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Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Iraq’s Deputy PM Saleh al-Mutlaq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading member of the Al-Iraqiya bloc refuses to apologize to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for calling him a dictator.

“An apology in this way undermines the dignity of the Iraqi people; that is why I will not apologize,” he said.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Mutlaq revealed for the first time that the dispute between the two “rose during our discussion on the issue of national balance. Al-Maliki became agitated and accused me of being an agent of Saudi Arabia and that I am receiving money from it”. Al-Mutlaq went on to say: “These days, one party and one person are ruling Iraq”.

He added that the prime minister “acted illegally when he prevented my office staff, while I was still the deputy prime minister, from doing their work”. The Iraqi deputy prime minister and leader of the National Dialogue Front denied that Saudi Arabia “is playing any role in the Iraqi file. It did not interfere in this file which allows Iran to monopolize the situation in the country”. He emphasized that the “the Iraqi government was formed by an Iranian decision and the reason it continues to stay is due to the Iranian role. Had it not been for the Iranian role, the government would have been formed in a different manner”.

The text of the interview is as follows:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can your dispute with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may be resolved with an apology from you?

[Al-Mutlaq] No; the issue is more serious than an apology and the issue of the country is bigger than an apology between Al-Maliki and Al-Mutlaq. The dispute with the prime minister is bigger than what was reported in the media that I called him a dictator and that he did not build. The dispute arose regarding a basic and essential issue that concerns all the Iraqis; it is the issue of national balance in the state institutions. The state was established on sectarian and partisan foundations and this reflected on the efficiency and performance of the state institutions. We wanted to restore their efficiency and rebuild them on the basis of the national b balance plan. This decision was made by the political leaders and Al-Maliki approved it. It was one of the articles in the Arbil agreement that was confirmed in a political meeting about four months ago. However, the prime minister formed a committee consisting of his three deputies Nuri Ruz Shawiz, Hussein al-Shahrastani, and myself. We reviewed the nature of the balance existing in the state institutions and the ministries. We came to the conclusion that this national balance does not exist. The big catastrophe was when we reviewed the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Nation al Security.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Osama al-Nujayfi made a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat in which he said that the Al-Iraqiya Bloc studied the national balance plan and concluded that based on its representative power of the people of Iraq, it deserves to have 168 persons in the position of director general, 20 employees with the rank of minister, 16 with the rank of undersecretary, and 20 in the rank of advisers. All these senior positions are in the rank of director general and above. There is an imbalance and this is causing an imbalance in powers and influence. The provinces that Al-Iraqiya represents are deprived of representation in the state institutions. This is an imbalance in the core of the Iraqi constitution that determined the national balance in the provinces and the entities”. In your opinion, this imbalance is in whose favor?

[Al-Mutlaq] It is in favor of the Al-Dawa Party. We found out that more than 80 percent of senior civil servants and officers in the security ministries are from the National Alliance with the biggest percentage from the Al-Dawa Party. The share of the rest of the political blocs and national, ethnic, and religious components of the Iraqi people is only 20 percent. Al-Maliki became agitated when we raised this issue. During a cabinet meeting when we were discussing the expulsion of a number of Iraqi university professors and deans by Minister of Higher Education Ali al-Adib, we told Al-Maliki that we wish to implement the national balance plan. His answer to the letter was “I do not recognize the national balance plan; it is a project that sabotages the state”. That is how the dispute arose and turned into an altercation inside the cabinet between me and Al-Maliki who began to level accusations at me. I do not wish to mention what he said because it is unfit for Iraq and the Iraqi people. One day, we will reveal to the Iraqis and the rest of the Arabs what the prime minister told us.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you give us an example?

[Al-Mutlaq] For instance, Al-Maliki is accusing me – a deputy prime minister – of having a relationship with Saudi Arabia and that I am receiving funds from it. If a deputy prime minister is an agent to Saudi Arabia and is receiving money from another country, it would be shameful for him to remain a deputy of the Iraqi prime mi9nister. This is unfit for Iraq.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did this happen during a cabinet meeting?

[Al-Mutlaq] Yes, this is how the problem started; it did not start because I called him a dictator.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But why did the prime minister choose Saudi Arabia to accuse you of being its agent?

