Arabs pledge securing Iraq
Iraq's explosive security situation was at the centre of Iyad Allawi's regional tour, Omayma Abdel-Latif
Falah Al-Naquib, Iraq's interior minister, acknowledges that the deteriorating security situation is the biggest challenge his government faces in its remaining five months in office. Al-Naquib, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly during a regional tour led by Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, was hopeful nonetheless that some of the long-term security pacts the Iraqi premier secured with both Egypt and Syria would help improve the volatile situation.
According to Al-Naquib, the significance of Allawi's current regional tour is that "it sends a strong message of Arab solidarity with the Iraqi people. The message we got from the Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians is that Iraq will not be alone in its battle against its enemies," said Al-Naquib. When asked to explain who those enemies were, he declined to name names, but said rather vaguely "those who conspire against Iraq, commit acts of destruction and organised crime." Al-Naquib pointed out that the ultimate goal of Allawi's regional tour was to ensure that the countries of the region assist in reconstruction efforts in the new Iraq. "We want to build strategic ties with our Arab brethren. We want to bring home the message that Iraq's security is part of the internal security of those countries and of the region as a whole and we need their help in re- instituting stability in Iraq."
After the power transfer on 28 June, the Iraqi interim government pursued an aggressive security policy to root out what it has repeatedly described as "networks of terrorists". Al-Naquib, the mastermind behind most of those policies, urged Allawi to issue a national security law which granted Allawi broad powers to declare martial rule. Titled Qanun Al- Salama Al-Watanyia (the Law of National Safety), the legislation gave Allawi new latitude to control an increasingly dangerous situation. But with the continuation of abductions and car bombings, which have claimed the lives of many Iraqi policemen and targeted Iraqi state buildings and infrastructure, Allawi stepped up his efforts by announcing the establishment of an Iraqi security service earlier this month to clamp down on groups he accuses of conducting terrorist attacks. Many Iraqis are concerned that these security measures will negatively effect the political process and bring about a new form of tyranny.
Al-Naquib defended the security legislation and the establishment of security agencies as necessary steps to restore stability to the country. "The deteriorating security situation requires these laws," Al-Naquib said.
Perhaps the most controversial issue facing Allawi's government during its Arab tour was whether it considered all groups, including those of Iraqi national resistance, which attack US targets to be terrorist groups. The question put Al-Naquib on the defensive. "People should realise that targeting US soldiers is only going to further complicate an already tense situation," he said. "These attacks will not drive the Americans out of the country, because if America wants to stay in this country for a thousand years it will stay." Al-Naquib explained that from a pragmatic point of view, the best way to hasten the withdrawal of foreign troops is through speeding up efforts to rebuild and train Iraqi army and police forces.
Al-Naquib disclosed that during the first month after the transfer of power, some low-level US military officials have conducted air raids without informing the interim government, in clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty. "We insist that as a sovereign government we should have full knowledge before hand of any raids or attacks carried out on Iraqi soil and now we are in full control of the situation," he said.
While Al-Naquib declined to set a specific timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, he did say that in light of the current situation, it would take between six months and one year to fully prepare the Iraqi army and police. Al- Naquib said that Iraq was counting on the promises of cooperation and support pledged by Arab governments on security issues. He also disclosed that Egypt has been providing training for Iraqi police and that it has promised to continue with this effort. "We have reached an agreement with the Egyptian officials to continue to provide training for the Iraqi police in facilities here in Cairo. It has also been agreed that the security cooperation will also include joint intelligence operations and establishing security committees between the two countries," he said. Allawi and his interior minister have also met with high-level Egyptian security and intelligence officials and signed arms deals to purchase tanks for the Iraqi police.
Press accounts of an active Israeli network in Iraq have sent shock waves across the Arab world, but Al-Naquib insisted that as Iraq's interior minister he has "no tangible information about this issue".