Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi believes his greatest mistake was, “supporting Al-Maliki twice for the position of prime minister of Iraq.” Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat from his temporary residence in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, al-Hashimi rejected standing before any court in Baghdad and stated that he will “sue Nuri al-Maliki constitutionally and legally because he harmed my reputation and honour.”
Al-Hashimi detailed the raid on his office and his home in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad by Operation Forces and described his ordeal as “sectarian practices.”
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think you will remain in Erbil for long?
[Al-Hashimi] I hope not. I hope that this crisis will end well in the near future. However, I cannot determine a time frame for remaining here. My situation is normal, praise be to God, and I am working with the rest of the leaders to find an appropriate way out.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] what scenario do you see resolving this crisis?
[Al-Hashimi] The crisis this time is a heavy weight, and I mean what I say. Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has created a national crisis and this requires an urgent political surgical resolution. In my opinion, Iraq today is at a crossroad: either we focus the attention of our political leaders to build a true democracy or everyone must give in to what happened over the past six years in terms of obvious polarization of power which could very possibly lead this country to tyranny. This political scene that I am summarizing and I am saying has put the country in great danger and all possibilities in the future are open. It is on this basis that it is now time for everyone to assume their national and legitimate roles, especially leaders of the National Alliance, in order to save Iraq and prevent the country from slipping back into tyranny and losing the opportunity. This could be the last opportunity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion what led to this situation?
[Al-Hashimi] This problem probably lies in the national project that was adopted by our Al-Iraqiya group. Frankly, this is how I read the situation. Personally over the past six years I have not been a personal rival of Al-Maliki, but I was in opposition.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were a supporter of Al-Maliki!
[Al-Hashimi] I never supported Al-Maliki.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you not support his nomination for the prime minister’s position twice?
[Al-Hashimi] Yes I did, on two occasions, and probably committed the biggest mistake of my life.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you regret supporting Al-Maliki?
[Al-Hashimi] Yes, very much so. I supported him in 2006 when Al-Maliki was replaced by Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The scene was repeated again when the political position was altered in the final moments before the current government was formed. I deprived Al-Iraqiya the chance of brother Iyad Allawi forming the cabinet and of being the prime minister. We finally agreed on the nomination of Al-Maliki to form the government. I was also one of those people who did not think twice about blessing the nomination of Al-Maliki and this time in the hope that we will benefit from the experience of the previous session. This was the hope and this is what I told Al-Maliki when I met him alone a number of times in the hallways and spoke to him about my point of view on how the Iraqi state should be administrated over the next four years, which I brought down to one issue this time, and said we must steer clear of political one-upmanship and political haggling and focus over the next four years on serving the Iraqi citizen, serving Iraq, and working as contractors, both you and I, to serve Iraq. I have experience and political and security potentials that I want to utilize to serve my country but I was denied the opportunity to help the Iraqis over the past session, so can you this time open your heart to your brothers in the Al-Iraqiya List and strengthen true national partnership, a partnership that would be that of strong people and not one of the powerful with the weak, a leader and a follower which was the impression we had during the previous session?
I asked him: Do you have the ability to strengthen this partnership and for everyone to be a supporter of the national project that was announced during the elections campaign? We in the Al-Iraqiya list are ready; in fact Tariq al-Hashimi was ready and I even go further and say clearly that this time we have to succeed and I insist on your personal success, Abu-Isra [REFERENCE to Al-Maliki] so are you ready? Al-Maliki said: I am ready, put your faith in God. However, nothing came out of this promise, the same policy that we had seen in the previous session remained and [continued down] the same path. Therefore, this is what happened.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what is the basis of the disagreement between your Al-Iraqiya grouping and the State of Law grouping or the government?
