Read the full transcript of Head to Head - Will ISIL put an end to Iraq? below:


Part one

Mehdi Hasan VO: They said it would be the dawn of a new era… But, in reality, the war had only just begun. And over a decade later… it looks as though history is repeating itself. But who is to blame for the current violence? And can the Iraqi state survive?

I’m Mehdi Hasan and I’ve come to the Oxford Union to go head to head with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who was Iraq’s National Security Adviser and close ally of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

I’ll challenge him on his record in government and on whether his policies help contribute to the rise of ISIL. We’ll also be tackling the controversial Sunni/Shia divide.

Tonight I’ll also be joined by: Dr Anas al-Tikriti, a British-Iraqi commentator and critic of the government; Professor George Joffe, Senior Fellow in International Studies at Cambridge University; and Dr Abbas al-Hussaini, a close ally of the new Iraqi Prime Minister.

Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentleman, please put your hands together for Mowaffak al-Rubaie. An opponent of Saddam Hussein, he backed the US invasion in 2003 and led the dictator to the gallows.

Thank you for coming. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the world has been shocked by ISIL, or the self-styled Islamic State and its horrific atrocities; beheadings, rapes, sectarian massacres, genocidal threats. Does the Iraqi government have a plan to defeat them, or are you just waiting for outside powers to swoop in with air strikes to save you from them?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: This is a huge challenge, Mehdi, Now it's not only an Iraqi problem, this ISIS, it's a regional problem, it's an international problem. We need the international alliance to help us.  We definitely need air strikes; to intensify the air strikes, we need to speed up the process of delivery of the F-16. We also need the Apaches to be delivered quickly. We also need the increasing of the intelligence capacity and ability of West…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you need, do you need Western boots on the ground? Is that what you want to see? A return of the US and the UK…

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] Absolutely not. Number one, we don't need the boots on the ground because we have one million men and they're armed!

Mehdi Hasan: The Iraqi armed forces?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: The Iraqi armed forces, and also no country has offered us any boots on the ground.

Mehdi Hasan: You talk about Iraqi armed forces. Are these the same Iraqi armed forces who in June this year after billions of dollars being spent on them by the West, two divisions, a total of 30,000 soldiers fled in the face of just 800 ISIL fighters, literally dropped their weapons, changed their clothes, and ran away.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well this is, this is over-simplification. The Iraqi security forces suffer so many ills now. Number one is corruption, number two is nepotism, cronyism.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING ] If that's the case..

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Hold on, hold no, let me finish, as I, so that I pre-empt your question, I know what you are going to ask.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, mind reader.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: 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…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] so do you, given 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, saying in January on CNN, that Iraqi security forces will prevail: “We have the best counter-terrorist forces in the region." They ran away!

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well there was a trick used against them. And it was a media campaign basically to demoralise them. And that…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] A media campaign by ISIL.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: By ISIS, because they are very, very good in media and in the social media, particularly.

Mehdi Hasan: Yes they are… on the subject of boots on the ground, you also said in the past, that you won't, quote, “accept any foreign boots on the ground, from the regional countries”. But that's not true, because Iranian troops are on the ground in Iraq, aren't they? You have no problem with Iranian troops coming in to fight alongside Iraqi forces.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: It took the United States government two months to respond with abysmal air strikes against ISIS in the North. And three months in the South. Now it took the Iranians only a day. They sent a planner and, well, they sent help and they have defended Baghdad.

Mehdi Hasan: And you are OK with that? Those foreign troops coming in. You are fine with those particular troops?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No, no, we are not talking about troops.  We said…

Mehdi Hasan: OK, the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guard.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No they were, there are no Quds Force boots on the ground in Iraq, there are planners, there are.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So General Qasem Soleimani, who was seen fighting against ISIS in Iraq - that was a fake picture that came out, he wasn't really there?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: This is, you call boots on the ground? No.

Mehdi Hasan: Well he has boots and he is the commander of an Iranian armed force.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: This guy tried to help us and other planners from Iran...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I am not asking if he is trying to help you or not. Clearly Iran is trying to help the Iraqi government in this particular fight. I'm saying you have no issue with those boots.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] Hold on, we have 2,000 Americans on the ground!

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Fine, so you're welcoming them now.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: We have 2,000 Americans on the ground!

Mehdi Hasan: So have you switched your position from a few moments ago when you said I don't want outsiders, I've got a big one million-strong Iraqi army.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No, we are talking, you see we have two different things.

Mehdi Hasan: Fine, the fight against ISIL, as you said earlier, is not just about Iraq, it is about other countries in the region, it’s also about Syria, of course, hence the name, you said earlier this year that the US should, quote, “engage with Assad to defeat Al-Qaeda in Syria”, to defeat ISIS in Syria. Some might say that's a bit of a double standard on your part, you spent your entire life calling for action against brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and yet you now want people to engage with brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. How does that work?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well, help me in understanding this, the United States government is helping Iraq to defeat ISIS in Iraq, and is helping ISIS in Syria to defeat Assad. They have to synchronise their policy. Now we, the Iraqis, have suffered by the Assad regime but now we are talking about the devil you know better than the devil you don't know!

