As head of the opposition group known as the Iraqi National Accord, as well as after his return to Baghdad in 2003, Allawi was the target of several assassination attempts that nearly claimed his life. He did not make a grab for power when serving as the first prime minister after the downfall of Saddam, and he is not known to have interfered with election results. He conceded his electoral mandate after his coalition, Iraqiya, won in the last election but was forbidden from forming a government because, as he said, “Iran drew a red line for me and for Iraqiya.”
While in London, Allawi sat down with Asharq Al-Awsat for an extensive discussion of the problems currently facing Iraq. He laid out proposals to solve the crisis brewing in the country, arguing that, “Iran is the decision-maker here in Iraq,” and insisting on the importance of implementing the Erbil Agreement in order to hold clean parliamentary elections.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Where are things in Iraq headed at the moment?
Iyad Allawi: I do not know how things will end, but certainly no one is pleased with the current situation. The state of security is deteriorating and is on the verge of civil war. More than a thousand Iraqis were martyred last month alone, not including assassinations, and three thousand were wounded. Many of those people are disabled. In truth, this is tantamount to civil war. This is not to mention the lack of services, bad economic conditions, political contradictions, rampant political sectarianism and indifference to the demands of the people and the demonstrators.
All of this is providing fertile ground for the forces of extremism in the country. As long as the crisis is worsening, extremist elements on both sides—Sunni and Shi’a—who seek to politicize religion will unfortunately be strengthened. What is helping extremist forces expand is the religious landscape, which is no longer looking good, from Syria and the so-called Arab Spring countries to Palestine’s retreat from the peace process.
All these factors affect the situation in Iraq. When will it end? Where will it leave us? I do not know, but what I do know is that Iraq’s leaders have no serious intentions to solve the crisis. The proof for what I am saying is the clear apathy toward demonstrators’ legitimate demands and the attempt to pressure them in a number of ways, up to the point of what happened in Hawija and earlier in Fallujah in terms of the use of military force and indiscriminate attacks. Innocent civilians were killed while exercising their constitutional rights to demonstrate and express their opinions, as guaranteed by the new constitution.
Where are we headed, then? In truth, I do not know, given the present complexities of Iraq and the region. I do not think that the elections will be the solution to the country’s crises, as the last provincial council elections were neither fair nor valid. Our list, Iraqiya, suffered 18 casualties, in addition to the disruption of elections in two provinces, Anbar and Nineveh—an attempt to deepen sectarian divisions.
Tension has reached a peak and there is no attempt to start finding real solutions to the crisis. There are ridiculous examples of them releasing statements saying that they will resolve the crisis and that we will reconcile. Where is the reconciliation? There is a real, suffocating crisis, and if matters are not dealt with seriously, the country’s problems cannot be solved.
Q: You spoke of 18 members of your electoral list who were killed during the provincial council elections, in addition to the 60 people killed by security forces in the Hawija protests and eight killed earlier in Fallujah. And the only action that was taken was the formation of investigative committees
There are no investigative committees. This is not true. And if there are investigative committees and they still have not produced any results, they are a failure and are mocking the people—no more, no less.
Yes, six candidates from our list and 12 activists were assassinated during the provincial council elections. The last of them, Mazen Abu Kalal, was an official with the National Accord in Kirkuk. He is not remembered among the martyrs of Hawija and Fallujah.
The talk of investigative committees is tiresome, irritating and painful. In a country that has gone ten years since a regime change, one is supposed to at least be living with his family in peace, under an impartial judiciary, experiencing economic prosperity. And still there are suffocating crises in the country.
Q: Who bears the responsibility for all this? Is there a governing partnership? Do you all bear responsibility given that you share power?
No. There is no partnership, on the national level or otherwise. The partnership is long gone. It was conspired against from the moment the agreement was made, beginning with the rejection of the legislative election results and of the electoral and constitutional mandate. After the Iraqiya coalition backed down from its electoral mandate after more than seven months, in favor of a complete national partnership—after the mechanisms of the partnership and clauses of the political agreement were put into place—the partnership and agreements were bypassed and aborted. Decisions were made single-handedly.
Q: Why did you concede your electoral mandate in the first place? Why did you participate in the government instead of turning to the opposition from the start?
This was my decision. I had decided on and suggested a transition to the opposition after we conceded our electoral mandate and the Erbil Agreement was circumvented. I was very clear: I said that the Erbil Agreement had to be implemented in full and it could not be fragmented. This was a conversation we had within the Iraqiya coalition, and I said, ‘Let them implement the agreement in full and then we will take part in the government.’ It is preferable for us to remain in the opposition within the Council of Representatives and not participate in the cabinet so that we do not lose our base or the values agreed upon in our electoral platform.
