SPIEGEL Interview with Iraq's Health Minister "We Will not Be Able to Survive Much Longer"

Iraq's health minister, Ali al-Shameri, 44, discusses the effects of the US elections on his country.


Casualties of war: Attacks and suicide bombings claim the lives of 100 people every day in Iraq. Three times as many are wounded.
AFP

Casualties of war: Attacks and suicide bombings claim the lives of 100 people every day in Iraq. Three times as many are wounded.

SPIEGEL: The Republicans have lost the majority in Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resigned. Was this good news for Iraq?

Shameri: The Americans are the reason for the disaster in our country. Rumsfeld made many mistakes, and we are pleased to see him go. The Americans understand nothing about Iraq. They are not protecting us, but just themselves. The Democrats' victory will make things easier for us.

SPIEGEL: What should change?

Shameri: The Iraqi government must be able to act as a sovereign body. We want to deploy our police and military forces the way we think is right. So far we have always had to ask the Americans. Personally, I would have no objection to their leaving the country tomorrow. In any event, in the future we must tie the presence of their troops to conditions.

SPIEGEL: What are they?

Iraq Health Minister Ali al-Shemari: Saddam must hang.
REUTERS

Iraq Health Minister Ali al-Shemari: Saddam must hang.

Shameri: The Americans must leave the cities and withdraw to their bases. They should only come when they are needed and called for.

SPIEGEL: The Sunni minority is begging the Americans to stay. They are afraid that the Shiites will either drive them out or kill them.

Shameri: The ordinary citizens, including the Sunnis, want the Americans to go. But those in the government and in political groups are now worried about their jobs. They get their support from Arab countries. As a result, more and more suicide bombers are coming into our country.

SPIEGEL: The Shiites, on the other hand, are supported by Iran.

Shameri: Iran is a friend, but we receive neither weapons nor money from them, not even medications, which we urgently need. We are not puppets, not anyone's. Both Iran and the Arabs should stay out of the affairs of Iraq.

SPIEGEL: How bad is the situation in your country?

Shameri: About 100 people die every day as a result of violence, and three times as many are wounded. Doctors are being threatened and are fleeing the country. Of a total of 18,000 doctors, the best -- close to a thousand -- have already left the country. I don't have enough hospitals and far too few beds. We are running out of strength, both financially and otherwise, and we will not be able to survive much longer.

SPIEGEL: Sunnis claim that even the hospitals have become sites of religiously motivated killings. The Shiite militias of Muqtada al-Sadr, with whom you are allied, have allegedly kidnapped patients from hospitals and murdered them in gruesome ways.

Shameri: We are not using hospitals as bases for militias. In fact, the situation is the other way around. At first we instructed our people not to repay violence with violence. But now we must defend ourselves. The Sunni hospitals have their own armed groups. And when we admit patients from different parties who were fighting each other before, they continue their fight in the hospital.

SPIEGEL: The Shiites celebrated when Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death. Is it right to do the same thing to your enemy that he has done to you?

Shameri: Saddam must accept his fate. He is a criminal. We must hang him, better today than tomorrow.

Interview conducted by Susanne Koelbl.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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