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] When you were living in London as an exile opposing Saddam Hussein, if a British government official was saying to you “Better the devil we know than the one we don't, our bigger priorities are fighting Iran or the Soviet Union” or whatever it was, you would have been outraged, and you are now saying the same thing! How do you think Assad's victims feel when they hear you say that? That the devil we know better than the devil you don't.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] I honestly sympathise with Assad's victims, and I understand where they come from, but I think this is a fight for a later date. Now I have one enemy and that’s ISIS.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Even if that means, to use your quote, doing a deal with the devil you know. Even if it means doing a deal with the devil you know?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I honestly believe that Unites States of America are going to have a deal with Assad on a temporary basis.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, Let's go to our panel, Anas al-Tikriti is a British Iraqi analyst with links to the Iraqi Islamic party. Anas, you were also prominent, I remember, in the Stop the War Coalition, back in 2003 here in the UK. Surely you would accept, even as someone associated with the British anti-war movement, that the only realistic, practical way to tackle a group like ISIL is with military force, at least in the short term. They are not the kind of group you can do deals with, diplomacy with, sanctions, negotiations, there's no other option.

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: On the contrary, I suggest that it is quite foolish to suggest that you defeat ideas through bullets and missiles. What you do, you actually disseminate the idea, you recruit for the idea simply because you're fighting, if you claim to be doing that, you're fighting an idea where the ultimate goal is to die, so how do you defeat it? The ideological war, the war of ideas is the way to suck out the oxygen. To exterminate this group you need to go to those on the fringes of buying into the idea and negotiating with them.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I don’t disagree with that and I think a lot of people listening agree with you. 

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: [INTERRUPTING] Waging a war is exactly what ISIS wants.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But if you are a Kurdish town about to be overrun by ISIL, talking about a war of ideas is great and abstract, but it doesn't help you in the here and now, does it?

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: No, no, I agree, I agree that you need to do something about it, however unfortunately what we are doing, Mehdi, we're continuing this cycle. ISIS isn't the start of the problems in Iraq. Before ISIS, if you recall, we were talking about Al-Qaeda, so after ISIS we are also going to end up with this perpetual cycle of new ideas coming out because we have a failed state.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] I I

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, briefly come back.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I honestly believe, I agree with Anas. The ideology is in the back street of Saudi Arabia. The theology is in the alleyways of Saudi Arabia. That is the most, the largest manufacturing plant of jihadists in the world! [APPLAUSE] They are spreading all over the world, ladies and gentlemen! You need to fight to face this (interrupted by Mehdi),

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, OK, you've made your point ...

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] --you need to confront this! Otherwise these people are going to disrupt the whole world.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, you've made your point, we will come back and explore these points in a moment. Let's go to our panel. Abbas al-Hussaini is former chairman of the Association of Iraqi Academics, a friend and ally of the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In recent weeks we’ve had reports of Syrian-style barrel bombs being dropped on civilian populations in northern Iraq by the Iraqi air force. Surely, that will help ISIL recruit new members?

Dr Abbas al-Hussaini: I really believe to force, to use force against ISIS is essential. You have to fight force by force. Second thing, if we, if the Americans are really serious why don't they put pressure on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to really cut their support? Otherwise it's a joke.

Mehdi Hasan: Professor George Joffe is a senior fellow at the Cambridge University Centre of International Studies, an expert on the Middle East and North Africa. Professor Joffe, was it wise of Western leaders like Barack Obama and David Cameron here in the UK to talk of not just defeating ISIS but destroying it? That's the kind of rhetoric we heard in 2001 about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and they are still around.

Professor George Joffe: Well yes, indeed, the simple fact is that destroying movements like this is extremely difficult and you do have to attack the ideas that run behind them, but you also have to have an effective military force to confront them, and the fact is at the moment, the Iraqi army is not an effective military force. Most of the fighting is being done by Shi'a militias, not by the army itself. It seems to me that it is going to be extremely difficult to be able to guarantee destroying ISIS in any meaningful sense.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Professor, when you have an existential threat and ISIS is storming and wants to occupy Baghdad, you use anything, everything, whether you call it militias, or you use the barrel bomb!

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] Even if they are killing civilians, even if they are killing children? How does that make it better than the terrorists?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] No, hold on, no, you need to limit your collateral damage in the war. But when you are faced with existential threat than you are either you or not to be.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Mowaffak, when you indiscriminately attack...

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] Now we have stopped! Prime Minister Abadi has, the first thing he has done, he has stopped the barrel, well this indiscriminate ...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Which you seem to support.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] No! No, not at all.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You just said any means possible, two seconds ago!

