An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Tariq Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq ( Credits to FREE ARAB VOICE- FAV)
This meeting took place in the Prime Minister’s offices in Baghdad on 29 September 2002. The far-ranging interview dealt with a wide variety of topics, including the Iraqi rationale behind the unconditional acceptance of the return of the international inspectors, Iraq’s military strategy in the coming confrontation with America, the issue of democracy in Iraq, the case of Abu Nidal, Iraq’s position on the Palestine Authority and Yassir Arafat, as well as some theoretical issues. Mr. Tariq Aziz is known for his political sophistication, intelligence, and unique ability to deal with the media and diplomatic corps. In what follows he fully lived up to that reputation. But this dialogue essentially aimed at lifting the veil on how things are thought out in the mind of the Iraqi leadership, going beyond the usual journalistic fare that is restricted to the events of the moment. On this basis, our talk began with a focus on general issues, not on specifics. The Free Arab Voice was represented by its editor-in-chief, Dr. Ibrahim Naji Alloush.
F A V : Mr. Aziz, the decision to allow the inspectors to return was a decision that did not conform to the interests of Iraq or to Arab interests. That is, it was clear that among the inspectors are some individuals known to be foreign agents who were plotting with the Zionists and Americans. There is a whole archive of news reports attesting to this. In addition, Iraq had been demanding that the return of inspectors be linked to the end of the embargo and a solution to the issue of mass destruction weapons throughout the whole region. In spite of that, we find that you agreed to the return of the inspectors unconditionally. Of course this occurred just days after a number of Arab countries changed their positions and declared that they were ready to participate in an attack on Iraq because “they had no other choice”, or words to that effect. Do you believe that your agreement to the return of the inspectors will lead to restraining the aggression, or that this decision will prevent an attack by the United States, Britain and the Zionists on Iraq altogether? Or do you believe it can result in delaying an attack, that it’s a way to gain time, and to compel them to show more of their cards, even those who claim that Iraq has mass destruction weapons?
T a r i q A z i z : We have no illusions about the intentions of American imperialism and Zionism – both the international Zionist movement and the entity in the occupied Palestinian territories. We have no illusions. But in any battle you wage, you must take the steps necessary to reduce the number of your opponents, in the first place, steps that will help you gain friends. We analyzed the situation deeply. Support for American aggression in the world and in the region is very limited. There is no Arab or foreign party, other than the Zionist Entity, and other than the British government in the person of Tony Blair and his group, [other than them] no one wants this aggressive military action against Iraq. Everyone is afraid of the consequences that will result from it.
F A V : Particularly since they are openly raising the issue of redrawing the map of the region.
T a r i q A z i z : Yes, exactly. We said that if we took this step, we would strengthen those who do not want the attack, and this would place us in a much more comfortable position. We would free ourselves from all the pressures, and the pressure had reached a point where it was coming from all directions, “Brothers, please, accept the return of the inspectors so you can avoid a war”. We know that this decision might not prevent a war, or prevent aggression. We know that. Nevertheless, we took that decision. But now we can say, in case the aggression occurs, that the political position of those opposing the aggression will be stronger than it would have been had we not made such a decision. There are some weaklings for whom it is easy to blame Iraq. They say, “Iraq is fanatical. Iraq is stubborn. Iraq won’t listen to advice, etc.” That position gives them an excuse to get out of their obligations, whether they are Arabs or foreigners. We have our foreign friends who should supposedly shoulder their responsibilities, the legal ones in the first place, according to international law, and shoulder their responsibilities with respect to a country that was friendly to them, like Russia. The weaklings in Russia come along and say, “We advised the Iraqis but they have been obstinate. They didn’t behave as wisely as they should have. So we should sit by quietly and let the attack take place”. This would be a loss. As for the aggression, it is likely that it will take place. If it doesn’t take place it will be first and foremost due to Iraq’s steadfastness. The aggressor will feel that his adventure will be extremely costly. I tell you, my personal analysis is that the aggression has been planned for a long time, but they have been postponing the zero hour, if we can call it that, because the more deeply they study Iraq’s situation, they find more and more difficulties in front of them. They are trying to treat these difficulties but they are not succeeding. I’ll give you a specific example. George Bush linked the aggression against Iraq to changing the regime. But when they started to discuss how to change the regime they discovered that this goal is either impossible or at the very least exorbitantly costly and very complicated, and also not convincing for those who are supposed to take part along with them, even the British. I am not generally convinced by what the British say, but they say that they have now succeeded in convincing Bush that military action against Iraq need not have regime change as its slogan. This, I think, in my opinion, is because the British are more aware of the facts and realities than is that stupid administration in America. It is an aggressive administration, but it is also stupid at the same time; it doesn’t know the realities, whether in Iraq or in the Arab world. These are the reasons that led us to taking this decision. At the same time, we will strive every day to clarify our position to the world. When the inspectors come, they will engage in activities. Perhaps they will engage in bad activities . . .
