Jailed for smuggling arms in US, Iraq’s Interior Minister Qazim al-Araji now bats for friendship with Americans
Former prisoner of the Unites States, Qasim al-Araji is now the head of the Interior Ministry, one of the most powerful ministries of Iraq. A decade ago, he was jailed in the US on charges of smuggling arms and for his involvement in an assassination cell at the height of religious violence that engulfed Iraq following the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Within days of taking office, he has expressed his support for the US’ role in the fight against IS. Following his request, they have received more support from the US-led coalition as they are training and arming all forces across Iraq, that fall under al-Araji's command.
With credentials that include training from Iranian special Quds Force and spending time as a guerrilla and militia commander, Iraq's Interior Minister al-Araji is now trumpeting his respect for human rights.
In 2007, al-Araji was jailed in the US at Bucca prison for 23 months, including extended period in solitary confinement. However today he laughs off questions about lingering hostility toward U.S. forces.
"That's life," he said in a recent interview, "I was their prisoner and now I meet with their ambassador".
Following a controversial March 17 strike in Mosul that killed more than 100 civilians, al-Araji took a rare public position, as he defended the U.S.-led coalition and the use of airstrikes in Mosul on the floor of Iraq's parliament.
"My most important goal is to bring security to Iraq," al-Araji said, "and (to achieve that) Iraq is in need of the friendship of the Americans."
British Ambassador described him as an "an Iraqi patriot" who "faces many challenges but is doing a very good job for Iraq and the Iraqi people."
He was released two times from prison because of insufficient evidence. On April 19’2004 he was arrested by U.S. forces on suspicion of commanding militia forces.
Second time he was arrested in 2007 as it was stated that he was "involved in smuggling and distribution" of explosives that were being used to target U.S. forces and that he was "also suspected in involvement in an assassination cell.", but released within 2 years.
"I believe every difficult stage leaves something inside a human being," al-Araji said. "Being a prisoner taught me patience, it made me stronger."
Al-Araji returned to local politics, rose through the ranks of the Badr organization and became a parliamentary bloc leader.
He takes over the ministry at a critical time for the country's security forces who are under increasing pressure to eliminate the last pockets of IS control and repair their reputation in Iraq's Sunni heartland.
Looking back at his career, al-Arajii says he has become more responsible and now he makes choices very carefully.
"But as a person, I have not changed, I'm the same."
(AP News Inputs)