In an Al-Jazeera interview, former Iraqi national security advisor Mowaffak Al-Rubaei said: "ISIS is storming and wants to occupy Baghdad. You use anything and everything – whether you call it militias or use barrel bombs..." In the hard-hitting interview, which covered topics ranging from U.S. intervention in Syria and Iraq to Sunni-Shiite sectarianism, Al-Rubaei, who had been tortured during the Saddam regime before spending years in the U.K. in exile, admitted to keeping a bust of Saddam's head with the actual execution rope tied around it.
Following are excerpts from the English-language interview, which aired on November 21, 2014:
Interviewer: You talk about the Iraqi armed forces. Are these the same Iraqi armed forces who, in June this year – after billions of dollars had been spent on them by the West... Two divisions, a total of 30,000 soldiers, fled in the face of just 800 ISIL fighters. They literally dropped their weapons, changed their clothes, and ran away.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Well, this is an over-simplification. The Iraqi security forces suffer from so many ills now. Number one is corruption, number two is nepotism, cronyism...
Interviewer: But if that is the case...
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Hold on... Let me finish... I preempt your question. I know what you are going to ask.
Interviewer: Okay, you're a mind reader...
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Number three is political and sectarian influence within the Iraqi security forces. So there are so many things we need to address, and we found out...
Interviewer: Given that you are being so blunt and honest about the problems in the Iraqi armed forces now, do you regret, are you a little bit embarrassed that you said in January, on CNN, that Iraqi security forces will prevail? [You said:] "We have the best counter-terrorist forces in the region." They ran away?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Well, there was a trick used against them. It was a media campaign to demoralize them...
Interviewer: A media campaign by ISIL?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: By ISIS, because they are very good in media.
It took the U.S. government two months to respond with abysmal airstrikes against ISIS in the north, and three months in the south. It took the Iranians only a day until they sent a planner, and they sent help, and they have defended Baghdad.
Interviewer: You are okay with that – with those foreign troops coming in? You are fine with those particular troops?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No. We are not talking about troops.
Interviewer: The Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards, are fighting...
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No, there are no Quds Force boots on the ground in Iraq. There are planners...
Interviewer: So General Qassem Suleimani, who was seen fighting against ISIS in Iraq – that was a fake picture that came out? He wasn't really there?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: This is what you call "boots on the ground"?
Interviewer: Well, he has boots, and he is the commander of an Iranian armed force.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No, this guy has tried to help us, and other planners from Iran...
Interviewer: I'm not questioning whether he is trying to help you or not. Clearly, Iran is trying to help the Iraqi government in this particular fight. I am saying that you have no issue with those boots.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Help me to understand this. The U.S. government is helping Iraq to defeat ISIS in Iraq, and it is helping ISIS in Syria to defeat Al-Assad. They have to synchronize their policy.
We, the Iraqis, have suffered by the Al-Assad regime, but now we are talking about the devil you know being better than the devil you don't know.
Interviewer: When you were living in London, as an exile, opposing Saddam Hussein, if a British government official had said to you: "Better the devil we know than the one we don't, our bigger priority is fighting Iran, or the Soviet Union, or whatever it was" – you would have been outraged. Yet you are now saying the same thing.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No.
Interviewer: How do you think Al-Assad's victims feel when they hear you say: "Better the devil we know"?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: I honestly sympathize with Al-Assad's victims, and I understand where they are coming from, but I think that this is a fight for a later date. Now, I have one enemy, and that is ISIS.
Interviewer: Even if it means – to use your quote – doing a deal with the "devil you know"?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: I honestly believe that the United States of America are going to have a deal with Al-Assad on a temporary basis.
The ideology is in the backstreet of Saudi Arabia. The theology is in the alleyways of Saudi Arabia. That is the largest manufacturing plant of Jihadists in the world. They are spreading all over the world, ladies and gentlemen. You need to fight and face this. You need to confront this. Otherwise these people are going to disrupt the whole world.
ISIS is storming and wants to occupy Baghdad. You use anything and everything – whether you call it militias or use barrel bombs...
Interviewer: Even if they are killing civilians, even if they are killing children?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: The collateral damage...
Interviewer: How does that make you better than the terrorists?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: You need to limit your collateral damage in a war, but when you are faced with an existential threat, then you are either "to be or not to be."
Interviewer: Mowaffak, when you indiscriminately attack...
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: We have stopped... The first thing Prime Minister Abadi has done was to stop the barrel... this indiscriminate [bombing]...
Interviewer: Which you seem to support...
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No, not at all.
Interviewer: You just said: "any means possible," two seconds ago.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No, no.
Interviewer: [The Maliki government] is responsible for some of the worst abuses in Iraq today. This was not spontaneous. This was state-sponsored.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: I cannot deny that. I can tell you that some parts or formations and some units of the Iraqi security forces were involved in human rights violations. I have to admit that.
Interviewer: Why didn't you stop them? You were the national security advisor.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Advisor, not the director.
Interviewer: So you had no power?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Advisor... Thank you.
Interviewer: So you had no power to stop them?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Well, no. Basically, as a national security advisor, you give the pros and cons, and you give the recommendations...
Interviewer: And Prime Minister Maliki ignored you?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: The prime minister is the commander-in-chief. He is in charge of the military...
Interviewer: so those killings, those people with drill holes in them – it is on Maliki?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: When Maliki sits on this chair, you can ask him this question.
Interviewer: Well, I'm asking you. You were his advisor. I'm just wondering what your opinion is.
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: I gave you my opinion.
Interviewer: We have talked a lot about Saddam Hussein. You were tortured by his regime before you came to the U.K. as an exile. You were sentenced to death in absentia. You lived most of your life in exile after that. Years later, you found yourself, as a national security advisor, overseeing his execution. You personally led him to the gallows.
That was a very controversial execution – there were claims of sectarian taunting, there were all those secretly filmed camera-phone filmings of the event... It was a pretty horrific event. Am I right in saying that afterwards, and since then, you kept in your office a bust of Saddam's head, with the actual execution rope tied around it?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: Absolutely. Yes.
Interviewer: you don't think that is a little bit distasteful?
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: No, no.
Interviewer: The actual rope from his neck is in your office on a statue...
Mowaffak Al-Rubaei: I wanted to remind each and every one that this is the fate of anyone, in the future of Iraq, who becomes a dictator and terrorizes his people. This is a lesson for us. Iraqis should not go back to dictatorship, and should not go back to the exclusion of any community.
I never felt it was settling scores when we pulled the trigger on Saddam Hussein, in that gallows. There was no injustice being done in that chamber. There are some people, the executioners from the Ministry of Justice, who were shouting: "Long live that" and "Down with this." But that was a spontaneous reaction.
There are some confessional differences between Shiites and Sunnis, but they stem from the same religion. If you want to politicize the confession – that is a problem. That is sectarianism. Who is benefiting? Israel. There is no shadow of doubt in my mind.
Ten years ago, when you listened to the Arab media, it was all Arabs versus Israelis. Can you see what the Middle East's problem is now? It has been converted from Israelis vs. Arabs to Shiites vs. Sunnis.