Kahtan Janabi: Baghdad, Erbil Plan to Run Mosul Together after Liberation from IS
Novinite is publishing an interview with H.E. Mr Kahtan Janabi about the forthcoming battle of the Iraqi government to retake Mosul, the country's second-largest city that fell to the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014.
Mr Janabi has been the Iraq's Ambassador to Bulgaria since 2015.
His work for the government began in 2006, when he halted his career in Medicine and became Advisor of the Iraqi cabinet. Between 2010 and 2014, he was appointed ambassador to Sri Lanka. From 2011 to 2014, he was also non-resident ambassador to the Maldives.
Your Excellency, the battle for Mosul has been in preparation for months. Why does it take so long to organize?
It's more than months. The preparation started a year ago. On the Iraqi side, all the preparation has taken place - our army, our police, our volunteers. We started two months ago to liberate the villages and small cities around Mosul. And also the preparation and work to liberate Al Mosul with the peshmerga in Kurdistan, with the Kurdish troops, and also the international alliance to fight ISIS [Mr Janabi uses the acronym “ISIS” to refer to the extremist group]. America, more than 60 countries - one of them Bulgaria - they make alliance to fight ISIS. So there are a lot of meetings, discussions with these parties how to start, when to start, and how long it will take and so on. It's almost we'll be started soon.
Next month maybe?
International media quoted Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as saying the battle will be finished victoriously by the end of the year. What makes him so optimistic?
You know Iraq is a country of heritage and civilization. Baghdad was the capital of the Middle East three or four decades ago. Our people believed in democracy and freedom and lot of things which is modern life. So our people cannot live and survive with those ISIS people who want to bring us back to the darkness era, who don't want to allow women to go to work or to school. They have their mentality, but Iraqi people don't like this. Iraqi people love life. So when ISIS occupied almost 40% of Iraq, all Iraqis united. they forgot their divisions or sects and united to fight ISIS. So our Prime Minister, I think, sees the Iraqis how much they are eager and keen to defeat ISIS and after a lot of battles liberating Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi... So all of us are now confident that ISIS cannot survive anymore.
There has been criticism from US officials and former Iraqi officers that the biggest challenge in this battle is to gather the number of troops necessary. Do you consider this true?
I don't believe that. Because ISIS in 2014, they rushed in Iraq from Syria. At that time, they came close to Baghdad so the threat was to Baghdad itself and Erbil as well. But after that the Iraqi people by themselves took the weapons and went to fight. So I think we have a lot of volunteers and a lot of people who want to fight ISIS. People who lived in those areas - in Mosul, Ramadi - the tribes of Iraq themselves - also now they are internally displaced. There are also camps that train them to fight ISIS. So I think we have more than enough people. I don't know how they say this.
The remark was about the strength of troops themselves.
We have right now more than 15 brigades ready to fight for Al Mosul. That means more than 15 000 soldiers. In addition, volunteers, peshmerga, Iraqi tribes... those people who are living there, they are mainly affected. Because their families now do not live in their homes. We have around 4 million people displaced. Those people are also very keen to return to their homes because they are living right now in camps for two years and very few of them come to Turkey and little that also come to Europe through Bulgaria and Greece. So the biggest challenge for those internally displaced persons (IDPs) is for Iraq, not for Europe, not for Turkey, because four million is quite a big number.
You have mentioned quite a big number of groups which would like to see Islamic State gone. But then, how does the government see its relations with these groups afterwards? Baghdad is currently working with Erbil, with the peshmerga and Shia militias. But how it is sure this is not just a tactical alliance for the battle and after IS is driven tensions don’t appear with these groups again?
Those groups were founded after the invasion of ISIS and they are not founded by chance. The religious leaders in Iraq, they ask people to go defeat ISIS and to keep Baghdad and other religious cities in Iraq not to be controlled by ISIS. It was according to the invitation from their religious leaders, who are very wise, very mature, they have their ability to unite Iraqis, the volunteers who are not only from one side, but from all Iraqis. As I told you in the beginning, the invasion of ISIS made Iraqis United. All Iraqis now recognize Iraq should be for all Iraqis and should stay united. I believe that those people who join the battle, the war against ISIS, soon after ISIS will be out of Iraq, with the wisdom of their religious leaders, with the wisdom of their political leaders, they will find an acceptable solution - to either return to the army or police or go back to their work. Because some of them, they stopped working for a certain field and went to fight. They felt there was a threat to their countries and they went as volunteers.
I asked this question just because it was tensions between different groups that contributed to the success of IS. Does the government have a plan to make all of these groups work together again?
That plan is already there. The plan is to rebuild the cities occupied by ISIS and to rehabilitate the people who were there, because some families are still under the control of ISIS. Maybe now 1 million people inside Mosul - the second biggest city after Baghdad and more than 3 million people were living before the occupation of ISIS - right now more than 1 million, 1.5 million - so we expect a new wave of IDPs after the battle starts and those 1 million also you have to treat them. Because some of them maybe are under the control of ISIS, psychologically not fit. Some of them may be working for ISIS. We have to find a solution for all these things.
