Council on Foreign Relations
NANCY ROMAN: Hello. Good evening. We’re ready to get started. I am Nancy Roman, director of the Washington Program here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And I am delighted to welcome you this evening, and also delighted to be beginning our program year this fall with such a distinguished guest as Prime Minister Allawi.
We are also delighted to have Secretary Madeleine Albright presiding this evening. Of course, she is someone who needs absolutely no introduction with this crowd. You know, of course, of her service as secretary of state under [President] Bill Clinton. What some of you might not know is that she is also the newest member of the board for the Council on Foreign Relations, and she is also heading up our task force , with [former U.S. Representative] Vin Weber, [R-Mich.], on reform in the Arab world. So I would just like to thank you, Secretary Albright, for both your public service and your service to the Council, and for being here this evening. Thank you very much. [Applause.]
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Nancy. And good evening to all of you. I’m very pleased to join each of you in welcoming our very distinguished guest this evening, Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq. The prime minister comes to us after a speech earlier today to a joint session of Congress, during which he expressed his gratitude to the American people for the sacrifices our fighting men and women have made in Iraq. And tomorrow, he’s going to go to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly.
Since beginning a career in politics more than 30 years ago, Prime Minister Allawi has earned a reputation for toughness, and courage, and decisiveness. And because of his independence early on, Saddam Hussein tried to have him killed, and very nearly succeeded. But Mr. Allawi would not be silenced. Moving to England, he founded the Iraqi National Accord [INA], one of the leading exile groups opposed to the regime. And he’s been in his present post less than three months, although I expect to Dr. Allawi it may seem quite a bit longer. [Laughter.]
Being prime minister of Iraq means serving in one of the world’s most demanding jobs, and having to answer a multitude of questions, because in recent weeks, we have heard vastly different accounts of what is really going on in Iraq.
Some suggest that everything is happening according to plan, and that the security situation is under control. Elections will take place on schedule, the economy is gaining strength, and public morale is high. Others worry about the apparent strength of the insurgent forces, the rising number of kidnappings and attacks, the lack of preparation for elections, the slow pace of reconstruction, and public hostility towards the United States. So the prime minister’s visit could not be more timely. And we look forward to receiving from him an accurate and balanced picture of how things now stand, and what his plans are for overcoming the obstacles that do still exist.
In this audience there are many who strongly supported this administration’s decision last year to launch a military campaign in Iraq, and others who opposed it, and quite a few who had mixed feelings. Notwithstanding this range of views, I’d like to say to the prime minister that I think everyone in this room is united in wanting Iraq to emerge from its present crisis as a stable, democratic, and prosperous country. Your people have suffered enough, and your region is too combustible to allow the violence to continue indefinitely.
I have said many times that, although the war in Iraq was a war of choice, not of necessity, winning the peace is a necessity, and not a choice. And so, when you return to Iraq, Mr. Prime Minister, you may be sure that our thoughts and prayers will go with you.
And now, I would ask everyone to join me in welcoming our very special guest, Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq. [Applause.]
PRIME MINISTER AYAD ALLAWI: Thank you. Good evening. I am really honored to be in this gathering— distinguished gathering. I am honored to be invited here to talk to you about Iraq.
As you know, the United States has been the— probably one of the very few supporters of Iraq, and have been very supportive before the liberation, during liberation, and after liberation. Indeed, Iraq is facing a lot of challenges now, and we will come to this in a short while. But let me tell you that the vast majority of the Iraqi people are appreciative of what the United States have done and the sacrifices that have— the United States have made, and other coalition partners, to save Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
We know far better than anybody else the atrocities that have been committed in Iraq. As I said today, I was living outside Iraq and I used to hear a lot of news and information on the tyranny, atrocities, and murders that had been committed in Iraq. When I went there, I found that what I used to hear was nothing compared to reality. We found atrocities beyond the imagination of decent human beings. So— and I don’t want to go into detail— full details— because this is very lengthy, but you will find yourselves, as events will unfold in Iraq, how much this man contributed to hurting the Iraqi people, the social fabric, as well as hurting the whole region.
