By Mathias Muller von Blumencron and Bernard Zand
July 21, 2008 |
Nouri al-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
Spiegel: Large parts of
Maliki: We have hired several international law firms to deal with these assets. At the moment, they are protected by U.N. 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 U.N. mandate on
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
Maliki: It is a fundamental problem for us that it should not be possible, in my country, to prosecute offences or crimes committed by
Spiegel: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the
Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned.
Spiegel: Is this an endorsement for the
Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in
Spiegel: In your opinion, which factor has contributed most to bringing calm to the situation in the country?
Maliki: There are many factors, but I see them in the following order. First, there is the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve in central
Spiegel: Critics have accused you of striking harshly against the Mahdi army of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, while going easy on his rival Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim's Badr militia.
Maliki: That's not true. We proceed just as firmly against anyone who breaks the law. Just a few days ago, we had an incident with a group associated with the Badr people. The army moved in immediately and arrested them all. No one was spared. The punishment is based purely on the nature of the crime, not on the identity of the criminal.
Spiegel: In southern
Maliki: That's the sort of thing that people say who don't understand how urgently
Spiegel: What role do you envision for your chief rival, Muqtada al-Sadr? Can there ever be national reconciliation in
Maliki: You can only reconcile with someone who wants to reconcile. His Excellency Muqtada al-Sadr can be a political partner, especially if, to that end, he draws on the great spiritual legacy he has inherited from his ancestors. He has understood that his following was eventually infiltrated by criminal elements, by men from the former regime, al-Qaida people and others. The fact that he is now in the process of systematically separating himself from these elements makes him even stronger as a political partner. As a politician, I might add, not as a militia leader.
Spiegel: You spent part of your exile in
Maliki: I have not been made privy to the details of the Iranian nuclear program. Iranian representatives assure us, however, that this program serves peaceful purposes. Even if
Spiegel: Exactly 50 years ago, the monarchy in
Maliki: There may have been people who celebrated. But certainly not all Iraqis. On July 14, 1958, an era came to an end, but what came afterward didn't live up to
our expectations and hopes. What came were decades of military putsches and the dictatorship. We are still dealing with the aftermath today.
Spiegel: Mr. Prime Minister, your job is probably one of the most dangerous a politician can have. How do you cope with this, and what do you do to make it bearable?
Maliki: I lead a very simple life -- one that is shaped by external forces, which is apparently what fate has determined for us Iraqis. In that regard, the past few decades of dictatorship have not changed all that much. What keeps me going? The constant exertion of my job -- and the successes we are now having. It means a lot to me to see how much closer we are today to a democratic
This article has been provided by Der Spiegel through a special arrangement with Salon.