London, Asharq Al-Awsat- An interview with Dr Iyad Allawi, the leader of the Al-Iraqiya List and first prime minister of Iraq after the change of Saddam Hussein’s regime, gains special importance in view of the fact that he is a politicians and statesman that understands the issues of his country and people as well as the complex problems in the region. Moreover, his distinctive relations with his people and the leaders of Arab and western countries have accorded him a clear vision of what he wants. He also talks about the goals of his list without resorting to resonant slogans. For instance, Allawi believes that “the current problem of Iraq is not with the issue of posts but with a sound action plan by the government that is remote from sectarian power-sharing formulas”. In this interview with Asharq Al-Awsat during his visit to London, the leader of the Al-Iraqiya List – that came first (winning 91 seats) in the recent legislative elections – talks frankly about the complicated situation in Iraq; his talks with his rival Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of the State of Law Coalition [SLC] and prime minister of the outgoing cabinet; and his talks with US Vice President Joe Biden. Allawi also disclosed that an Arab head of state recently sent a letter to Iran dealing with its stand on the Al-Iraqiya and on him p-personally. The text of the interview is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the Al-Iraqiya List has lost its chance to form a new government?
[Allawi] No, on the contrary; if Al-Iraqiya has indeed lost its chance, this will lead to a climate that is totally opposed to democracy. Thus, if the rights of Al-Iraqiya are hijacked in this way it will mean goodbye to democracy in Iraq. Anyone that fights us and raises the motto of democracy is outside reality. Any such approach against Al-Iraqiya that usurps the right of the masses under various pretexts and that interprets the constitution according to its whims is against the democracy in Iraq that we as a past opposition tried to promote as a goal in the core of Iraq’s future. When we were in the opposition, we used to say that the Iraqi people will determine who will rule Iraq. However, we were taken by surprise. Al-Iraqiya scored an important victory not only in the number of seats but because it represents the entire Iraqi spectrum. Thus, Al-Iraqiya has a symbolic importance as well. Unfortunately, however, this is what is happening in Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What would your options be if the National Alliance – composed of the Iraqi National Alliance headed by Ammar al-Hakim and the State of Law Coalition headed by the prime minister whose term in office has ended – is imposed as a fait accompli and formed the government?
[Allawi] This would mean bypassing the will of the Iraqi people and the democratic process. It would also mean that force is imposing its will on the constitution regardless of whether these blocs are sectarian in character or whether they are other political blocs that are not sectarian in character. At any rate, all this would mean that the issue would submit to the will of the groupings that are forming in Iraq. We have so far lost six months and entered the seventh month as a result of the disagreement and inability to specify who or what the National Alliance is. Is it an alliance of forces that believe in politicizing religion? Is it an alliance to return Iraq to square one? The Iraqi people should understand the nature of this alliance. They should also understand that this delay is not caused by Al-Iraqiya or the Kurdish Alliance or the Iraq Unity or Al-Tawaffuq. It is caused by the brothers in the SLC and the National Alliance that are interpreting the constitution as they like and claim that they have united and formed a national alliance that has not yet seen the light.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that a conspiracy is being hatched against the Al-Iraqiya List or against Iyad Allawi?
