Assessing Iraq's Regional Foreign and Security Policy

Friday, September 25, 2015
Courtesy: Don Pollard
Ibrahim al-Alshaiqer Al-Jaafari

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Iraq

Ibrahim al-Alshaiqer al-Jaafari. the foreign minister of the Republic of Iraq, discusses Iraqi regional relations and global affairs. The foreign minister discusses the Iraqi government's approach to regional threats, including the challenge posed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the conflict in Syria, and terrorism in the broader Middle East. Al-Jaafari addresses Iraq's relationships with its neighbors, including Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Over the course of the conversation, al-Jaafari addresses the Iraqi government's relationship with the country's Kurdish population, who seek greater autonomy.

NEGROPONTE: Good morning, everyone. I’m pleased to welcome you to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, which will involve an interview with the minister of foreign affairs of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. I’d also like to welcome the Council on Foreign Relations members around the nation and the world who are participating in this meeting through live stream. This is meeting is on the record, right? That was in the announcement.

So I have known Dr. Jaafari since I arrived first as ambassador to Iraq in the middle of 2004, so we’ve had a friendship since that time. Dr. Jaafari—he’s a medical doctor—was born in the historic city of Karbala, Iraq. He got his medical degree in Mosul. He has been active in Iraqi politics, both domestically and in exile, throughout his entire adult life.

He went into exile—is it right? OK. He went into exile in 1980 and returned in 2003, first as the chairman of the governing council of Iraq, and then from 2004 to 2005, he was vice president of the interim government, which is the time that I first met him. In 2005 and 2006, after the successful elections of late 2004, Dr. Jaafari became prime minister of Iraq for one year. And then since that time he has continued being involved in politics and assumed the position of foreign minister in September of last year, so he has been in this position for one year.

So I wanted to start off our discussion with a couple of general questions to Dr. Jaafari, and then we’ll turn it over after a short discussion between ourselves to members, who will be able to ask questions.

But I wanted to start out with an observation that Iraq is a very complicated neighborhood. It’s a very complicated—it lives in a very complicated region. And sometimes we need to remind ourselves of just the plain facts of geography. The country is bounded by the country of Saudi Arabia. It’s bounded by Iran. It’s bounded by Kuwait, Turkey.

(Note: Al-Jaafari speaks through an interpreter.)

AL-JAAFARI: Syria and Jordan.


AL-JAAFARI: Syria and Jordan.

NEGROPONTE: So—and Jordan. Exactly. So I guess my question for you is, can you talk a little bit about the Iraq-Iran relation in particular? Because there is a lot of commentary about that, and I’m wondering if you can shed some light on how you in your position as foreign minister consider Iraq’s relationship with Iran.

AL-JAAFARI: Regarding—first of all, I’d like to welcome all of you, and I’d like to thank Mr. Negroponte for this opportunity to meet with you guys and talk to you directly. And my relationship with Mr. Negroponte goes back to 2004. He was an ambassador to Iraq.

Regarding the Iraqi-Iranian relationships, they are governed by the following facts: geography, geographical facts—Iran is a country which has borders with Iraq geographically from the—from the east, and so then the fact that we are neighbors is not deniable. There are borders longer than a thousand kilometers between the two countries. There is also history, historical facts. We went through different stages of history together since the time of Persia. And also common interests, which is the third component that controls the Iraqi governed—Iraqi-Iranian relationships. And there are also some rivers from—in Iraq that comes from Iran.

And there are societal facts: The majority of the Iranian society are Shia Muslims, and also there is also a majority—not as big as a majority in Iran—a majority of Shias also in Iraq, which is also another factor. These are the historical facts and geographical facts, the vital resources and common interests. Now there is something new, which is a common danger, which is terrorism.

Some of those facts are similar in Iraq with our relation with Iran and with Turkey. Iraq also has several countries neighboring it with—Iran is one. Iran is a country Wilayat al-Faqih, a theocracy, while Turkey is a secular society. Jordan is a kingdom. Syria is a republic. Saudi Arabia is a kingdom. And Iraq has to deal with all of them, all six countries, similarly. That’s why you cannot change geography. We cannot also adjust the demography to our taste.

