Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki: Goal of our visit to Moscow is to restore friendship between Iraq and Russia
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has given an interview to Interfax within the framework of his visit to Moscow in which he speaks about prospects for bilateral military and technical, trade, investment and energy cooperation, as well as the situation in Syria.Question: Mr. Prime Minister, you met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev a day before. What issues did you discuss with him and what subjects are you going to discuss with President Vladimir Putin?
Answer: We discussed everything linked to our bilateral relations at a meeting with the prime minister. We agreed that we need to restore good relations that have very ancient roots and that were once very solid between our countries. The motto of our visit is the restoration and strengthening of the former relationship. We will discuss bilateral cooperation and the strengthening of political and economic relations between our countries, as well as the improvement of bilateral economic relations, as there already are economic relations between our countries. We want Russian companies to be active in energy and oil projects; we want them to participate in electric power and pipeline projects and in projects suspended due to the military operations in Iraq. We wish to restore these projects and carry them on. A delegation of Iraqi businessmen accompanies us. We wish to establish relations with Russian companies, so that Russian companies return to Iraq, make investments and participate in various projects. The trade minister accompanies us. We want to strengthen our trade relations with Russia.
The defense minister is accompanying us. We discussed issued related to weapons we want to buy from Russia. Those are non-strategic arms. Such weapons are used against terrorists and in self-defense. Those include air defense launchers to protect the Iraqi airspace, light and medium weapons and counter-terrorist aircraft. We also reached an agreement on a civil air route between Moscow and Baghdad. We will discuss this subject with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well, because the goal of our visit is to restore friendship between our countries.
Q.: It was reported earlier that Russia and Iraq signed military and technical contracts worth more than $4 billion. Are any new contracts in this sphere going to be signed during your visit?
A.: This sum has been overly exaggerated. As I have already said we want to buy defensive and anti-terrorist arms. We have already discussed this issue within the framework of our trip. The signing could take place during our trip. Or perhaps a new delegation will come, and then contracts would be signed. Surely $4 billion is not that much in the context of weapons purchases. We want to buy weapons only for self-defense, like anti-aircraft systems and possibly anti-terrorist types of helicopters. Surely, the overall amount of purchases, which would possibly continue for several years, could probably exceed $4 billion. But if we talk about the primary payment, this sum has been overly exaggerated. If we want to buy aircraft or tanks, naturally we will need much more money. Everything depends on the economic situation in Iraq and our capacity to buy such arms.
Iraq has agreements to buy arms from the United States and other countries, not only Russia. We stress once again that all arms are defensive and have an anti-terrorist purpose.
Q.: Do you see prospects for the resumption of military and technical cooperation between Iraq and Russia?
A.: Surely, Iraq has always had weapons from the Soviet Union and from Russia. Iraq has highly qualified specialists for operating these weapons. Therefore, we are interested in having arms from Russia. We can use them for self-defense, if we need. But we want to have various weapons produced in other countries as well. Military cooperation is not the only goal of our visit. We want to resume and strengthen relations with Russia. Arms purchases is just one point on the agenda of our visit. Our representatives have also traveled to the Czech Republic to buy planes to train our pilots.
We stress that Iraq does not want to focus on only one type of weapons, and therefore we are open to different countries and want to have different types of weapons.
Q.: Unidentified assailants attacked a group of employes of the Russian embassy to Iraq in summer 2006. The criminals killed one Russian on spot. Three others were abducted and later brutally slaughtered. Russian media reported this spring that their bodies were found in Iraq and sent back to Russia. Can you prove such reports? And have Iraqi special services been involved in the search for bodies of killed Russians?
A.: The Iraqi security services took part in the investigation, and they detained the perpetrators. One of them has been executed, and the other has been sentenced to death, but he is on trial again at his defense lawyers‘ insistence. Other suspects are on remand. Concerning the killers, they were members of armed gangs active in Iraq at that time.
Q.: Energy has always been a key cooperation area between our two countries. Is Iraq satisfied with the work of Russian energy companies n its territory?
