that Adnan Thabit remained as the boss of the commandos, but his operational control was ceded --
[To whom?] Give me names.
Hussein Ali Kamal.
Hussein Ali Kamal is Kurdish and my deputy for intelligence. He is Kurdish, and he was deputy of the ex-ministers.
Engineer Ahmed is the deputy of Intelligence Command.
And he was former Badr?
Yes, he was. This one. You cannot fire all the Iraqis. ...
Were you a former member of the Badr Brigade?
No, no, no. I am political. I live in Damascus; I don't live in Iran. The Badr group, they were in Iran. If you ask your embassy in Damascus, they will tell you I was in Damascus. ...
So numerous reports that say you were a Badr commander --
That is only rumors.
What happened beginning in the summer of 2005 that there became so many sectarian incidents, Shi'a police against Sunni citizens?
That's not right. ... We focus on how to stop the terrorists, how to fight the insurgency. If the insurgency, they are Kurds, we are fighting the terrorists. If they are Shi'a, we are fighting the terrorists. If they are Sunni, we are fighting the terrorists. The battle, it's between the police and the terrorists.
Was there Badr infiltration inside the Ministry of the Interior?
No, that's not right. Believe me, that's not right.
The Americans tell me there were. Even Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim said, "Yes, we had some infiltration in the ministry" --
Some, yes. I told you. For example, I said, Engineer Ahmed, yes, I appoint him as the new deputy.
But he said that there were units that were operating as --
No, no, no, no, no. That is totally wrong, totally wrong. Believe me. That's only the rumors. The same thing was happening in Al-Jadiriyah when they --
Editor's Note: In 2005, a U.S. general discovered a ministry building, the Jadiriyah bunker, containing 169 prisoners and evidence of torture; almost all of the detainees were Sunnis.
Well, Al-Jadiriyah was a political issue. They found 36 Shi'a detainees.
Two-thirds were Sunni.
Because the majority of the insurgency, they are Sunni. What shall I do?
You stood up in a news conference, and you waved a bunch of papers and said these were passports. You said, "Those who were held inside Jadiriyah ... were some of the most dangerous criminal terrorists of various Arab nationalities." ... By saying that these were criminal terrorists, are you justifying the treatment and torture of these prisoners?
There were no tortures? We have pictures of torture.
The picture they found, this is the mistake of the commission. They found a CD that belonged to an officer from the police, [and it was about torture somewhere else]. And that CD, I want to send it to the MOD [Ministry of Defense] minister. They found it, and they show in the Arabia [Al Arabiya News Channel]. That's totally wrong, because it belong to one officer of the police.
When Steve Casteel, who was your American adviser, says that there was trouble in the [Jadiriyah bunker] --
Maybe. Maybe everywhere. And I said, "If there is trouble, if there is torture, I will punish them." And for that, the prime minister built a committee to investigate, led by the deputy prime minister and some ministers. They sent the result to the prime minister. And till now I didn't receive any result. I said, "If I receive any report there is torture, I will punish the officers." But I didn't receive anything.
Did Engineer Ahmed run the bunker?
He was in control of it. He was the head of the officers at that time. He was the deputy in command.
He was the deputy of Hussein Kamal --
Two men together were responsible for the bunker?
And responsible for the treatment of the detainees.
Treatment? What do you mean, "treatment"?
What happened to the detainees. There are marks on their backs. When Gen. Karl Horst came into the bunker and he found --
Who sent him to the bunker? Who give him the permission to enter the bunker?
You gave him the permission.
I give him. If I know there is torture, I don't give him any permission. This is the truth. ...
They found 170 approximately --
Hundred or 200 that is detainees. They are criminals. Many of them killed. One of them killed 60 former Iraqis by car bombs.
Does that justify torture?
No, no. I am against the torture everywhere. If I know there is a torture, I don't give permission to Gen. Horst to enter directly without any [time] to clean or to do something. I told them, "Go directly to the bunker."
So you're saying there was no torture in the Jadiriyah bunker?
No, I didn't receive any report from this committee built by the prime minister. ...
What happened at Site Four?
Site Four, also there are some rumors, and I ask the Ministry of Human Rights and I ask my inspector general to go there and to find. He told me there are something, and I fired two officers in that time. I don't remember their names. Finally, I receive a positive report on Site Four. And I have it.
You're saying there was torture --
Yes. There was some torture.
And you did fire people?
Yes, I fired two of the officers and put them in the jail.
Why was it happening? Why was there torture?
There are reports [of torture] during the time of the ex-minister, Falah al-Naqib. This report, I ask you to read it. It is 90 pages about torture in his ministry. The problem is not the ex-minister or the new minister or the future minister or commander. The problem is the culture, because all the officers we bring to the police, they are ex-officers during Saddam's regime, and this culture has an effect on them and leads them to torture. And that is totally wrong. I had two big conferences for all officers here in the palace downstairs, and in that time, we are talking about the human rights, how to protect them. These things I was focusing on. ...
During your time as the minister of the interior, there were many of these stories. Site Four, Jadiriyah bunker are only two incidences.
It's political. I have document. I will write a book, and I put all the document. I will prove it is a political issue.
Every general that I have sat down and spoken with has talked about problems with the Ministry of Interior. [Jawad al-]Bolani was brought in specifically to reform the ministry, and [Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki has been under tremendous pressure from the Americans to reform the ministry. Everybody agrees, except you seem not to agree, that there were problems there.
When you ask about Site Four, I said yes, I found, and I fired two officers.
That was not the extent of the problem. The problem was great --
And why don't you investigate the ex-minister, for example? Because he was Sunni?
I'm investigating him. But we are talking about your ministry --
... In my ministry, no one was killed under the torture. ... When I hear [of anyone torturing detainees], I fired them directly.
