In an exclusive interview with The Tehran Times, Baghdad’s ambassador to Tehran says the Iraqi government appreciates Iran’s stance on the region, noting that the Islamic Republic’s help to Iraq in the fight against Daesh is in fact support for the international community.
“When the Iranian government and nation stand alongside Iraq, they are in fact standing alongside the international community because Iraq is defending the security and stability of the international community against Daesh (ISIS) terrorists who are threatening the world’s security and peace,” Ambassador Rageh Al-Musawi says.
The diplomat also says there’s no way that Iraq would take a hostile stance against the Islamic Republic.
Here’s the full transcript of the interview:
Q: What is Baghdad’s position on the recent regional developments and the deepening row between certain Persian Gulf Arab states with Qatar?
A: As you know, Iraq is a very important country in the region, with a history which cannot be separated from its current situation. Iraq has always wanted to be an element of stability in the region and wishes to have friendly relations with neighboring countries in order to be able to resolve regional issues. As you know, a number of meetings were held in the region for nearly a month, which can be described as dramatic. In a press conference, the Iraqi foreign minister announced the country’s stance on the recent dispute, saying Iraq is against political division and does not want to take a stance against the Islamic Republic. Iraq always encourages dialogue to resolve regional issues. We feel distressed by the recent events and hope that wise actions can prevail over incendiary ones, so that we move toward dialogue to resolve the problems.
Q: What is the Iraqi government’s stance on Saudi accusations that Iran is backing terrorism?
A: As I said, there’s no way that Iraq would take a hostile stance against the Islamic Republic. We appreciate Iran’s stance on the region and its help to the Iraqi nation. When the Iranian government and nation stand alongside Iraq, they are in fact standing alongside the international community, because Iraq is defending the security and stability of the international community against Daesh (ISIS) terrorists who are threatening the world’s security and peace. I should say, therefore, that Iran has a strong position towards supporting stability and peace in the region.
Q: It seems the operation to fully liberate Mosul is lasting more than it is expected. Can you elaborate on this please?
A: The media outlets have reported everything about this issue. Don’t be worried about Iraq, as its people are heroes and are blessed with God’s support as well as strong determination. I think someday, very soon, we will be announcing the final victory. I mean we are in final stages. We wish for the operation to be over soon. It has already taken more time than planned due to the large population of Mosul and the nature of the western part of the city which has lots of narrow alleys. We want to protect our infrastructure as well as the Iraqi citizens and security forces. We have plans for our future, and thank God, we have gained lots of experience from such wars in our cities. The reason the operation has taken so long is that we want minimum security and military risks to be imposed on our people and infrastructure. I assure you that we will continue to advance in our operation and Mosul will definitely be liberated.
Q: As you know the Popular Mobilization Forces are heading toward Iraqi-Syrian borders. Do you think they may enter into Syrian soil to push back ISIS?
A: Mr. prime minister announced Iraq’s position recently, saying that our forces would not cross the Syrian borders. But if the situation changes and there would be a need for our forces to establish peace and security, they would do so after both Iraqi and Syrian governments as well as the international community consent to such move. This would be similar to the international coalition which was formed to fight Daesh and help the Iraqi government. Wherever Daesh and other terrorists are present – whether in Syria or Iraq – they should be fought against under the international laws and agreements. Anyway, the Iraqi government’s position is to keep its forces within the Iraqi borders and not to cross the Syrian borders.
Q: Iranian intelligence minister has announced that the mastermind of the June 7 terrorist attacks has been killed through collaboration of Iran’s intelligence services with those of neighboring countries. Do Iranian and Iraqi intelligence services cooperate to fight terrorist groups?
A: Iran and Iraq cooperate on various issues and this is not a secret. Such teamwork has led to many victories against Daesh. Both countries are known for their close bilateral relations and such relations are well-established in many fields, including security and intelligence.
Q: What is your government’s position on holding a referendum on the fate of the Iraqi Kurdistan?
A: As you know, when we had a referendum on the constitution, our Kurdish brothers agreed to the country’s territorial integrity. Holding a referendum and splitting the country is against the constitution and it’s not permitted. We are with the constitution and we respect it. All Iraqi people should respect the constitution and obey it. The international community has also opposed holding a referendum and insisted on Iraq’s territorial integrity. All Iraqi people – whether Arab, Kurd, Sunni, Shia, Turkmen, Izady, Sabian or Christian – will join hands for freedom and will cooperate to build a prosperous country and government in Iraq.
Q: Iran and Turkey have objected to referendum. Do you have any comments?
