- We would like our readers to know more about Iraq, because, as you have mentioned, our relations are getting stronger and stronger. The media is responsible for creating a positive image. But the media can also create a negative image and people would be afraid to go there. Could you tell us more about Iraq today?
Unfortunately, sometimes the media do not project the true picture of what is happening in Iraq. I can assure you, in Iraq, I know there is war, there is ISIS, terrorism, but on the other side, there is security, hope, there are people. I lived in Iraq after I finished my mission in Belarus, I lived in Baghdad for more than a year. And I used to go out every day. People go out on the streets and late at night. And it was very safe. Our security forces are trying their best to keep the city safe so people can enjoy themselves. So it is safe.
There are some areas where we have problems. Now we are trying to eliminate those problems. There is this war against ISIS and I think we have getting to the last chapter of this war. Two years ago, ISIS controlled 100 percent of Mosul. Today they only control 1%. So that’s very good progress done by the Iraqi forces on the ground and the Peshmerga. So we are making good progress. There are attempts at reconstruction. So there is hope. We are winning the war on terrorism. We are thinking of what’s happening after. We are planning for reconstruction efforts, re-building all the areas which were destroyed by ISIS. I hope that we’ll have that chapter gone forever.
The Iraqi government is taking a series of measures to restore security and peace. Actually, this is very important for Iraq. Unfortunately, the war created a lot of tension between different communities in Iraq. The government’s aim is to bring them all together because we are all affected by what is happening, we are all victims of ISIS, especially women. There is violence against women in Iraq. Unfortunately, it is happening by ISIS.
On June 19, Iraq declared a day against violence against women. We are trying to show the atrocities done by ISIS against the Iraqi women, the Yazidi women that ISIS took as slaves and we managed to free them. It’s an important part of the Iraqi government, it looks after women, look after all those affected by the war, by the brutality of ISIS.
So there are different plans by the Iraqi government to restore security. Because sectarian violence is no less devastating than the war itself, it divides countries. The beauty of Iraq is that we have people of different backgrounds. We need to bring all these different religions together, different ethnic groups, and that will what will make us strong. The government has a clear plan for that. We have already started working on that. We will accelerate as we move forward and win the war.
- It is like when we had a war in Chechnya, people were afraid to visit Moscow because they thought that there is war. But of course, Moscow or St. Petersburg far away from Chechnya. I think the same is true for Iraq.
People outside of Iraq, especially those, who do not know the geography of Iraq, one day when hear that it is war in Iraq, the first thing that comes to them is that war is everywhere in Iraq. But that’s not true. There is war in Iraq, but in certain places, certain areas. And they are getting smaller and smaller every day. As I said, 2-3 years ago ISIS controlled 40% of Iraq, Mosul and some other parts, now they only control a very small part of Mosul. So we are managed to push them out. Hopefully very soon we will be able to declare a victory.
-Maybe it will be possible to develop some tourism between our states?
Yes. Definitely we are working on it. One of our plans is to encourage tourism. There is different kind of tourism in Iraq. There is historical tourism, there is natural tourism and there is religious tourism. Iraq is 10,000 years old. We have religious places for Jews, for Christians, and for Muslims. I think we have all these places and once things settle down, we’ll have lots of people visiting Iraq for different kinds of purposes. I hope that it’s going to be very soon. We are very optimistic about that.
- So actually my first question was about the Syrian factor. Because nowadays everyone is writing about that and the Syrian factor is really very important.
Yes, the Syrian factor is very much linked to Iraq today, because we both are fighting the same enemy – Iraq and Syria are fighting ISIS. So now there is a high level of coordination between Iraq and Syria. Because I think, what’s happened in Syria is affecting Iraq. Now in Iraq we are making really good progress as I mentioned before. We are almost declaring victory now. But as long as ISIS is still strong in Syria, there will always be a threat to us. So that’s why I think the Syrian situation affects Iraq. Because we share borders with Syria, we share history with Syria. So we are really very much wary about what’s happening there.
From day one of the Syrian crisis we were against any military intervention. And I think with that we were with the Russian government. The Russian government from day one was against any military, any foreign intervention. And we were with them because we knew the problems of such intervention and that what affects Syria would affect Iraq. We were right, because the foreign and military intervention in Syria made Syria the Syria that we see today. There are ISIS, armed groups and they fighting the government. We are supporting the Syrian people .We are supporting the peace in Syria. And now I think there is a high level of coordination between the Syrian government and the Iraqi government.