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] No no.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Fine.

Mehdi Hasan: Many observers would argue, including people like former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, that the political and the security crisis in Iraq today is partly down to the sectarian policies of prime minister, former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, your former boss. In many ways he repressed Iraq's Sunni communities, especially in the North of the country, which made ISIL's rise to power all that much easier.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: There is a very clear distinction between first government of Maliki and the second Maliki government. The first Maliki government was not sectarian, policies were reversed in the second Maliki government, and I agree with you [INTERRUPTING], by the way, by the way I left the government in summer 2009.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But the same, but the same Maliki, right, the same person, same person

Mehdi Hasan: You left government in 2009, but what did you do from 2010 to 2014?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I was trying to influence from the back…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] What was your job description?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well, private adviser to the prime minister and to the government.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, So you were still there, the entire time?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] Well no, but.. I do not…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You left government and became a private adviser to the same person.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] No but I don't have any influence on the policies! I was trying to... you don't...see from the Western mentality you don't understand this.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I don't understand. You can tell us what it means to be an adviser who doesn't get listened to. So why did you stay on for four years, watching a sectarian government?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] Because this is my new order in Iraq, I defend the new order, I don't defend a particular prime minister, I don't defend a particular government.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, let's look at the new order. The chart sheet against the new Iraqi government in Baghdad today dominated by Iraq Shi'as for demographic reasons, is that they alienated Iraq's Sunni minority in three very specific ways. I want to put these three charges to you and you respond. The first is that the Iraqi tribes who formed the awakening movement, the Sahwa movement in 2006 -7, Maliki government one, they helped drive Al-Qaeda out of Iraq, I think you would admit. When the Americans left, they were then supposed to be funded by the Iraqi government and integrated into Iraq's armed forces. In fact, your government, that you were part of, Maliki government one, betrayed those tribes, didn't fund them, and in many cases shut them down, arrested them.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] That is totally untrue, and is not factual, well, you got your facts wrong, young man. Yes, honestly.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Really, really. When the current finance minister of Iraq, former foreign minister of Iraq says, Hoshyar Zebari says, “Maliki was suspicious of the tribes, he wanted to disband this force, he created a bad feeling…” So maybe you have your facts wrong?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Not really, no. The Sahwa I brought from the, from Al-Qaeda recruits and we recruited them into the Iraqi security forces as the sons of Iraq. Now we continued paying them until this day, the second Maliki government, unfortunately, they have reversed most of the policies of Maliki one. And this is, I agree, it alienated the Sunni tribes, it alienated the young people in Sunni...and also alienated some politicians.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You seem to, through this kind of Maliki one, Maliki two device you seem to want to have your cake and eat it. On the one hand you say “they are paid until today, your facts are wrong”. On the other hand you say “We alienated the tribes, we got things wrong”. You need to pick one argument.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, you need to look at the detail of it.

Mehdi Hasan: Fine. The second charge against the Iraqi government that you were national security adviser of, is that it unleashed pretty violent and savage so-called death squads, against Sunni communities back in 06-07, especially in Baghdad where hundreds of Sunni corpses started turning up with drill holes in their bodies, bound and gagged. Even today, according to an October 2014 report by Amnesty International, the Iraqi government is, quote, "largely responsible for the serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, committed by Shi'a militias that is has armed and backed”. That is state-sponsored sectarian violence that you were involved in.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: This is not true and I'll tell you what happened exactly. Baghdad has gone through a very difficult time of every day six car bombs against the Shi'a and we have been calling, don't respond in a sectarian way. Unfortunately after the bomb, after the explosion of the two mosques in Samarra, things went out of control.

Mehdi Hasan: Human Rights Watch, in 2007, produced a report in which they said it’s not clear whether the ministry, interior ministry, controls the militias or the militias control the ministry. Either way they are responsible for some of the worse abuses in Iraq today. This was not spontaneous, this was state-sponsored.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [INTERRUPTING] I cannot, I cannot, I cannot, I cannot deny that. I can tell you that some parts, some formations, and some units of the Iraqi security forces were involved in human rights violations. I have to admit that.

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Why didn't you stop them, you were the national security adviser?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Adviser! Not director! Adviser. Thank you!

Mehdi Hasan: So you had no power to stop them.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well no, you basically, as an adviser, as a national security adviser, you put the pros and cons and you give the recommendations.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And the prime minister ignored you, Maliki ignored you.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well the prime minister is the commander-in-chief, he is in charge of the military of the whole country.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So it's on him! So those killings, those people with drill holes in them are on Maliki.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: When Maliki sits on this chair you can ask him this question.

Mehdi Hasan: Well I am asking you, you were his adviser. I am just wondering what your opinion is.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I gave you my opinion.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. The third charge is that Sunnis in Iraq, under your governments, have been disproportionately targeted by Iraq's anti-terror laws. Hundreds, thousands detained without charge, rounded up, tortured, the former Sunni deputy prime minister of Iraq said, “No Sunni was exempt. Maliki and his militias could arrest anyone.” 

