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Jaafari: We will not decree anything from above. We are democrats. The deciding factor will be what a majority of the people's representatives decides to do -- in a free voting process.


source: PUK website

 "We Will Get the Upper Hand"

Ibrahim Jaafari is soon expected to take the helm of Iraq as its first democratically elected prime minister. In a wide-ranging interview with DER SPIEGEL, he discusses the fight against terrorism in the Sunni triangle, friction among different ethnic groups and the key elements of the new constitution.

Ibrahim Jafari on future implementation of sharia law in Iraq: "That is only natural in a country populated mainly by Muslims."
Ibrahim Jafari on future implementation of sharia law in Iraq: "That is only natural in a country populated mainly by Muslims."

SPIEGEL: Dr. Jaafari, like other Iraqi politicians, you predicted that the wave of terrorism would subside after the elections. The opposite has occurred. As prime minister, how do you intend to meet this challenge?

Jaafari: In the name of merciful God: Security is in fact the most important problem, and it's so incredibly complicated because we are dealing with an explosive mix of internal Iraqi factors and developments beyond our borders.

SPIEGEL: Many Iraqis are suffering as a result of the violence, while others see the terrorists as resistance fighters battling the American occupiers. In fact, some Iraqis practically worship them.

Jaafari: But the same can be said of many non-Iraqis in our neighboring countries. Misguided religious zealots are still busy convincing inexperienced young people that their murderous acts are punishments against infidels and their lackeys, and that these acts are pleasing to God. This is why we must also use psychological and educational tactics. We must make a concerted effort to educate people in places like mosques, schools and universities. Indeed, the media could assume a leading role, and it would by no means be restricted to newspapers and broadcasters that support the government.

SPIEGEL: But haven't you repeatedly accused the media of distorting the facts?

Jaafari: We live in a brightly checkered media world, which is essentially the expression of a democratic society. But we also have newspapers that twist the facts to suit their political ends. This is devastating to our fight against terrorism. We simply cannot permit the glorification of murder and sabotage, for whatever reasons.

SPIEGEL: When you assume office, you will control the security organizations...

Jaafari: ... which brings us to the core of the problem: On the one hand, our police and security forces are simply too small. On the other hand, their training is totally inadequate to achieve the level of efficiency we would like to see.

SPIEGEL: There is certainly no lack of modern weapons and equipment, an area in which the Americans have been generous. And you're also getting help from the West, including Germany, in training your police force.

Jaafari: Yes, that's correct, and we appreciate that. Nevertheless, it seems that we are asking too much of many members of our security forces -- at all levels. Our new democratic society is still very young. It will take time to become accustomed to new values. During the decades of dictatorship, every police officer was accustomed to using violence to support the regime and ruler. The concept of national security was synonymous with the complete insulation and protection of the dictator. Civil rights, as well as the life and property of each individual, simply did not count. The security services were given free rein to kill and torture whenever they wished. This barbaric doctrine produced the mass graves we are now discovering week after week.

SPIEGEL: The new government cannot tolerate this attitude among the security agencies. But how do you intend to bring an end to the current bloody chaos?

Jaafari: We must hermetically seal Iraq's borders and do everything in our power to prevent the terrorists, their contacts and their supporters from entering and the leaving the country without being stopped. We must isolate them completely, cut off their supply channels to other countries and starve them out of their hiding places.

SPIEGEL: Which neighboring country is providing your opponents with the most support?

Jaafari: The terrorists, who are also being sought in their own countries, come from Yemen, Sudan, Egypt -- in other words, countries with which we have no common borders. But they reach Iraq through transit countries -- Iran, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. We happen to be in a rather awkward geographic location.

SPIEGEL: Is it truly possible to monitor hundreds of kilometers of desert borders?

Jaafari: In any event, we must do more than we have in the past.

SPIEGEL: Are your neighbors helping? Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist mastermind operating in Iraq, comes from Jordan, which can be reached via a good road.

Jaafari: Even the suicide bomber who recently took more than a hundred innocent Iraqis, including women and children, with him to his grave was from Jordan. Although I believe King Abdullah when he says that he deeply condemns this barbaric crime, we are alarmed by the fact that the terrorist's family, and many Jordanians, have turned him into a hero of the resistance movement. I find this despicable.

SPIEGEL: A number of Iraqi politicians accuse Syria and Iran of supporting the terrorists.

Jaafari: We had problems with Syria for a while. But the government in Damascus is now making an effort to tighten its control over Syria's borders with Iraq.

SPIEGEL: In response to pressure from the Americans?

Jaafari: Syria has now felt the effects of terrorism within its own borders. Now the Syrians know firsthand what terrorism is. This also applies to other neighboring countries, like Saudi Arabia, for example, where the terrorists have continued their attacks.

SPIEGEL: And Iran ...

Jaafari: ... is still a transit country for terrorists, even though the authorities are doing their best to put a stop to it.

SPIEGEL: Even you seem unable to offer more than a vaguely hopeful outlook for an end to terrorism.

Jaafari: I will see to it that terrorists who are extradited to Iraq are publicly and mercilessly sentenced. We cannot handle murderers with kid gloves. This approach will also make an impression.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that the executive branch is calling upon the judiciary not to grant any pardons?

