London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Despite the fact that Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Osama Al-Nujayfi is the leader of Iraqiyun Grouping, which is part of the Al-Iraqiya List chaired by former Iraqi Prime Minister Dr Iyad Allawi, he insists serving “all the Iraqis with their different religious and ethnic belongings and their political leanings.” Al-Nujayfi stresses: “I am the speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives; the fact that I am a member of a certain political list gives me momentum to implement the national program of that list, which does not believe in sectarian quotas.”
In London where he arrived chairing an Iraqi parliamentary delegation at the invitation of the British House of Commons, Al-Nujayfi hosted Asharq Al-Awsat for a lengthy interview about the complexities of the Iraqi political scene. With his usual frankness, Al-Nujayfi diagnoses the points of dysfunction and the current attempts to repair what can be repaired. Al-Nujayfi denies strongly “any dispute with Dr Allawi with whom we are bound with relations of respect and appreciation. He is the leader of the Al-Iraqiya List, who is committed to carrying out real reforms.”
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In a democratic system parliament is usually the strongest power, because it includes the representatives of the people. However, in the Iraqi it seems that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and not the government, is the strongest. Do you not find this strange?
[Al-Nujayfi] Perhaps this was true in the past period. However, today the Iraqi parliament is moving out of the stage of marginalization and containment into become a strong parliament. This requires time and determination, and requires the conviction of the majority of the members of the Council of Representatives, a majority that is not available now. Nevertheless, there are qualitative leaps forward toward distinguishing the legislative authority from the executive authority, and dealing with the latter on the basis of integration and cooperation and not subjugation.
Many of the recent legislations contradict the government’s viewpoint, but they agree with the conviction of the representatives of the Iraqi people. The latest of these legislations were a week ago, namely the Audit Commission Law and the Integrity Commission Law, which were legislated with complete independence that even contradicted the majority bloc within the Council of Representatives, as a result of alliances among certain blocs in favour of the legislations. Even Representatives from the National Coalition Bloc voted with the other blocs because of their conviction that that would lead to the fulfilment of the interest of the country, namely getting the Integrity Commission and the Audit Commission out of the government, and linking them to the parliament, and the nomination of the commissions’ leaders and members would come from parliament.
In many of the frictions that have taken place between the prime minister and the political blocs during the past period, the parliament has proved that it is strong, effective, influential, should be taken into consideration, and not as before, when it (the parliament) used to receive orders and carry them out.
I believe that we still need time, and the conviction of the government that the role of parliament is a positive one, anyone who builds and achieves stability is working for the benefit of all, and that the containment of the Council of Representatives is harmful, and not beneficial to anyone even to the government and its prime minister.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the majority of the Members of the Council of Representatives we met complain that the Council of Representatives is a parliament of blocs and leaders of political blocs, and they are the ones who decide?
[Al-Nujayfi] No, I gave you the example of the legislations of the Integrity and Audit Commissions. The viewpoint of the prime minister was that the appointment of the chairmen of these commissions should be made by the government, but the winning opinion was that their nomination should be made by the Council of Representatives. Part of the members of the National Coalition Bloc voted with Al-Iraqiya List and the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc despite the fact that there were orders and instructions to vote for what their blocs wanted. What happened was the opposite; as some of them left the session in order that they would not be embarrassed and vote either for or against. In order to avoid embarrassment and raising the hands, a few days ago electronic voting was approved, and this will be implemented after the parliamentary holiday, and after dealing with the technical issues.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Also the Representatives complain that the parliamentary committees are not active, especially the Security and Defence Committee, the Integrity Committee, and also the Foreign Policy Committee?