The plan should result in breaking the back of IS. How does Iraq make sure it does not remain active after the battle, by moving elsewhere for instance?
The beginning of terrorism in Iraq didn't start with ISIS. It started in 2003, with Al Qaeda, and then the Islamic State in Iraq and after that - I don't want to say "Islamic" because they are not, but they call themselves the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" - but at that time they did not control any part of Iraq. They were working as a hidden group, you could not see them. They made bombs here, people gathered and so on.
I’m not sure that by defeating ISIS in Mosul and liberating all Iraqi cities terrorism will stop 100% in Iraq. No, still we will find some attacks here and there. Still, ISIS right now have their land, their people, they can move freely, they can plan and recruit other people form rural areas, they can equip them, train them. They have their sources for buying oil. But after the liberation they have their facilities -- so they will go back to work in darkness, in hidden places - and definitely they will not be strong as before.
Also, if you compare Baghdad right now and Baghdad 4 or 5 years ago, at that time we can find in one day more than 20 bombed cars a day. Right now we can only find one bombed car a month, so their activities, terrorist activities, decrease a lot. This has happened with the development of Iraq's security and Iraqi people themselves are also very alert now.
But still, even if you drive out IS away from Mosul, it has already left its mark on the city, for instance in terms of education. How do you deal with the consequences that the two-year rule of the group in Mosul has had on the population? How do you cope with the consequences of Daesh-type education which radicalized children?
This is one of our plans, how to treat people living there. But you might have heard about the invitation of the people who were living there to get liberated of ISIS. Even yesterday I read in the news that the women with covered faces started working again in Mosul and she killed two members of ISIS. She was a woman. Even the women there, they are fed up, they can't live with ISIS. In addition to that, ISIS every day took 20 people living there and killed them in a different way to make them scared - either threw them into the water or cut their heads with knives in front of the people. They would tell those people were working against us. So most of the people themselves living in Mosul and these cities don't want ISIS, but they don't have another choice. Because the other choice is to go and live in the camps and even that can’t be achieved under control of ISIS because they don't allow families to go outside the city, while those who want to go out for work have to get a guarantee they will come back. Because ISIS want people to be controlled, otherwise they would only control the city.
I understand, it's just that the people are particularly vulnerable and IS were trying to create a young generation of young radicals. I was just wondering if the government is working on a particular solution to address the issue of radicalized young minds.
Yes. For children, in Iraq we don't have these schools. In principle we don't have. Most of the ISIS people are not Iraqis. We have more than 100 nationalities.
Mostly the top leadership is Iraqi.
Yes, others are from China, Europe, from Chechnya, from America, from Australia and different nationalities.
The schools which make people radical are not founded in Iraq. Our people are educated. These schools are founded in some countries and they encourage people to become radicals, but this is not founded in Iraq. In these two years, you may - those vulnerable ages may be affected by the mentality of ISIS, this should be treated properly, and this is after the liberation of Mosul, we have to work it out with schools, with the community with the media, with televisions... Because it is not enough for a change in the mentalities only to remove ISIS, then it will come back in another way. We have to treat the mentality. People shouldn't believe in that system. They should renounce it and not allow it to come again.
Anything else worth knowing about the forthcoming battle for Mosul?
I see a lot of meetings between the center and the territory of Kurdistan, between the center and the military readers of the United States and other countries that participate. Of course the battle to liberate Mosul will be 100% Iraqi, but we need a cover from the airspace, aircraft, because we don't have enough air force to control the movement of ISIS. The soldiers who will fight are Iraqis. Prime Minister Al Abadi is in NY, and he met with President Obama that it was a delegation came from Kurdistan to Baghdad. There are a lot of visits from American generals and also between the leadership in Iraq. S we are working together as a bee swarm and we join hands to get rid of this cancerous regime, ISIS.
Speaking of Mr Barzani's visit to Baghdad, he discussed there possible cooperation with the Iraqi government in the battle. Does Baghdad have any concern that a successful Kurdish contribution to the battle of Mosul might push Iraqi Kurdistan further to secede from Iraq?
No. The delegation came from Baghdad. Mr Nechervan Barzani, he was the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan territory. After the meeting with Mr Al Abadi, he declared that the meeting was very fruitful, and both sides were satisfied. And there are some Kurdish people living in Al Mosul, there are Arabs also, so all these things I think should be treated very well. They discussed what comes after the liberation of Mosul, as it is divided by the river Tigris into two. One part is mainly Kurdish, one is mainly Arabic. So the meeting between Baghdad and Erbil was successful and they agreed to liberate Mosul and after that they put plans how to run the city with the participation of both sides so everything will be in order. I'm not scared that we will not be able to have the solution.
Thank you, Mr Ambassador.
I thank you for the interview and hopefully we will meet after the liberation of Mosul.
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