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Maliki was forced to do this.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Forced by who?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: If you have six car bombs in a street of Baghdad, coming from this village, what do you do? What do you do?

Mehdi Hasan: You tell me, what do you do? Go in and burn down the village?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No.

Mehdi Hasan: That's what's happening in some parts of Iraq today.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No, that is not true. We are talking about 2010. See? Can you see the mixing in dates? So you need to get your dates right.

Mehdi Hasan: So I got my dates wrong in terms of when you were being sectarian.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: See, the sectarian, both sides of the divide.

Mehdi Hasan: Yes, definitely, both sides are being sectarian. We all agree.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Both sides are being sectarian, who is to be blamed more?

[TALKING OVER] it’s about Al Qaeda, ISIS… ISIS

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] It is not about who is to be blamed more, it is about the fact that you were in the Iraqi government, which, you have now admitted, behaved in a sectarian manner. Would you agree then with Amnesty International who have called on the prime minister, the new prime minister of Iraq to disband these militias which are pushing these sectarian policies that you yourself admit are doing?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Absolutely not! We are incorporating them into one formation, into one national guards.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, You have made your point very strongly, let's go to our panel. Anas, you are of Iraqi-Sunni heritage. Isn't it fair to say that whatever the Maliki government did wrong, whatever the Shia political parties, militias, committees did wrong in Iraq, many observers have said in recent months that Iraq's Sunnis never really reconciled themselves to the fact that they are a minority now and the Shias are going to rule because they are a majority and it's a democracy. And even the Sunni neighbouring countries have never really reconciled themselves to the fact Iraq is now a Shi'a majority, Shi'a-run country. Isn't that true?

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: I doubt that it is, I mean people talk about it, they peddle that particular argument because it serves a bit of interest, but it’s not true. The fact of the matter is that I am not concerned whether Nouri al-Maliki or al-Abadi or anyone else is a Sunni or a Shi'a. What I am concerned about is good politicians. And unfortunately, Dr Rubaie, notwithstanding my utmost respect for you, you might have been for many years national security adviser but you have been, one way or another, part of an establishment that has presided for 12 years over making Iraq one of the most failed states in the entire world. Whether on the level of corruption, politically, security-wise, militarily. Baghdad now, according to the Mercer index, is the worst city in the world, bar none, to live in. That is something that has happened under your watch, Dr Rubaie. For you to totally absolve the establishment from any responsibility and to direct it towards people's grievances, and people's tendencies and people's reactions to this and that, I am sorry to say that is a sign of a failed political establishment and a failed political narrative. The fact is, Iraq is in a miserable state, and Iraqis are in a miserable state. You are part of the establishment that has created this.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: OK, I think that what we have inherited from the old regime is below zero. Also, the American occupation were given by the Geneva Convention the right to rule the country in security and politics and the economy. We were not in the driving seat for nine years, we were a passenger.

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: [INTERRUPTING] But you accepted the terms when you invited the Americans to come and topple Saddam Hussein. You accepted those terms!

Mehdi Hasan: Abbas, do you want to respond to what Anas was saying about the failed state and the way of the Iraqi political establishment?

Dr Abbas al-Hussaini: No, I am afraid that Anas is friend of mine but I disagree with him entirely. No government in the world can really sustain the pressure from actually three countries around it. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, as well as we have ministers within the government of Iraq, to really have double face. They are with the government and in the evening against the government. This is very important. Maliki could not rule because minister tell him I’m sharing power with you, you are not telling me what to do.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in George Joffe who I am going to guess is neither Shi'a nor Sunni. And ask him.

Professor George Joffe: [INTERJECTING] Thanks, correct.

Mehdi Hasan: How sectarian a government do you think Iraq's political establishment ran in recent years? We’re hearing all sorts of claims and counter-claims. Where do you stand on this debate?

Professor George Joffe: Well my impression is that the government in Iraq became increasingly sectarian after 2006 and I say that because many of the assassinations in Baghdad were related to Shi'a militias operating at the interior ministry. From the discussion I’ve heard, I am struck by two things, one the way in which positions originally taken are then adjusted. So we were told that the Iraqi army was powerful, capable of taking back control of Iraq, then we learn that in fact it’s going to be the Shi'a militias that do that. And the second thing is that in answer to the question that you asked, as to whether Iraq was a failed state, the answer was vehemently no, but then the description demonstrated that’s precisely what it is, so it seems to me that the sectarianism and the failed state go together.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I disagree with that, I have no. I mean I agree there are nepotism, there are cronyism, there are sectarian policy, I agree with that, and there are some corruptions, there is no doubt about it, I cannot deny that. But whether this is failed state? No! This is dysfunctional state? No!