[Al-Mutlaq] I am really amazed at this accusation. Saudi Arabia in particular did not interfere in the Iraqi file at all and I am one of those that censure it for taking such a stand. This is particularly true since the kingdom is influential in the Arab and Muslim worlds and it is in the interest of the Iraqi and Saudi peoples for neighbourly Saudi Arabia to play an important role in Iraq.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that Saudi Arabia took this position due to the policies of the Iraqi government?

[Al-Mutlaq] That is correct; but if it has a problem with a ruler in Iraq, it does not mean that it should forget Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal from Iraq allowed a regional country to monopolize the Iraqi file. This rebuts all the allegations that Saudi Arabia is interfering in the Iraqi file and that I am a Saudi agent.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are describing this government as not one of national partnership. Is this correct?

[Al-Mutlaq] Yes; it is not a government of national partnership.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] So why did you participate in it and why are you still in it?

[Al-Mutlaq] I stayed in it because we have no choice but stay in the government in order to minimize the harm and because a true democracy does not exist to allow the opposition to play a political role. If there was an opposition, it would be accused of terrorism and referred to the courts on the basis of Article Four Terrorism. Such an opposition will thus be sent to the detention centers. These days, parliament members that speak inside the parliament are arrested because what they say is not in harmony with the policies of the current government. Our presence in the opposition would not have permitted us to act in political life. This way, we can act, work, and visit the provinces to meet with our masses.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, who is the target in the issue of Tariq al-Hashimi and Al-Mutlaq when both are leaders in the Al-Iraqiya Bloc and belong to the same sect?

[Al-Mutlaq] The target is the project of the Al-Iraqiya Bloc that was founded on the bases of a true national project consisting of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, and non-Muslims. The Al-Iraqiya Bloc includes all patriotic Iraqis. However, it seems that some people do not wish such a project to succeed. They want to keep society divided along sectarian and ethnic lines which conflicts with our plan and project. They opposed our plan and our national approach from the start. They did not allow our bloc to form the government after Al-Iraqiya won the elections. They then tried to divide our leadership but failed. They then threatened and intimidated some of our cadres. This is now known to all Iraqis. When they did not succeed in weakening our bloc, they began to attack individual Al-Iraqiya leaders. They excluded Iyad Allawi from the prime minister’s office and brought Al-Mutlaq to exclude him. They then turned to Al-Hashimi to end the Al-Iraqiya Bloc as a national project.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your position on all of this?

[Al-Mutlaq] Our position is that we continue to cling to our national project. We will not give it up because we are confident that it is the only guarantee to keep Iraq secure, united, and stable, and Iraq that can co-exist with its Arab, Muslim, regional, and international milieus in a sound manner.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is another point of disagreement between you and the Iraqi government related to the issue of federalism, particularly in the Al-Anbar governorate that it is said you support.

[Al-Mutlaq] I have not supported the issue of federalism but the prime minister is strongly pushing the people toward the formation of federations although in reality he is opposed to this plan.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How so? Would you elaborate?

[Al-Mutlaq] The way Al-Maliki is dealing with the provinces is pushing the people toward the option of federation. About 99 percent of the people of Al-Anbar had rejected federalism in the past. These days, however, they are asking for it in order to dissociate themselves from the central authority that they consider to be an unjust authority. They know that they will lose on the economic level but the cost is their dignity that they wish to safeguard. They want to be delivered from the raids and detentions and the absolute control of the central authority. I do not support federalism nor am I one of its proponents. However, I understand why the Iraqis insist on it. I am afraid that one day the citizens would want to form a region but would not be able to do so.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that a federal system would solve the problems of the Iraqi people?

[Al-Mutlaq] In view of the partisan and sectarian control, I believe that the Iraqis would turn to the formation of regions as a solution to their difficult circumstances and to distant themselves from individualistic control even if they do not believe in the federal system. However, they want deliverance from a bitter reality. They are taking this option while knowing that it is a hard and bitter option for those that wish to uphold Iraq’s unity.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect the national conference that President Jalal Talabani called for would succeed?