Now, the interim government has been almost just over two months old, and I have been elected by the various political parties as the prime minister. And we have a very dedicated Council of Ministers and presidency who are trying their best to improve the situation in Iraq. We currently in Iraq have four major processes that we are moving through.
One, the first process and the far most important one, is the security: the process of rebuilding our army, our police, our intelligence, our various capabilities in crime prevention and fighting crime.
This is moving in the right direction. We are not there yet, but at least there is a movement which is quite positive and quite progressive.
The second process we have to is the economy, to rebuild our economy, which has been devastated by years and decades of tyranny and sheer neglect. The economical process in Iraq has two phases: the acute phase and the intermediate phase. The acute phase really revolves around stabilizing the currency— the Iraqi dinar, and reducing unemployment, as well as getting the social and important essential services back to normal, and controlling inflation.
Then parallel to these two processes, we have the political process. The political process is very important. It lies in the heart of what we want to achieve, and this is really moving towards forming a democratic state— a federal state, which respects human rights, the rule of law, and peace with itself and with its neighbors. This process requires various activities. One of these activities is to reaffirm the national unity, and to develop a reconciliation program, which we are doing, [and] to also reintegrate Iraq back in the region as well as in the international community. And again, this is what we are achieving, and this visit is part of getting Iraq back into the family of nations.
The final, fourth process, really is to build our institutions in Iraq, starting from the judicial institutions throughout the other institutions of banking, economy, and various services in Iraq, which have been grossly [inaudible] while Saddam was presiding over Iraq.
Throughout this movement in the various sectors, we have had very strong allies, and without them, it’s very difficult to achieve what we have achieved so far. On top of our allies is the United States and the people of the United States, and we are indebted really to the attitude and to the willing of the United States to help us throughout this ordeal until we are firm standing on our feet. This is something that we are not going to forget. The Iraqi[s] would not forget these— the people and the countries and the friends who stood with them in the hour of need. And we look forward to real friendship and a partnership that would fight evil in the world and have the world a much safer and better place for us all to live in.
Thank you very much, and I am ready to take any questions. Thank you.
ALBRIGHT: Well, let me, Mr. Prime Minister, ask the first question.
I think— it seems to us from a distance— that the coalition forces are caught in kind of a classic dilemma of a guerrilla war, which is that if we fail to attack the strongholds, then the insurgency will grow. On the other hand, some of the attacks, in fact, are creating increased problems because they kill innocent people and create an atmosphere that, in fact, supports a growing insurgency. So do you believe that the insurgency can be defeated militarily, or does there have to be a political approach? And if so, what would be the political approach?
ALLAWI: Well, let me start by saying to you that— well, let me give you a [inaudible], first, of the insurgency, what we mean by the insurgency, us Iraqis.
Insurgency in Iraq is composed of three elements. The first element are the terrorists, the foreign fighters who came into Iraq. Some of them came just before the war of liberation, others came through the— while the war was taking place, and others came after.
The second part of the insurgency are the Saddam loyalists— those who, over more than three decades, committed crimes after crimes after crimes against the Iraqi people, who have their hands stained with the blood of the Iraqi people, and who not only committed crimes against the Iraqis, but also committed crimes against our neighbors. Those are what we call the Saddam loyalists, who know that they will be punished and they will be brought to justice, and they have no other way but to keep on resisting.
The third part of the insurgency are the ordinary criminals who, in the latter days of Saddam, were released from prisons. The documented number we have in Baghdad is just in excess of 31,000 criminals who were serving either a life sentence or capital punishment— sentenced to capital punishment, the death penalty in Iraq— are being released prior to the war by Saddam. So they are within the society, forming clusters of criminals and thugs who are trying to impose and hurt the Iraqi people. This is practically the main composition of the insurgency. Of course, with the foreign fighters, there are the radical extremism Islamists, who have joined forces. They are small, but they are with the terrorists.
