In an exclusive interview with MSNBC-TV's 'Hardball,' Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari tells NBC's Senior White House Correspondent David Gregory he agrees with Vice President Dick Cheney that the insurgency is in its final throes. He also says he does "not call them insurgents," but rather, "terrorists" from outside of the country.
DAVID GREGORY, 'HARDBALL' GUEST HOST: Mr. Prime Minister, as you know, most Americans don't know. They don't see you. They haven't heard from you. What would you like to say to the American public that is, to say the least, pretty unsettled about how things are going in Iraq today?
IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: It is not surprising that the Iraqi people do not know me because what we had before, which was the regime of Saddam Hussein, was a dictatorial regime that tried to annihilate and abolish anything to do with the Iraqi people. However, now, with the elimination of Saddam Hussein, people will come to know Iraqis, they will start to know them as talented politicians, artists and really, the face of Iraq to come will start to become more and more pronounced and will be known to the world.
GREGORY: The American people, as I mentioned, are unsettled about how the war is going. How do your react when you hear the political debate in this country about Iraq? More Americans — a majority of Americans, according to a recent poll — disapprove of how the war is going. More Americans want American troops to return back to the United States and there are more calls for an exit strategy now, even talk by a prominent Democratic Senator today, of Iraq being a quagmire. How do you react to that?
AL-JAAFARI: There are two conflicts that the Iraqi people went through. One was against dictatorship and against Saddam Hussein and obviously the people of the West and America stood by the Iraqi people and they got rid of Saddam. Now the conflict is against the biggest enemy that faces us all, which is the enemy of terrorism and this is a war on terrorism and Iraq is leading that war on terrorism.
It is the same type of terrorism that is all over the world. The same type of terrorism that the people suffered from here, it is the same type of terrorism that obviously affected Spain as well and all around the world it is the same type of terrorism. We are in the front lines of the war against terrorism and this terrorism at the moment is beginning to withdraw, it is beginning to weaken. It is extremely important that the American people do not stand in the face of this and allow us to win the war against terrorism, which will bring peace to the whole world.
GREGORY: Did you expect that Iraq would be this dangerous after Saddam Hussein was removed?
AL-JAAFARI: In general terms, as far as terrorism is concerned, that represents the evil face against humanity. This is available — this is present everywhere but it has been concentrated in Iraq. We expect such evil forces to be present but we are working hard and we shall defeat them in the future.
GREGORY: But the real question was, did you envision that Iraq would be as dangerous as it's become when Saddam was removed from power? Are you not surprised?
AL-JAAFARI: You cannot compare the time now compared with the time of Saddam Hussein. During Saddam Hussein he killed one million people. 300,000 he killed in a few days during the uprising. He used to put people in acid baths and cut people to pieces. He hacked the poor and started many, many wars. So now the situation in Iraq is much, much better than it was in the time of Saddam Hussein. This is a fact and a Reality.
GREGORY: Vice President Cheney said a few days ago that he thinks the insurgency is in its final throes. Do you agree with that?
AL-JAAFARI: Indeed. It's true. We do not call them insurgents. We call them terrorists. Because that's what they do. They carry out acts of terrorism against innocent people, men, women and children and it is true that with the help of friends and with the support of our friends and with our securing our borders, we will very soon defeat terrorism.
GREGORY: Well, here's a different view. The top military commander in the Persian Gulf actually disagrees with the vice president, saying that the insurgency is as strong today as it was six months ago. This after successful elections in January. This after a political process that's moving toward a constitution in August. Why hasn't the insurgency been brought to its heels?
AL-JAAFARI: I certainly, again, would not call this an insurgency. I would call it a group of terrorists who are out to kill as many people as possible. That is easy to do. Anyone can come in and blow himself up and choose the softest targets possible and carry out acts of terror.
And all of them come from outside Iraq and they admit this freely on TV when they are interrogated.
"Insurgents" only refers to people who have a social base and have support. They carried out either armed uprising or peaceful uprising like Gandhi but these are no such thing. They are terrorists.
GREGORY: But the issue is their strength. Call them terrorists, call them insurgents, the top American military official they're just as strong now as they were six months ago. Why?
AL-JAAFARI: The reason why there are still terrorists operating in Iraq is because Iraq is going through exceptional circumstances. The security forces are in the process of being formed so the border has not yet been maintained and therefore there are real challenges in Iraq. However, you cannot say that they have any support from the people. The real support is what happened during the elections when 8.5 million people voted in a national election.
GREGORY: You're going to meet with President Bush tomorrow at the White
House. What will you ask him for?
AL-JAAFARI: First of all, we have to say that as a result of the increasing security operation, the terrorist element has greatly reduced and Iraq is much more secure and safe now. As far as my meeting with President Bush, from a position of mutual self-respect I will ask President Bush to help us in our plight, the help the Iraqi people — anything that benefits the Iraqi people I will ask of him.
GREGORY: We have limited time. One final question. When you wake up in the morning, what do you worry about most?
AL-JAAFARI: I wake up in the morning and one thing that I worry about is maybe I may not have done my best for my people. I try always to do my very, very best and if I don't strive the hardest — this is what worries me. But I always try to strive my hardest.
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