Mehdi Hasan: Given how fractured Iraq has become. Shi'a, Sunni, Kurd, Assyrian, Christian, Yazidi, etc. There are some who say there is no other option. Inevitably Iraq will divide into three separate states. What do you say to them?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Iraq is a united country for 5,000 years and we will prevail and you will see a united, secure, prosperous Iraq in a few years’ time from now.

Mehdi Hasan: Well on that note, we are going to take a break now. In part two we’re going to be talking about the legacy of the Iraq invasion of 2003, about Saddam Hussein, and we are also going to be hearing from our patient audience here in the Oxford Union. Join us after the break for Head to Head.


Part two

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera English. My guest today is Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie, former national security adviser in the Iraqi government, now a member of parliament in Baghdad. Mowaffak, it's been more than a decade since the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein has gone from power, good news, but having said that, the truth is that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction, there was a massive insurgency in an almost civil war, millions of Iraqis were made refugees, and depending on which study you believe between 150,000 and million Iraqis have died since 2003. The invasion of Iraq was a complete disaster, a mistake if not a crime.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: The only things the invasion of Iraq has produced good, is the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. This is one of the most brutal, ruthless regimes on earth, and has massacred Kurds, Sunni, Shi'a, mass graves in the south, chemical weapons in the north. He killed 5,000 Kurds in six minutes and just under half a million Shi'a…

Mehdi Hasan: But the war to topple him, produced hundreds of thousands of dead also.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well see, the road to democracy, to freedom, is difficult. You need to pay for it, and we paid heavily in blood and treasure and sweat and in tears. And we are still paying for our freedom because ISIS is a product of sectarian polarisation in the region and, do you know, do you know, the ISIS leader was a former Ba'athist? Do you know that his two deputies are senior intelligence officers in Saddam's intelligence agency? So this is, that's what we have inherited from the, from the…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERPUTING] It wasn't all inheritance, there were actually acts committed by US forces, British forces, Iraqi forces, as a result of that war in which people lost their lives, their homes, their livelihoods.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Mehdi, we Iraqis and the Americans, have committed hundreds of strategic, tactical operational mistakes, on the political, on economic and in security. But was it worth it? Absolutely. And if I pay my life, if I give my life for the freedom and democracy of this country? I will.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Not all Iraqis agree with you,

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: And I have given heavily for this.

Mehdi Hasan: Not all, not all Iraqis agree with you on that, of course.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Well I respect, I all … anyone who differs from me.

Mehdi Hasan: You said in 2013 about the Iraq invasion, “If we had to do it again, we would do it exactly the same way”. So just to be clear, without a UN resolution, without international coalition, without enough troops, without proper planning, you would do it the same way?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Without planning for post-occupation, I would not do it. But I will do it exactly the same way because it is well worth it to remove this dictator from the face of the earth. And we were very happy with it. Now what happened after the occupation, that's a different matter. Completely different matter.

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] When you say a different matter, you were involved in that though, weren't you?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [TALKING OVER] Now the Americans, did not prepare for…

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Why not, why not?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [TALKING OVER] Because, I am sorry to say, they are short-sighted. They don't have good planners.

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] You are not going to get me defending the Americans on Iraq, I can assure you, but you were advising them in 2002, you were meeting US officials. Why didn't you tell them what to do? Why didn't you warn them there would be an insurgency?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [TALKING OVER] They did not listen to our advice, we told them that from the day…

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Maliki didn't listen to you, the Americans didn't listen to you, so many people didn't listen to you!

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [TALKING OVER] They did not, no they did not listen to us, they did not listen to us because they left the country post 9th of April 2003 for more than three months [TALKING OVER] totally, totally, in total vacuum!

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Mowaffak, Mowaffak, did you warn them there will be an insurgency or did you say you will be welcomed as liberators, people will cheer.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [TALKING OVER] Nobody has predicted the insurgency, nobody.

Mehdi Hasan: You said no one ever saw the insurgency coming, we have on our panel here tonight George Joffe, from Cambridge University. In November 2002 you went to see Tony Blair to talk about the aftermath of Iraq. What did you say to Tony Blair?

Professor George Joffe: Yes, indeed I did. I went there with five other people, three of them people who are experts on Iraq, and the others who are strategic experts too. And we informed the prime minister, that after the invasion, unless he was extremely careful there would be an insurgency, and we explained to him in detail why. I'm afraid our advice was simply ignored. Mr Blair had a very simple view of the problems that Iraq faced. For him the removal of Saddam Hussein alone would resolve all the problems and that's a view that was identical to that of the Bush administration…

Mehdi Hasan: And is it identical to Mowaffak al-Rubaie? Did you believe that just toppling Saddam would be fine? Or did you not – you're pretty much admitting that you didn’t tell the Americans that there would be this chaos?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Something I have not mentioned anywhere, in my presentation anywhere. In 2002 we met the Americans, and the Bush representative Khalilzad ... in Saladin which was under the Kurds, and we told them, until and unless, we form a government from day one after the removal of Saddam Hussein, there's going to be a problem in this country, it will explode. Once you remove Saddam Hussein, the three communities will aspire for their own identity. Now they, the Americans ignored our advice, they did not listen to us, and they went their own way.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let me bring in Anas al-Tikriti. Anas, you, your family suffered at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime, you opposed the Iraq invasion. Many people would say at the end of the day, as Mowaffak has argued, despite all that has happened since, despite all the problems, getting rid of Saddam Hussein that vicious tyrant, was worth it, he would still be around otherwise. What do you say to that?