[Al-Nujayfi] This is true. With regard to the security dossier, the government clings strongly to this dossier, and does not show the Council of Representatives any details related to it, which is a major constitutional violation. This is despite the fact that a number of Representatives have addressed questions to the prime minister to inform the council about the details of the security forces, their ability to protect security in the light of the US withdrawal, the vision of the government of the direction of the security forces, including the army, whose number exceeds one million people, and whether there is a tendency to reduce the numbers of these forces. However, unfortunately the prime minister has not answered any of these questions. Days ago, I sent a confirmation to the prime minister, and I said to him: You have to answer these questions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your capacity as speaker of the Council of Representatives, are you acquainted with the reality of the security forces in Iraq?
[Al-Nujayfi] Personally, I am not acquainted with any security details, despite the fact that I asked for these details several times. This is a clear constitutional violation; it is not informing the people on the course of the security situation. The prime minister considers these issues as top secret, even to those authorized constitutionally to get informed about this dossier. This is a regrettable issue.
With regard to the foreign relations, the parliamentary committee is commissioned to follow up the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, define its policy, and to achieve balance in the Foreign Service Institute and in the embassies. There is bickering between Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and the parliamentary committee because of differences of viewpoints. Zebari has been hosted by parliament more than once, and has been directed to cooperate with the committee and to resolve all the pending issues. A few days ago, the situation improved and balance has been restored to the Foreign Service Institute according to the quotas of the governorates. This is completely constitutional; it is the nomination of a certain number from each governorate, according to the ratio of its population, to be accepted at the Foreign Service Institute so that they later on serve in the diplomatic corps. Resolving the pending issues with the government requires time, and we have identified the points of dysfunction.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about integrity? Many of the dossiers have been exposed, and the officials involved in the cases of corruption in these dossiers have not been held to account?
[Al-Nujayfi] The Parliament’s Integrity Committee is actively effective; however, the dysfunction in the Integrity Commission is that there is no law to regulate its work, and it still is operating according to the law laid down by Paul Bremer, US civil administrator in Iraq after 2003, the law that was legislated in the beginning of the occupation, and that still is in force.
Ten days ago, we ratified a new law that will be published in the official newspaper, and will be applied. The law gives structure and powers to the Integrity Commission, and guarantees its independence. Independence was not available in the work of the commission, because its chairman was appointed by the government, and the government used to interfere in his work, while he would not object, but rather avoid raising some grave dossier and only cling to the small issues in which low-level officials are involved, and similar cases. I believe that there will be qualitative development in the work of the commission.
As for the parliamentary Integrity Committee, it is not a judicial side; its role is to expose the corruption dossiers, to inform the Council of Representatives, to refer them to the Integrity Commission, and to follow up the implementation of the measures.
In all parliamentary committees there are members of various blocs, and there are blocs that defend their ministers and officials who are accused in corruption cases. However, in general, I consider that there is a tendency to deal with these dossiers seriously. It is true that there are obstacles and problems, but I reiterate that we need time, perseverance, and patience. There are challenges to the process; however, the Council of Representatives, according to what it has achieved during the past period, is capable of deep-rooting democracy and the principles of the Constitution in Iraq, but the relations between the authorities have to be clarified completely.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You talk about the constitutional violation committed by the government of Prime Minister (Al-Maliki) with regard to the security situation and not informing Parliament about this dossier. Do you think that this is the only constitutional violation committed by the prime minister or the government?
[Al-Nujayfi] The prime minister considers that this period of time is disturbed, and requires privacy and secrecy in dealing with the security situation. We disagree with him over this point, and we believe that the Representatives ought to be acquainted with the security dossiers, even in closed sessions. The consultations with the Council of Representatives over the drawing up of the general policy of the government nearly are absent. The issue requires some kind of consultations among the three authorities to draw up the general features of the state policy with regard to the foreign, security, and economic affairs, and foreign relations. This requires cooperation between the Council of Representatives and the ministries concerned.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the government itself is in disagreement over many issues, for instance, the Kuwaiti Mubarak seaport?
[Al-Nujayfi] Yes the government is in disagreement over many issues. For instance, let us take the issue of the Kuwait seaport of Mubarak as an example. Some sides in the government say that the building of this port is harmful to the Iraqi ports; others say that its building is not harmful; and the government has not given a specific opinion, and the House of Representatives is waiting. There are ambiguities in the viewpoints of some dossiers.
