Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Charles Lambroschini
Le Figaro
28 September 2004

Le Figaro: This is the great turnaround of the Americans. They are now ready for an international conference to be held on Iraq — an idea, which was proposed by France and Russia in April 2003. What do you make of it??

King Abdullah: It is Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi who is seeking this international conference. So we will support whatever the Iraqi government wants to do, we will support whatever suits the Iraqis.

Le Figaro: In theory, elections are due to be held in January. Seen from Washington, they would represent the first stage towards normalisation in Iraq. But would it be possible to hold elections while almost autonomous republics are being formed which, as in the case of Fallujah, are out of the Central government control and while the resistance strikes everyday at the heart of Baghdad?

King Abdullah: Prime Minister Allawi is fully determined to meet this January deadline. However, as an outside observer, it seems to me that organising incontestable elections under the chaotic conditions that presently dominate the scene in Iraq is simply not possible. Elections could be held within the planned framework only if the present situation were to improve, God willing.

Le Figaro: Wouldn't the credibility of these elections be also dependent on the political equilibrium they would establish between the Shiite majority and the Sunnite minority? If the imbalance is too pronounced, would it be possible to stop the ongoing war?

King Abdullah: If the elections were to be held under the present chaotic conditions, the most organised faction would be that of the extremists. The ballot outcome will only reflect this advantage to the favour of the extremists. With such a scenario, there would be absolutely no chance of any improvement in the situation.

Le Figaro: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield has just stated that that it would be possible for elections to be held in the most peaceful or Iraqi regions. Wouldn't this approach simply mean putting the Sunnites out of the way - since their regions are the most tumultuous - and to consecrate the country's division as a result?

King Abdullah: This is a major cause of concern to us. Frankly, I sincerely hope that security would improve so that elections could be held, but all over Iraq as a whole.

Le Figaro: What are Iraq's chances of coming out from this state of chaos?

King Abdullah: The situation is very, very difficult. In the immediate future I do not foresee any chances of improvement .As you were saying, chaos is master on the streets; every other day, new agitators filter through frontiers that are highly difficult to control. The biggest challenge Prime minister Allawi has to face is restoring security.

Le Figaro: But how will he do that?

King Abdullah: Jordan's position is crystal clear: There has to be a recall of the former Iraqi army. Not the generals but the middle rank staff, the officers and the rank officers who alone have the necessary staff numbers and potential to restore order. The biggest mistake made by the Americans was to dissolve the security forces and to purge the various administrations of hundreds of thousands of Baath party members who were serving in them. The responsibility is imputable to the emigrants, like Ahmad Chalabi, who, once back in Iraq on the backtrack of the American army, thought that their best chance of imposing themselves necessitated the immediate removal of all the old regime's men. In the process, nobody was left to impose law, respect and ensure the country's stability.

Le Figaro: When he assumed power in June, Prime minister Allawi announced a strategy reflecting his determination to break down the resistance. He was counting on bringing those people, who had supported Saddam, back to the national community in order to intensify the struggle against those “God maniac” aliens coming from abroad … Why wasn't he successful?

King Abdullah: The coalition forces did not allow him enough room for manoeuvring. There was too much interference in a strategy that is supposed to be an Iraqi affair in the first place. Let us take, for example, the formation of the Iraqi police and army. I have spent most of my life under the uniform and can assert that when the formation is too hasty, the competency of the new recruits is affected. Training must be lengthier in time and more intensive. I can understand that the Iraqi government has an urgent need but if it insists only on quantity, it will not get good quality.

Le Figaro: What is then your advice to the Americans?

King Abdullah: The only solution is to hasten the recalling of the experts of the former army. Generally speaking, the quicker the old army is reconstituted, the better the new army would be.

Le Figaro: And on the political side?

King Abdullah: On the political side as well. The Americans ought to give a greater margin of freedom to Allawi with respect to both the day to day management of policy and the greater projects that would engage the country over a long period of time.

Le Figaro: How do you explain that the United States, which provides Jordan with such generous assistance and which is such a long-time friend and ally, is so badly perceived within the Jordanian population? According to a recent poll carried within your country, 87per cent of the population reported that they were anti-Americans?

King Abdullah: The explanation is quite simple: There is within the population an enormous feeling of frustration. On their television screen, they see that the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis is continually on the increase. On the other frontier, they witness the sufferings of the Iraqis. In both cases, they consider the Americans to be the culprits. Jordanians are angry because they believe that Washington's policy is systematically twisted against the Arabs.

Le Figaro: But the Arabs are not always lenient towards each other? What would you say about Syria closing its eyes over the infiltration from Syrian territory into Jordan of terrorists which who, according to your secret services, planned to carry out a chemical assault in Jordan?

King Abdullah: We have frequently raised this matter with the Syrian authorities and on this particular subject, we enjoy the support of President Bashar. He has issued strict directives to his secret services but we note that many individuals continue to cross the borders and target the Jordanian security forces. The political goodwill that seems to be coming out from Damascus has not translated yet into concrete and visible action on the ground.

Le Figaro: The Americans make the same reproaches towards the Syrians and the Iranians. Washington accuses them of leaving their borders open to all the foreign Islamists who want to strike at the “Crusaders”.

King Abdullah: The flow of these clandestine fighters contributes to increase the instability in Iraq. But they surely do not come from Jordan.

Le Figaro: Nonetheless, Zarqawi, the presumed head of Al Qaeda in Iraq whom the American army has been tracking for months, is a Jordanian citizen?

