Kurdish politician and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Nuri Shaways refuted allegations that al-Qaeda is likely to reinforce its presence in the country following the withdrawal of American troops and stressed the importance of solving the Kirkuk problem to achieving the required stability.
“I am not worried that al-Qaeda will dominate Iraq after the withdrawal because I trust the Iraqi forces and people,” he said Al Arabiya’s “Iraq after Occupation,” to be aired on Wednesday.
“Iraqi troops are morally and technically ready to face terrorism and all other internal challenges. Special forces have been trained and armed for this purpose.”
However, Shaways expressed concern that terrorist operations targeting Iraqis might take place after the withdrawal.
“Some units still need more training and equipment, especially the air forces. This will take some time.”
He also said it was unlikely that anti-regime protests taking place across the Arab world would reach Iraq.
Aside from al-Qaeda and popular protests, Shaways argued that the issue of Kirkuk was vital to achieving stability in Iraq.
“Solving the problem of Kirkuk is what will guarantee a unified Iraq.”
Shaways explained that Kirkuk is the city that had undergone the most drastic national and demographic changes during the rule of late President Saddam Hussein, and stressed that it is only abiding by article 140 of the Iraqi constitution that will put the crisis to an end.
According to article 140, a referendum is to be held to determine the identity of Kirkuk – Kurdish or Arab – and measures should be taken to repel the Arabization campaign Saddam Hussein embarked on between 1986 and 1989.
When asked whether the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan might seek independence, Shaways replied in the negative.
“Kurds have opted for living in a federal and pluralist Iraq rather than seeking secession. Even in 1992, when the former regime was in its heyday, Kurds decided to be part of a democratic Iraq.”
Shaways denied claims that pressure from external powers drove the Iraqi government to refuse to allow some American forces to remain in the country to train the Iraqi military.
“It is true that the Iraqi army still needs more training, yet we thought it is unnecessary to keep American troops in the country for this reason and give them legal immunity as requested by the United States.”
In spite of that, he pointed out, Iraqi troops are still in need of advanced weapons, and most of these will be provided by the United States.
“We have decided to deal directly with the country that is to provide us with weapons rather than do that through intermediaries or companies.”
Shaways stressed that the withdrawal of American troops will take place as scheduled.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid and Mustapha Ajbaili.)