F A V : That’s for sure . . .
T a r i q A z i z : But we will expose them. Not with memoranda to the Security Council, as we used to do in the past. We will expose them before Arab and international public opinion. There are lots of interested people now who will follow these events very closely indeed.
F A V : But Mr. Aziz, I want to tell you two things that I’m sure you already know, but I would like to hear your response to them. First, there was a law passed by the American Congress in 1998 that literally stipulated, and this was in 1998, that the Iraqi regime had to be changed and that provided for the financial and organizational measures needed for such a regime change. Besides that, there was a paper issued in 1996 under the title a Clean Break that discussed the same thing. I think that imperialist and Zionist strategic interests at this stage have come to demand the break up of this region, and they are saying this openly, so this is not just one analysis. . .
T a r i q A z i z : Precisely. . .
F A V : So, do you believe that these measures [the return of the inspectors] even if they can delay the aggression, that in the end they can put an end to the clash with imperialism?
T a r i q A z i z : No. I told you we have no illusions. But in any battle you wage, you can make some non-essential concessions in order to improve your political position. The return of the inspectors to Iraq will not shake our regime. It will not lead to our giving up all the necessary preparations we’ve made for the aggression, when it comes. But it will give us a political opportunity that is better than what we used to have before we took this decision. We have no illusions, and as I said in the forum*, the aim [of America in the Arab region] is a new Sykes-Picot agreement, beginning with Iraq, and ending with other countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region. This arrangement is needed because, the [old] Sykes-Picot that served the Zionist Entity and imperialism throughout the last century, today no longer works in the interest of the aims of imperialism and the Zionist presence in Palestine. It has come to constitute a kind of danger, despite the weakness of the regimes that surround “Israel”, and the regimes that have signed agreements with “Israel”. Despite their weak positions, this situation has come to pose a danger. Nowadays, for example, the number of Arabs who have university degrees is greater than the number of all residents in “Israel”, and not all residents of “Israel” hold university degrees. This is a qualitative change. The steadfastness of Iraq and the steadfastness of the Palestinian resistance, of the Palestinian intifada, have created a qualitative political and psychological change as well that wasn’t there before. Today, the Arab citizen is deeply convinced that resistance to imperialism and Zionism is possible and that it will not lead to his obliteration. Yes, there will be sacrifices and martyrs, but this will not lead to the obliteration of the Arab nation. In 1990-1991 many believed, when America launched its aggression against Iraq, that Iraq would be obliterated, that there would be no more Iraq on the face of the earth. Iraq’s steadfastness established that there would be sacrifices and losses but that it is possible for Iraq, as a country, and a people, and a leadership, to remain.
F A V : Since we agree that imperialism and Zionism have strategic interests that will inevitably lead to their undertaking aggression, sooner or later, this raises the issue of Iraq’s state of readiness for such an attack. What I’d like to say is that to wage traditional-style warfare against forces that are superior militarily, technologically, and that have nuclear weapons might not be the most appropriate way to wage war in this situation. I mean, some people point to the experience of south Lebanon, and the Jenin refugee camp, recently, and other such examples, to demonstrate the principle that to fight an enemy who is superior in conventional terms, one must use unconventional methods, such as guerrilla warfare and martyrdom operations. What is your comment on that?
T a r i q A z i z : We will be fighting inside our own country. We will not fight the aggressors in open country. Someone said that the Vietnamese had jungles. I said, “we have cities and our cities are our jungles”.
F A V : Jungles of Concrete?
T a r i q A z i z : Exactly right! We have declared this. Even President Saddam Hussein said that we will fight them in the cities. Their aim is regime change. They can’t change the regime by remote control, with missiles and airplanes. Yes, they can damage buildings and installations, but they can’t topple the regime with airplanes and missiles. So, if they really want to achieve their goal – and their ultimate goal is to divide up the region and control the oil – they will have to occupy the land. In that case, our points of strength will stand out, and their weak points will be exposed.