A: We’re happy that our friends and the international community insist on Iraq’s territorial integrity. We’re sure that the majority of the international community are alongside Iraq in insisting on the Iraqi constitution and that it should be obeyed by all Iraqi people, as it had received a high approval rating.
Q: How can Tehran-Baghdad oil agreements help improve the Iraqi economy?
A: As I said earlier, our relations with the Islamic Republic are pretty good in all areas. One of the most important ties between the two countries is in areas of economy, especially in the oil sector. In every field that the two countries reach an agreement, a positive effect will be seen in bilateral relations and the two countries will enjoy economic prosperity. The oil agreements will definitely have a great impact on the income of the two friendly countries.
Q: Oil producers have complied with the pledge by OPEC to cut their oil output. Will Iraq remain committed to the deal as well?
A: In spite of the difficult conditions that Iraq finds itself in, it will remain committed to the deal and insists on OPEC’s unity as well as compliance to all OPEC agreements.
Q: Which countries does Iraq prioritize in commercial transactions?
A: We’re willing to have good relations with all of our neighbors, but I think at the moment our commercial transactions have tilted the balance in favor of the Islamic Republic. With Iran, I think, we have the closest commercial transactions compared to other countries, and we hope such relations would become twice as much. However, this requires certain conditions to succeed and we are serious about this matter. Talks are being held between the two countries. A week ago, Iraq’s transport minister was here for connecting Iran and Iraq’s railways. This would be a strategic project provided that the two sides reach an agreement. There are also other issues being discussed as to increase the trading volume and to expand relations in all areas between the two countries.
Q: Regarding the issue of dust storms, Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization chief, Ms. Ebtekar, has announced that Iran will hold educational courses for Iraqi citizens on how to counter the problem. What measures has the Iraqi government taken in this regard?
A: As you know, the issue of dust storms is an international problem which has various international causes and is not limited to Iran or Iraq. We cannot fight this dangerous issue without international cooperation. It has very complicated side effects on both Iranian and Iraqi nations and also imposes serious risks on their economy and even political relations. Five days ago, we signed some agreements with our Iranian brothers in this regard, and as far as I know, she (Ms. Ebtekar) has signed a deal and when its translation to Arabic and Farsi is finished, she will sign another deal. We are committed and determined to implement the agreement due to its crucial importance.
Wars have had great impacts on this issue. The draining of Iraq’s wetlands have had a [negative] impact on the region’s environment.
A big strategic project stretching from Iraq’s north to its south has been put forward, among other proposals. There are some solutions such as applying some chemical agents to the surface of soil to prevent soil erosion and planting a massive number of trees. But all these important steps to solve this issue cannot be taken without international cooperation. The important thing is that meetings are being held in this regard; attention is paid to it and agreements are being signed to solve the issue. I think we’re making progress towards reaching the two countries’ objectives as well as those of other regional countries.
Q: Has Turkey’s dam building exacerbated the situation?
A: All these complexities exist. There’s an international law under which countries which share headstreams cannot carry out their projects across the shared rivers without considering other neighboring countries’ share of water. But unfortunately, some countries have built dams across rivers. Iraq and Turkey had signed an agreement but the situation is complicated in the region and we hope this issue be solved through dialogue. UNESCO has decided that Iraq’s wetlands are among the world’s heritage sites, a move that can have an impact on Turkey’s actions. We are of the opinion that all of the regions’ problems can be solved through dialogue and we insist that our first and last path is dialogue with neighboring countries, because the foreigners do not care about our region’s interests and welfare.
Q: In order to resolve the issue of sectarianism, what measures has the Iraqi government envisioned?
A: There are conflicts within each and every religion and this is a natural thing. The Iraqi nation is united more than ever, and at the moment, the Popular Mobilization Forces are comprised of all Iraqi tribes and sects – including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians – who fight against terrorism alongside the Iraqi army and security forces. The Iraqi nation is united for building their country and fighting against the enemies. The Iraqi government and parliament are also comprised of representatives from all sects and political groups.
Q: Economic issues have direct impact on citizens’ conduct. What measures has the government taken for the citizens’ well-being?
A: Despite the decline in oil revenues and some neighboring countries’ conspiracies as well as the fight against terrorism, the Iraqi government has not reduced the salaries of employees. Iraqi markets are active and busy across the country. Economic activities are still underway even in Mosul – both eastern and western parts. The economic pressure exists in Iraq, as in other countries. Iraq is a persistent country despite all of its problems. We have many big plans to carry out after the liberation of Mosul.
by Zahra Khezri