Our philosophy in 2015 is that we build relationships with the neighboring countries as well as other countries around the world on bipolar basis that is separate from our alliances. Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan have similar—we know that east of Iraq is Iran, west of Iraq is Saudi Arabia, and sometimes there are—there is tension between these two countries. We have good relationship with Iran and good relationship with Saudi Arabia. North of Iraq lies Turkey. There is a big tension between Turkey and Syria while we maintain good relations with Turkey and good relations with Syria.

This is part of our new strategy, new diplomatic strategy is to build bilateral relations with countries independently from their relationships with other countries. When we engage in relationship with a country, we do not accept to be part of animosity that they hold against another country. And on that basis, the Iraqi foreign ministry—started last year in New York when I accepted the position as a foreign minister, I can—I have come to New York before and entered the Iraqi Foreign Ministry building. I dealt with the diplomatic task before I entered the ministry building in Iraq. I started—I went to Jeddah, then Jeddah to Paris, then Paris to New York, and after a year of that strategy, we still maintain it.

NEGROPONTE: So if I could just follow up with just one further question on the subject of Iran, and then we can move on to other questions—but some observers, both in America and even I’ve heard Iraqis say, that Iraqis come under disproportionate influence of the country of Iran. And some people even say we, the United States, abandoned Iraq to Iran. And what would you say to that comment?

AL-JAAFARI: I believe this is something strange that I get surprised when I hear it. Iraq is an Arab country, in the majority of it. There is also the Kurds and the Turkomans, the Assyrians, but the majority are Arabs. Iraq is also diverse, very diverse. And if there is any similarity between the majority of Iraq population, which is Shias, and the population in Iran, which is also Shias, that doesn’t mean that we have Persian Shias.

Do you know why the Shias are called Shias? Because they supported Ali ibn Ali Talib. And Ali ibn Ali Talib was an Arab, and his capital was al-Kufa, not Tehran, not Shiraz, not any Persian city. Shias—Shia religion came to Iran in the Seventh Century, which—Seventh Hijri Century, which is not long ago. But Iraq for 1,400 years was an Arab country, has been an Arab country. So why is that confusion?

Why is—and when America left—when did it leave? It left in 2012 after the agreement of 2011. Iraq is not a reflection of an American will, and it is not a reflection of an Iranian will. We maintain good relationships with Iran, just as we maintain good relationships with all other countries. But there is a difference between dealing with confidence with a certain country, whether it’s a regional power or an international power, or—and become just a reflection or an echo of that country’s voice. We do not allow our sovereignty to be violated by any country. Iraqis respect their neighbors and respect everyone, and their citizens are in all countries. In the United States there is an Iraqi community. In Britain, there is between 3,000 and 4,000 Iraqi physicians in Britain. That doesn’t mean that we turn from one nationality to another. Iraqis take pride in the Arab nationalism. But geography has its duties. We deal with Iran just like we deal with other countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Syria.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you, Dr. Jaafari. One last question on the—in the area of Iraq’s relations. Can you discuss briefly the state of the United—of Iraq-United States relations? How do you see that, and what do you—how do you see the prospects?

AL-JAAFARI: Our relationship with all other countries are based on the relationships between states, not governments. The size of the government is not the same as the size of the state. A government is an institution of the—of the state. We deal with the United States as a—as a country since its independence in the 18th Century.

America has been steady geographically. Whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat, that doesn’t concern us. We have relationships with countries based on the fact that we are states, not governments. We may disagree with a government or a president; even presidents or politicians agree—disagree with one another. But our relationship with the United States is long-term, stable, and we wish good for all nations.

What happened in the United States on September 11th, 2001, in New York and Washington, we were sympathetic to what happened, because that came against the civilians. United States lost in that attack of September 11th more than 3,000 civilians. They were all civilians. How many did U.S. lose in Pearl Harbor, 1941? Less than—less than 10 civilians, while in the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001, U.S. lost more than 3,000 civilians. That is a difference between a terrorist attack and an organized war, legitimate war. What the U.S. lost in the—in the Second World War was more than 300,000 people, but they were not civilians. That in New York was civilians; it was a big number of civilians. In Pearl Harbor were less than 10. That’s what makes terrorism dangerous. We were sympathetic. I read a letter in sympathy with what happened, and that letter was translated into English.