Do you remember when you said to Matt Sherman in the car on the way back from your talk that "Yes, there was a little torture"?
I told you, there is little torture in Site Four, and I fired two officers.
And in Jadiriyah bunker. You spoke to Matt Sherman afterward about a little bit of torture.
I hear it, but I cannot prove that. Who will prove that? The committee, the committee led by the deputy prime minister. I have to wait to get results. ... I said in the press conference, "I will punish everyone was involved in the torture."
I will ask you again: Is there infiltration of the ministry by Badr Brigade units?
Units? No. There are some officers or some soldiers.
Were you under pressure from SCIRI to take in Badr Brigade commanders?
No, no, no, no. There was no pressure. Why pressure? Why would they send their people to be killed? Because 4,000 police was killed by the terrorists. ...
Matt Sherman says that at the end of 2005, there was a new round of purges, of firings of Sunni officers. He says that around 20 senior officials, mostly Sunni Arabs, lost their jobs.
Give me names.
I will make a note, and I will give you names.
So? Some, but what is the percentage?
Well, was there an effort to remove Sunnis --
No, that's not good. You know, I'm political. I know the solution of the security not solved by security. It must be solved by political [means]. ... If I fire the Sunnis, I push the Sunnis to be terrorists. That's not good. That's not a political solution.
You didn't fire Sunnis at the end of 2005?
Maybe I fire Sunni and Shi'a and Kurd. Who is bad, I will fire him.
What was the Punishment Committee?
Punishment Committee? Have you heard of this?
No, I didn't hear of it.
These are accusations, you believe, by Sunnis who want to discredit you, ruin your reputation?
Yes. ... It's political.
I know you are not the minister now, but just a few weeks ago here in Baghdad, we have policemen in police cars with new police uniforms take 150 hostages at the Ministry of Education. How does this happen? Who were those policemen?
... They are either terrorists or militias.
Why are they able to get hold of police uniforms and --
Oh, you come with me, I will [show you how to] buy 200 police uniforms.
Well, what does that say about the state of police enforcement if you can easily go out and buy a police car, buy a walkie-talkie and go out at night during curfew in [an unauthorized] operation?
This is the problem you have to ask the others. You ask the others who fired the police and the military and start to build it from the beginning. ...
You say it's the Americans' fault?
... No, I don't blame anything.
During your time, there were numerous incidents in which squads went out and killed or arrested Sunnis. They were in police cars with police walkie-talkies, and they were out there operating during curfew. How is this possible?
It's possible now. It's possible after 10 years if the security is still ... weak. ... If I am the minister, if Jawad al-Bolani is the minister, the same thing will happen, because the minister cannot follow up [every] small thing. There are 200,000 police. ... [Secretary of Defense, 2001-2006, Donald] Rumsfeld, he doesn't know what happened in Abu Ghraib. President Bush don't know what happened in Abu Ghraib. All the officers do that. For that they punish them and send them to the jail.
But you're the man responsible. You are in charge, and this was happening under your watch.
It's happened everywhere in the world. Everywhere! In United States, happened. In Germany, happened. Everywhere.
And that makes it OK?
No, it's not OK. But when the minister knows, he has to punish the officers. I punish, punish many.
How many officers did you punish who were in your commando units?
Well, I don't remember how many, but it was intense.
... I guess Americans can't understand how it's possible that there could be so many examples of death squads operating in police uniforms in police cars targeting Sunnis from within the Ministry of the Interior while you were in charge. And they say they won't accept that this just happens everywhere in the world.
I can answer you any question. Is this happening now with Bolani or not? ... It's [worse] than when I was [minister]. When I was minister, the security was the best. In May, when I came, it was bad. Every day 15 car bombs. After that, July, August, September, it was excellent. Two elections. I lead two election, and the result was very good. ... Now you cannot walk in Baghdad. When I was minister, the people were still walking in the street at midnight, and the security was excellent.
The mistake was a political mistake. When they decide to bring the Sunnis, that is good. But don't ... stop the security [operations]. But they said: "This is so-and-so; don't attack him. Don't take on the terrorists." They [tied] our hands. ...
Are you saying they tied your hands, the Sunnis?
Not the Sunnis. Sunnis ask the Americans to stop us [the Ministry of Interior] and not to have us work harder to fight the terrorists. The Sunnis entered the political process, and this is the result. Now the security is very bad. ...
When Site Four was operating, you were in charge.
No. ... It was discovered when I was there. I sent the inspector general, and he gave me a report that someone was tortured. They tortured someone, two officers in that time, and I fired them. ...
Was there more abuse during your time as minister?
When I know there is abuse, I will fire the people who was responsible on the abuse everywhere.
But you did not fire Engineer Ahmed?
Because I am waiting [for] the reports of the deputy prime minister.
You admitted to Matt Sherman that there was some torture?
No, he is totally wrong.
You didn't say that to him?
Matt was angry at me. When he asked for a meeting, I said, "No, I have no time," because I'm meeting with Gen. [George W.] Casey or Gen. [David] Petraeus.
He was angry. He has something psychological inside his [head]. Last month came, he asked for a meeting, I said no. For that, he was angry more. ... When you ask Petraeus, he'll give the truth, because Petraeus, he's a general. Gen. [Joseph] Peterson was here, meeting in my room, and he knows everything about what I'm doing.
I cannot correct the ex-officers of Saddam's ...There is a culture. They have a culture -- corruption, torture -- because this is a culture of Saddam regime. We receive it. We don't build a new policeman or a new police officer. This is the mistake. ...
But you read the papers. You know what the Bush administration officials are saying. You know what the generals are saying. All of them are saying the Ministry of the Interior spun out of control, and it needs to be cleaned up.
... Yes. You can't clean. They can't, because all the officers are Saddam's officers.