Recently we managed to reach the borders, our forces reached the Syrian border. And the Syrians forced reached our borders. So we managed to secure the borders. And it was one of the challenging things for us - the borders between Iraq and Syria.
You know, for years and years we had open borders, but that made actually ISIS members move freely between Iraq and Syria.
Now we are securing these borders, so we blocking any free movement of arms, foreign fighters and that will make it very easy for us to beat them and also make it easy for the Syrians to beat them. We appreciate very much the Russian efforts on the Syria crisis. Their efforts are very much involved. The Russian government wants to see a peaceful Syria. They want to see an end to the war in Syria. And we witnessed that Astana conferences, the Geneva conferences, Iraq was part of some of these conferences, even though we want to be part of every conference, every meeting that involves the Syria situation because as I mentioned, it affects us. We want to be a positive factor in that.
So we are hoping that things will calm down in Syria. And that will keep the victory in Iraq, make it a lasting victory.
- You told us about securing the borders. What are other measures that the Iraqi government is taking?
Recently we bombed ISIS inside Syrian territory. So that’s coordination between Iraq and Syria. We got Syria’s approval, permission from the Syrian government to bomb some ISIS targets inside Syria. And that was actually a clear message to ISIS that the Iraqi forces and the Syrian forces can hit very hard. There is coordination between the two countries because we are both very much affected by what is happening. We are fighting on the ground and ISIS is on the ground in Iraq and Syria. We have seen all these bombings in different countries, in Russia’s St. Petersburg, and Manchester. Terrorism has become a global issue. And I think everyone needs to fight terrorism. We saw what happened in London. Recently there was one attack in Manchester and two attacks in London.
We are fighting a proxy war on behalf of the rest of the world and we are losing Iraqis on a daily basis, so we are the victims of terrorism.
- Unfortunately, nowadays we hear every day about attacks worldwide and in Europe also, in Paris, Brussels.
That is what we have been saying from day one: it is not just a threat to Iraq, it is a global issue, and I think we are committed to counterterrorism. We now have the experience of fighting such an enemy.
- In your opinion, why do such things happen? I mean terrorism. So people live peacefully and then…
I think that it is happening because of the mentality and ideology of ISIS and of all these extremist groups. Unfortunately, they are using Islam. Islam is a very peaceful religion. Islam promotes mercy, forgiveness, and tranquility. But unfortunately they’re using the name of Islam to kill all these innocent people. Islam is a continuation of other religions because if you look at Judaism, Christianity, Islam, we have so many things in common. What we see now is just a group of fanatics. They have nothing to do with any religion. I think all religions denounce all the actions that have been done by all these extremists. So the main problem is the ideology of extremism. That’s why they are moving out from Iraq and Syria and they are moving to other places. They are trying to create as much destruction as possible. Because I think that now ISIS and extremism are losing, they are getting to the end of the war. Unfortunately, they are using some cowardly methods like driving cars into crowds and killing people.
-And that is not the problem of money…
No, I think they are just creating destruction. But you know, these attacks are just making people stronger, making people come together to fight the war. We now have a bigger war – we have to fight the ideology of these people.
- How can we stop them?
We can stop them by fighting together hand in hand, by teaching our kids from young age about such an ideology. It is wrong to have such an ideology. It is good to accept others; it is good to live with Muslims, to live with Christians, to live with Jews, to live with other religions. Islam is not only asks us to respect Muslims, but to respect human beings, humanity as a whole, that’s the purpose of our religion – to be respective of Christians, Muslims, Jews, non-believers, for us they are human beings. We have souls so we should respect souls created by God. That’s why we Muslims are actually the victims of such acts.
Unfortunately, some people blame Muslims for what is happening, some are angry at Muslims for what is happening. Some are afraid of Muslims. I think that it is up to us, good, moderate Muslims to show the world that what’s happening, it is far from the Muslim ideology, the Muslims way of thinking. These people just are fanatics, they have a very dangerous ideology that we all should fight.
And the Muslims are the first one who should fight such ideologies. And in the UK Muslim leaders are working with the authorities to support them and to show people that it’s wrong to believe in that. And I think Muslims worldwide need to work together, to stick together, to show the world that it’s not a religion issue, it’s an ideology issue. So that’s why we need to fight that ideology, not just in Iraq, not just in Syria, but everywhere, worldwide.