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: I insisted then, and I insist now, any removal of any dictatorial autocratic regime has to be done at the hands of the people and the people alone. Any foreign intervention, and the way that they came in Iraq, will create the Iraq that we have today. We never had, and Mowaffak, al-Rubaie will acknowledge and accept this, before the removal of Saddam, despite the gruesome nature of the regime, we never had one suicide bomber, we never had one terrorist, we never spoke of sectarianism (MEHDI INTERJECTS: You’ve raised that point) inside Iraq. Now Iraq is the bedrock of terrorism around the world. The timing is uncanny. It is because of the invasion, it's because of the occupation that Dr Rubaie was part and parcel of.

Mehdi Hasan: Anas.

Dr Abbas al-Hussaini: The point is you see, you have to look, whether Iraqi people were able to get rid of the dictator. They wouldn’t this dictatorship was so brutal, so actually strong, it demoralised, it destroyed any opposition in Iraq. And if for that really the international, or actually foreign force, we would still have actually Saddam Hussein still ruling till now. The point is actually the bad management of the Americans. The Americans actually divide the country to sectarianism, by creating actually the governing council on sectarian element, Shi'a and Sunni and Kurds. That was wrong.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in George Joffe.

Professor George Joffe: It's simply the case, that the problems that Iraq faces today, were created right at the beginning of the occupation, they were created by the provisional coalition authority when it decided, overnight, in its first two orders to dissolve the Ba'ath party and to dissolve the Iraqi army.

Mehdi Hasan: Just yes or no, do you think the US and its allies institutionalised sectarianism in the Iraqi political system as Anas suggests?

Professor George Joffe: I, I am afraid to say I do. It seems to me that was the fundamental flaw that created the basis for the current situation today. But that does not excuse the current government of Iraq or its predecessors.

Mehdi Hasan: No it doesn't, let me just, we talked a lot about Saddam Hussein. You were tortured by his regime before you came to the UK as an exile. You were sentenced to death in absentia, you lived most of your life in exile and after that, years later, you found yourself as national security adviser, overseeing his execution. You personally led him to the gallows. That very controversial execution, there were claims of sectarian taunting, there were all those secretly filmed camera phone filming 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-Rubaie: Absolutely, yes!

Mehdi Hasan: You don't think that's a bit distasteful?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No! No!

Mehdi Hasan: (TALKING OVER) the actual rope from his neck is in your office on the statue.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I wanted to remind each and every one, that this is the fate of anyone in future of Iraq who become dictator and terrorise his people. So this is a lesson for us Iraqis, should not go back to dictatorship, should not go back to exclusion of any community. I have never felt settling scores, when we pulled the trigger on Saddam Hussein in that gallows.  There was no injustice being done in that chamber. There was no injustice! Now there are some people in the, in the, who are the executioners, from the ministry of justice, who were shouting, long live that and down with this. But that is, this is a spontaneous reaction.

Mehdi Hasan: Fine, Mowaffak, let's bring in our audience, gentleman here, yes, do you want to wait for the microphone to come to you.

Audience Member 1: I am Ribba Fatwa, I actually an Iraqi Kurd, I think we all agree that there is a deep security vacuum in Iraq, and this security vacuum to my mind, is a power vacuum. It means there is some fault in the authorities, in the government, in the state, but it seems to me that no one takes that responsibility, and my question to Dr. Rubaie is that, whether he agrees this security vacuum coming from ISIS, Is this due to failure of the Iraqi government to bring everybody integrated into the power?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: There are some illnesses, and we identified them earlier, as early as January 2012. And we are working on them, though, They have failed miserably, in the north of the country, but we are working on it.

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman here in the green jumper, in the third row. Wait for the microphone to come to you.

Audience Member 2: My name is Mardeen Isaac, I am an Assyrian writer. Dr al-Rubaie, given the failure of both the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces in protecting the Assyrians, the Yazidis and other peoples from Nineveh, do you support the creation of locally derived divisions of the Iraqi army, comprised of these peoples, to defend their communities, and ancestral homelands?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I support the recruits, from each and every province, what I call regional guards, and these will be amalgamated into one force, called national guards, and this is the way to unify the country.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK.

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman right at the back there, you, do you want to stand up?