[Al-Mutlaq] If success means solving the political problems that exist on the ground, then the answer is definitely no. I am worried that this conference or meeting would totally fail or that it would turn into an occasion for “hugs and kisses”. This does not serve the interests of the Iraqi people. I wish that this meeting would solve even part of the basic dilemmas in the country, the most prominent of which is for us to agree on genuine participation in the government and the participation of all the sides in the decision-making process. I am not saying that we should strip Al-Maliki of his powers, but we want him to consult the other sides when important strategic decisions are made that concern the livelihood of the Iraqi citizen and the status of Iraq as a respected state. These days, Iraq is isolated on the Arab and Islamic levels and even on the international level. The situation has reached a point where Iraq is nominated to host the Islamic conference, which is Iraq’s right, but it loses to Djibouti. When Iraq wanted to exercise its right to host the Gulf soccer tournament and spends more than $700 million to build a stadium in Basra, it is deprived of this right and the tournament is held in another country.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the reason for this, in your opinion?

[Al-Mutlaq] The reason is that Iraq’s policies have isolated it from its Arab milieu and from the international community. It is forcibly isolated due to the will of one party and one individual and on the basis of a sectarian not national approach.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In light of this climate, what do you expect from the Arab summit conference that will be held in Baghdad at the end of next month?

[Al-Mutlaq] I wish the Arab summit conference would initiate a genuine national reconciliation among all the Iraqi political currents before it convenes. Otherwise, the summit would be devoted to one government side that excludes its partners. It would support one side and not with all the national sides participating in the political process. I wish the Arab summit would discuss the conditions of the Iraqis abroad and how we can help our sons return to their country. This should be done through a general amnesty allowing all Iraqis to return to their country. It is shameful to leave our daughters, brothers, and sons to live under the current miserable conditions in which they are.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In view of the statements that Iraqi political leaders and government officials are making against some Arab leaders, which Arab kings or heads of state do you expect to come to Baghdad?

[Al-Mutlaq] I will be really surprised if Iraq hosts the Arab summit and waits for Arab leaders while very convulsive statements are being made against several Arab countries. Although those that make these statements do not name specific countries, it is clear which Arab state or states they mean. The question is whether it is in Iraq’s interest or not to convene the Arab summit in its capital. I believe that hosting this important conference would constitute a historic opportunity for Iraq and the present Iraqi government. The Iraqi government should send signals of tolerance and amity as well as determination to uphold Arab relations. However, we did not hear such statements. On the contrary, we hear statements that are not in the interest of Iraq or of the ummah [worldwide community of Islam]. I do not believe that the conference will be the way it is imagined now. It will not be of much use unless it is well prepared for in advance. I wish the summit would be preceded by a genuine national reconciliation. I wish Al-Maliki would open his heart to all his partners and the sons of his peop0le in order to inaugurate a new stage. Unfortunately, this has not happened. On the contrary, what we see is escalation and growing tension in the political climate. Either the Arab summit conference returns Iraq to its national homeland and returns the ummah to Iraq to end this isolation or it will be a conference that further distances Iraq from all the Arabs and the ummah. This would mark a big loss to the Arabs and to Iraq. Therefore, I wish the summit conference would be prepared for well and on all levels to be befitting to our country and our people. I wish the Arab summit conference would be held in Baghdad in a Iraq where all its components are united. Of course, the time left is not sufficient to create the required climate but additional and sincere efforts should be made and determination to achieve national reconciliation before the conference convenes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that before inviting them to the summit, Iraq should achieve reconciliation with the Arab countries that you said are being criticized in statements by Iraqi officials?

[Al-Mutlaq] Wisdom demands that we initiate a fresh phase in our relations with the Arab brothers. Iraq cannot rise quickly and on its own. Without the Arabs, Iraq would be isolated not only on the Arab level but also on the international level. We should keep in mind that our experiment is still frail and our country has not yet stood on its own two feet. It needs help at this stage. If we open our hearts to our Arab brethren, they can help us build Iraq in a sound manner. The convocation of the Arab summit in Baghdad is a good opportunity to achieve this. However, if the situation continues as it is at present , perhaps some Arab leaders would come for a few hours and then leave. The summit would thus turn into a mere acquaintance party. Yes, some influential Iraqi sides are trying to isolate Iraq from its Arab milieu and we wish our Arab brethren would not allow these attempts to succeed if the regional non-Arab role exercises its influence in this regard. The role of the regional factor is influential in Iraq.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who do you mean by this regional role or factor?

[Al-Mutlaq] I specifically mean Iran. The Iranian role is in control of everything in the country. The current Iraqi government was formed by an Iranian decision and the reason why it still remains is the Iranian role. Had it not been for the Iranian role, the government would have been formed differently and the government would have been reformed. However, Iran insisted on the formation of this government and on it remaining as it is.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Iraqi citizen does not care about the convocation of the Arab summit or about the national conference. When we asked the man in the street about these two issues, they expressed indifference. How do you explain this?

