MJ: Do you think America could pull out most of its troops within one to two years?
TAH: No, qualification is more important than the timing. First of all we do in fact have a problem about the militias. The militias of various political entities have already infiltrated inside the armed forces. This is being done legally according to Ambassador Bremer law number 91. This damaged the professionalism of the armed forces. So first of all we have to make them a competent task force for the armed forces and then we should think seriously how to increase the manpower of the armed forces and train them and arm them as well. The problem is not only training; we have many, many issues to address within the time scale that I have set.
MJ: What do you think would be the consequences if most American troops left Iraq by the middle of next year?
TAH: Well I don't want to set an arbitrary timetable. This timetable should be clear, should be clearly made to a comprehensive reform of our national armed forces. I don't want to say, Within six months, three months, one year, two years. The basic thing is how to insure a competent national armed forces that could substitute whatever amount of American troops are going to pull out. I don't want to rush and give any arbitrary timetable for that unless I am 100 percent sure that within that time limit, we would at the end of it have enough and sufficient and competent national armed forces.
MJ: If you've been in touch with the United States military or United States policymakers about the possibility of an American withdrawal of troops, what kind of response have you received?
TAH: I keep meeting many who come from your side to our side. Senators from the Congress, official staff in the American administration, the embassy, the military people, I keep receiving and talking and exchanging views and everybody is very much concerned about the continuation of American troops on Iraqi territories and the hardships and concerns. The message I understand is that the American people are not very familiar with what is going on on the ground, and the message that I receive is that if there is sectarian violence between Iraq's factions, what will be the justification for the American troops caught in the middle between the Shiites and the Sunnis? If at the end of the day the Shiite and the Sunni are not going to join forces and rebuild their country, how can the American troops do that on their behalf? The United States is more moralist, in fact committed with an ethical and moral obligation since the collapse of Saddam Hussein. They have to continue the ultimate goal. I think security-wise many and various policies since General Petraeus took over—there is a significant improvement, especially in the Arab Sunni provinces. We need some time. At the end of the day, I'm not very keen or interested to see the Americans just run away because now Iraq is facing a crisis and it is getting violent. I think, and by all means American people should understand their obligation, their commitment, and I think for the stability of the whole region first of all we should continue to think seriously to stabilize Iraq before any decision is taken in this regard.
MJ: Is the surge facilitating political reconciliation in Iraq?
TAH: Yes, definitely. Yes, the surge has produced so far a significant improvement in various provinces. Yes, the surge is paying the cost and we see on the ground a tangible improvement with security in various provinces.
MJ: If America begins a withdrawal of troops at some point in the future, what kind of military presence should remain in Iraq?
TAH: Well, it could be discussed face to face. I can't say at this stage if the American administration accepted my vision that urgency should be given to have a competent national armed forces; I don't know what will be left behind if that includes deciding to pull out within one year's time. Hopefully it is to be addressed in due course by the American troops.
MJ: What kind of role should private American security contractors play in Iraq if and when American troops start to leave?
TAH: The security fight, the security file is under review currently within the government, so this subject will be part of the politician and the government's consideration. There are many, many visions and many views; I can't say at this stage.
MJ: Beyond providing security, what other government functions will Iraqis need to take over after Americans leave Iraq, and how should that transition be accomplished?
TAH: Well definitely everybody, all Iraqis are dreaming of where and how the national economy is going to take off. The rebuilding has just been handicapped by violence, by the hostilities, so I think the role of the United States could be the nature of their expertise, their advanced technology, and the investment in various economic developments that is yet to be seen. All Iraqis are very much keen to see this happen in the near future.
MJ: Is there any specific kind of government function that the military provides right now in Iraq that the government would need to take over once it leaves?
TAH: Well, at this stage we still have some major differences. The problem that is handicapping the stability of my country is the reconciliation, within which we do have various obstacles because we couldn't as Iraqis—quite unfortunately, we couldn't establish some sort of common vision as what sort of Iraq we are looking for and what sort of administration we are looking for. All the entities are still looking to these goals and targets from different angles, and this is a problem that needs the United States and United Nations to play a significant role just to get all Iraqis close together and try to establish a common vision that could pave the way to address various pending issues like amending the constitution, reconciliation, the pending legislations, security—many, many, many pending files in fact, still pending because we failed so far to establish some sort of common vision. So the United States, because of their interest to stabilize the country, they are still in a position to play a significant role in this regard side by side with the United Nations, which according to recent resolutions is going to play an increasing role in this part.
MJ: What are the most important changes that Iraqi politicians need to accomplish in order to be prepared for an eventual withdrawal of American troops?
TAH: Well, politically we do have major differences in vision, and the security file is still pending; we don't have a common approach to address it nationally. Politically we need some sort of reform. We need to have a common vision in various topics. This definitely will improve the security, and at the end of the day if this happens, there's no reason for your country to keep shouldering the unnecessary burden in terms of blood and in terms of money.
MJ: Do you have any specific ideas about this political reform or what the obstacles to accomplishing it are?
TAH: Let me be frank with you. The economic and the political process that has been established after the collapse of the previous regime—we're now getting this unhealthy circumstance of violence and difference in views. Because our factions are unbalanced in the political process, they are very scared about their future because of sectarian violence. The Iraqi community is divided between factions saying, "We've got concessions, we are not going to negotiate, and this is a golden opportunity that we are not going to miss," while other factions are saying, "We've been given very little of our legislative rights." So the basic thing is to review the political process and try to stabilize and try to offer opportunities to all Iraqis, irrespective of their roots and affiliation. The national identity should replace the sectarian identity, the regional religion identity, the race identity, which is not the case at this stage. So what we need is a surgical reform to the political process, to review the political process from the beginning, and see what sort of difficulties and loopholes have been found and try to reform them. If we do that, there will be an opportunity for my country to revive in a very short period.
MJ: Do you think that goal is something that is shared by the other political groups in Iraq? Do you think they will be willing to work with you?
TAH: Yes. Everybody is under the impression that we need to revise, and this is an area where the United States could contribute and the United Nations could contribute to establish some sort of unique reconciliation between Iraqi political entities.
MJ: Do you have any specific ideas on how that would work?
TAH: Well, yes, I do have my ideas, I do have my timetable, I do have many things that should reflect my constructive role in reaching out to the politicians that in the time being is quite an opportunity. We do have major differences and are going to continue to push that because there is no way for my country to stabilize until we turn back to the national identity, like the American identity, for all Iraqis irrespective of their roots and origins. Everybody needs to see himself as equal to his neighbor, to his friend, and everybody needs to be given an opportunity to work safely, to pay his dues democratically, who would like a more or less liberal, open society. The problem isn't the politicians sharing this regime, but how to connect it. This is the problem, and I think this is the role that the United Nations and the United States can play.
MJ: Should Iraqis be allowed to leave Iraq and move to the United States after the United States military leaves Iraq?
TAH: This is one of the problems facing us at this stage. All of those who fled the country—as you are fully aware, this just happened as a consequence of the sectarian violence. The majority of them are intellectual, technocrat, and they really are a real asset for my country. I don't want these assets to just leave the country and just abandon the country that under the circumstances needs them; hopefully in the very near future they'll build my country. This would be a net loss if any application was welcome from the western countries, including America. I could understand that those families are afraid because of violence. We could offer them a temporary sanctuary until further notice, but when my country is stabilized and the economy takes off, I think those families, intellectuals, technocrats, the well-educated people, should be encouraged to come back to their country.