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Asharq Al-Awsat Interview's Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki (Asharq Al-Awsat Photo By Hatim Oweida)

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki (Asharq Al-Awsat Photo By Hatim Oweida)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] some circles have accused the Al-Maliki Government of not wanting reconciliation. What is the reason behind this allegation?

[Al-Maliki] First of all, the reality refutes these claims. This gives us the scope to look for the reasons that make some people make such claims. Perhaps one of the reasons is that I disagree with those who understand reconciliation as a distribution and division of the Iraqi cake and the responsibility cake away from the Constitution and the foundations of the structure of the Iraqi State. The practical reality is different from their claims. I have been the first one to launch this initiative, and to act on it. However, regrettably some politicians do not want reconciliation, but they want partnership in distributing the heritage of Iraq; I refuse this. I am working toward getting us out of the practice of quotas and distribution on the basis of constituents; I am working toward the restoration of national bases for dealing.

Therefore, the concept of reconciliation has been a beginning to which I very much adhered through conferences and opening up. However, I have been confronted by the opinion of some political constituents, who represent social constituents, and who said: We do not believe in all the political process; in fact we think that the political process is an illusion that we used to believe. Some of them say that my project is the resistance; how can I reconcile to those who say that my project is the resistance? This is a huge lie. Therefore, I moved toward reconciliation believing that the politicians ought to have a high appreciation of its importance. The Iraqi citizens appreciate the importance of reconciliation. Accordingly, we moved toward reconciliation at the level of the politicians, and we moved strongly toward reconciling the people with each other. I introduced reconciliation in the army among its constituents, in the police, in the clans, and in the various strata of the society. Now the ground is prepared for the ultimate reconciliation.

What happened on the arena among the constituents of the Iraqi people will be sufficient to sideline the politicians who reject reconciliation unless it is on the specific basis of dividing the Iraqi cake.

Second: They all know who stood by Al-Anbar. Ask Abdul-Sattar Abu-Rishah, God have mercy on his soul, his brother Ahmad Abu-Rishah, or Hamid al-Hayis; they say it clearly to all those who make such claims: No one stood by us other than God and Al-Maliki. This was the peak of the reconciliation process, and it succeeded. Al-Anbar had been governed by political sides that had no presence in the region, and these sides were administering Al-Anbar from Baghdad; when the process succeeded, it was welcomed by the Iraqi politicians, even by the coalition forces. If any one can talk about it, it is Al-Maliki who gave Al-Anbar double its entitlement of police forces. We gave all we could of support and help at the administrative level. We went to the governorate council and introduced a number of tribal leaders.

I am mentioning all this in order to remind you that I believe in reconciliation. The security organization cannot control what happened in Iraq completely and for ever. Yes, we have been able to rein in sectarianism, civil war, and sectarian politicians, but it remains to move to the stage of construction, which I call reconciliation. I have achieved reconciliation of the grassroots, and I made good progress with the politicians and civil society institutions, but one part of the national reconciliation remains. In fact this part misunderstands the reconciliation, and perceives it only as a distribution of seats.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is that part you mentioned made up of those who boycott the government?

[Al-Maliki] No, it also exists within the government; it has one foot in the opposition and one foot in the government.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, what is the basis of the dispute?

[Al-Maliki] The dispute is of the essence. I disagree with anyone who says that this political process ought to go back to square one. I disagree with anyone who says that we ought to freeze the Constitution. I disagree with anyone who speaks of “the resistance project.” Therefore, the dispute is of the essence and not personal. Brother Tariq al-Hashimi is my friend, they are all my friends, and I hope that we work together in partnership, but we disagree over national principles. These are not our personal rights to concede them. Now I occupy a post, and he occupies a post; each of us occupies a post that represents the interest of Iraq as a state and of the Iraqi people as people, and we do not have the right to concede. My powers are not my personal property so that I can concede them. This is the Constitution. It is the Constitution that says that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces is the one responsible for the security file. When I am asked to concede the security file to someone else, while the Constitution says that I am the one responsible, then I definitely say no, and hence the problem erupts.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are many disagreements within Iraqi political circles. Does this mean that you believe in returning to the Constitution about these issues despite the demands for its amendment?