Now, these insurgents had been active— insurgencies had been active in quite a number of places in Iraq. And they have been taking advantage of the lack of army, police, and other services— security services. So they have been mushrooming in various parts of the country, until quite recently, where and when the Iraqi police started to develop its capability, the Iraqi military started to be formed, and the national guard started to be deployed in various parts of Iraq.
We have witnessed since then, since the last three months— two months— two phenomenons. One is the recession in many areas of insurgencies— the collapse of insurgencies in many parts of Iraq. On the other hand, we have seen, and especially lately, a surge in deadly attacks in various— in two specific places: in Baghdad, to make their results felt, and in an area called Falluja. The rest of the country is, by and large, okay. It’s not 100 percent okay, but it’s okay. You count, out of the 18 provinces we have in Iraq, about 14 or 15 are safe. There are no major problems or insurgency problems in them. There are a few problems, few pockets— in Baghdad a few pockets, and a few other areas, such as Falluja and certain parts of Baghdad.
Because of the composition of the insurgency, and because of the outside extension of these insurgencies, it is difficult to embark only on a military solution. There need to be various actions, various components to be taken, to be considered, to attack insurgencies.
One of these components is the military component, to hit hard at the insurgencies. The second, of course, is the intelligence, and gathering information on their money, on their movement, on their assets, and so on.
The third is the political approach, and this is to deprive the insurgency from sympathizers around them. And this is exactly what have worked really in Najaf, this is what have worked in Tal Afar, this is what have worked in Samarra, this is what have worked in Basra.
The fourth area, or the fourth component, is to use the economic recovery, and to pump in assets— monies— in various parts of Iraq to get the cycle of life back again so people really are busy and earning their money, and busy in their work rather than sitting around and waiting for somebody to come and pay them to do a dirty job for them.
The insurgency is on the descent, it’s not on the ascent. We just got back from Baghdad. I was just visiting Basra very— 10 days ago, 12 days ago. I went to remote areas in Basra and Um Qasr. I witnessed the elections of the local council of Um Qasr, the municipality council. It was— I think the minister of health [Dr. Aladin Al-Alwan] was with me, and a few other ministers. The elections were moving in the right direction, no problems. I went to Basra, we met with the tribes, we met with the governor, with the governorate council. Everybody is upbeat, everybody is happy that things have improved in Basra.
So we really went— I went also to visit the police academy after a day— after the incident which killed Iraq 40 or more policemen, who were coming to be recruited to the police. The next day I went to the [inaudible] recruiting center, and I mixed with the police— with the people who came to volunteer to work as police officers and policemen. And I asked them, I said, “Are you deterred because what happened yesterday?” They said, “No, we are adamant now than any other time to move ahead, and to defend our country from these terrorists.”
So this is the insurgency. The coalition— the multinational force— is helping tremendously the efforts in both training our military, training our police, equipping our police and military, and also in using the expertise of the multinational force to hit at very important places and safe houses of insurgents.
The targeting lately— and thanks to the targeting details of the multinational force— had become so powerful and so effective that really we are inflicting a lot of losses on [insurgent leader Abu Musab] Zarqawi, on [Osama] bin Laden’s people— very heavy losses. And we believe, based on our essential intelligence, that the surge in what is happening now— the suicidal bombers— is really a direct response to the effects that have been occurring in hitting them— in hitting where it hurts the insurgents.
So they are really becoming more desperate. They are, so to speak, putting their cards very clear, and we are after them. The minister of defense [Hazim Shalan] was telling me that, two days ago, there was a very major operation in Baghdad. Sixty people were arrested. Fifty or so of them— just over 50— were from various Arab countries— foreign fighters.
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]. All of them.