[Allawi] Both; it is not a conspiracy as much as an attempt to hijack the rights of the Iraqi people that have experienced incredible deeds by forces that believed in political sectarianism and resorted to policies of intimidation, terrorization, marginalization, and exclusion and on top of which one can add the lack of services and the politicization of religion in the form that it has taken in the past six years. The fact is that the Iraqi people came out and elected those that they thought were most suitable to represent them and to lead the government in Iraq. Celebrations were held in many parts of Iraq and in all the provinces. These sentiments of elation are tied to the people’s desire to change the status quo. Unfortunately, those forces chose to fight Al-Iraqiya due to regional pressures and circumstances and due to the vision of some political forces that want to establish the policy of proportionate power-sharing and make it a practice in Iraq by turning it from theory to practice. These forces tried to usurp the rights of Al-Iraqiya in this manner and also to confiscate its will in selecting the candidates. That is why I continue to say that if the brothers in the National Alliance and the SLC believe that Iyad Allawi is the problem and if they can explain this to us and convince us of it then anyone in the Al-Iraqiya List can take over the premiership. The Al-Iraqiya List is distinguishable from other lists in that its members, all its members, are highly qualified. They all contributed in leading Iraq and they have a history of struggle against the former dictatorial regimes. But there is nothing except conspiracies and accusations. Once they accuse our list of being a Baathist list, once they call us a Sunni list or a list that includes terrorists. All these are shameless lies; it should not happen. Such epithets reflect the frustration of those that make such charges. It reflects turbulence in political thinking, turmoil in vision, and general frustration because they have lost the popular base. That is why they are in such a turbulent state because they have found out that the people rejected them as seen in the elections. We have all suffered from the evils of political sectarianism, the suspension of services, and the collapse of security and economic conditions. If such a situation is to recur for another four years, it would mean the end of the country. It would turn into a hotbed of violent conflicts, God forbid.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will be the outcome if Al-Maliki insisted on remaining in power?
[Allawi] If Al-Maliki insists on staying I think the country will head toward strong turbulence. I expect, God forbid, strong reactions against the principles and policies of democracy. I do not believe that the Iraqi people will believe in going to the polls again and casting their votes. There will be more divisions in the Iraqi street. The problem does not lie with Al-Maliki alone. The problem is in the system of proportionate power-sharing along sectarian lines and the tension due to the lack of national reconciliation. Moreover, Al-Maliki stays or goes without a constitutional right does not serve Al-Maliki nor does it serve the trend in Iraq. There should be no one among us that says I shall be Iraq’s eternal leader. This attitude and approach is over. It will not serve Iraq to have Al-Maliki remain with this vagueness, thorny situation, and tense climate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Iraqis are wondering about the difference between present conditions and the conditions that prevailed under Saddam Hussein.
[Allawi] When we were in the opposition we used to dream of and work with objectivity, enthusiasm, and strong zeal to overthrow and change Saddam’s regime. In our enthusiasm, we used to imagine scenarios of what might happen after the fall of the regime. These scenarios ranged between what was very good and what was very bad. However, what is happening now never crossed our minds. What we are experiencing now is worse than the worst scenario we expected. We never thought that one would come and say I do not accept so and so because he is a Sunni or a Shia or a Kurd. We never thought one would come up and say I represent the elite and the option. In fact, we even started hearing religious terms that have nothing to do with political action, such as I have a mandate based on Shariaa to be the prime minister. Where did this Shariaa authorization come from? We are talking about policies, democracy, and elections. Where did this Shariaa authorization come from? We understand the term “Shariaa mandate” in religion and religious obligations. This term cannot be used in politics to tyrannize the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that this is deception and deceit for a specific class of the people?
[Allawi] In fact, this is primarily self-deception. Saddam used to call himself the first believer in God! We do not know where this belief came from! Can a believer in God invade Kuwait in that manner?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has not Saddam’s fate that they themselves approved been a lesson to them?
[Allawi] It should have constituted a lesson to any smart and tolerant person; life is composed of lessons and morals. Moreover, we cannot replace an unjust and dictatorial regime like Saddam’s with another similar regime. For instance, they formed the National Alliance after the elections in order to rob Al-Iraqiya of its right under the pretext that it is a Sunni list. Then they stopped using the term “Sunni” and accused the list of including terrorists. Later, they abandoned the word “terrorists” and said that it is a list that includes Baathists. All this represents usurpation of rights like any other dictatorial regime in the world.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the role of the other political blocs and will you remain silent?