I told my colleagues in Iraqiya that the Rule of Law Coalition would not implement the Erbil Agreement in full, as they broke it apart and created obstacles to its implementation. So, we are not working with them. Unfortunately, some members of Iraqiya thought that by taking part in the government, not as partners, they could achieve a certain political balance. They have unequivocally proven themselves wrong, and some of them wound up hunted by the government. Some now admit their mistake and say, ‘If only we had followed your advice, things would have been better for us than participating in the government being unable to join in decision-making.’ This is where we wound up.
Q: You in Iraqiya were always insisting that your coalition was strong and your leaders united, but now the complete opposite seems true. Your list was divided from the start and split into three lists in the provincial council elections: the Motahedoon under the leadership of Usama Al-Nujayfi, Al-Iraqiya Al-Arabiy, under the leadership of Saleh Al-Mutlaq, and Al-Iraqiya Al-Wataniya under your leadership. Also, your ministers who withdrew from the government returned to it in a way that voters considered inappropriate.
No, that is not true. The Iraqiya coalition is indeed strong: strong in its principles, in staying above political sectarianism, in its national programs, and in its clear plan to build a civil state. But of course there are those who fall victim to temptations, as is true of any list, coalition or party. If you compare what happened in Iraqiya and in the National Alliance, and likewise in the Kurdish Alliance, you will not find major differences. The difference is that Iraqiya was targeted from the beginning, since Iran put its finger on the trigger, aimed its weapons at us, and said, ‘We will not allow Iraqiya or Iyad Allawi to make any progress or form a government.’
Since then, there has been a continuous effort to destroy our coalition, suppress it and rob it of its rights. No bloc, no entity, no political party in Iraq has been subjected to even a fraction of what Iraqiya has been subjected to—to the point where Iraqiya’s leadership is being accused of a host of crimes, accusations of terrorism and so forth. There was not one of Iraqiya’s leaders who was not pursued by the authorities or Iran. What happened to Iraqiya was clearly organized by the Iranian authorities. When Iran said it was drawing the line on me forming a government after our victory in the elections, I said that if any neighboring countries had objections to me that there were 90 members besides myself in Iraqiya and any one of them could be prime minister. At that time, Iran transformed it from a problem with me into an issue with Iraqiya and said no, the red line is for all of Iraqiya. None of them will become prime minister, as they toe the Sunni line. This is not true. Our coalition includes Shi’ites, Sunnis, non-Muslim Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. Iraqiya’s orientation is nationalist and against political sectarianism.
It is an exaggeration to say that Iraqiya was weakened or fragmented, seeing as a ruthless war was, and still is, being waged against us. Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi was suddenly and groundlessly accused of being a terrorist and of sponsoring terrorism. Finance minister Rafaie Al-Esawi was similarly accused, and Saleh Al-Mutlaq was accused of being a Ba’athist and promoting Ba’athism. These individuals are the most prominent symbols of Iraqiya. As for myself, there have been many assassination attempts and accusations made, and these are against the will of God. This is in addition to the assassination of members and supporters of our list.
Can any list, bloc or political party persevere in the face of this ruthless war? How can Iraqiya persevere in the face of strong forces coming from beyond its borders, as from Iran, which have been fighting us since we formed our coalition? Meanwhile, the United States and others are silent and no one does anything about our stolen electoral mandate or the attacks that go so far as killing? I think it is fair, then, to say that our list is strong—strong because it persevered despite these attacks, and strong because it still maintains a cohesive leadership.
This is not to mention the assassinations and the restrictions placed on our activists. Thus, those who are impartial should not be diminishing Iraqiya. Yes, there are those who dropped out of our list, this is true, and I blame those who adopted the political sectarianism we oppose. Meanwhile, the current ruling regime takes this dangerous stance, which in my opinion serves Iran’s interests above all else.
Q: You have said that there is no real partnership governing Iraq. In your opinion, then, who is governing the country: the cabinet or the prime minister?
No one is governing the country effectively. The streets are in chaos and there has been a dangerous breakdown of security. Neither the cabinet nor the prime minister is governing the country. The cabinet occupies itself by pursuing us and accusing national figures of terrorism, while terrorism strikes and kills innocent people every day. There is no one governing in the true sense of the word: there is no foreign policy, no domestic policy, no economic policy, no security policy. There are no institutions, nor even the existence of a viable state, nor a complete political process.
The proof is the daily killing that is happening in the streets. How can the government otherwise explain the killing of more than a thousand Iraqis in a single month, ten years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime? How can it explain the attendance of more than half the Iraqi population at demonstrations, and no one responding to their legitimate demands? This is not easy talk…. The situation in the country is constantly deteriorating: relations between Baghdad and the provinces are bad, the relationship between the central government and the Kurdish region is not sound. So who is responsible for all of this? Iraq today resembles a ship in rough seas with no captain and without a compass to orient it towards a particular point.