ALLAWI: All of them— all of them. Sixty. This was based on them getting more to the surface and improving our intelligence. So this is maybe—
ALBRIGHT: Let me ask one more question then turn it over to the audience. There are many people in this audience who have been involved in helping in preparing elections, and especially in the aftermath of fighting. And as we look at the calendar, you have said that the elections would be held in January. [United Nations] Secretary-General [Kofi] Annan has raised some questions about that, and there are always the issues of security and elections. And as I understand it, the chief spokesman of the interior ministry [Sabah Kadhim], your interior ministry, has said that the elections might be delayed. Aides to [Grand] Ayatollah [Ali al-] Sistani say that they shouldn’t be delayed. What is it that is going to happen in the next four months that has not happened up till now that will make it possible for elections to be held throughout the country in a safe way?
You have mentioned that 14, 15 out of the 18 provinces are safe. We could not hold an election in this country and decide that Texas, California, and Florida won’t participate, though there may be some who would like that. [Laughter.] The— but how will you deal with what you yourself have said are issues in those three provinces? And then the question of what can be done in a four-month period?
ALLAWI: When I referred to three or four provinces, it’s not the whole province; it’s pockets within the province, and let me give you an example on where Falluja is. Falluja is a city, it’s not a province. Falluja is a city which is part of a larger province called Al Anbar.
Al Anbar have maybe 50 cities, small and big— Hitna, [inaudible], [Ar] Ram, and others— [inaudible] and so on— Haditha. Now, it so happens that out of these 50 large and small cities in the province of Al Anbar, which is very [inaudible]--it’s very big— Falluja is the only enclave in this province where there is an insurgency, and not only in Falluja per se, as a whole— pockets within Falluja. So really, when you say provinces— when I said provinces, I mean— I meant, and I mean certain pockets in the provinces, as I am giving this example of [Al] Anbar.
Now, even in Falluja, the inhabitants of Falluja are not with the insurgents, but they are intimidated by the insurgents. I have been talking to them personally. I have met with them several times, and two days ago my deputy [prime minister, Barham Saleh,] met with them. And we are trying to pull them away and to give them the resources they need to stand against the insurgents, and to fight with us [against] the insurgents as well as the foreign terrorists. And we are making headways. We are not successful yet, but we are making headways.
So really, when we talk about provinces, it’s not the whole province. The media sometimes portray Falluja, or some other town— Tal Afar— as a major place.
Secondly, we are now still a tad early. We still have four months before the elections. We are sure that within this coming month that security is going to prevail in Iraq. We have our assets ready. Our outreach is working and our plans really are in place. And we look forward, and we hope that they will work.
We are meeting. We, the government— me myself, my ministers, the other officials in the government— are meeting with the peripheries of the insurgents, and we are talking to them. We are meeting with those who really have not killed or murdered people and we are asking them, now, “What do you want to achieve? What are your objectives?” I have asked them many times. I have asked [Muqtada] al-Sadr’s people. I have asked Falluja people, Ram people, people in Samarra:
Well, what do you want to achieve? Do you want to bring Saddam back? He is finished. You can’t get him back. Or, do you want to bring bin Laden or somebody similar to bin Laden to rule Iraq? We will fight you to death. We are not going to allow this to happen.
You want to be part of the political process? You are welcome to be part of the political process. It belongs to the Iraqi people— it doesn’t belong to a group, or to an individual. If you want to get rid of the multinational forces, then do so, by all means— but get the consent of the Iraqi people. Let them elect you, and then go to the United Nations, to Mr. Kofi Annan, and say, “Look, we don’t want the multinational force.”
So this outreach— this argument with the so-called peripheries of the insurgents— is working. We hope from now, till to about four months from now, we will be successful.
Thirdly, what is really happening across the board is that all Iraqis want the election to take place in due course, and they want the elections to take place in January, including, of course, Sistani, himself.