We believe that the U.S. is a peace-loving nation. It’s a diverse society, which it has translated that diversity into strength—people from British background, from Italian background, from Indian background, Asian background that has all become one nation lives—living in harmony.

The U.S. has no occupation of Iraq in its history—Iraq—never in its history occupied Iraq. We do not have that complex. There may be questions that I will tackle that point in more details, but let me say that we have no hatred that we harbor to any country, and we consider that the last victory, a victory in the civilizational term, the coming of an African-American president was a victory, whether it was Barack Obama and Martin Luther King. And it’s the same—it’s a victory for the civilization that brought to power the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and now Hillary Clinton is running for presidency. For the first time—it was under Wilson’s presidency when the women were allowed for the first time to vote. That was the first time when women were allowed to vote. This can be considered a victory. It’s a good thing.

NEGROPONTE: You mentioned terrorism, and so I think that provides a convenient transition to ISIL, the so-called Islamic State, what has been happening both in Iraq and in Syria. I think there was a great shock in this country about a year and half ago when the so-called Islamic State started making such dramatic inroads in both Syria and then the downfall of Mosul and the downfall of Tikrit and the downfall of Fallujah. How do you see the perspective for Iraq in terms of dealing with the Islamic State? And also your comments on the current situation in Syria.

AL-JAAFARI: The current terrorism started here in the United States. The first terrorist aggression that became global was in 2001 in New York and Washington. That was the history of the contemporary terrorism in the 21st century. Then there is a move from America to Europe and from Europe to Southeast Asia, and then from—to Afghanistan, then across to Syria and Iraq eventually. This is a storm of terrorism that came from here.

Terrorism targets all of us. I said in 2004 something. I said that terrorism has no land, has no homeland, has no religion, and has no doctrine. It is wrong to believe that terrorism is Asian, African, American, Australian, or from any other nationality. Terrorism is a state of awkwardness that could happen anywhere.

When terrorism settled in Syria, as we expected five years ago—five years ago we expected it to move to Iraq, and it did come to Iraq. And that did not require much knowledge of mathematics or it does not require a microscope. The societal proximity between Syria and Iraq would make it easy to predict that what happens in Syria will move to Iraq tomorrow. So when we warned and we called for a solution for the crisis in Syria, that was not only for the sake of saving Syria per se but also to save Iraq before terrorism comes to Iraq.

And now the fifth year of war in Syria has become the first year of terror in Iraq. The future of terrorism will be—will depend on the way the people—the world deals with it. I used the term “third world war” in 2006 to describe it. So this is a third world war. How do we decide that it’s a global war or not? I suspect that the First War was global or the Second War was global. Some countries were not involved. The U.S. was not involved. If it wasn’t—if Japan was not foolish enough to attack Pearl Harbor, the U.S. would not have entered the war.

So the concept of globalism, if we apply that concept properly, that war against terrorism is global. And this is not based—this is also based on the fact that all societal classes—all society classes are targeted in that war. Everyone from all religions, from all denominations, from all social classes, even from all ages, even children, are subject and target of terrorism. That’s why I call it a global war.

The Second World War was a European war. The First and Second were just European, but the war we are living now is really global, is super-global, all countries worldwide, with no exception. It is not a nuclear war, but being global does not refer to the type of weapons used, but it refers to the range and to the type of victims. When perpetrators are from all countries of the world and the victims are from all countries of the world, that means that it’s a global war. So that’s why the world has to take that in consideration and to take a strong stand. I said that in New York in the Security Council last year.

And I heard that countries around the world—I met with more than 50 foreign ministers here in New York. And I was happy to hear that—hear them all say that they will not abandon Iraq. And they all agreed or recognized that the fighters of ISIL comes—came from 80 countries, or more than 80 countries. Now fighters of ISIL come from 92 countries, some of which are democratic Western countries. Some are from the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, all countries, even China.

