Maliki halted major Internet project in Iraq for "Security Reasons": Iraq's ousted communications minister 12.9.2012

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Iraq's ousted communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi. Photo: Flickr. • See Related Links September 12, 2012

ERBIL, — Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi was recently removed from his post as minister of communication by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The move came after Allawi complained about the management of the ministry and refused to annul a contract with Newroz Telecom (NewrozTel) as instructed to by the PM. spoke with Allawi about the issues surrounding Newroz Telecom, who had been awarded a project to connect the Internet in Iraq to Turkey through the Kurdistan Region. Maliki halted the project due to "security reasons."

Q: Can we say that you were sacked from your post because you refused to obey an order from Maliki to give an Iranian company the right to work on the Internet in Iraq?

Mohammed Allawi: It was for many reasons. I believe the main reason was a political one, like my being a member of the Iraqiya List, although I have carried out my duties professionally and never mixed my political views with my job. I have never made a political statement to the media. But unfortunately, in Iraq's current political reality, everything is interpreted politically. I have attended meetings in Najaf and Erbil as a member of Iraqiya and this seems to be the cause.

The Internet project that has been halted had great potential to benefit all of Iraq because it was going to bring a lot of income to the country and was going to connect the web from east to west. Halting this project will harm Iraq because it could have earned $10 to $20 million in profit every month.

Q: Were there any pressure on Iraq from Iran to terminate the contract on this project?

Mohammed Allawi: I don't think so. I don't believe giving the contract to an Iranian company was the reason.

Q: Many committees were formed in order to audit the Newroz Telecom contract. These committees could not find any sort of corruption, so why did Maliki insist on terminating the contract?

Mohammed Allawi: Security was Maliki’s excuse. I was very clear with him about this issue and told him that there would be no security issues with the project. It was a communication cable and had to pass through many countries. If you want to protect the information of your country from hacking, there are special passwords provided by specialists in this field. All the embassies in the world and the Iraqi Embassy are now protecting their own information with such passwords. The same kind of cable exists between China, the United States, Russia, and they are all protected.
The whole world is connected through Internet lines and terminating the project for security reasons was uncalled for. As I mentioned earlier, this project had financial advantages for Iraq and the Kurdistan region as it was a joint project. By terminating this project, Iraq will be the most affected party.

Q: What is meant by security threat? A threat from the Kurdistan Region or another country?

Mohammed Allawi: Those who have advised Maliki against this project have misinformed him. The safest communication method in the world right now is underground fiber optic cables. Not having underground cables and depending on satellites is the riskiest way to transfer information, which is what Iraq does currently. Every country in the world can intercept telephone communications via satellite, but doing that to underground fiber optic cables is extremely difficult because these cables transfer millions of telephone calls and emails every second.

They are lying when they give security as a reason for halting this project, because neither Turkey nor the Kurdistan Region has such advanced spying devices. If they are worried about Iraqi government communications, they can use special passwords.

The MPs of the State of Law Coalition, who claim that neighboring countries can eavesdrop on Iraqi intelligence phone calls, are actually speaking out of ignorance because the Iranian cables are passing through Turkey as well. Iraq is using Internet lines that pass through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait. Are these countries safer than Turkey?

Also, this is the route to communicate with the rest of the world so it must pass through other countries. I believe they are just fooling Iraqi citizens with such excuses and nothing more. This project will allow the communications of 99 percent of Asian countries to pass through Iraq to Europe. The information from Iraq that passes through this cable does not constitute 1 percent of the overall data of those Asian countries which will pass through the same cable. Is Iraq more protective of its data security than countries like China and Japan?

I know that Maliki is not knowledgeable in this field, but have no doubt that the people he consulted on this issue were ignorant.

Q: How did Newroz Telecom win this contract? Were there any other competitors?

Mohammed Allawi: Before awarding this contract to Newroz Telecom, I personally visited the Kurdistan Region and spoke with the Ministry of Communications of the Kurdistan Region and told them about the importance of this project for both of us. They told me that they had no objection and were willing to continue with the project, but we had an ongoing 10-year contract with Newroz.

For the sake of transparency, we announced the project and asked all the interested companies to present their proposals. Only Newroz Telecom stepped forward at that time.

Q: Some MPs say that they will not accept your resignation. Are you willing to go to Iraqi Parliament and speak out?

Mohammed Allawi: Yes, next month I will visit parliament and tell them everything.

Q: As you explained in your letter to Maliki, it has been said that he is employing an individual in your ministry as an advisor but one who is more influential than the minister himself. Is it the same in all ministries?

Mohammed Allawi: Yes, this is true and unfortunately he has given a lot of authority to some individuals. I mentioned this problem and said that the ministry must be directed by the minister. An honorable minister does not allow his advisors to take over. I myself will not accept being a minister just on paper. They will either let me do my job as a minister or else I will not accept this job.

I told Maliki in my letter that I would not continue as a minister and would resign if that advisor kept doing my job. Instead of attempting to solve the issue in our ministry, Maliki's answer to my letter was "I accept your resignation."