In August, we convened the National Conference in Baghdad, and about— in excess of 1,400 people from the various provinces came and traveled to Baghdad. Prior to the conference, even the United Nations were doubting. They came and saw me in Baghdad and they said, “Are you sure? Are you able to do this conference?” Fourteen-hundred people— very important people— representing the spectrum of the political parties. I said, “Yes, we are sure.” So the conference was held in Baghdad. It was supposed to take two days. The deliberations took four days, and people were very jubilant to see that the first time they were ready and able to practice democracy. They were fighting, they were attacking each other, they were active with each other, they were arguing with each other. So it was really a unique experience for the Iraqis to see democracy in action the way that has happened in August last. Despite all the claims that this was not going to take place, it did happen. We now are adamant that the same thing is going to take place in January. Of course, it’s not going to be 100 percent good elections, and safe and healthy as you do have here, or in the United Kingdom, or in Sweden, but at least it will make a very good start for Iraq for now.
And don’t forget, I mean, this is a beginning of a process— it’s not the end of the process. It’s the beginning of a process, a long process, which will develop and evaluate over the next years, as a matter of fact.
I think we are going to have the elections in due course. I think there is no need to— [inaudible]…. The United Nations, after Mr. Annan’s statement, came to see me. Ashraf [Jehangir] Qazi, [Annan’s] envoy to Baghdad, and [U.N. Special Envoy to Iraq] Lakhdar Brahimi, and others. And I am meeting Kofi Annan tomorrow. And I inquired from them, I said, “Do you have information that we don’t have that you are calling for a postponement of the elections?” They said no. I said, “We are the government of Iraq and we know what’s happening. We want the elections to take place. Unless you have secret information, you tell us so we can adapt ourselves to what you are talking about. But give us an explanation why Mr. Annan said so.” So, I am expecting an explanation from him, hopefully tomorrow, to understand why he has said so.
His envoy, Ashraf Qazi and Lakhdar Brahimi, were, on the contrary, very upbeat, very determined to help us. They want to push the elections. They want— so I said, “Are you sure you have the consent of the secretary-general, because his statement is different?” They said, “Of course, we came for this reason here.” So I think the United Nations is on course with us. They are supportive. They have been supportive. They, in fact, asked me to appoint a representative at the U.N. [to] the Electoral Commission. So I appointed— they have a short list of three people— I appointed one of them, who was a lady and from Falluja, on this commission— electoral commission.
ALBRIGHT: Let me— can you please identify yourself?
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Trudy Rubin from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Mr. Prime Minister, there have been many remarks by officials and military people from the United States about the need for a military operation in Falluja before the elections to clean up what you can’t peel off. And there’s also been a lot of talk about the fact that Iraqi national forces should be in the forefront of such an operation.
We all know that in April there was a problem with Iraqi national forces; they weren’t ready, and some units didn’t want to fight. And the one unit that fought in Falluja— the 36th Battalion of the then-ICDC [Iraqi Civil Defense Corps]--mainly it was peshmerga [Kurdish resistance fighters] in that unit that fought, or so it is said.
So my question to you is, is it possible to put together Iraq fighting forces of all different ethnic and religious groups— Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurd— who will fight for Iraq? Or, as some people say, are those groups mainly only going to fight for their own community? And along with that, is there still one Iraq?
ALLAWI: The 36th Battalion of the ICDC, which is now a National Guard battalion, was formed of various party members, not only the peshmerga. The peshmerga maybe constitute about 20 percent of the 36th Battalion. The rest come from the INA, the INC [Iraqi National Congress] SCIRI [Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq]--the Supreme Council— Islamic Council— and other political groups. And they fought very bravely in various places, and still it is one of the most important National Guards. You know, the ICDC is changed now. It’s called the National Guards. It’s one of the elite forces in the National Guards, this specific unit.
Secondly, of course, we want the Iraqi forces to spearhead. And let me assure you that Iraqis [inaudible] the Najaf. In Najaf, the Iraqi forces were spearheading the operation. And the minister of defense was in Najaf, supervising, and he was in touch with me all the time, supervising the whole operation. And the multinational force were with them.