[Al-Hashimi] In my view the basic issue is discrepancy between the two projects, there is a push between a national project that is adopted by Al-Iraqiya that is trying to save Iraq and bring about a tangible transformation in the fields of security, economy, service, and foreign relations with neighbouring countries, and between a project I do not want to describe but its features are clear on the ground and they are manifested in occasional security violations that affect innocent people, and there is no methodological review of this file, but there is arrogance. People are being killed and we say that our security situation is good. On the economic side and eight years after the regime has changed, Iraq depends on one resource and that is the crude oil despite the presence of other resources in Iraq that can be utilized. Therefore, the economic situation is very serious in the event that the sea trade is obstructed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. If the export of Iraqi oil is obstructed then Iraq will declare its bankruptcy and will even not be able to pay the salaries of its employees. Do you not think that we should feel ashamed because 36 percent of the Iraqi people, especially in the southern governorates, live below the poverty line and cannot find money for their daily bread? Iraq has huge resources and has huge financial capabilities. The Iraqi budget has not reached over 100 billion dollars throughout its history. As for the services side, we ask where does the Iraqi Government stand now in terms of [providing] electricity and providing fresh drinking water, education, and municipal services? In terms of health there is obvious deterioration and even the UN reports place Iraq in the category of very backward. The other issue pertains to the tense foreign policy with the neighbouring, Arab, and GCC countries in addition to all the countries around the world…the most dangerous aspect are the reports by registered international organizations about the huge degree of corruption that has hit the Iraqi state and the dangerous violations in human rights files which were confirmed by international human rights organizations affiliated to the United Nations, Amnesty, and Human Rights Watch. All these violations took place during the previous session and are happening today regardless of the available international support and the cooperation of the Iraqi people along with groupings and political personalities supporting a peaceful political process as was the case over the past few years. However, the result was tragic in my opinion even though some minor accomplishments were achieved here and there.
Lessons should have been learned from what had happened during the previous session and I told Al-Maliki that he has to listen to the other point of view and not to “give yourself immunity and feel that you are not responsible.” The accomplishments he had made in the economic, security, and services sectors are the greatest things that should have been achieved in previous years, in fact he should have admitted mistakes and failures and should have been frank with our people. He should have worked in the current session to avoid these shortcomings and to cooperate. However, this did not happen and therefore the disagreement continues between us and Al-Maliki.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Hashimi is the vice president of the republic and Saleh al-Mutlaq is the deputy prime minister and both of you belong to one sect, which is the Sunni sect. I am forced to talk this way as you both belong to one group, which is a rival to the prime minister’s group, a group that won the elections but did not form a government. Today you both face marginalization from the rival party in one way or another. Al-Maliki accuses you of terrorism and the prime minister is asking to withdraw confidence from Al-Mutlaq, how do you explain this?
[Al-Hashimi] Of course what has happened to me and to brother Al-Mutlaq has a certain dimension.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think it is a sectarian dimension?
[Al-Hashimi] Precisely, and proof of this is that today there are people in the National Alliance against whom the courts have issued arrest warrants. But why have they not been implemented? Why is the media announcing the order that Al-Hashimi should be arrested and why was this order not made by the judicial quarters? Later, it transpired that the arrest warrant was issued by the judiciary a few days after it was announced to the public, why?
The issue is a sectarian one no doubt and anyone observing this file will see clearly that there is sectarian targeting. A great part of the accusations of terrorism against me and the demands to withdraw confidence from Al-Mutlaq is that (Sunni) entity symbols are being targeted. We in Al-Iraqiya tried through our national project to overcome this sectarian issue. In fact, in our movement there is (renewal) and I am in charge of this renewal. Our first slogan is “Iraq from a country of entities to a country of citizenship.” On the other hand, today you see clear bias and oppression from the opposite side. What is the problem in the governorates of Ninawa, Salahaldin, Diyala, and Al-Anbar? The problem is violations in the file of human rights. What is the problem in the southern governorates? Poverty and lack of services. Today, any citizen in these governorates cannot guarantee a secure house for himself or his family. A person cannot guarantee his family for the next day! Why? Therefore, people in these (Sunni) governorates are being targeted and sectarian practices are clear to everyone and they cannot in any way be denied.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The accusations of terrorism against you coincided with the requests by the prime minister to withdraw confidence from Al-Mutlaq and the announcement by the American Administration of the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. How do you explain this?
[Al-Hashimi] There is more than one theory in this regard and they deserve studying. First; has the American Administration given Al-Maliki the green light to do this especially since he says he provided the Americans with information about Al-Hashimi when Al-Maliki was in Washington and therefore they gave him the green light to hassle me upon his return to Baghdad.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible that a prime minister of an independent and a large sovereign country such as Iraq to give security information about the vice president of the republic to a country that occupied Iraq and to discuss the issue of arresting Al-Hashimi?
[Al-Hashimi] This is what happened, and this is very regrettable. This man (Al-Maliki) violated the Constitution, law, and norms. He should have covered up this issue even if Al-Hashimi had made a mistake pertaining to the Constitution or the law. There is a red-line for a public position and when it is said that the vice president of the republic is involved in terrorism then what is left in the Iraqi state? This was an attack not only against Al-Hashimi but the entire Iraqi state and the public position. There was no justification to display our dirty laundry in public had we had any, and this issue was not a fabrication before the world and for us to be led into undermining our symbols and leaders in such a way and offering information to a country that ought to have nothing to do with a sovereign matter pertaining to an employee in the presidency that represents the sovereignty of the Iraqi state! As for the second theory, it pertains to Al-Maliki who probably has his own agenda and he probably needs a long time to implement it. It is an agenda that starts with Al-Hashimi and ends with the symbols of the Iraqi leadership and probably then it will move to symbols of the National Alliance and the leaders of the Kurdish Alliance. Probably what is left of the life of this current session, the two years, is enough. But Al-Maliki will not bring down all the leaders and symbols opposing his policies. He started with Tariq al-Hashimi, and he said it outright: “I have files that will reach other political personalities.” However, what stopped him right now from implementing his agenda is the reaction that took him by surprise from within and abroad in defense of the injustice to which Al-Hashimi was subjected.