Audience Member 3: Good evening, earlier this year prime minister Tony Blair, ex-prime minister Tony Blair said that it wasn't the Iraqi invasion 2003 that caused the security situation in Iraq with ISIL at the moment, but actually the failure of the West to intervene in Syria. Do you agree or not with that, and what do you think the effect is of the security situation in Syria on the battle with ISIL in your country?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: At the beginning of the invasion in 2003, the Syrians got frightened, the Syrian government got frightened, and they started to promote, the, well penetration and infiltration of the jihadists, coming from North Africa, from Saudi, from GCC countries into Iraq. And they have managed to kill thousands, tens of thousands of Iraqis. Now that is one thing, but when the Syrian revolution started, I think the West missed a golden opportunity in the first few weeks.

Mehdi Hasan: Do you regret the Iraqi government's tacit support for Assad, who has so much blood on his hands? When Arab League voted to suspend Syria's membership, only four countries refused to vote for that, Iraq was one of them. Do you regret that?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: We did not refuse, we suspend, we, we did not vote. We did not vote.

Mehdi Hasan: That's a principled stand.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: No we susp…

Mehdi Hasan: You did not take a stand against the killings in Syria as a result of the Assad regime?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: We believed, we believed then that isolating this horrible regime, if you like, will make it even worse for Syrian people.

Mehdi Hasan: Lady behind you here who is waiting.

Audience Member 4: Muslim Shi'a and Sunnis have been living together peacefully for centuries, but increasingly we are hearing about this historic Sunni-Shi'a animosity. In your view, is this idea of Sunni-Shi'a animosity merely a myth? Or if that is so, who has constructed that myth and who is now the main beneficiary of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a, not only in Iraq, but in the Middle East region.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Excellent question. There are some confessional differences between Shi'a and Sunnis, but they stem from the same religion. Now whether to, if you want to politicise the confession, than that is a problem, that is sectarian. And who is benefiting? Israel. There is no shadow of doubt in my mind. Ten years ago you listen to the Arab world, to the Arab media? And it is all Arab versus Israelis, Arab versus Israelis. Now can you see what is the Middle East problem is? Convert from Israelis versus Arabs to Shi'a and Sunnis.

Mehdi Hasan: You've made a pretty dramatic, provocative claim there. George Joffe is shaking his head there. Do you want to come back in briefly and respond?

Professor George Joffe: The simple fact is, that I seem to recall that in 1993, the Arab world, generally, agreed to enter negotiations with Israel to find a solution to the problem of the Arab-Israeli conflict. So it is a bit difficult to argue that that dominated the Arab media, because it didn't, many other issues did and amongst them the issue of Iraq, the Iran-Iraq war and other related incidents. So I don't think that's true.

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman there, third row with the tie.

Audience Member 5: If the Islamic State is defeated as you would want, it seems at least possible that the Kurdish Peshmerga will retake those disputed territories that they controlled back in June-July after the flight of the Iraqi army. What do you think the Iraqi army would do should that happen? The Iraqi army and the Shi'a militias. And beyond that, do you think the Abadi government has the will, the capacity, the desire to settle the various disputes that Baghdad has had with the Kurdistan regional government over territory, over energy, and over budget?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Thank you sir, thank you very much. I honestly believe that the first part of the question was a hypothetical one, because it starts with if. So I don't answer hypothetical questions. The second question is what Dr. Abadi government is going to do, I think he has a list of priorities. Number one is to sort out major problems with the Kurds., looking into the hydrocarbons law, and also paying salaries to the Peshmerga, and incorporating this Peshmerga into within the national security architect… and … and so he has his priorities.

Mehdi Hasan: (INTERRUPTING) I need to go to the audience.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, he has his priorities. The lady there, second row.

Audience member 6: Women are obviously very important for the future in the rebuilding of Iraq, yet since 2003 and despite the kind of rhetoric for supporting women's rights, we've seen women’s rights steaily decline in the country. To make matters worse, a Jafari law has been proposed by the government that would allow women, girls as young as nine to be married off, legally sanctions marital rape, it would also severely restrict the movement of females without a male companion. I would like to know what the government is doing to improve the situation of women's rights in Iraq more generally. But I would also like to ask you Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, whether you will support or reject the Jafari law that would really seriously set the rights of women, women’s rights back decades.  Thank you.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Thank you ma’am. I am pleased to say, thank you very much and give her a round of applause. I thank you very much for this question. I personally believe that the, that proposed legislation of Jafari law was rejected, even by the – not to be discussed even by the council of representatives.

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman here with the jacket.

Audience member 7: If we are going to speak about ill-treatment and deaths, then Shi'as in Iraq have suffered more deaths and have more grievances over the last ten years or so since the regime fell, through car bombs, through suicide attacks, through killings, targeted killings so surely Shi'a should be asking for their grievances if anybody.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me put that point to Anas al-Tikriti, because we talked in part one about grievances and about some of the issues, recruiting sergeants.