[Allawi] No, we have not and will not be silent. However, the issue of the recount after the elections, the issue of Debathification and exclusion took three months. After the Elections Commission confirmed the results that had been announced, talk began about the names of those that will occupy the sovereign posts, such as the presidency, the premiership, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. We in Al-Iraqiya believed that this is futile, for two reasons: First, there is a clear, democratic, and constitutional right. The second reason is that the problem in Iraq is not only in who will govern. The problem is multifaceted. For instance, the issue of the constitution and some of its articles that gave the prime minister absolute powers regardless of whether the prime minister is Al-Maliki or someone else. We proposed a new understanding in negotiations on specific points. For instance, we thought we should talk about the meaning of national partnership and the method in making strategic political decisions that deal with the situation in Iraq. Until today, when we ask them about the meaning of national partnership they say bring one or two ministers. Is this national partnership? This is not national partnership. Second, the powers [of the prime minister] should be reviewed and distributed. Third, there should be a clear roadmap of the principal points; for instance, the issues of national reconciliation, political sectarianism, security and defense policy, foreign policies, and economic approaches. Fourth, standards in the selection of the three sovereign posts should be drawn up based on integrity, efficiency, the opinion of the Iraqi people, and peaceful transfer of powers. When we made these proposals the nature of the negotiations began to change and move from discussing names to discussing powers. We clashed with the brothers in the SLC because they say that they accomplished national reconciliation. We do not know where this national reconciliation is when there are millions of refugees abroad, thousands of detainees and deportees inside Iraq, employees from the military or civilian sectors that have been dismissed from work who do not have any rights so far. Where is this national reconciliation amid all these problems? When we raised these issues they accused us of wanting to bring back the Baathists to rule. We believe that national reconciliation is to allow a citizen to enjoy a decent life within the rights of democratic citizenship. We believe that the livelihood of a citizen and his family should not be cut off. The brothers in the SLC do not want to understand this issue. We believe that we will not reach a result if we do not talk about these problems.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some are interpreting the dispute as a personal one and rivalry for power.
[Allawi] This is a simplification of the problems; it is not a personal struggle for power. The problem is that when the constitution gave supreme power to the prime minister in Iraq it generated a struggle on principles and practices. Bloody and deadly conditions arose in Iraq that relied on political sectarianism, exclusion, and collective penalization of the masses based on their ethnic and religious identity and political thinking. I am being candid. The Christians were penalized in Iraq and their rights abolished. Proportionate power sharing based on sect was adopted in employment in sensitive positions. Therefore, there is a struggle on principles. This has been going on for years and it brought us to this stage of lack of confidence among many political players in Iraq. The issue is not there is a problem between Iyad Allawi and Adel Abdel Mahdi between Iyad Allawi and Nuri al-Maliki. Each one of us represents a different course. It is true that I have personal ties with brother Adel Abdel Mahdi, but there are clear differences in political thinking with the others. Proceeding from this premise, we say that two issues should be realized: Respect for democracy and genuine partnership in order to create trust once again. A person is entitled to believe in political sectarianism; we cannot change the beliefs of the others. However, one does not have the right to impose one’s will on the others. Thus, the country cannot progress without understanding and integration among the various points of view. If the country does not advance toward stability and development, this will reflect negatively on the whole region and not just on Iraq. It will also reflect on Syria, Lebanon, and even on Iran.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What did you and Al-Maliki discuss during your meeting? Did you talk about this subject? Did he clarify to you his instance on staying in his post?
[Allawi] No, we did not talk about positions. I told him the same thing I said now about the problems related to national reconciliation, partnership, division of powers, and power sharing on sectarian bases. I said that if these problems are not discussed genuinely and in detail we will not be able to work together in any form or shape. We will be mere contradictory forces. There is no harm in democratic approach but we should outline the basic points. We were talking one-on-one; the man agreed and said this is true. As a result, two representatives were selected from the Al-Iraqiya and two from the SLC. The results of the negotiations were divergent and vacillated between moving forward and faltering. The two lists could have formed a parliamentary majority – since Al-Iraqiya has 91 seats and the SLC has 89 seats – regardless of the fact that the Al-Iraqiya had come from the opposition and the SLC had come from a domineering background. Unfortunately, however, the talks differed and ranged between retracting and advancing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will the solution be? Will you support Adel Abdel Mahdi, the candidate of the National Alliance, or will you find yourselves forced to agree to Al-Maliki?
