"The Time Has Come to Invest in Iraq"
Let's start by talking about security in Iraq. The situation has begun to improve - is normality returning to Iraq?
Nuri al-Maliki: Definitely. On the one hand, as a result of reactions to the abhorrent activities of al-Qaeda and the illegal militias, and on the other hand, because the Iraqis have realized that they can in fact get along despite their various religious confessions and ethnicities. The government has also shown that it will not tolerate lawlessness, regardless of confession. This has made people realize that the state makes no exceptions for any of its citizens.
Then there are the comprehensive security measures that have been taken. The Coalition troops played a major role, but our newly established security forces in the police and the army, which have been purged of militias, have become increasingly professional. They are aware of their responsibilities to the nation and are more effective than they once were.
To what extent do you attribute the improved security situation in Iraq to the presence of foreign troops?
al-Maliki: Recent successes in Basra can be attributed to the Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi government was in charge of the planning and the implementation. Iraqi security forces are more familiar with Iraqi society and geography; they know the extremists and they are very well-trained. The government as well as international observers were confident that the Iraqi army and police would be able to guarantee stability. The coalition forces have confirmed this is the case and are proud that the Iraqi army has proved able to bring the situation under control.
The proposed security pact between the US and Iraq is very topical at the moment. Will it contain a timeframe for a US troop pull-out?
al-Maliki: Dialogue between the two sides is ongoing. Initial drafts contain some very sweeping demands that have not been accepted. But the political situation continues to change. After a period of boycott, a number of Iraqi ministers have resumed their work in the government. Political structures are crystallizing, security has improved and we have important challenges to rise to. International troops cannot remain in the country forever. For some time we have been engaged in intensive dialogue regarding a timeframe for their mandate and a transitional preparation phase for their withdrawal. All the Iraqi parties, as well as the Coalition forces, agree that the deployment must be limited and that responsibility needs to be handed over to the Iraqis.
Do you think the current situation in Iraq is stable enough for international companies to return and take part in the reconstruction of the country?
al-Maliki: I personally visited Japan, Korea and other countries specifically to persuade companies to invest in our electricity, fuel and oil sectors. None of them responded to this call, because their governments don't want them going to Iraq because of the security situation. Observers would confirm, however, that ministers from Japan, Germany, the US and Britain have visited Iraq, and that companies including GE and Siemens are already operating there and competing in various sectors.
To us, the most important sectors are electricity and crude oil. Reconstruction of these sectors would boost agriculture and industry and generally improve the Iraqis' standards of living. But investors are nervous. The companies will only come when circumstances allow. We have provided an improved security situation, and we can also offer investors protection now that we have formed an investment authority for all the governorates, which protects investors and guarantees them favorable conditions. The time has come to invest in Iraq and a number of companies have already begun.
But hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are still outside the country. Don't they need to return before international companies will feel truly safe?
al-Maliki: The media gets the facts wrong. They fail to report on the many thousands of Iraqis who return every day. Even the countries who maintain they took in one or two million Iraqis in reality only took in 50,000 or 100,000 refugees. Many of them are now coming back, and we want to facilitate this process. But if Iraqis would rather emigrate, in order to study or work, for example, then we will not prevent them from doing so. But our own economy is improving, so returning refugees can expect to earn a living so they can support their families.
Interview: Mohamed Ibrahim
© Deutsche Welle 2008