Yes, there are constitutional violations that take place every now-and-then as a result of preferring the policy of the blocs to what exists in the Constitution. In some cases, the Constitution is not clear, and includes articles that are open to interpretations; one side interprets some articles of the Constitution in a way that differs from the interpretation by another side, and when we ask the Federal Court about a specific issue, it – with its current structure – is unable to give a decisive opinion, because the Federal Court is influenced by political pressure.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are pending bills that have not been legislated during the previous parliamentary sessions. You in this session have inherited a difficult legacy represented by the draft law of oil and gas, the political parties’ law, and the plan of the Federal Council. How will you deal with these issues?
[Al-Nujayfi] Now there is some kind of precise and clear examination of issues. I believe that the political bickering that has existed since the announcement of the results of the elections until today has identified the points of dysfunction and the problems in the management of the state. Now, the efforts are focused on dealing with these problems. In the past, the issues were blurred, and unclear, but now we say that the country is unbalanced, the security forces – the police and the army – are unbalanced, there are monopolies by some influential sides in some decision-making issues, and there are power centers controlled by sectarianism, partisanship, and regionalism, and these centers will not allow the building of a balanced state.
With regard to the laws to which I referred, they are important laws, and work is proceeding in containing the problems these laws are facing. With regard to the oil and gas law, it has been delayed greatly at the government. I have contacted the prime minister, and said to him: You should agree a draft law within the Council of Ministers and then send it to us; he said: We are unable to do this because of the existence of severe disputes within the Council of Ministers. Therefore, I instigated the Oil Committee in parliament to prepare the oil and gas law; it was prepared, and we carried out a reading of half of it, but in the second half a complete bloc left the hall. The National Coalition Bloc said: We reject this proposal. Meanwhile, the government within one week sent a draft law that is different from our proposal. However, this has pushed the wheels forward a little. Now the Council of Representatives has complete powers to amend what it wants of the draft law, and we can incorporate the first proposal within the draft law and come up with a formula on which we can agree within months. This is an example of some issues that the Council of Representatives can do, which were lacking in the past.
Also we have the law of the Federal Service Council, which was legislated two years ago. Now, what is required is to nominate candidates on which the parliament would vote. As a result of the political disputes, the Council of Ministers is incapable of making the nominations. I have sent a message to the prime minister and said: If you do not nominate the candidates within one month, we will introduce an amendment to the law, and nominate the candidates from parliament. The prime minister has promised me to settle the issue. I believe that the Council of Representatives has proved that it is capable of being strong and of performing its complete duty to change the course of the country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is true if there is a government of true national partnership. Do you think that such partnership exists?
[Al-Nujayfi] No, now there are political disputes. There are blocs that think that they are partners, but they have no partnership, they have ministers, but they do not participate in decision making. The policy of the state is not laid down by the Council of Ministers; there is another kitchen that arranges the issues, and they come up ready-made, and the decisions are adopted by majority, or by exploiting certain circumstances.
Partnership requires that all are present in every decision-making center, everyone should have a voice in decision making, and representatives within the sides that make the decisions, such as the security institutions – the army and the police, and economic policy, oil, and advisory centers. This is in order to turn the political decision-making kitchen into an official kitchen whose source is the results of the elections, and in order to prevent the establishment of a secret government in Iraq that manages the affairs. Iraq ought to be managed by an elected government that comes through the elections, and wins and obtains the votes of the people with specific numbers that ought to be respected.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a clandestine government in Iraq?
[Al-Nujayfi] I have said “in order to prevent the establishment of a secret government.” However, certainly the decisions are not made by the Council of Ministers, or in the official institutions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As you talk about the elections, the numbers, and respecting them, do you think that the Al-Iraqiya List is the biggest loser in the political process?
