Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Zebari to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt: We Heard Tehran’s Frank Explanation on Militia Roles

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receiving Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Tehran in April 2007 (Getty)
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receiving Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Tehran in April 2007 (Getty)
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Zebari to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt: We Heard Tehran’s Frank Explanation on Militia Roles

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receiving Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Tehran in April 2007 (Getty)
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receiving Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Tehran in April 2007 (Getty)

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari doesn't believe that Iraqi-US relations will completely fall apart, but he’s worried about security and economic consequences.

Zebari, who served as foreign minister for 11 years, also expressed concern about interference, monopolistic policies, and attempts to undermine the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which was established based on the current constitution.

Additionally, Zebari revealed that key Iranian leaders had invited Iraq to join the so-called Axis of Resistance, an informal Iran-led political and militant coalition in West Asia and North Africa.

Below is a summary of Zebrari’s thoughts on some questions posed by Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt:

Are you worried about Iraq's future?

Yes, I'm concerned. Sadly, despite our efforts, Iraq hasn't stabilized since Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. It lacks the needed stability in politics, security, and society to rebuild after years of war. I'm worried because we still don't have a good government in place.

Is what we’re witnessing now a battle to kick US soldiers out of Iraq?

It's a power struggle between regional players, like Iran, and the US due to conflicts in Gaza and the Middle East. Removing US troops has become a focus, but they’re still needed for regional security.

I was involved in negotiating agreements to withdraw US troops. While there's still some Iraqi security need for them, the issue has become politicized.

The parliament's attempt to expel them on Feb. 10 failed due to lack of support. This issue is up to the government, not just lawmakers.

The exit or stay of US forces is related to Iraqi international obligations, which in turn are related to the Iraqi national economy.

Therefore, this issue cannot be viewed unilaterally.

Many countries in the region host foreign military bases, including those of Britain and France, not just the US.

However, this happened with the consent of these governments. These governments are still sovereign, and the relationship is organized.

We in Iraq also have a regulation for this relationship. But the issue is primarily politicized.

Is Iraq able to handle a breakup with the US?

It's very tough because the US-Iraq relationship is tied to international, regional, and economic issues.

So, breaking away is hard. Every country needs support.

In the strategic framework agreement we negotiated with them, they offered many opportunities to help Iraq’s economy, security, and capabilities. But unfortunately, Iraqi governments haven’t taken full advantage of these opportunities.

You were Iraq’s top diplomat for 11 years. Did the US ask for permanent military bases in Iraq?

The discussion happened during the transition between the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

The main question was: What’s the future of these forces?

The idea was that Washington completed its mission, toppled the regime, and laid the groundwork for a new system. It helped Iraq have a constitution, so let Iraqis handle their own issues.

But the US saw the need to keep a limited presence, which was the basis of negotiation.

We started talks in 2007 and finalized the agreement for their withdrawal in 2011 under the Obama administration.

At the same time, Iraq signed a Strategic Framework Agreement for Friendship, Development, and Economic Cooperation with the US.

There was heated debate among military leaders who had served in Iraq, with many of the current US military leaders having experience there. They feared that a sudden withdrawal without leaving some forces for assistance would endanger US interests, whether against terrorism or other aspiring powers in Iraq.

However, Obama chose to withdraw without heeding this advice. I spoke with him for about 45 minutes.

What did you discuss?

He was in the midst of his election campaign, and Iraq was a major issue then. John McCain was the Republican candidate, and both camps were deeply concerned about Iraq.

Obama called me while campaigning in one of the states. I told him that we believed Iraq hadn’t fully recovered; it wasn’t stable yet due to terrorist threats and security challenges. So, we didn't support a sudden full withdrawal of forces.

We needed their assistance and help in training our military, but Obama took it as a no, and stressed that he came to end America’s involvement in foreign wars.

There was also a financial crisis in the global market at that time.

During that period, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saw the withdrawal as inevitable. He began leaning towards more dominance and control, straying from the constitution, democracy, and freedoms, and targeting Sunni leaders.

This led to significant discontent among the Sunni community. Meanwhile, ISIS was growing in Syria and then moved into Iraq.

At a time when the government claimed it had sufficient forces and didn’t need foreign help, we saw their collapse when ISIS seized Mosul and advanced towards other cities.

This prompted us to seek assistance from the US, which also helped in Erbil and Samarra.

The presence of US forces, along with the formation of an international coalition against terrorism, was based on our agreement.