[Allawi] No, no side can force us to accept anything, not even the circumstances. Coercion is not in harmony with the goal that we wish to reach; namely, change and the application of democracy. The question should be what will they do in light of the rights of Al-Iraqiya? For instance, what is Al-Maliki’s stand? What is the stand of the brothers in the National Alliance on Al-Iraqiya that won the elections? Why would we join them if they have an objection to Al-Iraqiya? If they reject not only Allawi but anyone from Al-Iraqiya, why would we want to join the political process? This means that I am not fit to be in the political process and I am not fit to be their partner. Thus, each one goes his own way. What can we do when they tear up the constitution and throw it in the trash can? What can we do when they bring in a new leadership based on regional backing and a sectarian majority rather than an elected majority? That is why the question should be asked differently. For instance, what is the position of the National Alliance that has 70 seats on Al-Iraqiya? What is the position of the SLC that has 89 seats on Al-Iraqiya? Why are they rejecting Al-Iraqiya? If they do not accept us, why should we accept them? What are their justifications for not accepting us? Is it truly because we represent the Sunnis? Does this mean that the Sunni does not enjoy citizenship rights in Iraq? And does it mean that the non-sectarian Shia is a second class citizen? Are we really Baathists? I fought and struggled against Saddam’s regime for 30 years. Is it conceivable to be labeled a Baathist now? Are we terrorists? I fought against terrorism relentlessly; no other person fought against terrorism the way I did. In fact, I was one of the victims of terrorism in the assassination attempts made against me inside the country and abroad. These things should be understood so we can form the conviction on whether we can be part of the political process or not.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will this crisis end, in your opinion?
[Allawi] I expect it to witness a qualitative transformation next month through the formation of the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you form the government?
[Allawi] Yes, we will if we proceed on the basis of the electoral and constitutional right. If we proceed along external wishes, then others will form the government. That will be the problem; we will not accept to have a foreigner impose his will on us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did US Vice President Joe Biden really support Al-Maliki to remain in power?
[Allawi] The talks with Biden were important. The major part of these talks was on Iraq and the smaller part was on the region since Iraq is part of the region. The talks revolved on the expeditious formation of the government; that the government should include the entire political spectrum in Iraq; that there should be cooperation between Al-Iraqiya as the winning bloc and the SLC as the second bloc; and that the brother Kurds and the other forces that won in the elections should also join the government. They also wanted to expedite this because they proceed from their own political, social, and electoral circumstances inside the United States. So, they did not back anyone in particular. When you ask any of the US delegations that came to Baghdad on whether they back any particular side, their answer is: No, we do not support a particular side. But they also say: We are in the phase of withdrawal of the US forces; we want the government to be formed without any problems. Some interpreted this to mean that the Americans want Al-Maliki. Almost the same thing happened when Saddam was thinking of invading Kuwait when the US ambassador at the time told him this is an Arab affair and that the Arabs should solve it. Saddam understood this to mean support for him to invade Kuwait. However, the statements by US officials are clear, especially the official statement that the US ambassador made 10 days ago when he said we do not have a commitment toward or support any particular side.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the truth behind the Iranian stand toward you, particularly after the recent positive statement of the Iranian government?
[Allawi] Actually, I was surprised at the Iranian stand toward Al-Iraqiya and specifically toward me although I played an important role when I was in power to bring viewpoints closer together and to promote relations with Iran. My understanding of external relations stems from two points: The first point is mutual interests with any state and the second point is that of national sovereignty and independence where no external meddling is permitted. When we noticed that Iran was taking a strong negative stand, we talked with many countries and I talked to many Arab heads of state and Muslim countries and even the prime minister of the Russian Federation. The discussions revolved around the fact that we do not have a problem with Iran. We sent two delegations to Iran and expressed our readiness to open a fresh page based on mutual interests and respect for sovereignty. I personally asked all the states in the region, including Iran when the Iranian ambassador visited me, to issue statements in support of the political process in Iraq and calling for non-intervention in Iraq’s affairs. All the countries in the region issued such statements with the exception of Iran. The latest development was that an important Arab leader has sent a message to Iran saying that Al-Iraqiya is ready for dialogue with any Arab or Muslim country in the interest of relations and non-intervention in domestic affairs. This letter was sent about 20 days ago. Today I heard that an Iranian statement has been issued in which they say that they do not have any red lines in relation to Al-Iraqiya. I wish that this statement is true because the region cannot tolerate interventions in domestic affairs due to the high tensions and many perils. The intervention of any state in the affairs of another will be harmful to the entire region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a clear stand on the Kurds?