A.: Russian companies have very much experience in the energy sphere, and everyone is satisfied with their work in Iraq. They are highly qualified specialists, and they are even ahead of the schedules. One of the Russian companies won a tender to develop the largest oil field in Iraq. We hope that Russian companies will take a more active part in oil production and pipeline building. And the Russian government agrees with this.
Q.: What is your assessment of Russia’s position in the Syria crisis? Does it coincide with your vision of the settlement? What are your attitude to efforts of a number of countries to oust President Bashar al-Assad?
A.: Our position is very close to Russia‘s. We believe that the only possible solution to the Syrian issue is settlement in a peaceful manner, because military intervention or the use of force will only fuel the disturbances, and then this will affect the entire region. We do not support countries that believe the Syrian problem can be resolved only forcibly or that the regime should be overthrown by the use of force.
Since Iraq suffered so much because of outside interference in its internal affairs, we categorically object to anyone interfering in Syria‘s internal affairs, because the Syrian people are entitled to resolve their problems themselves. We are against supplying weapons to either party to the conflict and against financing either party. We do not support any of the parties. We are observing neutrality in this situation. We believe that everything should be settled in a peaceful way. We believe that military interference may entail disastrous consequences that will affect not only Syria but also Iraq, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia and Turkey. If force is used to resolve the Syrian issue, the situation following Bashar al-Assad‘s rule could be much worse than it is now. The Syrian people are entitled to decide whether to leave Bashar al-Assad as president of the country or not. We expressed our opinion to the UN and Arab League Envoys to Syria, Kofi Annan and his successor Lakhdar Brahimi, that pressure should be applied to all conflicting parties. It is necessary to put pressure both on the government and on the insurgents so as to stop all military actions, sit at the negotiating table and settle everything in a peaceful way.
Our position coincides with Russia‘s position on this issue, and we wish that Russia, as a large and strong country which also enjoys authority in the world, should encourage the resolution of this problem in a peaceful way. We surely will support such effort, because military interference or the use of force can only aggravate rather than solve the problem.
Q.: The situation between Syria and Turkey has become tense recently. Aren’t you afraid of a military conflict near your borders? What actions will Baghdad take then?
A.: We believe the Turkish policy is wrong. Turkey is really putting the policy it is pursuing in the region - the policy concerning security in the region - at risk. The international community should stop Turkey, because Turkey is behaving brazenly. You could say it is assuming responsibility for resolving problems in Syria instead of the Syrian people and wants to impose its decision on them. Therefore, the international community should intervene and stop Turkey. Turkey wants to engage NATO forces to interfere in Syrian affairs. This is very dangerous, because God forbid the Libyan scenario be replayed.
All these stories about Syrian planes dropping bombs on Turkish territory are really exaggerating things, even if something of the sort did happen. It would be wrong to foment war over this and involve an entire organization such as NATO for the sake of defending Turkey. Nothing is threatening Turkey. We think that if NATO interferes in the Syrian situation under the pretext of protecting Turkey, this could unleash a war in the entire region. We think that the Syrian problem should be solved by peaceful means. After peace comes, the people will be able to decide to change or not to change the regime. Then there will be no danger either for the country itself or countries of the region.
Q.: The United States claims that Iran sends aircraft with weapons to support Syrian troops through Iraq. Is that true?
A.: This is not true. We will not allow the use of Iraqi territory for transiting weapons or militants to neighboring countries. We conducted checks without prior notification and we did not find weapons aboard the planes. We asked those who make such statements to provide trustworthy information, to prove their words. It is a political game or a political stunt, because Syria does not need weapons arriving through Iraq. We will not allow to transit arms through our territory, because this contradicts both international agreements and our Constitution and may lead to big problems for Iraq. We have found no confirmation for reports that Iranian planes are airlifting weapons to Syria, and we told Syria and Iran in clear terms that we allow the transportation of various types of cargo, except weapons. We will continue conducting checks without prior warning.