[Al-Mutlaq] Unfortunately, the behavior of the Iraqi politicians has to this state of despair and frustration among the Iraqi people from the entire political process and politicians. The Iraqi citizen can no longer differentiate between a sincere politician who acts along a patriotic line and a corrupt politician. This is a loss to all the politicians and to the process of reconstruction and stability of Iraq. The most dangerous problem nowadays is the lack of trust between the people and the political forces. At the same time, there are no alternative political forces that would restore the trust between them and the Iraqi citizen. This will lead to a huge vacuum and it would be difficult for the Iraqi to go to the polls once again. This is a big loss to the entire democratic process in Iraq.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, do you think that the changes and events taking place in the Arab world – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria – would prompt the Iraqi government to change its course?

[Al-Mutlaq] So far, the rulers of Iraq continue to wager on the sectarian factor. They think that the sectarian issue would foil any movement in the Iraqi street. Whenever the Iraqi street emerges to protest in demand of its rights, the ruling side fabricates a sectarian issue that inflames the emotions of the people and thus aborts such a protest. Some political forces in the country are working to restore the sectarian line-up again in order to insure that they would be re-elected.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the Arab spring begin in Iraq as some Iraqi politicians are saying?

[Al-Mutlaq] The Iraqi spring should begin from the south.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you still a deputy prime minister in Iraq?

[Al-Mutlaq] Yes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the reports are saying that the government or the security organs withdrew the permits of your staff from entering the Green Zone and also withdrew some of the government vehicles in your office.

[Al-Mutlaq] This confirms what I have said in describing the prime minister as a dictator. These days, he is behaving worse than a dictator by demonstrating that he does not believe in the law and showing that the state is not based on the law in Iraq. When the identity card of an employee with the rank of director general in my government office is withdrawn, this means that this employee cannot go to his department and do his work legally. In fact, my office staffers were held without food because they could not leave the Green Zone without their identity cards that were withdrawn from them. I told them to be patient. We bore a lot in order to rectify the situation and build the new Iraq. I still hope that Al-Maliki would retract his measures that are illegal. If this situation continues, there will be no peaceful co-existence in Iraq. This would lead to negative consequences that would drive the Iraqis to start thinking of matters that they never thought of in the past and that would impact on Iraq’s unity and stability.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The State of the Law bloc has turned down a proposal by your Al-Iraqiya bloc to put your issue and that of Al-Maliki on the agenda of the national meeting program. How can this problem be resolved?

[Al-Mutlaq] In fact, I had asked my brothers in the Al-Iraqiya not to include my issue in the working paper of the national meeting. I said that this issue should be resolved outside this meeting. If my issue is going to obstruct the success of the national meeting to bring about genuine partnership, I forget about my issue totally.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can your problem be resolved?

[Al-Mutlaq] The issue should be referred to the parliament to vote on withdrawing their vote of confidence in me, as Al-Maliki has demanded. If parliament votes to withdraw its vote of confidence in me, then they are welcome to do so. If not, the prime minister should accept this because we came on the basis of political reconciliation that Al-Maliki is now rejecting. We came as the result of a vote under the parliament dome. I asked that the issue be referred to the House of Representatives and I said that I will accept any decision if it is made democratically. What I am afraid of is that the vote would be held along sectarian lines. If that happens, political, national, and social harmony would come to an end. As for Al-Hashimi’s problem, it should have been dealt with from the start in a judicial manner but it was transformed into a political issue. Accusations and charges were made before the judiciary had its say and this complicated the issue. Now, when the prime minister makes statements that Al-Hashimi should come submissively, the objective of the issue it seems is to humiliate Al-Hashimi. I do not agree with this at all. He is still the vice president and it is his right to be given the fair opportunity to defend himself under a fair judiciary and under good security conditions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, will Al-Mutlaq apologize to Al-Maliki?

[Al-Mutlaq] If an apology is related to Al-Mutlag’s personal dignity and upholds the dignity of the Iraqi people, I will not hesitate to apologize. What is important to me today is to have the dignity of the Iraqis restored. I care about the stability and reconstruction of Iraq. However, I think that apologizing in this manner will undermine the dignity of the Iraqis; so I will not apologize.