SPIEGEL Interview with Iraqi Leader Nouri al-Maliki: 'The Tenure of Coalition Troops in Iraq Should Be Limited'

The situation in Iraq seems to be improving. SPIEGEL spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki about his approval of Barack Obama's withdrawal plans and what he hopes from US President Bush in his last months in office.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the war and its consequences have cost more than 100,000 lives and caused great suffering in your country. Saddam Hussein and his regime are now part of the past. Was all of this worth the price?

Maliki: The casualties have been and continue to be enormous. But anyone who was familiar with the dictator's nature and his intentions knows what could have been in store for us instead of this war. Saddam waged wars against Iran and Kuwait, and against Iraqis in the north and south of his own country, wars in which hundreds of thousands died. And he was capable of instigating even more wars. Yes, the casualties are great, but I see our struggle as an enormous effort to avoid other such wars in the future.

An Iraqi policeman stands at attention during a training program graduation ceremony on Thursday.
AFP

An Iraqi policeman stands at attention during a training program graduation ceremony on Thursday.

SPIEGEL: Germany was opposed to the war. German Economics Minister Michael Glos was in Baghdad the week before last, Daimler AG plans to build trucks in Iraq, and you will travel to Berlin this week. Has everything been smoothed out between Germany and Iraq?

Maliki: We want closer relations, and it is my impression that the Germans -- the government, the people and German companies -- want the same thing. Our task is to rebuild a country, and the Germans are famous for effective and efficient work. We have great confidence in them and want to involve them in the development of our country.

SPIEGEL: And there is truly no resentment against a country that opposed the war in 2003?

Maliki: We do not judge our partners on the basis of whether or not they were militarily involved in toppling Saddam. The decisions back then corresponded to the national will of the countries, and we respect that.

SPIEGEL: What exactly do you expect from the Germans and from German companies?

Maliki: We want to get to know them, and we want to know what they want -- and the things they fear when thinking about Iraq. We have to start over again in many areas, including oil production, the development of the power grid and all industries. There is much to be done.

SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the Germans, politically and militarily? The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) occasionally trains Iraqi security forces -- but only in neighboring countries.

Maliki: What matters most to us is that we develop resilient political relationships and work together economically. Our security forces are steadily improving, partly as a result of German efforts. We will be pleased to turn to the Germans to equip our police and military; and should there be new training programs with the German Bundeswehr, we will be happy to accept their help. However, we would clearly prefer that the training take place in Iraq in the future. Overall, I believe that we are gradually becoming self-sufficient.

SPIEGEL: Three weeks ago, your government filed a civil lawsuit in New York against companies that allegedly paid bribes to officials in the Saddam regime. The defendants include three German companies: Daimler and Braun Melsungen and a number of Siemens affiliates. How is this compatible with your overtures to German industry?

Maliki: We are in negotiations with Siemens for the construction of power plants, which shows just how serious we are. Whether the suit you mention succeeds will be for the courts to decide. Under no circumstances will the consequence be that we no longer wish to work with the companies in question.

SPIEGEL: Large parts of Iraq's assets abroad remain frozen -- and inaccessible to creditors. Now, victims of the Saddam dictatorship want that money to go towards reparations. What will happen to this money when the UN Security Council mandate for Iraq expires at the end of this year?

Maliki: We have hired several international law firms to deal with these assets. At the moment, they are protected by UN resolutions, American law and the personal commitment of President George W. Bush -- and we want this protection to remain in place after the end of UN mandate on Iraq. We consider the claims being lodged against this money to be unjustified. Iraq cannot be punished for crimes that were committed by the dictator. This is very important to us, and a key aspect of our negotiations over the future status of US troops in Iraq.

SPIEGEL: Germany, after World War II, was also liberated from a tyrant by a US-led coalition. That was 63 years ago, and today there are still American military bases and soldiers in Germany. How do you feel about this model?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says it is time for the Americans to commit to a withdrawal timetable.
REUTERS

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says it is time for the Americans to commit to a withdrawal timetable.

Maliki: Iraq can learn from Germany's experiences, but the situation is not truly comparable. Back then Germany waged a war that changed the world. Today, we in Iraq want to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops -- and it should be short. At the same time, we would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations. However, I wish to re-emphasize that our security agreement should remain in effect in the short term.

SPIEGEL: How short-term? Are you hoping for a new agreement before the end of the Bush administration?

Maliki: So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias. The American lead negotiators realize this now, and that's why I expect to see an agreement taking shape even before the end of President Bush's term in office. With these negotiations, we will start the whole thing over again, on a clearer, better basis, because the first proposals were unacceptable to us.

SPIEGEL: Immunity for the US troops is apparently the central issue.

Maliki: It is a fundamental problem for us that it should not be possible, in my country, to prosecute offences or crimes committed by US soldiers against our population. But other issues are no less important: How much longer will these soldiers remain in our country? How much authority do they have? Who controls how many, soldiers enter and leave the country and where they do so?

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?

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