There are fighters from those countries in Iraq, but we cannot judge all these countries based on the behavior of those people. We judge those countries by their parliaments, by their cultures, by history, art, and humanitarian activities. But these countries are also to take responsibility to stand by the Iraqi nation, and to send a message to the Iraqi people and other countries that those criminals do not represent those governments. Those governments are represented by their humanitarian positions and by their achievements in fighting terrorism. We requested support from them.

There was one thing that we did not ask for. We do not want the children to come and fight on behalf of our children in Iraq, because the most precious thing is blood and we want to spare you your blood. We need your military support. We need the air force. We need the air force coverage. We need equipment, intelligence. We need the humanitarian help. Last year we had 1.4 million Iraqis who moved from Mosul to other regions in Iraq. Some went to Kurdistan. Some went to the middle and the south. Now there is more than 2 million dislocated people inside and outside Iraq.

We still hope that the world will stand by us, stand by the Iraq people in this crisis. Unless the people take a collective position to face terrorism, Iraq may end—it will not end in Iraq; it will move to other countries. My advice is that no one should believe that the country is far away from terrorism. There are sleeping cells that may move at any moment, and they will spare no one.

Anyone who is willing to kill a child 2 years old, a 2-year-old child, who kills a child in cold blood, he would kill—someone who kills a child or sets a live person on fire or put him in a cage and burn him alive, what do you expect such people to do? They express a certain culture. That culture, that’s why last week we proposed an Iraqi initiative to the Arab Foreign Minister Council and it was voted—we voted to consider the type of ideology that calls people infidels must be criminalized. And that was voted for and we hope to be presented to the United Nations.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you, Dr. Jaafari.

So at this time I’d like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. I’d like to remind you again that this meeting is on the record. I would ask that you wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. I would also ask that you please stand, then state your name and affiliation. And I also ask that you please limit yourself to one question and to keep it concise to allow as many members as possible to speak.

So many hands. Right here in front. Mitzi?

Q: I’m Mitzi Wertheim with Washington Council on Foreign Relations and with the Naval Postgraduate School.

Mr. Prime Minister, it was very informative to hear what you’re saying. My question is, do you have—you said you need air force support and weapons support, but it seems to me you need more than that. And the question is, how does it all get organized and how do you define what the outcomes are? I mean, it’s a very confusing world. It was so much easier before.

AL-JAAFARI: Mr. Negroponte, shall I answer this question or wait for all questions to be asked and then—

NEGROPONTE: No, no, please. We do them one by one, if that’s OK.

AL-JAAFARI: Regarding the air force coverage, we need that. We have conditions, though, which I presented to the head of the Security Council, and the conditions for air force to the Iraqi troops, we rejected any boots on the ground. And we said that that has to be done in coordination with the Iraqi military and that the air force has to target ISIL and stay away from residential areas, civilian targets, and they had to coordinate with the Iraqi military. And, in fact, the coalition air force came and coordinated with the Iraqi military, and the attacks on targets.

However, the frequency of the air force campaign was up and down, fluctuates, and I hope that it will get a higher frequency in the future. And we need the air coverage because the enemy, the ISIL, uses savage tactics. First of all, they use the bomb trucks with TNT. And they also use people as human shields. You know that the Iraqi military will wish to avoid civilians, and under such circumstances air force can play a decisive role in determining the outcome of the war.

And now the Iraqi military have accomplished some significant victories. The march from the south of Baghdad between Hillah and Karbala and the Jafar al-Sakah (ph) area. And they pushed the terrorists away from Baghdad and Balad and Samarra, and they forced them to go back up north toward Mosul.

And the Iraqi military has been winning, which is a result of civil efforts, the Iraqi military efforts. And also the international coalition played a decisive role in supporting the Iraqi military. With the intertwining of these factors, the military—Iraqi military and international coalition, targets could be achieved, objectives could be achieved.

NEGROPONTE: Mr. Gordon. I’ll go to the back of the room next.

Q: Yeah.

AL-JAAFARI: Thank you.