Any change to this understanding requires the agreement of signatories and a notice period of at least a year. With the upcoming US elections and regional instability, it’s unlikely Iraq can end this relationship now.

Iran’s Narrative of Proxy Making

Can we say that the wars in the Red Sea, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon after the Oct.7 Al-Aqsa Flood attack confirm Iranian control over this part of the Arab world?

Iran holds significant influence in our region, from Yemen to Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. They openly support the Axis of Resistance.

I’ve had discussions with Qassem Soleimani, the late commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, as well as with Ali Larijani, former Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, and Ali Akbar Velayati, former Foreign Minister.

We visited Tehran and discussed matters with the President and Prime Minister there.

One of their requests was: “Since Kurds and Shiites have overcome dictatorship, you shouldn’t trust the global powers or the Americans. You should join the Axis of Resistance.”

Who said this?

These were the words of the three leaders I mentioned. I replied that we don’t want to join new conflicts or wars. We’re tired of fighting and want to rebuild our country. They want us to resist those who liberated us, which doesn’t make sense.

But when ISIS expanded, Grand Ayatollah Sistani called for defending Iraq, leading to the formation of the Popular Mobilization Forces.

However, the Iranians intervened, forming militias aligned with them. Now, these forces are a reality, possibly even stronger than the army.

The discussion delved into the Axis of Resistance narrative. They argued that Iran’s system faced threats from global powers and insisted on the need to defend it by fighting external enemies and forming unconventional forces.

Soleimani proposed relying on locally trained forces for unconventional warfare. This approach is evident in the region, with Iran and its allied non-state groups playing a significant role.

There are differing views on how to handle these groups, with some advocating for targeting the leadership while others suggest containing their activities. This debate persists.

In my view, recent events may reshape the political landscape of the Middle East, similar to how the 9/11 attacks transformed international politics.

I anticipated that conflicts would spread beyond Gaza and the West Bank, and indeed, they have, extending across various regions from the Red Sea to northeastern Syria.

Concerns for the Future of Iraqi Kurdistan

Are you worried about Iraqi Kurdistan’s future?

Yes, very worried. Kurdistan has been built with sacrifice, but now faces major threats from Iraqi Federal Court rulings. These decisions challenge the region’s constitutional recognition and its autonomy.

There’s a serious onslaught from various angles. Security-wise, we see threats through attacks on refineries, air traffic, and foreign companies. Also, the halt in oil exports has cost Iraq billions, including Kurdistan’s share.

Interference is pervasive, affecting elections and the region’s budget. While Kurdistan can make its own decisions, our independence means we can say no. This may not sit well with those used to obedience.

Kurdistan faces internal issues, but our goal is to restore legitimacy through regional elections. Originally set for February, they’ve been pushed to May due to court decisions. We’re pushing to hold these elections soon.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Hamdok Optimistic for Burhan-Hemedti Meeting

Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)
Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)
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Hamdok Optimistic for Burhan-Hemedti Meeting

Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)
Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)

Abdalla Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), is optimistic about a potential meeting between Sudan’s army leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commander Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti.”
Speaking to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt on the sidelines of a Cairo conference for Sudanese political forces, Hamdok said: “A meeting between the two sides is possible through the African Union’s Presidential Committee led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.”
Hamdok highlighted that this committee “is a positive step, providing a mechanism to bring the conflicting parties together, which didn’t exist before.”
In late June, the African Peace and Security Council formed a committee led by Museveni to bring together Sudan’s military and RSF leaders promptly. They proposed an urgent African Union summit to address Sudan’s situation.
Hamdok called it a historic step, noting it’s the first mechanism at the presidential level. He hoped the committee could influence both sides and achieve peace.
He praised the recent African Peace and Security Council meeting for showing Africa’s concern for Sudan.
At the Cairo conference for Sudanese political forces, Hamdok highlighted it as a crucial gathering since the crisis began, focusing on ceasefire strategies and a sustainable political resolution.
He emphasized there’s no military solution to Sudan’s conflict and advocated for political negotiations.
The Cairo conference united Sudanese political and civilian forces under the theme “Together for Peace,” addressing ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and a political roadmap.
Hamdok pointed out that Sudan is undergoing the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 25 million people inside Sudan facing famine.
“Starvation is claiming more lives than bullets,” said Hamdok, highlighting the urgent need to reach war-affected populations.
The former premier urged action to deliver aid across Sudan’s borders and ensure it reaches those in conflict zones.