We are building our country, we are building our forces, we are building our security, and there are difficulties in doing so. I am not trying to play down the problems. But by and large, the resolve is there, the determination is there, and the progress is there.
We cannot see— many people I have been talking to— Arab leaders prior to liberation myself— and they said once Saddam is overthrown, the next day there will be a civil war in Iraq and Iraq will be dismembered. Now, when Saddam was overthrown, more than a year and half, and Iraq is still Iraq. It hann’t changed into or split or dismembered.
So, I think the notion of civil war does not exist in Iraq. There are no Shi’a against Sunni. There is no Sunni against Kurd against SCIRI or Kurd against Arab. There isn’t this. There are insurgents. There are foreign terrorists. There are Saddamists who are against the rest of the Iraqi people. This is not really in Iraq now— this possibility of having Iraq dismembered.
QUESTIONER: David Bosco with Foreign Policy magazine. Thank you for taking my question, Mr. Prime Minister. I think today John Kerry had some comments about your speech to Congress in which he suggested that you were being used as a tool by the administration to put a positive face on the Iraq operation. And I wonder what your response, if any, is to that?
ALLAWI: Well, I don’t know what really— I mean, you know, it’s up to him what he wants to call, but I am tool of no hand. I am a tool of nobody. We are Iraqis. We came here in appreciation for what the United States did to Iraq— the help we got from the United States, the support before liberation, during liberation, and until now, after liberation. So I came for this purpose. I am not— I did not come here to have a match of getting involved in internal politics of the United States. This is not our business.
But we are really appreciative to the American people. American lives have been lost in Iraq with us. American blood, as well as Iraqi blood, have been shed, and very— for a very noble cause: to defeat terror, to defeat terrorism, and for the values of justice and democracy to prevail, and freedom to prevail. So we come to give our appreciation— heartiest appreciation to the United States for what the United States have done for us.
QUESTIONER: David Ignatius from The Washington Post. Mr. Prime Minister, is the insurgency receiving— is the insurgency receiving covert support from neighboring states? In particular, I think of Syria and Iran. And if it is, what are you doing to stop it?
ALLAWI: We, frankly, know that many of the foreign fighters came through, of course, neighboring countries into Iraq, especially in through Syria and through Iran. We also know that some of the Saddam elements— the Saddamists who were part and parcel of Saddam’s regime— are living in some neighboring countries, such as Syria.
So, we decided to speak to our brothers in the region, and I went to Syria and met with— I was invited— and met with President [Bashar al-]Assad. And I spoke to him very clearly and very openly, and I said, “Look, we either would go back to Saddam’s days and each fighting each other, or we try jointly to build a safer region for everyone. You can bring people against us, we can do the same, and we can get involved in boxing matches and explosives and this and that, but this will lead us nowhere. I have people coming to see me today here in Damascus in your guest house who are trying to fuel problems inside Iraq,” and I gave him the names. And he reciprocated and said, “Yes, we want to build a better relationship, a healthy relationship with you, with Iraq, and for the region.” And so then we started our cooperation. It’s early days to see whether the Syrians will be true to what they said. But we believe, based on what we have now, and based on the committees that we formed with the Syrians, that things are improving. We think that they will improve more.
I did send the deputy prime minister with some ministers to Tehran to give them— and give them the same message, that it is in the interest of the peoples of the region to work closely together and to build a safer place for everyone. There are tensions and problems between us and you, and let us discuss these tensions and problems and get them sorted out. And they agreed. We are waiting— we have a list of points to discuss with them. We are waiting. I am meeting— the minister of foreign affairs [Seyed Kamal Kharrazi] will meet me tomorrow in New York— the Iranian minister of foreign affairs. And if they are ready to agree on the points, I’ll— I have an invitation, I’ll go there and we can conclude an agreement with them to work together to control the borders and to prevent terrorists from moving into and from Iraq to outside Iraq.
