Washington Times reporter Sharon Behn conducted the two exclusive interviews in Baghdad, meeting with Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari, speaking through a translator, at his villa in the U.S.-guarded green zone on Thursday, and with President Jalal Talabani, speaking in English, at his heavily fortified private residence, surrounded by peshmerga fighters, in Baghdad on Saturday.
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI
Question: Can you resolve the security situation in 10 months?
Answer: The presidency will work with the speaker of the house, and the presidency of government, for a comprehensive plan. This plan will include political measures, ideological, security measures, economic and social, everything to eradicate terrorist activities. We are dividing terrorists into two main groups:
One are fundamentalists who came from outside, al Qaeda, Zarqawi group, Ansar al-Islam and other extremist Wahhabis.
The second group are Iraqis -- those Iraqis who were angered by some kind of treatment of the Iraqi forces, of the government, of the Americans. Those people, we can reach agreement with them, give them amnesty, give them permission to come back and participate in the democratic process.
The other group are pro-Saddam Ba'athists. It is very difficult to reach with this group any kind of agreement, because they are mainly from those criminals who committed crimes from the time of Saddam Hussein, and they are afraid of being brought to trial.
Q: You are the first Kurdish president of Iraq. How you will reconcile your role of a peshmerga leader with being president of Iraq when it comes to questions like Kirkuk?
A: I'm not coming [in via] military coup. I was elected by the majority of the elected National Assembly. Second, as a leader of peshmerga, I think that I have many experiences which can be used in securing the country, rebuilding the Iraqi army, the military forces.
Kirkuk is a problem that was created by Saddam Hussein's ethnic-cleansing policy. We have reached a solution for Kirkuk based on ending [Saddam's] ethnic-cleansing policy, permitting people who were deported to go back home, and sending those who were settled by Saddam Hussein's policy back to their own places, to their home. They must be paid compensation and for living, to start new life.
Q: You have been quoted as saying Saddam will not face the death penalty.
A: No. ... I said I, as a lawyer, signed an international [petition] asking for an end to execution in the world. If an Iraqi court decided to execute Saddam Hussein, the presidency council can sign this. It does not mean I said Saddam must not be executed.
A: How difficult is it right now to balance U.S. and Iraqi interests and pressure?
Q: There is no American pressure. We have some kind of consultation, exchanging views or dialogue, but never I have felt American pressure. Believe me. That is propaganda of the enemy of Iraq that we are still under occupation. The occupation is finished.
The presence of the foreign army in any country does not mean occupation -- there are American forces in Japan, in South Korea, in Germany, in Italy, in Qatar, before in Saudi Arabia. It doesn't mean occupation. At this time, the presence of foreign forces in Iraq are necessary to secure the country, to prevent the terrorist activities and to prevent our neighbors from interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq. ...
I personally I am not in a hurry to ask American troops to leave. I consider American forces as liberators.
Q: You have been urged to release most of the prisoners who are in jail.
A: I think there are many people in jail that must be released, and any president, when he is taking power in Arab countries, in the Middle East, he must do something for releasing the prisoners. I think those prisoners who did not commit crimes of killing, they must be released.
Q: Islamists are pushing for more of an Islamic base in the constitution.
A: We are not expecting an Islamic government, and we are not accepting an Islamic government.