- We are also making some events to promote our group of strategic vision. This year we had a meeting in Grozny. And there lots of people from about 27 countries. And we said that it’s a worldwide issue and everyone should fight ISIS. But these events and these conferences are also very useful because the mass media should also show them.
It’s very important to show, it’s a global issue. The Muslims are the victims of such terror. As I mentioned before, unfortunately now people see Muslims as terrorists, which is not true. We are the victims of terrorism.
- Why did they choose Islam? Because there are other religions also.
It is not just Islam. Before we saw the IRA in the UK. They killed people, they bombed people in London in the 1990s. They were not Muslims, they were Christians. They had an ideology probably the same way as we see ideology now.
Or Hitler in Germany. He was not a Muslim. He killed lots of people. So it’s not about religion. Nowadays we see they are using Islam. Just like they used Christianity and other religions before. It’s their ideology. And sometimes they need a cover for that. It happens to be Islam.
- What are other priorities of your foreign policy?
The top priority of our policy is to have good contacts with all countries. Unfortunately, in the past we witnessed wars, extremism, tension between Iraq and other countries. Since 2003, our top priority is to change that image, to show the world that Iraq is a peaceful country, Iraq promotes peace, trying to bring down tension. Especially now we are working with our neighboring countries.
Our Prime Minister visited Saudi Arabia, then went to Iran and Kuwait. He is trying to bring down the tension that’s happening in the region. Because we believe that the timing is not right. And now we are fighting terrorism, fighting ISIS, so we don’t want destruction. Plus Iraq wants to be a stabilizing power in the region. That is one of our main priorities in our foreign policy – it is to be open to everyone, as Iraq has good contacts. To show to the world that Iraq is not a source of danger anymore.
- OPEC took a decision, which Baghdad has endorsed, to cut oil output. Will it affect the economy?
We are one of the founding members of OPEC, so we respect the OPEC decision. We would like for the oil prices to stay high because Iraq depends on oil: 95%, if not more, of the budget of Iraq depends on oil. So for us it’s good for oil prices to continue their rise. But that is not the case, unfortunately. Because I think oil prices depend on what’s happening in the world.
As a founding member, Iraq has to respect OPEC decisions, we have to approve it. It will have a hard effect on the economy, of course.
That’s why we are trying to find other ways so we don’t have to depend on oil. We are trying to strengthen agriculture, the private sector, and the construction sector. Now there are lots of opportunities in Iraq.
- What about the agricultural sector?
Iraq is an agricultural country. We have good opportunities in agriculture. We have a good climate, we have palm trees, we have the famous Iraqi dates. The government has plans to strengthen all these areas. So we don’t have a misbalance if oil prices goes down.
Tourism is one of the areas. As I mentioned earlier, we have different kinds of tourism. We have historical tourism, we have religious tourism, we have natural tourism. And we even have medical tourism, we have places that people visit for medical reasons.
- What are these places for medical tourism?
One, I think, is near Mosul, like if you have pains and you go there and this water, special water, effectively helps reduce the pain. We have that kind of places in Iraq.
-It’s important to promote them.
I think that it’s one of the plans that will be after the ISIS is defeated – we need to promote construction in Iraq, promote tourism in Iraq, encourage people to visit the country.
- We don’t have direct flights between Moscow and Iraq
No, we don’t, but currently we’re working with Russian and Iraqi authorities to have direct flights between Moscow and Baghdad. And hopefully we’ll have that soon.
- It is very important because it will help
Exactly, we have lots of Iraqi people in Russia, lots of students in Russia
- How many?
Around 5,000 Iraqi students, they’re studying all over Russia. A lot of Iraqis married to Russians live here. So there is a lot of potential for a direct flight, also there are opportunities for Iraqi businesses to come to Russia. And currently the embassy is working with the Russia aviation authority to organize a meeting in Moscow between the Russian aviation authority and the Iraqi aviation authority so that they can sit down and discuss the final stages of opening a direct flight. That’s one of the embassy’s goals - we need to open direct flights.
- Because now people should make some non-direct flights with a stopover.
Besides, it’s time consuming and also expensive. But if we have direct flights, that will be less money you pay and less time. Especially for businessmen it’s important not to waste time and money.
- What about culture? How is culture promoted in Iraq and what is the main theme in culture?
Iraq is very rich in culture. We have about 10,000 years of history. With that comes a lot of culture. Usually it is promoted by our Ministry of Culture. In Iraq we have different museums. We have memoranda of understanding and agreements between different countries promoting culture. We are working currently with a museum in Moscow to have an event. We have paintings done by famous Iraqi painters. So we are trying to organize an event in Moscow.