We told them that this is really in the interest of everybody, because any problem that may happen in Iraq— God forbid— is going to spill over and is not going to remain within the borders of Iraq. It will go to Syria, it will go to Jordan, it will go to Iran, it will go to Saudi Arabia, and so on.
So I think things will improve. We are using the philosophy that we— all of us in the political parties in Iraq— arrived to when we are in the position that really what Iraq needs in relation to its neighbors is a peaceful approach— approach of dialogue based on mutual interests and benefits for everybody.
ALBRIGHT: How about back there? Somebody who’s not a journalist. [Laughter.] I can’t see you so— can you identify yourself, please? Yes.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Can you hear me? My name’s Eric Fine from Morgan Stanley. Mr. Prime Minister, you cited the importance of economic growth and investment. Dealing with Iraq’s external creditors is an important element of that process. What can you tell us about the Paris Club debt negotiations and also your commercial debt negotiation?
ALLAWI: Well, really, you know, the debt of Iraq is one of our headaches. And we have been talking on various levels on the issue of debt. The first level really is we are trying to assess what kind of debts there are. There are debts from some regional countries where we don’t have any documentation at all— it was really in payments to Saddam to buy arms to hit Kuwait or conquer Kuwait, or occupy Iran, to kill Syrians, to destroy Lebanon, to go after the Palestinians. So we don’t have any— so [this is] one of the areas that we are looking and talking to our friends in the region, and other countries of the world, to assess them and to have details or the documentations of the debts.
The second level really is the political level where we are talking to governments to help us. And as you know, [former U.S. Secretary of State] Mr. [James] Baker has been involved in helping us. He went to the Paris Club, he went and saw many countries and spoke to them. And we are doing the same on a bilateral basis. We are talking to various countries to try and get a forgiveness of debts.
The third, of course, approach is the approach to the Paris Club and the technical— the minister of finance [Adil Abdul Mahdi] and the central bank governor [Dr. Sinan al-Shabibi] was— they were there, in France and Germany lately, and the minister of industry also was in Germany lately. And we are talking to them on helping us with the debt forgiveness. We believe and we are aiming at total debt forgiveness. We hope that we will achieve this level. What we see frankly, Iraq— and this is what we are telling our friends in the international community, as well as in the region, that you ought to stand with us to enable us to fight terrorism and to make the Middle East a much safer place for everyone.
Secondly, you should give us the power and the means to reinvest in our economy because our economy would be useful for the world, not only for Iraq to help— we hope this is progressing. It’s progressing well. Today we met with the World Bank and we met with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and we have very good news from the IMF, which would set the pace towards the reduction of debts or for forgiveness of debts.
Oh, on this account, I would like also to say that the government of Iraq, which would remain until January— we don’t know who will come after January— is adamant that the economy should be liberalized in Iraq and we move into a market economy. And this is what is happening. We have established clear laws, which would attract foreign investment. We have created the institutions, and the tools, and the council to deal with these issues. We are trying to get our friends in the international community— in Romania and Germany and other places in Europe, who moved from a complete government- controlled economy to a liberal economy— to help us in doing so. So we hope— and this is an area for— really for the private sector in the United States and Europe to come and help and invest in Iraq, both for the benefit of Iraq and also for the good of the communities in Europe and the United States.
ALBRIGHT: Yes? Dan Schorr.
QUESTIONER: Dan Schorr of National Public Radio. Mr. Prime Minister, when one reads your biography in the American newspapers, there is often a reference to “the prime minister has had long-standing relations with the CIA.” Can you say what have been or what are your relations with the CIA?
ALLAWI: We— I am part of the Iraqi political system. I’m part of the ex-Iraqi opposition forces. We regard ourselves— regarded ourselves— as liberation movements, and we fought tyranny. We fought Saddam. And we sacrificed and we were hurt. And we were fighting Saddam when the United States was supporting Saddam. And when Europe was supporting Saddam, we fought Saddam.