[Al-Maliki] First, if we are to talk about the Constitution the same way as the others talk, we will find out that the Constitution has allocated the powers, established the basis for partnership among the institutions of the executive, legislative, and judicial authorities. The executive authority has two pillars, the presidential institution and the council of ministers, and the Constitution distributed the powers and specified the duties and responsibilities; each one has its responsibilities, and through the sum total of these responsibilities we become partners in administering the state. If we want to follow the Constitution, it explains things clearly, and if we disagree over the interpretation or an article of the Constitution, we can go back to the Constitution itself.

However, I feel that the process needs more than understanding the Constitution. The mission is weighty and the challenges are great. Therefore, we have no right to abandon the Constitution and the powers granted by it, which include that the council of ministers is the one responsible for drawing up and implementing the general policy of the state. However, there is a wide area in which we can be partners. This could be done by adopting the concept of combining the presidency institution and the council of ministers in the same institution, the concept that is known as three plus one. We can act and find opportunities that do not contradict the Constitution, but fulfill the principle of joint effort and partnership in the process.

This is why I agree on the formula of three plus one. It is agreed that three plus one does not cancel the Constitution. In fact we have no right to cancel the Constitution, because if we do the people will speak up, and the parliament will speak up and say: Why have you violated the Constitution? We have a wide area based on understanding and a common sense of responsibility; otherwise these institutions will lack constitutional cover. National interest is the acceptable cover of these institutions through which we work, be they the Political Council for National Security, three plus one, or four plus one, i.e. the five leaders. Every institution consolidates our efforts to build the state institutions.

As you know, the entire state has collapsed, and now we are undertaking to rebuild the state. This requires all these efforts and a real partnership, which depends on the Constitution, and which combines all the efforts, and acts within the circle of harmony and understanding about the powers.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you assess your relationship with the government of the Kurdistan province, bearing in mind the number of outstanding sensitive issues, such as the Oil Law and the future of Kirkuk, which have to be dealt with this year?

[Al-Maliki] We do not have a problem with any side of the constituents of the Iraqi people. We have good relations with the government of the province, the Kurdish political powers, and the leaders of the Kurdish movement. All these relations are governed by the Constitution and the national interest. When a request or an action that contradicts the national interest or the Constitution comes from the Kurdistan Province Government naturally we object to it. Also if there is an action by the central government that violates the Constitution about a right of the province, we object to it.

Here, I would like to point out that we have woken up from the nightmare of dictatorship, and we would like to compensate quickly for the deprivation that has been inflicted upon the Kurds, the Arabs, the Sunnis, the Shiites, the Turkoman, and the Christians. It is correct to compensate for and lift the injustice and deprivation; however, this has to be within the context of the state efforts, and the Constitution. Therefore, we have no problem with the Kurdistan Province and the Constitution is the arbiter. Yes, there are issues that the Kurds raise, such as Article 140, which is judged to be constitutional, and neither I nor they have the right to go beyond the Constitution.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the oil and the oil contracts issue?

[Al-Maliki] Yes, the oil issue also is settled by the Constitution. The oil wealth is the property of the Iraqi people. There are other issues, but every issue should be returned to its roots, which is the Constitution that orders the relationships. As long as we and they adhere to the Constitution, there will be no problems, not only between us and the Kurds, but also between the government and the various other constituents of the Iraqi people.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your relations with the Al-Sadr block, especially after the drop in the crimes that were attributed to groups that are said to be affiliated to the Al-Mahdi Army? Do you still have contacts with Muqtada al-Sadr?