Dr Anas al-Tikriti: The fact is, and once again I return to the term that Dr Rubaie contested that is the failed state, a very sure sign of a failed state is the continuous appearance of nihilistic ideologies, like Al-Qaeda, like ISIS, and in the future maybe something else. A sure sign also is the fact that its own communities who have been living side by side for centuries, not 5,000 years by the way, but for centuries, come at a stage whereby maybe 100 have died from you but 105 have died from me so I have more of a grievance. The mere question is problematic and it’s a sure sign, that the conditions that we have in Iraq and the state that we have in Iraq is something which is unacceptable to every single Iraqi, regardless of faith, creed, ethnicity or background.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, OK, I'm going to take a question from this lady here, and then I'm going to go back to the back of the hall. Do you want to wait for the microphone to come to you?

Audience member 8: Hello! A lot of people are talking about dividing Iraq along ethnic, sectarian lines, for people like me that have one Sunni parent and one Shi'a parent. Where would I fit in this new version of Iraq?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I can't agree more with you because I have a Sunni mother and a Shi'a father, I can't divide myself. So how can I do that? I can't think even of dividing Iraq.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, gentleman there in the corner. He has been sticking his hand up for a while now.

Audience Member 9: Can the doctor finally admit about the clandestine policy which for many years has been in pursuit in the region which is essentially Muslim neo-conservatives with a policy called USS which is a United Shi'a State which encompasses Iran, Iraq and Syria. Can you finally acknowledge to the people here that, that is something that is going on in the region, a dynamic which has not been touched on and it may just very well explain how the doctor justifies the atrocities of human rights atrocities of Saddam Hussein, but actually doesn't say anything about the condemnation of Assad's atrocities?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Honestly I have heard this, I have read about this but I think this is an end product of the regional sectarian polarisation between Saudi and Iran. This Shi'a Sunni, has been ongoing for the last decade. And what we have now, the ISIS trying to kill the Shi'a and that's exactly the Shi'a are united and are defending themselves.

Mehdi Hasan: The gentleman here.

Audience Member 10: Hello my name is Arshad. My question is, can we not learn from Europe who after the Second World War, eventually formed the European Union and since we haven't had a war in Europe. Can the Arab world not do the same, including Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries where they work together to fight common wars like terrorism, literacy, poverty and eventually support the separate state of Palestine?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Absolutely, I think without a comprehensive, coherent policy of all Arab world, all our countries, and Muslim countries for that matter, to tackle this evil ideology, evil theology.

Mehdi Hasan: OK let’s take this…

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: (INTERRUPTED) and this make…

Mehdi Hasan: … nice and short, we loved it! Second there, gentleman there, second row, in the maroon shirt, do you want to wait for the microphone to come to you?

Audience Member 11: Why do you think that Iraq has had the weapons it’s needed, the F-16s and the Apaches, the Apache helicopters?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: This is a question for the Americans. They have not del…We have paid for the F-16, they have not delivered it, we paid for the Apaches, they have not delivered it, we've paid for a comprehensive electronic system of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. They have not delivered it.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let’s go back to the audience, lady here’s been sitting here…

Audience Member 12: Throughout this debate you seem to have advanced the position of opportunity cost for human rights. The idea that it is ok to violate certain human rights in order to promote democracy or gain stability. So my question to you is, is the government committed to human rights and, if so, to what extent?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: Believe me I have worked really hard, behind the scenes with the human rights organisations to help them, to get them to the American prisons, as well as the Iraqi prisons.

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] And they don't have very nice words to say about the Iraqi prisons.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: [TALKING OVER] To see for themselves because, see I am one of the victims of Saddam Hussein, I went to the state chamber of torture three times.

Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Hold on, hold on, hold on, what you went through, horrific, unacceptable, but doesn’t that make it worse then, that you were then part of a government which then tortured other people? Doesn't that make it worse?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: We are trying to make it better, you don't leave the bad things, you work from within! Which is much more influential, much more effective.

Mehdi Hasan: Just before we finish, one last question from me, it’s been more than a decade since the invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was toppled, and yet today, all these years later, you have this group, these fanatics controlling a third of the territory of your country, threatening your capital city, and I just want to ask when you look back on that past decade or so, you look back at your own role, what's the thing you regret most? What's the one thing with the benefit of hindsight you think, you Mowaffak al-Rubaie, got wrong?

Mowaffak al-Rubaie: I honestly think that we should have pressed harder than we have with the Americans, in 2002 to form an interim government of Iraqis from inside and outside to form the government immediately after the 9th of April 2003. And that was – we left it and after the departure of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Americans left the country in total vacuum security, economy and the whole country is in shamble and that was a fertile ground for terrorist organisations to grow and do this.

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you very much for coming from Baghdad.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you to our panel for their contributions today, thank you to our audience for their contributions today. The debate will continue at home, join us for Head to Head next week.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]

Source: Al Jazeera