F A V : A question that is posed by lots of supporters of Iraq abroad concerns the issue of democracy. Naturally, we know that the United States uses the rhetoric of human rights and democracy as an argument justifying its political and military interference in various places around the world, not only in Iraq. But, among the forces outside Iraq, among Iraqis abroad, we note that they fall into two main types. One type cooperates with the CIA and others, and no rational person expects Iraq to cooperate with them. Personally, I believe that treason is not just another point of view, and this is the opinion of a lot of people. Anyone who holds hands with the CIA, whoever that may be, is not someone with another point of view, he is a traitor. But on the other hand there are some Iraqis in Syria, for example, and in other places . . . . I mean we meet Iraqis who say and who consider themselves to be against imperialism and against the American plots against Iraq, but their relations with the regime in Iraq are not good. Don’t you think that forces like this must be given the opportunity to take part in repelling aggression on the basis of their opposition to the Americans? I am not proposing, of course, a liberal conception of the matter. But don’t you think that there should be some overtures towards these groups, like the approaches that were made towards groups that were previously opposed to Iraq, like the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that actively attacked Iraq? [This is a question that concerns] the cohesion of the domestic front on the basis of a shared opposition to the Americans. Are you thinking along these lines? Or is the Iraqi leadership thinking along these lines?
T a r i q A z i z : Since 1991, and until today, we have been ready for dialogue with any person or any group that wants to have a dialogue with us. I personally have had long discussions with people who are Marxists, Arab nationalists, and Islamists. There is, nevertheless, one problem that I must speak about plainly. When one of those people talks with you, if he wants to come to Iraq or to return to Iraq, or work with Iraq and with the rest of the Iraqis, on the basis of his position, or standing, the door is open to him. We don’t force him to become a Baathist or to conform one hundred percent to our thinking. But sometimes, mostly for personal reasons, a member of the opposition comes to you – a patriot, no doubt about that – and with him is a group of people, and he is looking for a measure of power that he doesn’t really command. But when he comes and asks to be made a partner with the Baath Party in decision making, while he doesn’t have the degree of effectiveness, nor does he bear the responsibility that the Baath Party does, such a request is, naturally, unreasonable. I mean, today, for example, when we decide to resist imperialism, we are able to put a million Baathist fighters in the field. He can put twenty or fifty or a hundred or maybe a thousand. Yet he wants, on that basis, to assume the prerogatives of Saddam Hussein himself, a man who is a builder of a country, a revolution, a society, and a party! This is a political excessiveness with a narcissistic quality. That is the problem here.
F A V : You mean they make that the precondition for their coming back and cooperating?
T a r i q A z i z : No. Some don’t make any conditions. And they have come back and worked in the country – each one according to his position: in universities, in the press, in the arts.
F A V : But you don’t have any problem in principle, officially?
T a r i q A z i z : No, we have no problem. We aren’t afraid of anything. As a party, now, let us suppose that our system had been transformed into a liberal regime. Of course, this is just a supposition. But if we had elections, we are sure that we would win more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. We have no problem. Ours is a big party. It’s been in power for 34 years and it has served Iraq. And the Iraqis who are fifty years old or older know what the Baath Party has done for Iraq. They know what the living standards, the cultural level, the social environment, the level of industry and agriculture were like in 1968, and what they are like today. That is the accomplishment of the revolution. So the citizen in the village or in the urban neighborhood will vote for the Baathist candidate to represent him.
F A V : But do you have plans in this direction for the future?
T a r i q A z i z : Yes, this is possible. Democracy too has to grow gradually. But it must grow in peaceful conditions.
F A V : Yes, one is reminded here that in America itself during wartime . . .
T a r i q A z i z : Let’s look at America: it has not been afflicted by war, but by the events of 11 September, and they have created an atmosphere of intimidation and apprehension about security to the point that they have reduced all the freedoms that they used to boast of before the world. In all the wars . . . in the Second World War, for example, the Labour Party and the Conservatives in Britain formed one joint government, having distanced themselves from all their social, political, class, and other differences, in order to wage war on Nazi Germany.
These are facts from the real world. But for one of them, in the present circumstances when we are facing the likelihood of aggression, to demand that we implement liberal practices and forms right now, this is not possible. It’s not even a popular demand. And here is another fact. When they call the regime in Iraq a dictatorship or fascist or Nazi, we know that the Nazi party won the elections in Germany. That is, that there was freedom for parties to operate, and when it gained power, it banned the other parties and stayed on ruling Germany by itself. That is a dictatorship. I mean, it came in a democratic system, in democratic forms, then it eliminated democracy. Augusto Pinochet came to power in a military coup against a popularly-elected democratic regime. OK, whom did the Iraqi regime succeed? The Iraqi regime that [is represented by] the Arab Socialist Baath Party and President Saddam Hussein, came to power after the regime of President Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Aref. President Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Aref along with ten officers ran the country by themselves. Then came the Baath Party. First, this is a party, and not ten individuals. It has an ideology and a program. Second, if you think of the number of people who take part in political decision-making, whether in the party or the trade unions, or the federations, or the National Assembly, or the people’s assemblies in the villages and cities, you will find that the number of those taking part in decision making has become millions. This is democratic development. True, it is not completely liberal development, but it is democratic development. And this can proceed further. In the trade unions, for example, the Baath Party does not nominate a list of candidates in the name of the Party, even though it could impose such a list. In the lawyers’ guild or the doctors’ union, for example, there is a Baathist majority. If a list came down made up exclusively of Baathists, it would win a majority of votes. But we don’t send down such lists. People are nominated only as individuals, and this is so that we can give room also for the independent to win on the basis of his personal merit. This is development . . .
