Deputy Foreign Minister of the Iraq Republic Labid Abawi has recently paid a visit to Ukraine. He conducted consultations with his Ukrainian colleagues in Mykhailivska Street and took part in the official opening of the Iraq Embassy to Ukraine. In his exclusive interview to The Day the Iraqi diplomat spoke on Bagdad’s assessment of Ukraine’s role in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq and the prospects of future bilateral cooperation.
Mr. Abawi, it seems to me that each time you met with your foreign partners the following question arose, When will Iraq become stable? For every day we can hear reports on bombings in different regions of Iraq.
“I can say that stability in Iraq is increasing. And now Iraq is nearly as stable as other countries. True, there are cases of violence in our country. This is normal as our country has just gone through an internal war. We need time to put an end to all the elements that are behind this violence. We can see that terrorists belonging to Al-Qaeda and supporters of Saddam Hussein’s regime are trying to demonstrate that the situation in Iraq is not stable. Their goal is to prevent Iraq’s reconstruction. As you know, the American forces will soon be withdrawn from Iraq. So terrorists want to show that it was them who forced the US to leave Iraq. Therefore, we expect similar incidents to increase in number.
“In general, the situation in Iraq is better than before. People go into the streets and markets; they go to shops and restaurants, which are open until late. Discos start at 11 p.m. and go on till 4 a.m., which is precisely when the curfew lifts. People are getting adapted. I can say with confidence that the situation is improving. At the moment we have ten incidents per day, whereas we used to have three hundred daily. You can see the difference. We would be glad not to have these kinds of incidents at all.”
Do you mean that these incidents are engineered by terrorists? I have heard that many incidents were caused by interethnic hostility.
“I can assure that this is not about interethnic violence. The Iraqi population understands the necessity of keeping together. Therefore, most of the explosions are set up by Al-Qaeda in cooperation with the Ba’ath Party.”
Could you tell us whether the Iraqi society has benefited from the removal of Saddam Hussein by American forces in 2003?
“Yes, it has. This intervention has brought democracy to our country. Previously we did not know what it is. For a long time the country lived under a repressive regime and a dictator who was oppressing the entire nation, political forces, and even his Ba’ath Party. For 35 years Iraq remained isolated from the world. The country threatened its neighbors. It did not have any freedom of speech or meeting. Now people are free and are not afraid of anything. They may speak out freely and live wherever they want. We have freely elected parliament and free press.”
Aren’t there any problems?
“There is a problem. The problem is that the deposition of the regime was performed via military intervention. And this has caused certain negative consequences. We are suffering for this reason, not because of the regime’s replacement.”
By the way, does your big neighbor Iran help you in stabilizing the situation in your country?
“We have a very extensive border with Iran and historical and religious links with this Islamic republic. Therefore, we expect Iran to possibly have a certain influence on the situation in the country after the downfall of Hussein’s regime. We take into consideration the fact that Iran expressed its support for the new power in Iraq, while many other countries did not recognize the first Iraqi government.
“Iranians were the first to help our country set up the electricity and energy supply, when other countries stood aside. We have many interests in Iran and would like to have good relations with this country.
“But I think that Iran has its own agenda. Iranians are against the presence of the American forces in Iraq. They think that they are a threat to their security.
“Naturally, they are doing everything they can to complicate things for American forces in Iraq. But the Iraqis are also suffering from these actions. Therefore, we regard as interference, for example, the contraband of weapons into Iraq. Iranians provide political support to some Iraqi groups, helping them with money and weapons. This is a part of the political game in Iraq.
“Finally, I can say that Iran is playing a double role. At the same time, we are trying to develop cooperation and have already signed many agreements with the Iranian government, but we give to understand very clearly that we are against any interference on the part of Iran or other countries.”
What is your country’s attitude to Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons?
“We are against any country’s possession of nuclear weapons, because this will mean a great danger not only for Iraq, but also for the entire region. This may leads to a nuclear arms race and is very dangerous. At the same time, I believe that Iran has a right to nuclear potential for peaceful purposes. It has a right to this, like any other country. We also would like to use our own nuclear potential for peaceful purposes.”
