Exclusive: Insurgent Ba'athist In His Own Words

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Via written questions and answers passed back and forth by trusted intermediaries in Iraq, Time has conducted the first-ever Western media interview with Izzat al-Douri, former lieutenant of Saddam Hussein and the most senior member of the Ba'athist regime still at large. Today, al-Douri is America's most wanted Iraqi fugitive, and a leading figure in the Iraqi insurgency.

TIME: Does the Ba'ath Party still have a role in Iraqi politics?

Izzat al-Douri: If you mean the current political process, the Ba'ath Party rejects it, because it was manufactured by and serves the occupying force and is destructive of our country. The political role of the Ba'ath in the struggle [against the occupation of Iraq] is to mobilize and bring together the energies of the people for the fight to expel the occupation and liberate our country.

TIME: Do you hope to return to Baghdad as a free man?

Al-Douri: I have great hope and supreme confidence that, through the agency of God, and of the mighty people of Iraq and its heroic fighters, I shall return to Baghdad on its liberation from the grip of the occupation.

TIME: How sound is the infrastructure of the Ba'ath Party, and what is your influence over it?

Al-Douri: The Ba'ath Party has undergone an internal shake-up, restructuring its base and leadership on struggle-oriented, faith-based patriotic and nationalist principles. It now has a revolutionary, struggle-oriented identity and has shaken off the dust of the past. I constantly exercise influence on it to remain pure, patriotic and dedicated to struggle.

TIME: What is your opinion of the new Iraqi government? Are there any persons in that government in whom you trust?

Al-Douri: Yes. I respect all individuals who have not been polluted by crimes against the Ba'ath and the Iraqi people, whether they be with the political process or outside of it. I respect even some inside the government — and they are not a few — whose intention is, as they say, to reduce the damage done by the occupation to the citizens and to alleviate their sufferings, or to carry on the struggle for the liberation of Iraq from inside the political process, though this is a form of wishful thinking. My advice to them is to boycott the political process because they and the agents, traitors, and spies who are with them are incapable of offering anything to the people while under the occupation.

TIME: We've heard that there are a number of attempts at negotiation between some Ba'athist organizations and the United States. Are these negotiations carried on with your approval? If so, what progress has been made? If not, under what conditions might negotiation take place, whether with the United States or with the Iraqi government?

Al-Douri: The Ba'ath's position on negotiations, especially with the American and [British] sides, is clear. It rests on principles that cannot be prejudiced or impaired by any individual or party. They are:

1. Recognition of the resistance in all its forms — Islamist, patriotic, and nationalist — any group whose aim is to liberate Iraq from the invasion forces.
2. An announcement of withdrawal of U.S. forces, without restriction or condition.
3. Complete cessation of raids, round-ups, and operations involving killing and destruction.
4. Release of all captives, detainees, and prisoners.
5. Restoration of the [old] army and national security forces.

There have been no negotiations with the Americans, merely attempts by the American side to make contact with the Ba'ath Party and to negotiate with it in order to draw it into the political game. Similar attempts have taken place with other anti-occupation parties. No dialogue will take place — with any party — that is not on the basis of these principles. Any party that does not abide by these principles will fall into the swamp of the political game and that of grand treason. The Ba'ath is ready to negotiate with the Americans on the basis of these principles at any time they choose.

TIME: What is your opinion of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? Is he working for or against Iraq? [The question was sent in March, three months before al-Zarqawi's death.]

Al-Douri: I participate with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in his belief in faith and the unity of God, but I differ from him fundamentally in the style, method, and path through which he expresses his faith. Our religion is the religion of submission to God, and of peace, security, safety, freedom, self-liberation, truth, justice, progress and coexistence. Those who are recalcitrant or take up arms and stand in the way of Islam's civilizational and humane course — as the American administration, its agents, henchmen, and spies are doing — we are ordered to fight such people by the Koran. In accordance with our faith, we only fight the occupation forces and their treacherous apostate agents who fight us. I harbor great respect and appreciation for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and I rejoice in his courage, the strength of his faith, and the sacrifices of his fighters, [but] I call on him and his fighters to direct their jihadist struggle against the enemy that has invaded the land of Arabdom and Islam. Let none of us be drawn into the occupying enemy's game of igniting hateful sectarianism. I also affirm that any exposure of citizens and their assets [to harm] will inevitably serve the occupation.