King Abdullah: Zarqawi began his life as a petty thug. He has discovered religion only quite lately. In collaboration with Baghdad and the American forces, we are doing our best to recover his tracks. I am keeping my hands crossed with the hope that one day or another, the Iraqi government will end up catching him.

Le Figaro: How do you view the Iranian manoeuvres in Iraq?

King Abdullah: With respect to Iran, the holy Shiite shrines located in Iraq and the enormous weight of the Shiite community representing 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, constitute important political considerations. Consequently, Iran cannot remain indifferent to what takes place in neighbouring Iraq. The Iranians have their own interests at heart - as do each of their other neighbours.

Le Figaro: You have been to Teheran on an official visit, the first by a Jordanian monarch since the shah's downfall in 1979. Do you visualize the mullahs regime as opting finally for moderation or, getting so militant as to trying to establish itself within the Middle East as the sole champion in the struggle against Israel?

King Abdullah: I have felt quite at ease with President Khatami. He is a sympathetic personality who would like to direct the Iranian society towards the path of moderation. However, within the regional environment, the Iranian authorities feel they are threatened on several fronts. There is first the Iraqi crisis, which extends to Iran and its other neighbours and is a matter of great concern. Tehran fears also the ascent of Islamist extremists who are as worrisome for the moderate Sunnites as they are for the Shiites. Al Qaeda represents as much a threat for them as it does for moderate Arabs. Finally, the animosity between Iran and Israel is not about to fade out, especially at this time when Iran is equipping itself with missiles that have a capacity for reaching targets in Israel.

Le Figaro: To judge by the precedent of the Iraqi reactor destruction in 1981, the Israelis might not resist the temptation of proceeding to bomb Teheran's nuclear installations, with the possible benediction of Washington as well?

King Abdullah: I do hope the Americans will restrain Israel from doing such a thing. If Iran is subjected to a strike, it will strike back. Jordan is in between the two of them. A raid against Iran will contribute to solving nothing, on the contrary, it would only make our region more instable.

Le Figaro: Does Jordan also run the risk of being destabilised by the threat of fundamentalism?

King Abdullah: It is the whole world that the Islamist extremists seek assiduously to undermine. Jordan as much as France. We must all be on the alert and mutually protect each other. Jordan is on the list of their targets; this is unfortunately a characteristic of the Middle East. But believe me, we are far from being passive in the face of these groups.

Le Figaro: With respect to your country, it is the Muslim Brothers that are particularly active. Nasser had interdicted them in Egypt. In Jordan , they have 18 deputies sitting in parliament under the name of the Islamic Action Front. None the less, the Muslim brothers are maintaining their pressure.

King Abdullah: Historically, the Muslim brothers have always sought to push the limits of things. But I myself, as well as the Jordanian government, consider that there are lines which we will not allow them to cross. There is no question of allowing any action outside the law. These lines are set by the constitution. True, the Muslim Brothers have their deputies but they will always keep complaining and demanding more.

Le Figaro: Ariel Sharon is determined to evacuate Gaza. But in the West Bank, population colonies continue to multiply raising the risk of turning the Palestinian regions into a series of Bantustans. What would then remain of the two, Israeli and Palestinian side by side state project?

King Abdullah: If the leaders of the various Palestinian factions fail to unite, if they do not succeed in agreeing on a strategy that would reactivate the peace process, you would be right. For the first time, there would be reason to have doubts about the two state solution. Because of their internal conflicts, the Palestinians have fallen into the trap set to them by the Israelis. Those Israelis who keep claiming they have no partner to negotiate peace with but who, on the other hand, maintain their escalation of occupying Palestinian land and aggression against the Palestinian people. Thus, unless the Palestinians decide to define a genuine plan to build an independent and viable state, I am afraid there would be no future for the Palestinians any more.

Le Figaro: Is Yasser Arafat still in the game?

King Abdullah: The choices for Arafat are simple: either he decides to reinforce the Palestinian government institutions, that is Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia, and to unify the security services under the single control of the Ministry of Interior or it is the Prime Minister who will do this on his behalf.

Le Figaro: And then Yasser Arafat will go into exile …

King Abdullah: But who will decide to send him into exile? I do not think the Israelis will do that as he is the elected president of the Palestinian people. The fundamental thing is to establish a Palestinian state. It is urgent that the Palestinians organise themselves in order to secure such an objective.

Le Figaro: What could a moderate Muslim like yourself do in order to convince the West that Islam does not sum up into those outlaws who hold hostages and those executioners who behead innocent people?

King Abdullah: This requires that, among Muslims, the silent majority determinedly shouts back “enough is enough.” The West denounces Muslim extremists. As far as I am concerned, these extremists are not genuine Muslims. People of the Zarqawi sort cannot claim they belong to God. What they do is Satan's work. This is why I repeat again that Muslims should stand up to condemn these killers .They must yell that assassinating hostages, killing children in the Caucasus are atrocities that do not reflect the religion of Islam in any way.

Le Figaro: As long as Ben Laden is not captured, how to convince the West that Islam is not the enemy?

King Abdullah: With respect to Westerners these days, maybe not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims. This is why there is a great risk of seeing the average man in the Arab world and the average man in the West prepare for a war of cultures. In reality, the first targets for Osama Bin Laden are the moderate Muslims. But in order for him to get control of Islam, he first wants to make the East stand up against the West.