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Al-Kadhimi to Asharq Al-Awsat: Saudi-Iranian Talks Were Frank, Comprehensive, Fruitful

Al-Kadhimi to Asharq Al-Awsat: Saudi-Iranian Talks Were Frank, Comprehensive, Fruitful

Sunday, 12 March, 2023 - 11:30
Al-Kadhimi during his interview with the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat

Saudi-Iranian talks conducted in Baghdad were frank, comprehensive, and fruitful, former Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi told Asharq Al-Awsat days before Iran and Saudi Arabia announced an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations in a deal mediated by China.

Considering progress in Saudi-Iranian talks, Al-Kadhimi said: “The Saudi-Iranian dialogue was frank and fruitful, and that is why I expect a soon return to relations between the two countries.”

The former Iraqi head of government noted that the return of Saudi-Iranian relations is in the region’s interest.

“The success of Saudi-Iranian talks helped calm the region. Saudi Arabia is a significant country in the region, and Iran is an important country in the region. They are two Muslim neighbors with many common interests,” stressed Al-Kadhimi.

In his first interview since ending his tenure as head of the Iraqi government, Al-Kadhimi affirmed that some are trying to “demonize and blame” him and his government for all the defects ailing Iraq’s political system for the past two decades.

Al-Kadhimi traced attempts to “demonize” him and his government to the first few weeks of assuming power in Iraq.

“Groups outside the state stood before any action that serves the people… But we remained committed to our people,” affirmed the former premier, noting that the government was later handed over according to the principle of peaceful transfer of power in a much better condition than it was.

According to Al-Kadhimi, the vilification of his government continued even after its term ended.

“There were what could be considered malicious and retaliatory measures that we hope to keep state institutions away from,” he explained.

“We have openly declared that we accept a transparent international investigation into all fabricated and malicious cases,” affirmed the former head of government.

When asked if he could assert that he didn’t get involved in corruption or provide cover for those who did, Al-Kadhimi said: “I am sure that I was not involved in any corruption case, and I did not provide cover for anyone. On the contrary, when an acquaintance got involved in corruption cases and was sentenced, I did not interfere despite all the pressures I was subjected to.”

Revealing that corruption has consumed more than $600 billion of Iraqi funds, Al-Kadhimi said that the money was funneled “to benefit individuals, party and military entities, and regional roles.”

Defending his government against accusations of corruption, Al-Kadhimi said: “Of the total 28 months of my government’s term, I only had a budget of up to 5 months.”

“Corruption was entrenched in the Iraqi state before I came,” he stressed.

Al-Kadhimi blamed all previous governments for involvement in corruption.

“Yes, between 2003 and mid-2020, corruption devoured 600 billion dollars of Iraqi money,” he affirmed, adding that the funds were siphoned into building a deep state and investing in fraudulent projects.

“I have the accounts of the previous governments, what they spent, and what amounts disappeared. Some of the facts in this regard are terrifying and shocking,” noted Al-Kadhimi.

“Money was going to parties, and these parties invested it in establishing a military situation for armed groups in Iraq and outside Iraq,” he revealed.

“During my government, there was no possibility for any dollar to go to finance groups outside the state.”

“My position was strong on this issue, and they know it and keep silent about it, and for this, they harbor hostility towards me.”

“Unfortunately, there are those who want to clean up their bad history in governance, and for this, they blame Al-Kadhimi’s government, which has no party, militia, or parliamentary bloc,” said the former premier.

Al-Kadhimi accused those parties of obstructing the work of his government.

Iraq reverting to its Arab depth while respecting the interests of its neighbors is normal, said Al-Kadhimi, confirming that the Shiite authority in Iraq supports this approach.

“(Ali) Al-Sistani is a supporter of Iraq’s orientation towards its Arab surroundings and the promotion of national identity and the civil state,” he revealed.

Al-Sistani is Iraq’s top Shiite cleric.

“He calls for the integration of Shiite communities into their countries and respect for the ruling laws in any country,” clarified Al-Kadhimi about al-Sistani’s approach in general.

“Iraq was far and receding in its foreign relations. I worked to return Iraq to its Arab surroundings as it is an Arab country par excellence,” he said, while recognizing other ethnicities in Iraq.

“Kurds and others have the right to preserve their identities, but Iraq is ultimately part of the Arab and Islamic worlds,” he affirmed.

“From state to state,” Iraq under Al-Kadhimi sought to build its relations based on respect for mutual interests.

“I worked to rebuild our relations with the Arab world, with the Gulf countries in particular, and with Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and even the distant Arab countries,” asserted Al-Kadhimi.

Regarding Iraq’s relationship with Tehran and Washington, Al-Kadhimi affirmed that his country is committed to its interests and the interests of others based on state-to-state relations and a balance of interests.

Asserting that Iraq comes first, Al-Kadhimi said: “We defend our interests, respect the interests of others and state-to-state relations without subordination.”

Moreover, Al-Kadhimi indicated that he sensed the interest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in deepening and expanding Saudi-Iraqi relations.

“I was the head of the intelligence service, and I conveyed a message from the Iraqi government stating that we have no problem with a particular sect, but our problem is with the takfiris or the terrorists,” said Al-Kadhimi.

“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s answer was, in fact, a smart answer,” he added.

“We do not deal with politics on the basis of sects, but rather on the basis of common interests and our cultural affiliations,” said the Crown Prince, according to Al-Kadhimi.

“It was a frank meeting during which I sensed his interest in deepening bilateral relations, and a continuous friendship developed between us,” noted Al-Kadhimi about his meeting with the Crown Prince.

“Indeed, I saw in him (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) an ambitious young man who is concerned about the renaissance of his country and the region and believes in building a modern state that will be part of the civilized world and has its influence and imprint on economic, social and political development.”

Al-Kadhimi further affirmed that the Crown Prince has long supported Saudi-Iranian talks.

Acknowledging that his government had failed to address arms control problems in Iraq, Al-Kadhimi talked about the killings of political activists.

Targeted assassinations were sometimes carried out by elements who infiltrated security services under previous governments, he said.

“The problem is that some previous governments facilitated the entry of groups into state institutions,” noted Al-Kadhimi, adding that disputes arose between him and armed groups in Iraq after he blocked their access to government institutions.

“Unfortunately, all previous governments contributed to including these groups in the Iraqi state.”

Al-Kadhimi also talked about three assassination attempts that targeted him, including a drone attack against his residence.

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