‘Tensions are used politically’

Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, talks to Al Jazeera.

Mouwaffak al-Rubaie is Iraq’s national security adviser in the government of Nuri al-Maliki, a position he was originally appointed to in 2004 by the then Coalition Provisional Authority.

As part of War Without End, Al Jazeera’s special year-by-year series on the war in Iraq, he spoke to our Iraq correspondent, Hoda Abdel Hamid. This is what he said.

Before Paul Bremer (the then US-appointed head of the Coalition Provisional Authority) arrived in 2003 there was no humanitarian crisis in Iraq, but immediately after that, people started to realise that there is something much more than humanitarian aid needed in Iraq.

With a full mandate, Bremer had all the authorities of Saddam – he had legislative power and executive power. He was like the CEO of Iraq.

That did not go down well in Iraq especially between the period of April and August 2003.

Because we were not negotiating with Bremer, it was important to form an interim government to fill that frightening power vacuum.

Unfortunately what he [Bremer] agreed is the Governing Council – an Iraqi government council with very limited authorities.

We thought, let’s take this and try to work harder to take more responsibility.

It was a monumental task in every aspect of life – in economy, security politics – everywhere. The Governing Council was not giving the authority to govern the country.

Gradually we came to agree to form the first government after Saddam Hussein and we appointed ministers.

But Bremer was the prime minister of this government and there was a miscommunication between the Governing Council and the ministers.

The council was not exercising the control over these ministers.

Complicated country
Then we tried to form the nine-person leadership of that council – we tried to sort out our internal affairs inside the Governing Council – and the friction went on between the two sides.

Bremer made it clear to us that the ultimate authority lies with him and whatever law we discussed and passed, voted for, he had to approve. 

Paul Bremer

“The system was not working”

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We managed to do some work for the country by passing some laws. Transitional and administrative law was agreed and a second government was agreed. We managed to fill part of the vacuum.

This country is very diversified. It is unique and complicated.

It is very difficult to come to grips with how complicated it really is and it needs very experienced people to understand it. It is not an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean, but this is Iraq with 5,000 years of history.

In 2003, it was run with some over-simplification. But I think those who have a vision of liberal democratic Iraq should do it.

I think there was some positive legislation and good things happened during that period, but I think this was a huge machinery built in one year.

I think there were 3,000 to 4,000 employees trying to run this corporation called Iraq. Unfortunately, there were thousands of practical mistakes and even strategic ones made by both Iraqis and Americans.

With hindsight – that crucial moment after Saddam’s fall we should have pressed the Americans hard to form an interim government composed of Iraqis from both outside and inside the country.

We should also never have accepted the renaming of this as an occupation but stressed that it was a liberation of Iraq from one of the worst tyrannies in history.

‘Only way’

We paid heavily in blood, treasure and tears, but it was well worth it. If we have to do it, we will do it again.

Saddam would have not gone by appeasement from the UN, by politics or by media pressure or by enticement. The only way to get rid of him was by force.

It is difficult, but the duty of leaders is to convince our people that the future is much better than now.

Since the fall of Saddam we have made tremendous progress. We have a constitutional parliamentary system, an elected government with MPs debating and legislating.

Saddam was arrested on November 29, 2003, and we saw him with a group of Iraqis.
He was a very broken man but when we met him he was unrepentant – he was not sorry for any of his crimes.

We were crystal clear and explained to the Americans that as long as Saddam is alive there are people outside who are willing to bring him back and as soon as we get rid of him through a legal procedure it will have a huge demoralising effect.

That was proven when Saddam was gone. It took us one year to control insurgency and reduce the violence.

In video

There were so many mistakes with the execution of Saddam, but the principle was right. He should have paid for what he had done and I think justice was applied. It was not a revenge or a settling of scores.

In hindsight we would have done it differently and would have chosen a different date and so on.

Saddam was under physical custody of the Americans. We only had legal custody and were only allowed on the doorstep of the execution chamber.