Q: Is there no one responsible for the bad security situation and the assassinations, the daily killing and the Hawija and Fallujah incidents? Will nobody be held accountable?
Who would hold someone accountable?
Q: The Council of Representatives or the parliament. Are not they the ones who would hold someone accountable?
The Parliament cannot hold anyone to account. It calls for, it asks for—and even demands—the attendance of those responsible, and no one responds. Let us be realistic. Parliament is now divided and there are clear blocs within the Council of Representatives. The newest thing, for instance, is something known as the Ba’ath criminalization law, and it is essentially a revival of de-Ba’athification. The Rule of Law bloc (under the leadership of the prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki) says that it will not attend parliamentary meetings if the Ba’ath criminalization law is not included in the council’s working sessions.
Despite the efforts of Usama Al-Nujayfi, the chairman of the Council of Representatives, the parliament has been unable to present any achievements or solve problems. It could not reach agreement on the oil and gas law, or distribute funds in a manner that was fair to Iraqis, and after ten years we still do not have an election law or political parties law. Moreover, the cabinet has not established a foreign policy, an energy policy, an economic policy, a security policy or a military policy. After ten years, the government is accusing its ministers of terrorism and Ba’athism—such as what happened to Mutlaq, who was accused of being a Ba’athist and had his guards and their salaries taken away, and then was reinstated as deputy prime minister.
Q: Since you mentioned Mutlaq, is he still in the leadership of your coalition, Iraqiya, and caucusing with you?
I am not hiding any secrets from you. I asked all members of Iraqiya to withdraw completely from the government. It no longer makes sense for us to be in a ministry whose minister has no authority, or that cannot provide security or bread to its people. Why does the minister remain in the government? He becomes a minister to serve his people, but his presence in the government is becoming unseemly. Some say they are staying in the ministry to be able to perhaps fix some things or to provide something for the people. In my view, things will not be fixed this way. There is a real crisis in the political process, a national crisis, and if this crisis is not treated radically and completely, adopting the institutions of a civil state, there is no hope.
Q: If you were asked to present suggestions for resolving the crisis, in your capacity as an Iraqi politician and former prime minister, what would those solutions be?
The solution must occur in two phases. First, we must work to get out of the present crisis, and its solutions are clear: the removal of the military presence, the initiation of real negotiations with demonstrators, and the striking of certain laws, like the secret informant and terrorism laws, as demonstrators legitimately demand. There is no law for terrorism; there are rulings and judicial proceedings, and the offender is punished according to the laws in force in the courts, whether that means execution or imprisonment. Likewise, prisoners held for years without trial should be released, and the criminals who committed the massacre at Hawija and Fallujah should be identified and arrested.
These are immediate procedures that can be taken to move past the current crisis and prime the atmosphere. This is about getting out of the current crisis. Afterward, we will move on to the ideal solution, which is the immediate and effective implementation of the Erbil Agreement so that clean, transparent and successful elections can be held, in which the Iraqi people decide who will govern them.
In addition, there must be an end to the prosecution of innocent people like Hashimi, Esawi and others, which is claimed to be lawful. Let us forget their positions in the state and deal with them as ordinary citizens. Does Esawi know a crime such as this? Or Mohammed Allawi, the minister of communications? Or Sinan Al-Shabibi, the governor of the central bank—what crime did he commit? Whatever their crimes, let them tell the Iraqi people and present the evidence.
We must address this grave situation, as we call it in medicine: reviving the patient so he can enter the treatment phase. This is the phase in which to achieve a successful partnership, in preparation for a real electoral process. The Iraqi people will be the judge: He who wins, wins, and he who loses, loses.
Q: You talk of the Erbil Agreement, which has not been implemented these last several years, and it is not long before the upcoming legislative elections. There are many politicians who believe that things will remain as they are until those elections. What do you think of that argument?
How can the upcoming parliamentary elections be held under these circumstances? We lived through the provincial council elections, which were local rather than parliamentary, and saw the kind of assassinations, terrorism, threats and arrests that took place, as well as voters prevented from reaching their polling places. I can count the numerous problems that happened during those elections. Now is the time for the national partnership, as it is what will guarantee the success of the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Iraqi people are the ones who get to decide.
When a defense minister is named and the interior minister, national security adviser, and chief of intelligence meet with him prior to the elections, this will guarantee the success and integrity of the elections. [Success will happen] when a strategic policy council is formed and a member of Iraqiya is chosen to head it—I will not be the head of this council—and when an system is put into place in the cabinet and balance is achieved such that no one will be able to manipulate the conduct or results of elections thereafter. (And, if there is foul play, it will be minor, not more than five percent.)