F A V : Even the liberal model isn’t necessarily the most democratic in the world.
T a r i q A z i z : The liberal model is democratic in form only. In reality, however, it is clear that whoever has no money – whoever doesn’t control the media, which can only be obtained by money – won’t win, not even if he is the most capable and sincere person there is.
F A V : And then we could talk about true democracy...
F A V : Another subject, one concerned with the Palestinian situation. In some quarters it is said that what happened to Abu Nidal was an attempt by Iraq to rid itself of old remnants, or of something that could attract condemnation. Of course, I know, as you do, that Abu Nidal was a person who killed a lot of Palestinians, and hundreds of his own group, and that he was a person who committed many crimes against the Palestinian people and against individuals who had differed with him or against people who were patriots and revolutionaries. But in spite of that, what is your response to those claims?
T a r i q A z i z : First, I would reply that the forces that are threatening Iraq were not focusing on the person of Abu Nidal. You know, the focus now is on the fighters in Palestine. The name Abu Nidal at one time was reputed to be an activist in the Palestinian movement, but Abu Nidal came to an end, and in the Arab-Zionist struggle he had no role for more than twenty years now. So, he wasn’t even an issue. There was no request from America saying, “Either hand over Abu Nidal or we will attack you”. No. That was not the case. Abu Nidal was expelled from Iraq in 1983, by order of the country’s leadership, because he went too far and we had a confrontation. And I was one of those who confronted him. I said to him, “You are killing people now because you don’t like them, even if they are patriots, even if they are Palestinians”.
F A V : And his response to that was to accuse you personally of certain things.
T a r i q A z i z : He accused me personally, and I confronted him, as authorized by our leadership, with facts. We supported all the Palestinian forces. We still are supporting them. But we always gave advice and insisted on maintaining the unity of the Palestinian people and the unity of the Palestinian organizations. We never supported any split within any Palestinian movement. As for killing people just because you’re angry with them, and differ with them personally, this we could not accept. The other thing was that we were in a state of war with Iran. Abu Nidal carried out operations in countries that were friendly to us during that war. This was in violation of the logic of fraternal relations and of joint work, not to mention that it had no justification. So when he would carry out an operation in France... France wasn’t an enemy of his for him to carry out an operation there that harmed Frenchmen but didn’t do any harm to the Mossad. So we told him, “Enough. Get out!” He came back, secretly. We were surprised that he was here. The Jordanian Intelligence Division told us that Abu Nidal is in Iraq. We told them it wasn’t true. Then it became clear that he had entered Iraq with a forged passport and had gone into hiding. We didn’t do anything. We knew he was here, and we told him, “Welcome. As an Arab citizen you have come to live here. So stay in your house, and don’t do anything that damages the security and political interests of the country”. But he wasn’t able to do that. He had come to have an obsession for destructive activity. I mean, we found in his house a quantity of explosives and devices, and other things. For whom were all those explosives intended? Against whom? If you want to fight the Zionist Entity, go ahead. Palestine is open, go and fight there. So his behavior became a purposeless threat to domestic and Arab national security. The struggle is not a theory similar to [the theory of] art for art’s sake. The struggle is a way to attain an end. If armed activity and killing and assassinations have no goal, then this is a mockery. Therefore, when he didn’t comply with our guidance and the instructions of the specialized agencies dealing with him, when he continued his wild activities, we decided to bring him to court, and he committed suicide. That is what happened. Imperialism has not thanked us “because we got rid of Abu Nidal”, because he wasn’t threatening them in the first place.
F A V : Your position is, of course, clear, and the position of the Baath Party is clear in your denial of any right that the Zionist enemy state might have to exist. I have read statements that you yourself have made that make it clear to everyone what your position is regarding political agreements and security coordination with the Zionist enemy. In spite of that, and against the backdrop of that political position, how do you translate that into political support for the Palestine Authority? Everyone, on the popular level in Palestine, highly esteems Iraq’s position, as they do Iraq’s assistance to the families of the martyrdom fighters. But on the political level, how do you balance between rejecting any agreements with the enemy and your coordination with forces that are working for such agreements? Doesn’t this require some explanation?