[Al-Maliki] Certainly I have contacts with the dignitaries and leaders of the Al-Sadr trend. They are friends, and we have strong relations with them. The situation of the trend today is different from its situation yesterday. Some powers have tried to infiltrate the trend and to act in its name, this is the reason we hear in the media about “powers that call themselves the Al-Sadr trend.” We have discovered gangs that do not belong to the Al-Sadr trend, but that want to benefit from it. Also there are respectable national names that are misused. Now we witness a situation of harmony with the state and commitment to security. Perhaps the new direction of the Al-Sadr trend and Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr is what gave the process of stabilizing the security a good chance. I record it for the trend and to Muqtada al-Sadr that they participated in the process of stabilizing the security despite what has been between the government and those who were acting under the name of the trend. Now they share our opinion, and are cleansing their ranks; they are apolitical entity that is present on the political arena, and they are preparing themselves to participate in the upcoming elections.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is another important factor in the relative stability of security in Iraq, namely the spread of the “Awakening Councils.” What is your opinion about them? Are you going to protect those who stand behind the “Awakening?”

[Al-Maliki] To tell the truth, I do not like the nomenclature “awakening” because its opposite is “inattention.” We wanted to call them “Popular Committees,” “Rising,” or “Tribal Leap;” anyway, this is the name that is used now. The Al-Qaeda Organization and its leader, Osama Bin Laden have been clear in targeting the Awakening Councils, and in encouraging the killing of their members and accusing them. These accusations and killings are because the members of the Awakening have contributed seriously in the process of spreading security, and in fighting Al-Qaeda. This is recorded for them whether in Al-Anbar, which has been restored to vitality because of the men of the Salvation Council and of the Awakening Council, or in their participation in other regions. This is what motivated Al-Qaeda to order their killing. As for the government stance toward the members of the Awakening, definitely a large section of them will join the police and army organizations according to certain specifications related to health, age, qualifications, background, criminal records, and intelligence checks. However, certainly a large section of them will join the police and the army, because they have participated in spreading security, and we will continue to support them in spreading security.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are reports that you are against the Awakening Councils?

[Al-Maliki] It is a deliberate misunderstanding to claim that the government is against the Awakening Councils. The Government is in favor of the Awakening Councils, but it wants to protect them from infiltration. We, as a government, have intelligence information; the Baath Party has ordered its members to join the Awakening Councils, and Al-Qaeda has ordered its members to infiltrate the Awakening Councils. What we do of scrutiny of those who work under this title is for their protection from infiltration. This has been proved, and even those who denied that such infiltration existed are now convinced by the evidence and indications. Under the title of the Awakening they started to kill the policemen, commit crimes, kidnap citizens, and stir up sectarian problems. Here, we ought to distinguish between the members of the real Awakening, which we support and stand by, and which we will incorporate in the army and the police, and those who exploit this title, and act under the umbrella of the Awakening to practice the same criminal deeds stemming from the policies of the Baath Party or Al-Qaeda.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In conclusion, we would like to ask you about the relations between Iraq and the Arab countries, and what in your opinion has prevented these relations from becoming completely normal until now?

[Al-Maliki] I will speak only about the Iraqi side. We would like very much to be part of the Arab fabric. We are an Arab country. Thus, since I started my duties, I have not traveled to any country without starting with the Arab countries. This is a message that I wish our Arab brethren would have read. We still insist on this option, because we are part of our Arab environment, and at the same time we are a part of our Islamic environment. They have to understand that we do not try to make, and Iraq will never again be, a springboard for striking at the Arab interests; there will be no attempts to invade a sister country such as Kuwait, or to stage coups d’etat as it happened in the past. We want to regain Iraq, and to restore the good relations with the countries surrounding Iraq on the basis of balanced and equal relations between the two sides. Iraq will never be a springboard for harming them, and will never be headquarters or a passageway for any power that wants to harm the interests of any Arab country or any neighboring country, such as Iran or Turkey. This is our policy and this is our Constitution. As for why they have not opened up more to us, you should ask them, and I am not responsible for this.