As for the third theory, then probably Al-Maliki faced pressure from a neighbouring country that has proved it is not far from fabricating this incident. Here I mean Iran in particular. The fourth theory is that it was probably a pre-emptive strike for reports that Al-Maliki received said that Al-Hashimi would carry out a coup attempt after the withdrawal of the American forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was it a conspiracy that you were planning?
[Al-Hashimi] No…this is laughable. I responded to him and said all that I have in terms of protective weapons are from the Ministry of Defense and they are merely simple Kalashnikov machine guns. The Ministry of Defense for the past four years has refused to complete my security regiment. I am a military officer and I know the number and equipment of the regiment. The only regiment that the Ministry of Defense is refusing to complete is the regiment to protect Al-Hashimi. Al-Maliki deprived patriotic personalities from serving their country and their people. Iraq is in dire need of these services and my dream was to leave public office having achieved something for my country and my people. I have security expertise and I have excellent relations with world leaders.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mentioned that you were an officer in the Iraqi Army. What was your rank when you left the army?
[Al-Hashimi] I was a staff lieutenant colonel when I was expelled from the army in 1975. Had I gone up in my military ranks in the legal way then today I would have held the rank of staff general. However, I altered my rank in 2005 when I put forward a request to take the years I was expelled from the army into account since I was politically expelled and I received the rank of a retired staff major general according to the service log.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Talking about the service log and military ranks, the officers’ promotions were carried out according to lists that were published on the Army Day anniversary on 6 January and in July, is this still the case?
[Al-Hashimi] In fact, the problem is in the military service and retirement law. I tried before the law was issued two years ago to have a modern law that attracts capabilities and places proper criteria for volunteering to join the Iraq Army and for promotion, end of service, and retirement. This did not happen because of Al-Maliki’s insistence that the issues of volunteering, promotion, and end of service for the officers in the Iraqi Army should remain in his hands since he is the general commander of the armed forces when in fact the issue of ranks in the Iraqi Army since it was established was the responsibility of the sovereign and it must be left to the presidency according to the Constitution. However, Al-Maliki insisted despite all the laws that were adopted by the Iraqi state in 1921 to exclude military promotion from being issued by a republican decree and for these to be issued by the diwan [court] (the prime minister’s court). Imagine…a decree from the diwan, which appoints a simple employee at the same time, offers a military rank that pertains to national security and sovereignty. It upsets me that the security and defense committee has let me down and has approved this law depriving the military institution of the republican decree. This is why today the estimates of those employed as officers in the army and their promotion and matters pertaining to their retirement are not in the hands of the military institution but in the hands of one person, and that is the general commander of the Armed Forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are responsible for the detainee file as vice president of the republic; do you have a known number of those detained especially in the secret prisons?
[Al-Hashimi] We do not have any definite information about the numbers of those detained or the number of secret prisons in Iraq. A year ago I launched a website on the Internet through which I wanted to know those people who disappear all of a sudden without their family knowing their fate, but Al-Maliki and his office objected on the grounds that how can the vice president of the republic launch such a website for the people and therefore embarrass the executive agency in the Iraqi state and they told me I am not a civil society organization. I asked them are you not interested in finding out the number of those who have been kidnapped, those who disappear, or those arrested? I am interested in this number because we have no numbers available. We follow the reports issued by the Supreme Judicial Council that such and such a number entered prison and such and such a number of prisoners were released. In addition to this, are there really no secret prisons in Iraq? So where are the detentions taking place and where is the torture taking place and the extraction of all these fabricated and baseless confessions? Are these practices taking place in normal prisons under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice? I doubt this. It is regrettable that I do not have any answer to your question. There is no number for those detained or the number of secret prisons. There are wide-scale violations pertaining to the detention period specified by the Constitution, which is 24 hours that can be doubled once only. Then you either release the prisoner or he is put on trial. I know that there are some political activists who spent years in prison and have not been released and every time there is a court order to release them they say wait maybe another case would come up in which you are accused. Months go by and they are in prison until new fabricated cases against come up so they stay in prison.
