Tunisian policymakers are expected to revise their policy vis-à-vis Iraq, said Jabeur Habib Jabeur, Iraqi ambassador in Tunis said in an interview with Africanmanager.
About the Islamist organization (ISIE), he considered that it is a passing fad that will soon be eradicated while suggesting the establishment of a new approach to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.
What is your reading of the transition process in Tunisia, where actors are working to ensure the success of the next elections?
It is certain that the Tunisian experience at the transitional level is of particular importance in the eyes of other countries. This is important insofar as the Arab Spring has suffered significant setbacks.
I think that the political forces in Tunisia and the various components of the civil society have understood democracy not to mention their ability to solve their problems while finding the desired consensus. This has been already reflected in the adoption of the constitution last February.
The Tunisian experience, in my opinion, has no equal in the Arab world in the sense that there was no revenge against the ousted regime. Moreover, politicians chose to punish corrupt people having worked extensively with Ben Ali through justice.
This is an important experience, and in this context, we wish success for the forthcoming elections. Indeed, elections remain the only tool adopted by developed countries to change their processes.
That is why we hope that the next elections will mark the completion of the transitional process by setting up a new government and a new sustainable elected assembly that will meet the demands of the Tunisian people. A new government will be able to achieve stability and especially to establish the proper conditions for investment promotion. It is an essential condition to boost the Tunisian economy.
What about the Tunisian-Iraqi relations. Is there some difference compared to the regime of Ben Ali?
We aim to improve our relations, particularly in terms of movement of people. Significant strides have been made in this direction, but the recent security incidents that have occurred particularly with the emergence of “ISIS” are behind the suspension of the direct flight Tunis Erbil (the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan).
It should be noted that the reopening of this line was made following the signing on April 23, 2014 in Tunis, of an agreement between Tunisair and Fly Miran Company of Iraq’s Kurdistan, on the sidelines of the International Tourism Market (MIT).
Bilateral relations are certainly strong, but we wanted to improve them through the promotion of tourism especially as the city of Erbil is ranked fifth in terms of FDI attractiveness in the Middle East without forgetting the needs of Iraq’s Kurdistan which are very important because everything has to be built in all sectors. Thing we have failed to do due to the suspension of this airline
I think this niche is strategic, especially since Iraqi tourism flows have contributed much to the development of the sector in Lebanon. It should be remembered that its share in the Lebanese market is estimated at 36%.
Besides tourism, bilateral relations translate into a sizable trade balance, but it has decreased dramatically after the latest incidents in both countries.
Despite this climate, both sides are working to do everything possible to boost trade and even strengthen this partnership by facilitating the establishment of Tunisian investors in Iraq especially with the development of the Iraqi market which has become increasingly competitive.
Is it possible to achieve this goal, particularly with the blocking of this air service?
It is important to remember that a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Tunisian airline and its counterpart in Iraq. Despite its importance, this memorandum is blocked.
It is for this reason that the two companies are expected to make more effort. At this level, I wonder why Tunisair has not authorized its counterpart in Iraq to take on this line to remedy this situation since the Tunisian company does not have the resources to cope with it.
Another important element that must be addressed is the repatriation of staff of the Tunisian embassy in Iraq due to the deteriorating security situation after the progress made by Islamic State (IS). It is illogical not to find Tunisian representatives in Iraq although there is recognition that stability will be ensured in Baghdad.
A great responsibility rests with the Tunisian side to solve this problem, especially since the group of jihadist extremists could be seen as a temporary phenomenon that will be eradicated in the near future.
What are the solutions to be put in place to boost partnership between the two countries?
Like other countries, Tunisia should focus on the tourism sector. A strategic approach which, in my opinion, would also require the granting of visas at airports as is the case in other tourist countries. This initiative will stimulate many Iraqi tourists, already known for their high spending.
Emphasis should also be placed on the revision of the decision on the repatriation of the embassy staff. Because the presence of Tunisian diplomats across Iraq is an essential condition to examine investment opportunities.