[Allawi] The brother Kurds have submitted a 19-point paper and said that these points define their position. Brother Masud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, with whom I have strong relations made important statements on several occasions. He said that Al-Iraqiya has the electoral right. This Kurdish stand is now linked to the points that they said are negotiable. In fact, I do not see any problem in most of these points. There are two or three points on which a solution can be reached. I believe that one of the essential issues in Iraq – whether it is related to the Kurdish situation or the Iraqi situation in general – is the issue of distribution of the wealth. If a solution is found to this problem many demands and observations will disappear and the wealth will be distributed throughout Iraq. Even some remarks that we are hearing and that contain a disposition toward extremism will quickly diminish. I believe that the just distribution of the wealth within the parameters of clear laws based on the constitution will be an essential factor in entrenching an important part of the concept of genuine partnership in Iraq. The citizen in any province in Iraq will feel that he has a right to its wealth. That is why we insist on clarifying the concept of partnership and part of what we mean is the equitable distribution of the country’s wealth on all the provinces of Iraq. Naturally, not all the sides will be satisfied with everything. However, in a society that includes all the range of the spectrum, there will be a form of acceptance, if not 100 percent then 90 percent and thus the unity of the country will be consolidated.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that Al-Maliki’s sending delegations to Syria and Kuwait to improve relations is a belated awakening or a maneuver to win over the friendship of these countries in order to remain in power?
[Allawi] The truth is I do not know what goes on in Al-Maliki’s mind, but I personally welcome any relationship between any Iraqi political leader and the neighboring countries without exception, particularly Arab neighboring countries. Syria provided shelter to Al-Maliki and others when they were refugees. We too had offices in Syria and we should not forget it. So I encourage such meetings but at the same time I am astonished at Al-Maliki’s statement in which he accused Syria of being involved in bloody Wednesday’s bombings. And now he is sending delegations to Syria. I do not know what his motives are and have no idea what went on in the discussions with the Syrians. However, I know that this is not the first delegation that Al-Maliki has dispatched. He has sent three or four delegations to Syria, Iran, and other countries. I do not know why he sent these delegations and whether they performed a government task or made promises or on his personal initiative. In general, however, constant contact between Iraqi politicians and countries in the region and the rest of the world is important and necessary.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the truth behind convening a conference in Damascus for the Iraqi political forces like the Al-Taif conference?
[Allawi] I have no knowledge about this subject. With my respect, appreciation, and love for Damascus, the Syrian leadership, and the Arab countries and their leaders, I do not think that the situation in Iraq is like that in Lebanon. The outstanding problems cannot be resolved merely by meeting in an Arab or Islamic capital and discussing the problems. I think that all the countries can help Iraq in many different ways, such as not interfering in its affairs and preventing others from interfering. When a state interferes in Iraqi affairs the other states should rise to stop such intervention. The Arab countries should also advice US policy to take the correct course.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What went on between you when you recently met in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague?
[Allawi] When the British foreign secretary found out that I was in London he asked to see me and this meeting was held a few days ago. I presented him with a number of proposals related to the British and European roles and he was convinced of these proposals. One of these proposals was the need for an understanding of the problem of the big Middle East from Afghanistan to Somalia. These problems are very complicated and cannot be resolved by sending armies and via conventional wars. They need a policy based on understanding the cultures, customs, and traditions of the indigenous nations and that focus on the economy and on raising living standards. I told him you are closer to these nations than the Americans since Britain has historic relations with these nations in addition to the fact that Britain in geographically closer to the Middle East than the United States and has interests in the region. We expressed our hope that Britain would help the United States understand these facts and that it is in everyone’s interest for the United States to have a correct understanding.