Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Izzat al-Shabandar, spokesman of the The Iraqi List and member of the House of Representatives, has denied that a split has taken place in his party following the announcement of the List’s candidates for ministerial posts. However, he said, “There were complaints by some members of the List for reasons most of which were understandable.”
In his first interview since the announcement of the names of the cabinet members, Al-Shabandar revealed to Asharq al-Awsat details of the last moments before the Iraqi List agreed to join the government. The Iraqi List refused to join the government until the morning of the parliamentary session convened to grant a vote of confidence to the members of the government of Nuri al-Maliki. the Iraq list is participating in the government with five ministers through whom it is making clear that it is against sectarian or ethnic distribution of cabinet portfolios. The candidates for ministerial posts include a Christian woman, Wajdan Mikhail, as minister for human rights; Hashim al-Shibli, a Sunni Arab as justice minister who refuses to be classified as a Sunni or Shiite, but as Iraqi; a moderate Shiite, Muhammad Allawi as communications minister; a Communist, Ra’id Fahmi as minister for science and technology; and a villager from Al-Amarah, Muhammad Al-Oraibi. They “reflect the diversity of our list, on the one hand, and confirm that this is Iraq,” according to Al-Shabandar.
al-Shabandar pointed out that, “Rumors about a split in the Iraqi List are unfounded; no split exists whether on the level of individuals or groups. There were complaints by some members of the List for reasons most of which were understandable. The reasons were the confusion caused by the last-minute negotiations to improve the level of the ministries offered to the Iraqi List. The constraints of time also did not allow all the party members to express their opinion on who should and who should not be a minister in the government. This was the reason some members complained and objected to what happened. However, in general, matters were good and the Iraq List is united. This happens in all the parties.”
Regarding the last moments that preceded the decision of the Iraqi List to join the government, Al-Shabandar said, “The brothers in the Coalition (the Unified Iraqi Coalition) did not agree on one answer to the letter sent by the Iraq List. Each party responded in its own way. This is in addition to the direct intervention of the President Jalal Talabani on this issue, which led to another offer and another answer to the letter sent by our party. All this happened on the eve of the parliamentary session that was due to grant the government a vote of confidence. Even after the midnight of Friday/Saturday, they gave us their answer by telephone. The List held a meeting Saturday morning and decided on several possibilities. We decided that if they rejected all our demands, our position would be not to join the government. We also decided that if they approved all our demands, our position would be to join the government. We also made a decision on what would be our position if they accepted part of our demands. Finally, they made an offer to the Iraqi List that fulfilled part of its demands. They asked us to give up our demand for the Trade Ministry and accept a minister of state portfolio instead. We received this offer at the last moment–between 10 and 10:30 am, just before the parliamentary session. We had ended our meeting and were on our way to the parliament.”
Al-Shabandar added, “We went as a negotiating delegation, carrying in one hand a list of candidates nominated by Dr. Iyad Allawi, the chairman of the Iraq List, and in the other hand a statement rejecting participation in the government. We did not know which of the two papers we would implement. When we arrived at the office of the president of the republic and the prime minister-designate (Nuri al-Maliki), they told us that it would be possible for us to have a fifth ministerial portfolio, and they asked us to give them the names of the candidates. This was the reason for the confusion. We did not have time to go back to the party to discuss the names. Chairman of the Iraq List Dr. Allawi nominated three people for each ministry and gave the freedom to the prime minister to choose one for each of the portfolios allocated to us, and this is what happened.”
Al-Shabandar affirmed that an injustice was done to his party because “the mentality of the Coalition (the Unified Iraqi Coalition) has not risen to the level of establishing the basis for a new Iraqi state. The Coalition acted like the other parties competing with each other to gain the largest number of ministerial posts. It did not rise to the level of becoming the father and patron of all the parties. The Coalition was interested in satisfying one of its factions, and this was more important to it than to satisfy a party outside the Coalition that had more than 10 or 20 seats in the parliament. When I saw this standard of dialogue, and when I used to tell them to give us this or that ministry, they (the Coalition) used to say that this one is for this faction and this one is for that faction–all being members of the Coalition. Then, I knew that they wanted to satisfy each other more than to establish a new Iraqi state based on national unity. The aim of the Coalition was to safeguard its unity and not to have a national unity government, or it actually did not make a distinction between the two.” Al-Shabandar said, “It seems we need to better understand politics and understand victory. What does it means to win in parliamentary elections? Do you want to form a government alone to your taste or to the taste of those who accepted you with all your faults or do you want to form a genuine national unity government? To form a national unity government demands from the election victor to enjoy a high level of unselfishness. We did not find this level in the Coalition brothers. An injustice was done to the Iraqi List, because it did not get what it deserves. The injustice came from everyone. The reason is not that they only wanted to monopolize the positions. The reason is that the Coalition and the Iraqi Al-Tawafuq (Accord) Front have not abandoned their sectarian-based culture. They had a problem placing the Iraqi List and its candidates in a sectarian box. Are they Sunnis? Are they Shiites? I will say that members of the Iraq List are neither Sunnis nor Shiites; they are patriotic Iraqis. Therefore, it was difficult for them to accept the candidates of the Iraqi List, because they could not list them under a sectarian title. The problem is the culture based on sectarian and ethnic discrimination. The other problem is the greed to control the largest number of posts. They never came close to the idea of the magnanimity of the victor, the winner, and the national leader who wants to gather around him all possible components of the Iraqi society and its political blocs.”
Al-Shabandar denied that this government is a national unity government except for the participation of the Iraqi List in it. He said, “No aspect of a national unity government exists in this government, except for the participation of the Iraq List. This is the truth. The presence of Iraqi list in the government is a basis on which an Iraqi national project can develop and grow. Without the presence of the Iraq, there is no aspect or color of a national unity government. All the ministers are Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds, and that is it. This is not a national unity government. Our participation in it could enable us to develop the national project, because we realized that we could not achieve the Iraqi national project while staying outside the state institution, particularly as this government will serve for four years and not for a few months. We agreed to join the government and said we should be patient, endure, and work through the great Iraqi state institution.”