When things changed after Kuwait was invaded, we, as a liberation movement— myself and others— hundreds of others, political groups— saw that there is opening in the world, that the world is now changing attitude and siding with the Iraqi people, and wanting to support the liberation movement and the political forces of Iraq to overthrow Saddam’s regime. So we established relationships with many, many organizations— many governments throughout the world. Some of them are Arab governments, some of them Islamic governments, and some of them European governments, and the United States.
And all of us in the opposition then recognized that the United States was the major power which could really decide— make or break the Saddam regime. So we were in touch with the CIA, as we were in touch with other agencies in the whole— most of Europe and the region— Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Holland, UAE [United Arab Emirates], Spain— anybody who wanted to help us, anybody who was willing— capable to help us, we were in touch with them. This is, sir, my association as a group, as a political group. It’s not a personal association. It was an association with all governments who were wanting— and wanting to help us. And we appreciated the help that we got from everyone to unseat Saddam.
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]--Foundation. We’re all interested in the government’s relationship with Ayatollah Sistani, and also on his health. We’d appreciate your comments on that.
ALLAWI: Well, I think his health is OK. You know, he came to London— he went to London for a medical checkup and treatment, and he got first-class treatment. I did send my chief of staff [General Amer Hashimi] to go and see him in London, and I was in daily contact with him in London. And he informed me that he was in very good health, and he is good. He’s back now, as you know, in Iraq. And unfortunately, I couldn’t see him before I left Iraq, but we have been in touch. He is okay. His health is good.
ALBRIGHT: Let me take one more question. All the way in the back.
QUESTIONER: Robin Wright, The Washington Post. Mr. Prime Minister, I’d like to do a reality check on some of your comments today. First of all, you said that 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces are completely safe and that the insurgency does not resonate among the majority of the Iraqi people. And yet over the past month, there have been challenges to U.S. forces in six provinces, and there are public opinion polls that show growing resistance and anger, frustration, and opposition to the presence of U.S. forces. Can you reconcile the differences for us?
ALLAWI: No, you are talking about a month ago?
QUESTIONER: No, over the past month there have been clashes—
ALLAWI: Yeah, over the past month, like Najaf problem. Najaf is out now, it’s sorted out, and the criminals who committed problems in Najaf, some of them are in jail now and they will be facing justice. And they were apprehended by the Iraqi police. Many of the areas which had tensions— Tal Afar. Tal Afar now is safe, is good. No problem in Tal Afar. Samarra. Samarra is okay. It’s good, no insurgency now in Samarra itself.
So you know, things are dynamic— are changing— but they are changing to the better. Najaf, Kufa was a big headache a month ago. We were following up things in Kufa and Najaf until we sorted out things. As you know, now Najaf is back in the hands of the people of Najaf. Now people are going there to attend the holy shrines and to go and say their prayers. People are doing their business and we are pouring money into reconstructing Najaf. These areas are safe.
You know, you talk about a month ago. Now things are changing. And hopefully, when I see you I will— when you call me next month, things will even be better. But things really are improving. Believe me. I mean, you know, in Najaf, you can go and ask and see yourself. Tal Afar, you can go and ask and see yourself. Samarra, you can go and ask yourself.
Basra— I was personally there with the minister of health 10 days ago. Things were very normal. People— I asked them, I went to their— went to the polling station. I said, “How many people you had today?” They said, “We had 3,000 people so far.” This was twelve o’clock noon, Baghdad, Iraq’s time. Three polling stations they had. Sixty-five percent of the people of Um Qasr went to the polling stations to elect their local council. These are facts. These are realities. These are known facts, and you can check them for yourself any time you like.
ALBRIGHT: Let me thank the prime minister, and also say, you know very well that this is, for us Americans, a very complicated subject, and one that people are very interested in. And they really are interested in answers, and there are a lot of questions. So, I thank you very much for the time that you’ve spent with us. And, I can assure you that we all want this to come out right.
ALLAWI: Insha Allah.
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