This is the ideal time to implement the Erbil Agreement, not to achieve partnership in governance, but to ensure the success and integrity of the upcoming elections. It is not a partnership for decision-making, as the time for this has passed.
Q: So there is no partnership and no support for the government, and there are demonstrations in the western and northern provinces. What, then, is the secret to the prime minister’s power?
He is not powerful. What are the manifestations of power? Power is demonstrated by calming the streets, by respecting other political forces, by applying the law, by building the institutions of a civil state, and by the existence of a diligent Cabinet that works as a single team. Power is demonstrated by responding to the legitimate demands of the demonstrators. Power is not manifested in killing, arrests or threats, nor is it manifested in the lawlessness that now grips Iraq.
What are these shows of power when an Iraqi cannot feel safe in the street? If an IED or a car bomb does not kill him, a sniper will. And if he escapes the sniper, he will be killed by a silencer.
The existence of armed militias is not a show of power, but these exist at all levels. The recent attack on Hazem Al-Araji in his office in Kazemiya is the best evidence. Araji is a man who suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein’s regime, and he comes from an illustrious family. He is a worthy man in a privileged position and yet this kind of thing happens to him. The majority of Iraqis face attempts on their lives daily. Power is manifested in having a state, which does not exist now. We have, rather, a government, and this government must be tough on security to reassure the Iraqi citizen and provide stability and balance. What we are seeing in the country is not power so much as evidence of weakness.
Q: What of the last meeting that brought together Ammar Al-Hakim, the head of the Islamic Supreme Council, Maliki, Nujayfi and the other political forces?
Hakim introduced this initiative, which I hope succeeds. But success is linked to action, not words. The meeting, which should be viewed as symbolic, was to reassure the Iraqi street—no more, no less. Although we are behind every initiative that moves in the right direction, we support actions rather than words. We are for making clear decisions that will calm things down, for responding to demonstrators’ demands, for achieving the partnership, and for punishing criminals. We do not need to sit around embracing each other and shaking hands. We have done this dozens of times before, when we were in the opposition and afterward. The result is always a move backward.
Q: Do you expect positive results after Nujayfi’s embrace of Maliki?
It is not a matter of individuals, but of a people, of a nation, and of a region. The whole world is interconnected. It is a matter of achieving the interests of Iraqis, not of individuals embracing each other. There is a course that must be rectified, and without this there is no value in shaking hands.
Q: Were you invited to this meeting?
Yes, Hakim called and invited me, and said it was a symbolic meeting. I told him that we should not build up illusions about this meeting. He called me on Thursday and the meeting was Saturday. I told Hakim it would be difficult for me to get there in two days. So I assigned Hamed Al-Mutlaq, a member of Iraqiya, to attend and represent our coalition, since Nujayfi attended in his capacity as chairman of the Council of Representatives and Saleh Al-Mutlaq attended in his capacity as deputy prime minister. I spoke with Hamed Al-Mutlaq later, and he said that the initiative was good but would not lead to real results. In a press conference in Baghdad, he reiterated that we want real solutions and not just reconciliation. The answer is not in superficial solutions, but in radical ones. It is as if a sick man comes to you and you dupe him with an aspirin and send him on his way, while in reality he needs surgery. There is a crisis in the country that requires those who are actually responsible to sit down and put complete solutions in place.
Q: Do you think that the current crisis is one between Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq, and that the solution might be a unified way of praying for all Iraqis?
No, no, there is no crisis between Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis. Everyone knows this. The crisis is political and between politicians, but they want to make it seem as if it were between Sunnis and Shi’ites. The real problem is that the political process began on a foundation of political sectarianism, of marginalization and exclusion. The political process began with the principle of cleansing everyone associated with the former regime, including Iraqi Army officers, except those who had sold themselves and stood against the Iraqi people.
This problem made other countries intervene in Iraqi business and wield influence in Iraqi politics—first and foremost Iran, which has reached the point of drawing red lines on political figures and entities. Imagine if Iraq tried to draw a red line today in Iranain politics. What would happen? Is that permissible? Iran interfered and started to dominate political decision-making. The important political decisions in Iraq fell into Iran’s hands. Other countries will begin interfering if the situation continues in this manner. Deputy Prime Minister Hussain Al-Shahristani spoke up, saying that we would strike Israel if it tried to bomb Iran using Iraqi airspace. This means that Israel has now become party to the Iraqi issue, and this allows it to intervene as such.
Q: Finally, will your political mission continue? Will you run in the upcoming elections?
Of course, we came to serve our people and not to look for personal privileges. The course of elections must be corrected and electoral and political party laws passed. We insist that the upcoming elections be clean and transparent so that the Iraqi people can speak their mind through the ballot box.