Q: Michael Gordon, New York Times. Mr. Foreign Minister, virtually all of the Russian transport flights that have been bringing weapons and equipment to their air base near Latakia, Syria have flown through Iranian and Iraqi airspace. Bulgaria closed its airspace to the Russian flights at the request of the United States. And the State Department says it’s suggested that states in the region ask hard questions about—to the—put hard questions to the Russians about the purpose of these flights.

Why has Iraq allowed the Russians to fly to Syria with this military equipment through its airspace? Is it your view that the Russian military buildup in Syria can play a positive role somehow in that conflict? And there are Russian military officers in Baghdad now, a small group. What is their role and function? Why are they there? Thank you.

AL-JAAFARI: Thank you very much. The question contained more than a question, in fact, regarding the Russian flying over Iraq. This is the way journalists do. You tell them one question, then they put three questions in one. (Laughter.)

Regarding your question, the first question, we did not violate any of our commitments toward the international community. Even let me tell you that when one of the countries requested to help us outside the coalition we did not reject the offer, but we made it a condition that they coordinate with the coalition, because we have a modern commitment toward our alliance with the coalition.

Regarding Russia playing a role in alleviating the crisis in Syria, we support all efforts to alleviate the crisis in Syria. And we believe that the crisis is indivisible. A crisis in Syria will lead to crisis in elsewhere. Today one of the consequences of the crisis in Syria are crises in Bahrain, in Egypt, in Iraq, all of which started in Syria. Al-Qaida was built in Syria—in Afghanistan first, then Syria, and the Islamic Army in Syria, ISIL in Syria. And the fourth generation of terrorism could be even more dangerous than this third generation.

Syria, under such conditions, is not leading to the benefit of anyone except the terrorists. So that’s why, from the very beginning, we called for a political resolution five years ago. Now people in Syria are living between the rock of the Syrian military and the hard place of terrorism.

Regarding the existence of Russian experts in Iraq, this is—I’m not sure what your source is, but as far as I’m concerned, and as I’m sitting here now, I have no knowledge of any Russian experts being in Iraq to coordinate with the Iraqi forces.

NEGROPONTE: So way in the back there, right—yes, sir.

Q: I’m Allen Hyman. I was pleased to learn that you’re a medical doctor. And as a physician at Columbia Presbyterian, I’m very proud to know that.

Israel is a very important ally and a close friend of the United States. The supreme leader of Iran has called for Israel’s destruction. Your government and the Israelis share a concern for international terrorism. What would it take for your government to start a diplomatic conversation with the Israelis?

AL-JAAFARI: One of our political basics is to not interfere with other countries’ affairs. And as you know, the Palestinian issue and the complications that resulted from it have been around for so long. Iraq has a position of respecting nations and respecting the rights of peoples. We do not interfere with anyone’s internal affairs, just like we did not interfere with other people’s affairs.

But when an Iranian official makes such a statement and what he really means by it, the question should be directed to that Iranian official. But let’s not—let’s not miss the opportunity to state again that human rights are indivisible, human rights of everyone is—should be respected. Like I said, our relations with countries are built on basics and that are not changeable. Turkey, for example, we have a state relationship with it because the Turkey nation will always be there. The same goes for Iran.

We consider countries as representatives of nations, not governments. When the Tunisian people rejected President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, we rejected him. And when the Egyptian president—former—Hosni Mubarak, was rejected by his people, we also rejected them. When the Libyan people rejected Gadhafi, we did the same, and Yemen in Abdullah Saleh. But now Syria is divided. Part is with the Syrian President Assad and part is against him. So we stood neutral, not with or against.

We respect those basics and we hope and we call for a peaceful resolution for those crises that exist now in Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt. We prefer political dialogue.


Q: Thank you very much. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Minister, you say that Iraqi forces are winning, but what we see from here is that they are stalled. Ramadi has not been taken back, no efforts being made to take back Mosul. And I wonder if that’s an Iraqi decision or if that’s partly an Iranian decision, that Iran has decided simply to defend the Shia parts of Iraq and not to expend more resources going against Daesh in historically Sunni areas. Thank you.

AL-JAAFARI: Also the lady asks two questions, in fact not one. It was not you only who asked three questions. She asked—and I love media people and I understand their interest in getting as much information as possible.