Does Iraq fear that the opposition protests in Iran, which began after the presidential elections, may have some impact on your country or your bilateral relations?
“Of course, we are observing the development of the situation in Iran. The presidential elections have taken place in this country. The opposition says that their results were falsified. It is organizing protests, whereas the government is using all available means to put an end to demonstrations. This is an entirely domestic affair. We don’t want Iran to be an unstable country. We would like to see Iran resolve this problem in a peaceful way, because any unstable country in this region may have influence on other countries. Hopefully, the Iranian government will find a solution that will serve the interests of the Iranian people.”
Let us speak about Ukraine’s role in stabilization of Iran, because in its time 1,600 Ukrainian troops stayed in your country and had to leave it because of some security problems. What support from Kyiv are you expecting now?
“Yes, Ukrainians has supported Iraq since the replacement of the [previous] regime changed. And we appreciate this very much. Ukrainian military men played a very important role in province Al-Kut (now Wasit). I also think that the Iraqis liked them very much.
“In my opinion, Ukrainians have played a positive role, helping Iraq to secure stability in its combat against terrorists. After the Ukrainian contingent was withdrawn, the situation changed somewhat. Now a lesser role is played by a small number of Ukrainian advisers that remain [in the country]. They are taking part in training activities, which is very important for us, thus helping teach and train our Internal Security Forces, so that they could undertake the responsibility.
“But I think that now we would like to see more of Ukrainian presence in Iraq, in particular, the transformation of military support into a civil one. I would more businessmen, investors, companies with production that Ukraine is famous for to come to Iraq. We can cooperate in agriculture and buy Ukrainian grain. Iraq also needs technologies, know-how, and experience that Ukraine has in certain branches. We would like to use all of this. Education is another sphere where Ukrainians can help us train employees in different fields. I think that Ukraine can make a great contribution in Iraq’s reconstruction, turning from the soldiers of war into soldiers of peace.”
What prevents us from doing so?
“I think that we should improve and regulate our relations. Now we are conducting negotiations about signing different memorandums on mutual understanding between different governmental structures of Iraq and Ukraine. Our foreign affairs ministers are also expected to sign an agreement. Other agreements are at the stage of preparation. And when everything is signed, we will be able to say that our relations are on the right course. And we only need to find mechanisms to implement these agreements.
“We also would like to see a more active exchange and closer relations between the ministries and commercial sectors of our countries. We are also interested in having Ukrainian high-ranking officials visit Iraq and meet with their colleagues, and, vice versa, in having Iraqi high-ranking officials come to Ukraine. I think that this kind of experience would be helpful in preparing the agreements. We are on the right track. All we need is time to implement the agreements.”
Do you see any real interest showed by the president and prime minister in developing of the bilateral relations?
“I think that our countries are experiencing a critical period of political life. In particular, they are both getting ready for elections scheduled for January. In my opinion, we need to have some groundwork done on the level of experts or high-ranking officials to sign the agreements. And when the elections in both countries are over and new governments are formed, we will be able to develop direct bilateral relations between the administrations of Iraq and Ukraine.”
You have not mentioned any cooperation in the gas and oil sector. What prevents Ukrainian companies from coming into this sector?
“Nothing is preventing us from cooperating in the energy sector. The two sides have already exchanged their opinions on this matter. We have held talks and discussed with the Ukrainian side the ways Ukraine may be involved in the development of and investment in the Iraqi oil sector. We have also discussed the possibility of our oil and gas being bought by the Ukrainian side. We only need persons responsible for this sector to exchange ideas and come to agreement concerning cooperation.
“The Ukrainian government and businessmen should not sit and wait until Iraqis come to them. Frankly, since Iraq became stable, many countries have launched cooperation with it, although previously they were afraid to enter this market. I mean the countries with very strong economies, extensive financial resources, and investments; countries that can compete and win. They include France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Russia, and China. They all are present in Iraq.
“Therefore, I think that Ukrainians should not sit and wait. They should come to Iraq, otherwise they will miss their opportunities. And Iraq has a huge potential. Our country needs everything. We are importing many goods, we need investments, and we need our industry to be restored. If the Ukrainian government or private sector want and can make business in Iraq, they should come to this country promptly. ”