As for the human rights file in Iraq, it requires international intervention. The situation today is worse than it was in the past and today I am talking about the new Iraq and the standards on which we agreed; standards the violation of which led to the changing of the former regime. Therefore today we cannot accept a single violation of human rights. The reports by the international human rights organizations bring shame to us all and harm the reputation of Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about what happened to your security team and the employees in your office in Baghdad?
[Al-Hashimi] What happened was horrific. They say that Al-Hashimi and his guards violated the law pertaining to terrorism, we understand this but it is my right and the right of my guards to defend ourselves before a fair and just trial that is not influenced by rivals. However, what have the women done? There is an employee called Rasha in the media office, she is married and has a child and is supporting a family of 11 people. Also there is another simple Christian woman who is married and has four children. What happened is that the 56th Brigade, the Baghdad Operations Brigade, went to Rasha’s house to arrest her and when they couldn’t find her they threatened her family and said they would arrest her brothers if she did not hand herself over, so she handed herself over because she was sure of her innocence. I am a witness to her good behaviour and her high ethics over the past years. However, they forced her to confess that she had carried out terrorist operations and that she enticed a police officer in order to kill him. This is what they leaked via the Internet and this is something very frightening; it is distortion of the reputation and honour of an Iraqi woman. I launched a campaign to defend the two women. Yesterday Amnesty International called us because it was horrified by the report to which I had gained access. I have not seen the arrest warrants against the two employees and we do not know the location where they are held. We are not able to assign a lawyer according to the Constitution in order to defend them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How was it possible for a military force to raid the house and office of the vice president of the Republic of Iraq? Do you not have immunity?
[Al-Hashimi] Of course there is immunity in accordance with Article 93 of the Constitution. It is very clear and it points out that any accusation made against the presidency, the prime ministry, or cabinet must be presented to the Federal Court and not to the regular courts. This did not happen and the Constitution was violated. In fact Al-Maliki is the one who received the file on day one and it continues to be supervised by him until this moment; he is speaking instead of the court and is making decisions for the judiciary and accepts or rejects [whatever he wants.]
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is a mayor who decided to obstruct the public highway between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region in order to arrest you, is this true?
[Al-Hashimi] Yes the mayor of Al-Khalis. There are two arrest warrants against him and two months ago before my own crisis with Al-Maliki, I wrote to the judiciary council and asked them why the general prosecution was not pursuing the arrest of Al-Khadran in accordance with the two warrants issued by the executive authority. There are arrest warrants issued by the judiciary against the undersecretary of the Trade Ministry and a former trade minister. There are hundreds of arrest warrants for other people and they have been covered up by Al-Maliki and the executive authority and there is no following up on the matter. They are moving around publicly and are living normal lives. However, an arrest warrant in a fabricated case against Al-Hashimi is made within days and within hours his office is besieged and raided along with his house and his guards’ headquarters. Everything in his office and home was tampered with. I also learned that everything has been destroyed; some posters were put up in my office along with some sectarian slogans as though it was a historic battle against the Al-Hashimi office. Computers were seized along with communication equipment and other equipment used for my protection. My house was tampered with and all my equipment was seized. Even my bedroom, office, clothes, and pictures of my family were leaked on the Internet. It is regrettable that when I travelled from Baghdad to Al-Sulaymaniya to meet with President Jalal Talabani I took nothing but a small bag because I would have been returning the next day to my home and office and on the way I heard the miserable and fabricated confessions that were forced out of my guards.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that you left normally and you did not escape from Baghdad as it was announced?
[Al-Hashimi] Of course I did not run. I left Baghdad with Khudayr al-Khazai, vice president of the republic and everything that was said was lies. They are very good liars and very capable of propaganda. Al-Maliki has committed many humanitarian violations and personally I am going to sue him both constitutionally and legally.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you go to court?
[Al-Hashimi] Yes I will.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even if it were in Baghdad?
[Al-Hashimi] No, I will not go to Baghdad…certainly not. I will go to court when there is justice that is stipulated in the law in order to provide a fair trial and personal protection. How can I appear in front of a court that has forged facts? I have all the courage to go to court to defend my reputation and my honour.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you thought about leaving Iraq?
[Al-Hashimi] No. Not at all. I will not leave Iraq. I am here in the Kurdistan Region and it is part of Iraq. I am here among my people and brothers. I thank the generous Kurdish people and the Kurdish leaders for being good hosts to me. There is no reason to force me to leave my country. The message I received was that these practices are aimed at forcing me to leave Iraq. From the first week they said Al-Hashimi’s best option is to leave Iraq.