Regarding stopping at Ramadi, it’s war. And war, as Arabs say, you stop and go, stop and go and retreat. But as for the total, the totality of the movement, if you compare opposition now with what it was last year, we were between Hillah and Karbala, south of Baghdad. Now we are—we have forced them to withdraw from Jafar al-Sakah (ph) and Ishaqiyah (ph) and Hamdin (ph), Balad. They withdrew from many towns.

NEGROPONTE: Tikrit. Tikrit also.

AL-JAAFARI: Tikrit also. They withdrew from many towns in the—for the benefit of the Iraqi military, with all its components: the army, the peshmerga, the Popular. Now there is a state of mobilization in Iraq again to counter the danger of that, of ISIL.

Regarding the relationship with Iran, Iraq is not part of Iran. Iraq is not an Iranian province or Iranian land. We appreciate Iran’s interest that terrorism does not move from Iraq to Iran like it moved from Syria to Iraq. When your neighbor’s house is on fire you have to help extinguish the fire, for two reasons, first the moral reason, because your neighbor has the right that you help him. Second is that fire will not stop, not choose to stop at your neighbor’s house. It will move within minutes to yours. So when you have a state of terrorism in Iraq like that, it can move to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran.

We appreciate that Iran does not make decisions on our behalf and does not make Iraq a battlefield for Iran. We accept support from Iran just like we accept it from the United States, Europe, and some other countries. They send experts. We have a big number of Iranian experts from the United States, from Australia, and many other—and many European countries. In Iraq they offer high-level expertise.

These countries are more advanced than us. They have more experience—they have more expertise in war and know how to manage a war. Iraq has not—does not have the same level of expertise in fighting. So there is no—nothing wrong in accepting expertise from others. Iran has no right to make decisions on behalf of Iraq. We accept help but we do not accept interference or violation of our sovereignty.

NEGROPONTE: All the way in the back left corner there.

Q: (Through interpreter.) Dr. Jaafari, I have a question that I will ask you as an Iraqi citizen.

Today during this lovely session there is something—I’m surprised by the way the questions have been asked, about these questions. The questions are asked about our relationship with Iran and so forth, while the blood—the Iraqi blood that—that our Iraqi blood is being shed is given a low priority. Is that intentional? You mentioned in all international meetings that Iraq defends itself on behalf of the world. No country is far away from the danger of ISIL.

AL-JAAFARI: Mr. Firas (ph), I would like you to take that question back or re-ask the question in a way that fits the level of this—of this meeting and the level of Mr. Negroponte.

People here have a right to ask questions, and journalists have different interests. They can’t (accept ?) and they dive deep in the ocean. They do not just look at the ships on top of the water. To you these questions are not bad questions, but they have the right to inquire about the relationship between Iraq and Iran. They have every right to ask such questions. But let me answer your question anyway.

There was part of your question—you asked two questions, you too. The first one I answered, which was the defense to Mr. Negroponte and the people here. Regarding Iraq, Iraq is playing a double role. They defend—it defends itself, it defends its sovereignty and its people. And also it defends—it defends on behalf of the entire world, because those who confront the Iraqi military, they come from 92 countries.

It is no secret that those who committed crimes in Paris were two French people with French citizenship with Algerian background, and they fought in Iraq. They have expertise from Iraq. That’s where terrorism came. So the one who attacked the Canadian Parliament and killed two guards were terrorists.

So we have a global phenomenon of terrorism, and Iraq is playing the role of the first line of defense, not only defending itself but defending all countries around the world. And the world has to stand with Iraq in a way that is in line with the Iraqi role. Thank you.

NEGROPONTE: Yes, right here.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Foreign Minister, my name is Roland Paul. I’m a lawyer. I’ve been in the U.S. government a couple of times.

My question is, approximately how many fighters under arms does ISIS have in Iraq, and wouldn’t it make a significant difference if there were 30,000 American ground troops in Iraq?

AL-JAAFARI: Thank you for your two questions. (Laughter.)

