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Sheikh Khalid Al Mulla Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Scholars Association Head Sheikh Khalid Al Mulla. (AAA File Photo)

Iraqi Scholars Association Head Sheikh Khalid Al Mulla. (AAA File Photo)

Iraqi Scholars Association Head Sheikh Khalid Al Mulla. (AAA File Photo)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sheikh Khalid Al Mulla, head of the Iraqi Scholars Association in the South, called for all Iraqis to place national identity before sectarianism. He told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview that “Iraq is under attack by international terrorist groups using sectarianism as a cover,” and blamed, “political and religious leaders.” Mulla demanded that everyone, “resolve the ongoing problems,” and expected, “the formation of a government that avoids sectarian divides and prevents electing minister serving both the government and the opposition at the same time,” and added that “this is one of the mistakes Iraq has made.” He also said that “The prime minister and speaker of parliament represent all of the Iraqi people,” pointing out that, “Al-Qaeda controlled the demonstrations’ messaging,” and demanded that they “prioritize the interests of the country and dialogue.”

The text of the interview follows here:

Asharq Al-Awsat: Has sectarianism returned to Iraq? If so, how can this be overcome and contained?

Sheikh Khalid Al Mulla: I believe that calling for sectarianism in support of a doctrine or religious community is a losing strategy. The louder the voices of sectarianism grow the more the national identity is drowned out. Who is responsible? Not just the clergy, but also the politicians who must do what they can to avoid harming national identity, because the homeland is for everyone and religion is for God. Religion is a personal matter between God and His creation. I worship Him in accordance with the Hanafi school, others worship Him by way of the Ja’fari school, others by way of the Shafi’i school, others by way of Christianity, and others by the way of Judaism, and so on. Even the Honorable Quran says: {To you is your religion, and to me is my religion}. Thus, others are also people of religion even if they differ in doctrine and culture. Giving preeminence to sectarianism anywhere, not only in Iraq, is a grave danger. Why? Because promoting sectarian divides is a contrivance of foreign hands which is exploited not by the enemies of Islam, but by the enemies of humanity. Therefore if we want to cultivate socially cohesive Arab national communities, we must give precedence to national identity, because without it the whole nation is lost.

Q: How do you view the issue of the persecution of Sunnis in Iraq?

A: This is a presumption. We do not consider the percentage of marginalization or exclusion of this group or that, but rather we emphasize that every problem today, especially in Iraq, can be addressed through dialogue. Otherwise, proposing this subject is just a means for subterfuge and political escalation within Iraq. We are talking about marginalization, and today all strata of the Iraqi people are involved in building the new Iraq. A country cannot have a Sunni prime minister, a Shiite prime minister, a Christian prime minister, and a Kurdish prime minister; the head of state can only come from one sect. The rest of the offices ought to be filled by all of the other components of the Iraqi people. For instance Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujayfi is an important Sunni leader.

Q: How do you view the relationship between Mr. Nujayfi and Mr. Maliki, and the criticisms directed at the prime minister?

A: All Iraqis, including myself, hope that that the prime minister and the speaker of parliament represent all Iraqis. With this, the speaker cannot be the leader of a particular sect, for he is representing all Iraqis. However, we have seen that some ministers fill their ministries with members of their personal sect and deny membership to others. I know of other ministers who appoint members of their clan and tribe, and this is very dangerous. The national cause must prevail over sectarianism.

Q: What do you think of Mr. Nujayfi’s call for opposition ministers to quit their posts in the government and operate solely as the opposition? What about the allegations accusing Mr. Maliki of not meeting the demands of the protestors in some Iraqi governorates?

A: At the outset the demands of the demonstrators were legitimate and everyone agreed. Some demands fall within the jurisdiction of the government, while others fall within that of the parliament and others within that of the courts. I believe the government is forming committees to meet these demands, particularly regarding the release of prisoners, liberating tens of thousands of plots of real estate that had been the exclusive property of Baath Party members, allotting pensions to those who have reached the legal retirement age, and allowing those who have not reached the legal retirement age to return to work. Regarding the issue of the prisoners, it is unreasonable to demand that the government release everyone, and moreover this is not within the government’s jurisdiction. I am a member of the fact-finding commission investigating the prisoner issue, and when we sat down with the judicial oversight committee, we found that very thorough study is required in order to determine if a detainee deserves to be jailed or released.

Q: Who is responsible for carrying out these terrorist attacks, from your point of view?

A: Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for killing the Syrian troops on the Iraqi border and for most of the recent crimes, including those that occurred in Kirkuk, Basra, Diyala, and Babil. What should the government do? It should do what any government in the world facing such terrorist attacks should do and arrest the suspected culprits, release the innocent ones, and keep the criminals. These crimes are either politically or financially motivated. Some are linked to foreign agendas here and there, considering that foreign institutions often support these organizations.

Q: What about the demands of demonstrators?

A: They refuse to listen to the government and they ignore government mediators. Consequently we are relying on the awareness of the Iraqi people. There are hundreds of clerics as well as tribal leaders who reject this sectarian rhetoric and there are meetings with these leaders taking place every day. There is nothing wrong with leaders in Basra and Anbar asking the prime minister for what they want without threats, incitement, or calling for the establishment of the Army of Glory and Pride or offering support for Al-Qaeda, as some of the organizers of the demonstrations have done. Al-Qaeda controls much of the messaging of these demonstrations and disrupts peaceful coexistence wherever it operates all over the world. Do you know that a million Iraqis have been killed at the hands of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq since its establishment ten years ago in 2003?

Q: Do you expect that discussions will be held between the government, the parliament, and various Sunni leaders?

A: I expect a breakthrough soon and a dialogue between everyone will begin. The national consciousness of many Iraqis, including clerics, clan elders, intellectuals, and politicians will enable us to overcome this phase. The government should be formed from a political majority that includes everyone, and not on a basis of sectarian quotas. Opposition members should remain in the opposition because no minister can find a consensus between the government and the opposition at the same time. This is one of the pitfalls Iraq has fallen into; one foot in the government, one foot in the opposition. I believe that Iraq will rise again, but this will require everyone. I call on all Iraqis reading Asharq Al-Awsat to focus on national identity and downplay the sectarian identity that should remain a matter between a man and his God.

Q: What are the objectives of your visit to Cairo next week?

A: We plan to invite some Egyptian religious figures to participate in the International Islamic Conference for dialogue and rapprochement between different sects which is scheduled to be held in Baghdad on April 27 and 28 under the auspices of President Jalal Talabani and will be presided over by Vice President Khudair Khuzaie. Religious figures from Iraq and elsewhere will participate in the conference in order to loosen sectarianism’s grasp on Muslim relations and to send a clear message of peace and coexistence regardless of denominational, sectarian, national, or partisan affiliation. Sectarian strife does not only affect Iraq, but all Arab and Islamic countries, and it must be understood that extremism is the nemesis of all mankind.