- Muslim countries are not very good at sports actually.
Yes, but Iraq is good at sports. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. But we have a very good team and we try to be competitive. So sports is also a big part in promoting Iraq.
- And what about theaters?
We do have theaters, we have the National Theater…
-Is it popular among citizens?
Yes, in Iraq and in the regional countries, the Arab countries the Iraqi theater is very popular. We have some famous actors that actually played in Iraq and outside Iraq. So we have theater and that’s also part of the job of our Ministry of Culture to try to promote it.
-And what about Iraqi cuisine?
We are very famous for Iraqi cuisine. We compete with the best cuisines in the region. We have some specialties, I think one of them you only find in Iraq is the Masgouf. It is a fish, but the way you cook it is called Masgouf and you only find it in Iraq. Hopefully, one day when you visit Iraq, they will invite you to taste. We also have other famous Iraqi meals.
- What role does military cooperation play in the relationship between our countries?
Iraq and Russia have a very strong relationship across a range of areas which goes back for more than 70 years. One of them was military cooperation. Russia is playing a major part in our war against terrorism. We have military coordination. Russia provides weapons to Iraq. In terms of intelligence, we have an information center in Baghdad, which unites the Russians, the Iraqi, the Syrians and the Iranians. That provides intelligence to the Iraqi forces. That’s proved to be very effective.
Russia also provides training for our forces. So we have some, I would say, rather strong military cooperation between Iraq and Russia, also through our military attaché in Moscow. Most of the military coordination is done through our military attaché here in Moscow. So, I would say, it is very strong.
We are very grateful to the Russian government for all the support they providing for Iraq, that the Russian government committed to Iraq in the war against terrorism. And they will also be, I think, part of the reconstruction process. Some of the big Russian companies are currently working in Iraq like Lukoil, Gazprom, and other companies.
-And other countries, do they help Iraq to fight against terrorism?
Yes, the coalition forces provide air support, intelligence, and training. We have advisors in Iraq from different countries.
- Which countries?
Countries like the UK, like the US, like Australia, like France, Germany and other NATO countries. We are all partners. We are all working together to fight extremism.
- Iraq has a trade office and there is also the Russian–Iraqi Business Council here in Russia. What is scope of this cooperation?
We have a trade attaché. I also recently had two meetings with the Iraqi-Russian Business Council in the presence of the trade attaché. And now we are planning to organize an investment conference in Moscow. We are hoping to have it on a large scale to promote business opportunities. Because now we are transforming the country after the war on terrorism and we are moving to the reconstruction phase.
Unfortunately, there is a large area in Iraq was destroyed by ISIS or destroyed by the fighting. So that will be a lot of business opportunities for companies to be part of that reconstruction process.
As an ambassador to Moscow, we would like to see Russian businesses from all over Russia participating in those efforts because the Russians have great experience and expertise.
Our infrastructure in Iraq, most of it is from Soviet companies, as we had a very strong relationship with the Soviet Union at that time, so most of the infrastructure, most of the companies, electricity or oil companies, are actually Russian. That is why we would love to see Russian companies go back to Iraq. Some of them are actually in Iraq now. We are trying to help others to go back to Iraq .And that is, I think, the part of the trade attaché and the Iraqi-Russian Business Council, they play a big role in that and they have our support.
- We have already talked about the measures which have to be taken to step up economic relations between our countries...
I think the investment conference is one of the steps to promote and encourage.
-It can be annual…
Yes, an annual conference. We are continuously supporting Russian businesses, as we have meetings with Russian businessmen, with Russian companies, supporting and providing them, facilitating travel to Iraq. And we can issue visas to businesses on the same day. So in one day we can issue visas for Russian businesses. I have the authority from the Iraqi government. And that’s our way of support for businessmen and businesswomen. We are trying to support the opening of a direct flight that will help a great deal in linking Iraq and Russia in business. Specially, because I have a business background, I have a degree in business that’s why I’m very much encouraging Russian businesses to go and try business opportunities in Iraq.
-Actually, I’ve got one more question about humanitarian cooperation between countries
Unfortunately, it’s not up to the level that we hoped to have. We have very little humanitarian cooperation. But recently I met with a person who is chairman of an NGO who sending humanitarian aid to Iraq to help displaced people. So we are working together. Hope we would be able to send some aid to Iraq. Also we are working with the Russian government on that issue, so hopefully we will see some improvements in that area.