Jaafari: If the murderers are made to feel the full brunt of the law, others will be less likely to follow in their footsteps. However, we must also consider the social component of terrorism. After all, it isn't just rooted in an objectionable religious fervor, but also in the economic hopelessness and sheer misery young Iraqis face. Many are desperate and, for a few hundred dollars, willing to kill whoever they are told to kill. I will urge the government to step up its efforts to fight poverty and unemployment, especially among young people, at whatever cost.


A 2003 oil pipeline blaze in the northern Iraqi town of Baiji.
A 2003 oil pipeline blaze in the northern Iraqi town of Baiji.

SPIEGEL: How much longer will Iraq be dealing with the fight against terrorism?

Jaafari: I don't dare specify a date. If the democratic experiment and the development of a new Iraq is successful, these daily bloodbaths will have to stop. This is my most important goal. Everything else is secondary. We will get the upper hand. There is no alternative.

SPIEGEL: The Sunnis, the second-largest ethnic group in Iraq, were in control of the country until recently, but now they feel forced into a secondary role by the Shiite majority. Many sympathize with the terrorists. A few Sunni religious leaders have even issued fatwas that justify the killing of occupation forces and alleged collaborators.

Jaafari: This is why I am doing everything within my power to convince our Sunni brothers to join us in developing the new constitution.

SPIEGEL: How successful have you been? 80 percent of Sunnis boycotted the elections.

Jaafari: My efforts have certainly been fruitful. More and more Sunni politicians, even religious dignitaries, are now willing to participate in developing our constitution. We want every Iraqi to support the new constitution.

SPIEGEL: What will the constitution look like? Do you envision an Iranian-style Islamic republic, or could Saudi Arabia be a model?

Jaafari: Iraq should become an Islamic state, but without Iran or Saudi Arabia as its godfather. Islam, not unlike Christianity, has many different faces.

SPIEGEL: Will you introduce sharia?

Jaafari: Yes, but only as one of several sources of jurisprudence. That is only natural in a country that is populated mainly by Muslims.

SPIEGEL: Will Christians, for example, be given religious freedoms?

Jaafari: Everyone will have the same rights, even the members of our many smaller religious communities.

SPIEGEL: How do you plan to deal with the many Iraqis who are in favor of a secular state and the separation of religion and the state?

Jaafari: Iraqis are tolerant by nature. No one should be concerned about losing his freedom of expression. I will fight to ensure that every citizen is able to express his opinion, even if I don't agree with it.

SPIEGEL: Will women be required to wear veils in the new Iraq?

Jaafari: Never. They will be free to choose for themselves.

SPIEGEL: Alcohol is forbidden in many Islamic states, and some deal with thieves by cutting off their hands. Is this Iraq's future?

Jaafari: We will not decree anything from above. We are democrats. The deciding factor will be what a majority of the people's representatives decides to do -- in a free voting process.

SPIEGEL: Many in the West, but also in many parts of the Arab world, fear a Shiite bloc that could be made up of major oil power Iran and a Shiite-dominated Iraq.

Jaafari: Those are unfounded fears. There will be no bloc of this nature. It couldn't be done with Iraq.

SPIEGEL: But the establishment of democracy and Iraq's reconstruction could also fail if you cannot to come to terms with the Kurds, who have established a virtually independent state in northern Iraq.

Jaafari: The Kurds want a federal system, just like most of the factions represented in parliament. I am also in favor of an Iraqi federal state.

SPIEGEL: The Kurds are also demanding a reversal of the forced Arabization of oil production center Kirkuk, the right to retain their powerful militias, the Peshmerga, and to take over important posts in the government.

Jaafari: We already have a capable foreign minister who is a Kurd, and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani will be our president.

SPIEGEL: What about Kirkuk?

Jaafari: Well, it just so happens that we have committed ourselves to the principle of democratic justice. This also means that we must correct the injustices of the deposed criminal regime. The Kurds who were driven out must be allowed to return to their home city, and the Arab Iraqis who were moved there should be compensated. Then the majority of the population will decide on their future, in a democratic decision that we should respect.

SPIEGEL: Oil-rich emirate Kuwait is still worried that Iraq may someday revive its old claim to annex that wealthy country. Will you guarantee Kuwait's independence?

Jaafari: That we will most certainly do.

SPIEGEL: When will the Americans pull out their troops?

Jaafari: As soon as we are able to bring peace to the country through our own means.

SPIEGEL: That could take a long time. Will the Americans still be stationed in Iraq in 10 years?

Jaafari: Absolutely not. It cannot and may not take that long.

SPIEGEL: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has proposed that US troops begin by withdrawing from the cities.

Jaafari: That's a smart proposal, and it is probably what will happen.

SPIEGEL: Will Iraq enter into a military alliance with the United States or NATO?

Jaafari: A new version of the Baghdad Pact ...

SPIEGEL: ... a defense alliance oriented mainly toward the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s...

Jaafari: ... will not happen under our administration.

SPIEGEL: What will happen to Saddam Hussein?

Jaafari: He will be put on trial this year. The Saddam case will be concluded by the end of the year.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Jaafari, thank you for speaking with us.

Interview conducted by Volker Windfuhr in Baghdad, Iraq.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-04-09 11:58 PM

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