T a r i q A z i z : Here, we must be precise. We must write of this with a fine-tipped pen, not with a broad, blunt marker. We do not officially recognize the Palestine Authority, and we have not dealt with it as the Authority. But we have preserved our relations with Yassir Arafat, but only in his capacity as Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the president of the State of Palestine that was proclaimed in Algiers [in November 1988], and as the leader of the Fateh Movement. Any minister in the Palestine Authority whom we received, we received him on the basis that he was a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, not of the Palestine Authority. So much for the formal side of the matter. As to the subject itself, we never gave any support to the Palestine Authority, but we continued to support Palestinian institutions, and these are not entirely official. In recent times, in addition to the assistance that we gave directly to the Palestinian people, and which is well known, there arose an acute need on the part of some circles within the Palestine Authority [for assistance]. They told us, “We don’t have money for salaries”, so we gave them some of the funds. They told us they had a very big deficit in their educational budget. So we gave them funds for their educational budget, and this goes on until now. On another occasion, the Palestinian housing minister said that we [in Iraq] give money to those whose houses were destroyed, but the Palestinian housing ministry will also be rebuilding some of the housing of a number of Palestinians. So we cooperated with them. This is the situation.
F A V : A final, theoretical question. I heard you in your opening address to the Forum on Arab Nationalist Thought – the End of One Century and the Beginning of Another- in Bayt al-Hikmah, on the morning of 28 September 2002. In your lecture there you referred to an issue related to class struggle. Specifically you criticized those who have tried in the past to present class struggle as an alternative to the cause of Arab unity and the work for the sake of that unity. What I would like to ask [is]: Can we really separate the two? When imperialism came to our homeland and divided it up, and placed it within the borders of Sykes-Picot entities, it was working basically with feudal families. From the womb of these feudal families there emerged the compradores, the economic middlemen between the West and us. These export raw materials and import commodities. Then there arose other forms of compradores among us, such as the political compradore who serves as a mercenary by taking on a regional political role for the good of imperialism. Then there are the cultural compradores who serve as mercenaries by taking on a cultural role for the good of imperialism. If we take land reform or the nationalization of oil, as examples, we find them to be an attempt to contain the social strata that support imperialism locally. At the same time they are an Arab national need and a step towards unity. So, how can we separate the class struggle and the cause of Arab unity, if the imperialist presence in our region rests upon the support of those social strata whose economic interests are tied to the West, and who on the side spread intellectual and political propaganda from which they also make a living? So, again, can we separate the two?
T a r i q A z i z : First, I am a Baathist, and a Baathist is a socialist. The socialist inclines to the laboring classes and against the exploiting classes. A person is not a socialist unless he believes in that. But the real battle in the Arab homeland was and still is the battle for national liberation. In the battle for national liberation, the class struggle is not the basic aim. But if, in the course of the national liberation struggle against imperialism and against the Zionist entity, if in the midst of this struggle, if there appear groups or classes that are allied with imperialism, yes, we place them on our list of enemies. But, if there is a merchant or any wealthy person or a feudalist – even though there is no more feudalism in our homeland – who is not an enemy of the national movement, then we will not consider him an enemy just because he is wealthy. I am not advocating Marxism here, in its absolute sense; I am advocating the Arab nationalist revolutionary socialist concept. Whoever stands with the anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist revolutionary national movement is an ally.
F A V : But doesn’t it follow from that that the social strata that feel that their interests are threatened by this socialism will take a stand against it?
T a r i q A z i z : If they stand against it, then we will fight them. I am not speaking of a stratum in the sense of class, but about individuals. Any individual can be rich but a sincere patriot [at the same time].
F A V : This is surely another question . . .
T a r i q A z i z : I don’t consider the wealthy patriot an enemy nor do I fight against him. But if there is really a class . . .
In our homeland, there are no classes in the pure sense in which Marxism spoke of them. There are only individuals and groups and strata. Within these strata are patriots who are true to their country who assist the national movement to the extent that they can. Within these strata there are also traitors who link their destiny and their interests with imperialism and Zionism. We know them and we know their makeup and we fight them. This is what we did in Iraq. Today, the national bourgeoisie that works in the national framework in the conditions of the socialist system – we don’t fight against them. In fact, we assist them in some specific fields of work. But anyone who stands against socialism or colludes with imperialism, we will fight.
The Board of FAV