[Al-Nujayfi] Yes, Al-Iraqiya is the biggest loser because of judicial decisions and international interference that contributed to the formation of the Iraqi Government. Iraq is exposed to interventions, and there have been dictates coming from abroad; I believe that these interventions currently have been weakened, as the Iraqi internal strength started to form, but this strength has not been completed yet.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you interpret the latest statement by Dr Iyad Allawi, leader of Al-Iraqiya List, in which he says that he will not be a false witness to the situation in Iraq? How do you interpret his foregoing of the National Council for Higher Policies [NCHP]?
[Al-Nujayfi] Dr Allawi was hoping that the situation would proceed in the opposite direction of the one prevailing today. He was hoping for this in order to achieve stability and carry out deep reforms in the Iraqi situation. However, the political disputes have not allowed the fulfilment of these reforms, because of the lack of great trust among the effective political powers. The NCHP ought to have been the political kitchen that produces the decisions, and directs the state onto the correct paths. Dr Allawi has been the most suitable person to chair this NCHP because of his political experience and expertise, and he could have played a major positive role, but this entitlement has been bypassed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this subject, I mean the NCHP, over?
[Al-Nujayfi] No, the issue is still open, and has not been settled so far. It has had its first reading at the Council of Representatives, and it was agreed in principle. Other sides have cast doubt on some paragraphs as contradicting the Constitution; there is a dialog over this. I have introduced the law twice on the agenda of the parliament, but it was withdrawn at the request of Al-Iraqiya, because the bloc thinks that the situation is not ripe yet, and it needs more dialog with the political powers. The issue will come for discussion, and it will be achieved. We hope that it will include the powers to allow Dr Allawi, or any other person from Al-Iraqiya, to work. This is necessary in the light of a changing Iraqi situation, especially as this has been agreed during the meeting of the leaders of the Iraqi political blocs and the leaders of the country.
The situation will not continue like this. If the entitlements of Al-Iraqiya were to be bypassed, there are many peaceful and constitutional options, including early elections. However, generally speaking, I consider that the situation is moving in the direction of improvement through the dialog with the National Coalition.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been many important meetings and talks since the announcement of the results of the elections. There is the Arbil agreement, according to the initiative of Kurdistan President Masud Barzani, which led to the formation of the current government, and then the initiative of President Jalal Talabani. These meetings produce resolutions that are bypassed when the time comes to implement them. Those who bypass these resolutions are well known. This is an endless game, which will continue forever?
[Al-Nujayfi] This is the problem. Some political powers do not adhere to the agreements, the most important of which is the Arbil agreement, which was the result of seven months of negotiations. A small part of it has been implemented, but the important part, which is related to the restoration of balance to the country, and the achievement of real reforms through legislating laws in parliament, the judiciary, the government, the powers of th e commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, and the internal statutes of the Council of Ministers, and in the security aspects, all these important issues that achieve the partnership in decision making and in identifying the powers, where we go, and where we end up, all these issues are not clear now, and have been bypassed because of the lack of trust.
These issues were more severe in the past. However, some political powers, and some leaders still do not trust each other, and they believe that if a political bloc were to control a ministry, it would exploit this ministry for its own interests, and would strike at the authority and influence of the others.
These issues have to be dealt with, and to be subjected to laws, and not to whimsical wishes that depend on deals and agreements; they ought to depend on constitutional texts, binding laws, and independent judiciary that would be an arbiter and decider on all issues. There ought to be a judiciary that says its word regardless of who would suffer and who would benefit of this.
Now, this is lacking in Iraq. We have a problem in the judiciary. We wish we had independent judiciary with strong personalities, decisive laws, and judges to be voted at the Council of Representative, such as the judges of the Court of Cassation, the Supreme Judicial Council, and the Federal Court, judges who have complete independence, and that the public prosecution would play its real role, hold the security organizations to account, defend the rights of the people, and expose the torture in prisons. These issues still are restricted because the judge is afraid to hold a state official to account, because this judge is appointed as acting or as a result of a political decision, and he has not obtained the confidence of the Council of Representatives.