A judge, a prosecutor, a doctor and high-ranking officials were present and Saddam was not humiliated, hit or disrespected before his execution.

I agree that improper behaviour was carried out after his death – it should not have happened. This is the feeling of the ordinary people and I cannot stop them expressing their feelings.

Huge pressure

If I had been given another opportunity to do it again I would have done it differently – especially the date – it was the day of Eid and you know the perception of the Muslim world about these days.

There was huge pressure form every corner of the Arab world – politicians, etc, so many corners of this world – legal challenges – even among Americans.

There was huge pressure on us. There was a suggestion to get him to Guantanamo or to leave him at a remote island for the rest of his life. We turned that huge page and then we wanted to forget about it.

We have made considerable military improvements since 2004. In less than four years we have moved from one battalion to 13 divisions including a navy force.

However we need some logistical support and the system should have been much faster than this to provide proper arms and proper equipment.

While we were building the armed forces we were still fighting an insurgency and terrorism.

Abu Musab Zarqawi and the hardcore supporters of Saddam recognised the majority of individuals from the Sunni community were disenchanted and were trying to make use of our mistakes by not reaching out to the Sunni community.

I think Zarqawi has been successful in driving a wedge between Sunni and Shia communities. We need several years to bring them together. Building bridges is difficult but there are good signs now.

Political use

I know some people who were in government were trying very hard in 2004 and 2005 to delay the elections and they were trying very hard to convince the American administration to delay the election.

Fortunately they failed. They were trying to delay the election to prolong the life of their government. But all credit to Grand Ayatollah Sistani and to George Bush and to most of the Iraq political elite who pressed really hard for the Iraqi people to express their views at the ballot boxes and choose their representatives.

I would say that the sectarian tension in the region is used both politically and by the media regionally.

Al-Rubaie: Sectarian tensions in Iraq are
used politically in the region [AFP]

Sunni versus Shia, Persian versus Arab, Christian versus Muslims. This occurs in the whole region. It’s like poison, venom. In the media and in politics.

This sectarian tension manifests itself in Iraq violently on the streets of Baghdad by people killing each other. Certainly regional powers have played a major role in feeding this violence and escalating the sectarian war.

Every country for a completely different reason. But unfortunately some Iraqi political forces are responding to the regional power and shipping arms, training, and allowing foreign terrorists to cross the border.

All this has happened during 2005 to 2007. Now we can see a considerable reduction in the arms shipment from Iran to Iraq. Now we can see great co-operation from Iran in exercising their influence, positive influence in influencing their friends in Iraq.

I don’t think the constitution has divided our people. I honestly believe that we have one of the best constitutions in the region and in the world. We are very proud of our constitution – it is written by Iraqis, by elected Iraqis. It is a modern, civil institution.

True we have written it hurriedly, but we would like to go make and do some changes.

The best lesson I have learnt, if I could go and re-do all this, is that we should have been more inclusive, tolerant and thoughtful, including all different political, ethnical and religious minorities in the government

It was very harmful to be perceived as sectarian by some of our Iraqi brothers.

If it was left to me, I would not have come with foreign forces to Iraq. The best option was to form an Iraqi liberation army and start from the south, north west and march to Baghdad with the help of regional powers and the US.

That is easy to say with hindsight. We tried it but we could not make it happen.

Secondly we should have paid more attention to Iraq’s neighbours. We did not realise the role of regional powers inside Iraq.

We should have pressed really hard and stopped co-operating with Americans if they had not agreed on an interim government and said “this is wrong”.

We also should not have accepted changing the liberation operation into an occupation and give the occupying forces a free hand in Iraq.

It was not our choice but the UN Security Council’s decision and we are still suffering from that but we are hoping to get out of it by the end of the year when Iraq get outs after chapter 7 of the Security Council’s resolution and then we will be a fully independent sovereign state and we can do what we would like to try and do.

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Source : Al Jazeera

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