Regarding the number of fighters, the number of fighters takes the shape of waves. It goes up and down. They move from inside Iraq to outside Iraq, and vice-versa, which has become—especially to Syria, which has become a tradition. They move from Iraq to Syria—then went from Iraq to Syria then come back from Syria to Iraq.

And a war with ISIL is not a traditional war, is not a war between two armies. It’s a different type of war that can be understood by those who understand terrorism, and contemporary terrorism. The danger of ISIL—I cannot deny the importance of a large number, or the increasing of numbers of fighters, but it’s different from traditional wars that we have fought before.

In terrorism, the number—the number of fighters vary and fluctuate. And it also depends on the way—the methods they use, the tactics they use. Terrorism is not a—what they do in Iraq they also do elsewhere. They like to terrorize people. They like to kill the victim and commit—they kill them in atrocious ways, which is meant to arise people. That’s done by ISIL in particular.

Regarding 30,000 U.S. soldiers, I can tell you that until now we have not asked any country around the world to send boots on the ground to fight on behalf of Iraqis. That we did not ask. The memorandum that was signed by the Iraqi foreign minister last year in New York emphasized that we—the lack of need to any—to any ground troops because we are afraid of the ghosts of foreign bases. It is true that we do need equipment, training, intelligence, air force coverage. But we do not need ground troops or ground bases from this country or that country.

And I also heard here from Mr. Obama, President Obama, in New York that one of his slogans, one of his mottos in his presidential campaign is to get out of Iraq, which was actually accomplished in 2012, and we do not need U.S. troops to come back. So if you get any information that Iraq is asking for ground troops from that country or that—this country or that country, U.S. or other, I would tell you I would—I would deny such claim. Specially, the United States has expertise dealing with Iraqi field, and a big number of American soldiers were killed in the U.S. This is a fact, you know it. One of the reasons why the former regime fell was U.S. participation. But now we are not asking for ground troops. We are asking for different types of support.

NEGROPONTE: There’s a gentleman back there. Yes.

Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.

This is a question to the minister, and I also invite Ambassador Negroponte’s comments. Not only in Iraq, but in neighboring countries as well, what do you see the future for the Kurdish people?

AL-JAAFARI: Kurds are a nation. They exist practically in five different countries: Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and some parts of the former Soviet Union republics. They are a nation with history, with folklore and also with sacrifices.

In Iraq today, they are playing an important role in the political process. They were in opposition, and they paid the price. There were sacrifices that made in Halabja, and Saddam used the chemical weapons against them in Halabja, and the world remained mute against that atrocity. But Kurds now have moved from opposition to the government as partners. The president of the republic is a Kurd. The former president was also a Kurd. We have friendship with them, and we have other high-level Kurdish officials in the Iraqi government.

You belong to a country—you’re talking about a country that—this is—this is a big—this is the biggest federal country in the world: 50 states in the United States, 50 local constitutions, 50 local parliaments, 50 state governments, 50 flags with exception of Texas, which took—which was late in raising the federal flag. In Iraq, we have an open-door policy. Kurds are essential partners. They are in the parliament. They are in the Cabinet. And the president, President Fuad Masum, is a Kurd.

They are, for sure, less than Arabs in number, and they realize that. But they do have the right of a region. They have a region. And there was some tension that took place between the central government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. There was a 20—there was a charter of 20 points, which led the way to solve the problems between the central government in Baghdad and the regional Kurdish government. The problem was not that huge.

But regarding the future of the Kurdish nation, that will be decided by the Kurds themselves. That is not my right to speak on their behalf. I can speak as a friend. But I believe that they enjoy a successful experience in Iraq, and I hope that other countries where Kurds live will give Kurds the right similarly to what they enjoy in Iraq.

NEGROPONTE: So just to respond to Herb Levin’s question also to me: I’m not—this is Dr. Jaafari’s meeting, not mine, but I will say one thing about the Kurdish question, which is in my discussions with Kurdish leaders, I’ve always reminded them of my view and I think our government’s view that we consider them a factor of stability within Iraq itself, and that I can’t think of anything more destabilizing than to pursue the independence of a Kurdish state with the situation being such as it is currently in the Middle East. So I think we need to reflect on that.