This maelstrom ought to end through important legislations, defined powers, separation of authorities, a parliamentary power that legislates and holds to account, government that is effective through coordination among authorities, but that has limits, and it knows that if it crosses them it will be held to account, and an authority that holds the government to account on the basis of the Constitution. This means that the law is above all. This is what is lacking in Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it not strange that Iraq until today has no security ministries?
[Al-Nujayfi] There is a major dysfunction in the security dossier. All the commanders of the military divisions are appointed as acting commanders, all the special grades and advisers are appointed as acting, and all the undersecretaries are acting.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that Iraq is an acting state?
[Al-Nujayfi] Yes, this is correct. We have formed a committee at the Council of Representatives to submit all the names of those appointed as acting to the Representatives to vote on them so that these acting officials can work without fear of being dismissed, and so that they no longer are subject to pressure from those who appointed them. If these people are appointed by parliament, there would be no power that can dismiss them other than the parliament itself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the post of defence minister, according to the Arbil agreement, for the Sunni Arabs or for Al-Iraqiya?
[Al-Nujayfi] The post of the defence minister is for Al-Iraqiya; however, the Al-Iraqiya List has nominated nine people, three of whom are Shiites and six are Sunnis. This is because Al-Iraqiya does not believe in sectarian quotas. No name has been agreed so far. What interests us is the presence of a professional person who can work and serve the country and the people regardless of his religious sect, and who respects human rights. Some of the military units imprison and torture people and prisoners die under torture. These are not part of the powers of the army, which has been commissioned to enter the cities to help the security organizations. Some of the detainees stay in detention for more than three years, and then they are killed. There are cases filed in courts against officers in the Iraqi army on charges of torturing citizens.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have initiated the rapprochement between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Province Government, and you have gone to Arbil with the aim of establishing reconciliation between them. What have your efforts reached?
[Al-Nujayfi] It is not reconciliation, but it is bringing the viewpoints closer together. I have started to sense hysteria in the sectarian issue, which has reached a dangerous level at the incident of the Al-Nukhayb crime, and in Diyali, where the Peshmerga Forces and the army came closer to confrontation. As a speaker of parliament, I found it to be my duty to bring the sides closer together, and to establish a dialog among all sides. I started by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the influential political powers, Al-Iraqiya, the Kurdistan Alliance, the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council, and the Al-Sadr Trend in order to remove this tension, to look for the common ground, and to resolve the problems before the situation gets out of hand.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your recent visits to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran?
[Al-Nujayfi] These visits are an attempt to discuss the regional problem. I went to Saudi Arabia, and I met His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz and Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz. In Iran I met all the officials, the president, and the speaker of parliament. Recently I visited Turkey to discuss the sectarian tension that has started to surface, as Iraq will be the ground on which this conflict will take place, which is harmful to the Iraqi people.
We discussed with the Iranians the issue of blocking the rivers, and the shelling of the Kurdistan Province. We said to them that this was completely unacceptable. The Iranians also pointed out the existence of problems in Iraq that would affect them.
As for our brethren in Saudi Arabia, there still is a problem, and there is a dispute with the Iraqi Government over certain dossiers, and we hope that they will be solved. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an important country in the region, we have complete respect for our Saudi brethren, and, praise be to God, there are no problems at all between our two peoples.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the dossier of foreign relations, how do you see what is taking place in Syria?
[Al-Nujayfi] We are on the side of the Syrian people’s determination and demands for reforms, elections, and democracy. We, in Parliament, are against violence against the civilians. The time of the single party and the inspired leader has ended. Syria is moving toward change. However, can the government perform changes, and contain the situation, or will there be a complete change? This is the question. We fear a civil war or partition. There are peculiarities of the Syrian situation, but we are on the side of the demands of the Syrian people, and against targeting them.