TIME: Some of the jihadist groups active now in Iraq claim to be applying the Taliban model of an Islamist state. Would such an outcome be acceptable to you?

Al-Douri: The Iraqi people will never be ruled by sectarianism or by sectarianists. The one who governs Iraq, with all its diverse elements, with all its national groups and sects, must do so on the basis of the freedom, democracy, and human rights that our noble religion guarantees.

TIME: Did Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction? If not, why did the government of Saddam Hussein not make that clear?

Al-Douri: This story about Iraq's possessing weapons of mass destruction is a lie of the American administration and its intelligence services, that they fed the American people and the world with the aim of occupying Iraq.

TIME: Why did the Iraqi army not put up much of a fight against the U.S.-led Coalition forces?

Al-Douri: After its entry into Kuwait, the Iraqi army had been stripped of its strength; the American administration and its allies went to extreme lengths to do it harm and to destroy its structure. Thereafter, it was under tight U.N.-imposed sanctions for 14 years. [At the start of the war] it faced aerial bombardment by the two greatest powers in the world supported by all the world's evil forces. Had it not been for certain strategic and tactical errors, the army's performance would have been better than it actually was. It was one of the greatest mistakes of the Iraqi leadership to accept formal engagement to the end of the road, despite the amazing disparity of forces. Had the leadership husbanded the army's strength and means till the second page had been turned, Iraq would have been liberated and the occupation ended long before today.

It is the Iraqi army that today is in charge of the planning and supervision of more than 95% of patriotic resistance operations against the occupation.

TIME: What do you think of the trial of Saddam Hussein? What do you believe the outcome will be?

Al-Douri: The trial of President Saddam Hussein and his comrades is a farce. The outcome will be what America wants it to be, not that demanded by the law and the judiciary, and not that wanted by the Iraqi government of agents and spies.

TIME: Do you expect a complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq in the near future?

Al-Douri: I do not work for a conventional withdrawal of America from Iraq but rather for the victory of the resistance — the forced withdrawal of America from Iraq. My hope is that America will withdraw before it collapses so that losses on both sides may be minimized, and so that there will remain an opportunity for the people of Iraq to construct normal, broad, deep, and effective relations with America on the basis of independence, freedom, self-liberation, and the shared legitimate interests of both parties. Iraq, like all countries of the world, cannot do without legitimate mutual relations and joint cooperation with America in all fields of life because of the latter's vast resources, especially in the economic, technological, and developmental spheres. We understand the role and strategic interests of America as a great power. However, such relations must be on the basis of freedom and independence and the right of men to choose the way of life that they want, as well as of lack of interference in the internal affairs of others or of tutelage.

TIME: Have you in the past met any of those who are now in the U.S. government — for example, Donald Rumsfeld, who visited Iraq in the 1980s?

Al-Douri: I did not previously make the acquaintance of any of the American leadership but I had very high hopes of President Bush before his election, which I had hoped for — unlike that of Clinton. I expected that he would make a courageous and chivalrous President of the greatest state in the world and that he would carry in his heart all those values and principles — of freedom, democracy, and human rights — that his country promotes.

But the American administration has committed crimes in Iraq that will never be forgiven; the crimes that are being committed today in Iraq contradict completely all the principles in which the American people believe and which they wish for the world. The occupation troops, and especially the Americans, have committed thousands of massacres in all parts of Iraq, of old men, women, children, and civilians. They have destroyed tens of thousands of buildings, farms, factories, and other real estate.

I wrote to President Bush at the start of the occupation and after the capture of President Saddam Hussein via a friend in the official Arab circles. After painting a clear picture of the course of the killing and destruction, I warned him against the outcome of pursuing this path and of its dangers, for America, for Iraq and finally for the world as a whole. I pointed out to him that America's enemies would come together in Iraq from every place in the world to take revenge on it and that Iraq would be transformed into a world center for terrorism and the manufacture and export of terrorism in its many different forms. Then the mighty people of Iraq would rise up, and America would lose much and regret what it had done. I said, "I know that you are courageous, and courage calls for a decision to withdraw immediately from Iraq." Now everything that I mentioned has been realized.