Oh. The lady had a question. Yes. That’ll be the—the one behind you, I’m sorry.

Q: Thank you. Camille Massey, Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.

Mr. Foreign Minister, a recent unprecedented decision from the U.N. Committee Against Torture called on the Iraqi government to amend its shelter law to allow for private shelters for those fleeing violence, including efforts like the Organization for Women Freedom in Iraq, OWFI. And my question to you, my one question, is what will the Iraqi government do to support these courageous efforts to protect the most vulnerable from those fleeing the brutal tactics of ISIL? Thank you.

AL-JAAFARI: As I mentioned short time ago, the refugees in Iraq, they seek refuge whether inside Iraq as dislocated or outside Iraq as immigrants. They do not—they do not flee from the Iraqi government like we did, like we—like we escaped the Iraqi government persecution; five of my family were killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Now those who leave, they do not leave because of the Iraqi government but because of ISIL and terrorism. They go from one province to another as immigrants and from inside Iraq to outside Iraq as immigrants.

Of course, the Iraqi people are our children, and they express our national will; whether they remain inside Iraq or went outside Iraq, they become ambassadors of Iraq, and they will speak their mind out of the hypocrisy of the—speaking before the media. When they go outside, they have no reason to hide what they actually feel. They will tell you that they fled the persecution, they fled the atrocities committed by ISIL and others.

That’s why we appreciate the situation that Iraq is going through like other countries, and we appreciate the circumstances that led those people to flee. If you look at the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child, and the children Zainab and Haider in Iraq, what does mean—what does it mean to see childhood running away? Are children politicized? Are—do children hold ideologies? Do children hold racist, nationalistic thoughts? Children are children. Those pictures were more eloquent than the—than the most eloquent articles in newspapers. That child was lying on his face wearing blue shorts and a red T-shirt on the seashore. He tells people around the world that he’s a victim of terrorism.

And that’s why I’m asking the people to encourage those people to return to the countries at the right time, to take care—good care of them now, but in the future to encourage them to go back. You heard what happened in Sinjar. The Yazidis were the victims. They killed a number of them, and they raped some women, and they sold some children as slaves. We cannot stop them from migrating if they want to migrate because they are running away from ISIL, not from us. They killed Sunnis, they killed Shias, they killed Kurds. ISIL has been an equal distributor of oppression. That’s why we ask different nations, take good care of refugees. They are not failures. They did not feel—flee their country because of economical reasons. They have expertise. They have qualifications. They can be successful in their immigration countries.

People—different countries have to stand by the Iraqi people to—United States has a strong geography in the world, they have a strong economy, but I believe that you agree with me that you do not possess a history like Iraq’s. Our history starts at 4,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The sun of civilization rose in Iraq—dawned in Iraq. Those immigrants have to go back eventually, but that will be left to them. Immigration does—did not start in Iraq, and they will not end in Iraq. The U.S. itself is a country of immigrants.

Regarding women: As usual, you ask two questions also in one question. Women, we take good care of women, special interest we show in women. And there is a book that I wrote and I hope to see it one day translated to English: “Women and the Battle of Identity.” Women around the world suffer from identity crisis, meaning that women are women, regardless of their nationality, religion, faith.

Allow me—maybe this is the last question—to tell you what I mean by the identity of—by identity war, identity battle. All countries around the world presented women as beautiful bodies, and they reduced the woman’s beauty in one thing. And that beauty will not remain forever. A 20-year-old woman is not like a 50-year-old woman. They accept different type of beauties in a man, his brain, his intelligence, but women were reduced only to physical beauty, which is a crime committed against women. Women have different beauties, when they think, when they have—show strong will. They reduced all that in one thing. And this is a crime against women. We take interest in woman because of that. And Iraqi women have played an important of role. They presented a big number of martyrs as—in opposition—

NEGROPONTE: I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. I do want to thank Dr. Jaafari for being with us this afternoon. And please join me in expressing our thanks to him. (Applause.)

AL-JAAFARI: Thank you very much.

NEGROPONTE: There will be a lunch reception which will follow this meeting in the first floor of the Pratt House. Thank you very much.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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