I take this opportunity to announce that the meeting of the High Joint Committee will be held after the next elections in Tunisia. That committee will examine the chances of common consensus. This meeting comes at an opportune time when Iraq now needs Tunisian skills to ensure the desired development.
Regarding the question of “ISIS,” intelligence reports showed that several Iraqi call for retaliation since a large majority of fighters in this organization are Tunisians?
Terrorist groups are composed of several nationalities. However, I assure you that there is no feeling of revenge towards anyone. Similarly, Iraqis never want to blame the countries from which originate these fighters.
In the case of Tunisia, there is not a general position on this country. Instead, the Iraqi people have appreciated the recent position of Moncef Marzouki, President of the Republic or that of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As a reminder, the Tunisian president had denounced the persecution of Christian communities and Yazidis in northern Iraq by the jihadists of the Islamic State, after a long introduction exonerating Islam from the horrors committed by “ISIS” while calling members of ISIS “ignorant and fundamentalist.”
With this position, an awareness has emerged among Tunisian decision-makers about the threat posed by this organization.
In general, we can say that the fight against ISIS requires a great collective effort.
What about the presence Tunisians in this organization?
We are really worried about the presence of a large number of Tunisians in this organization. The latter are therein while not having a real understanding of the region.
Will this organization affect bilateral relations?
Of course. The ISIS movement advocates insidious extremist ideas that will be widely devastating in the Arab world, including Tunisia, if it will be not liquidated religiously and ideologically.
Once Tunisian fighters arrested, do you think it is possible to bring them home to Tunisia to serve their sentences?
These people, once proved that they are part of this organization, must be sentenced under Iraqi law. At this stage, efforts are made to ensure that pardon be granted to some of them while others will be repatriated to their country.
For the transfer of prisoners, I think this question is dependent on the signing of a memorandum of mutual legal assistance between the two countries as is the case of Iran. Indeed, the vice chairman of the Shura Council has established for this purpose a working team, a move that resulted in the signing of an agreement for the exchange of prisoners.
I hope that the Tunisian party will follow the same approach so that the Tunisian detainees would be transferred to Tunisia to serve the remainder of sentences for which they were convicted.
Do you think ISIS could compromise the unity of Iraq?
Certainly, this extremist movement based on closed ideas and religion that exclude the other, could only affect the unity of Iraq, which is in contradiction with the nature of the Iraqi society.
Does the fight against ISIE require an American contribution or an actual resolution of the Syrian crisis?
The American intervention has already taken place in Iraq particularly by air, besides accelerating the conclusion of arms contracts. This in my opinion is insufficient in the absence of a proper solution to the Syrian crisis. I think in this context that the entire region will be affected by this organization.
To do this, a new approach is needed more than ever in managing this issue. This would also require a rebalancing of the policy and a peaceful transition of power with a favorable response to the different demands of the Syrian people.
I think the climate is now favorable to meet this challenge.
Some parts of Iraq are demanding their independence. What do you think?
Today, we are seeing the Iraqi forces retook the initiative and managed to regain some areas closed and dominated by ISIS. They head to the province of Salahuddin, and several members of the ISIS were killed besides the destruction of ten of their vehicles in violent clashes with security forces backed by Shiite militias (Saraya al-Salam).
It is true that the question of the independence of Kurdistan is claimed, but the issue is raised amid political wrangling. I think that with the appointment of a new head of government, this issue was inappropriate.
With the appointment of a new prime minister, are there specific agendas that have been imposed on the ambassadors?
To date, we have no idea about the program of the new prime minister, who is still in the phase of consultations for the formation of the ministerial team.
However, I think the Arab relations would be among the priorities of the new prime minister, who promised to open up to the Arab world in light of the fact that these relations were recently somewhat cold.
I think there would also economic cooperation through the exchange of experiences and the movement of people.
Regarding Tunisia, I think there would be increased interest for the higher joint committee to meet to boost bilateral relations.