Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to Former Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Iyad Allawi, former Iraqi prime minister, chairman of the Iraqi National List, and secretary general of the National Al-Wifaq Movement, held the Iraqi government “fully and directly responsible for the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq” and called on the government “to proclaim publicly its responsibility for this deterioration”. He attributed this state of affairs to “the lack of preparedness and readiness of the armed forces and the security forces following the withdrawal of the US forces from the cities”.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in London, Allawi said: “The government was not clear, honest, and realistic when it released statements and talked about the readiness of the armed forces and the security forces to shoulder responsibility for security. The bombings that are taking place almost every day attest to this fact, he said. The leader of the Iraqi List criticized Iraq’s foreign policy performance and the Iraqi government’s accusations against “neighboring countries and the Arab countries”. He emphasized that it is important “to build strong relations with the Arabs because they constitute Iraq’s strategic depth”. The first Iraqi prime minister after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime said that the Iraqi government “lacks self-confidence”. Over four years, he said, this government “exhausted Iraq and did not bring anything to the Iraqis”. Despite his optimism regarding the upcoming elections and in “the Iraqis that will succeed in changing the state of affairs,” Allawi emphasized the importance of the “integrity of the elections” that he described as extremely important.

The text of the interview is as follows:

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Several Iraqi politicians have said that the upcoming election campaigns will be bone breaking battles. Will they be so?

(Allawi) God willing, they will not be so. I do not wish to call them a bone breaking battle but I believe that they will be important elections. They will define the future of the situation in Iraq and the fate of the country over the coming years. They will definitely be characterized by strong competition and rivalry. I hope they will be held in a climate of integrity and that all the Iraqi people will participate. I do not think they will be a bone breaking battle unless they are deficient and unless a lot of fraud takes place, as happened in the past elections, or unless specific sectors of Iraqis are barred from exercising their right to participate and cast their vote or unless some candidates are not allowed to run while others are allowed to nominate themselves. If that happens, the outcome will be serious and what follows will be even more serious.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why are the upcoming elections important? How do they differ from the elections that preceded them or that will follow them?

(Allawi) These elections are being held amid the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq. They will be held while Iraq will be facing major problems following this withdrawal. Moreover, they will be held while the whole region is suffering from a state of instability starting with Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to Palestine and to Lebanon. Iran is also passing through an important phase. This is what makes the upcoming elections extremely important.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think important changes will take place after these elections?

(Allawi) Yes, we definitely hope that important changes will take place. If we keep in mind the two models of the past elections of the provincial councils and the recent election in the Kurdistan region and the unexpected transformations that took place, the results and experiences of these elections will definitely reflect positively on the rest of Iraq. That is why I feel that it is important to benefit from the results of these two elections. I believe that the upcoming elections should be fair and all the Iraqis should participate in them. Only then can we talk about good, transparent, and honest elections. Surprises may occur and the most important surprise will be that Iraq will witness a regression of the religious, political, sectarian current and the current that believes in politicizing religion instead of the progress of the national secular current. These are my personal expectations. I repeat: The elections will succeed if they have integrity. Unfortunately, however, the indications are pointing to bad experiences and forgery.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But we are already noticing clearly that Iraqi political blocs, parties, and figures have begun to compete as they prepare for the electoral campaigns and accusations are being exchanged among the political entities. In a recent interview with Asharq al-Awsat, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said that political liquidations are taking place in reference to the Al-Zawiyah bank robbery and the killing of eight of its guards.

(Allawi) Despite my ideological differences with brother Adil Abdul-Mahdi, he is an important struggler and politician. He has a long history of struggle for the sake of Iraq and he comes from a good family that is known for its patriotic stands. It is regrettable that matters have reached this stage where accusations are made falsely in order to defeat this list or that figure. The organs of the authorities often resort to such means against others. I recall that I personally was the subject of such cheap campaigns. These organs made false accusations against me. For instance, I was accused of trying to stage a military coup; I was held responsible for the incidents in which “Jund al-Islam” [The Soldiers of Islam] were involved in Al-Najaf. I was also accused of collaborating with Izzat al-Duri. I believe that what happened with brother Adil Abdul-Mahdi was in violation of the law and the constitution. No charge should be leveled against a person through the media before an investigation or a legal trial is held and the result appears. The legal rule in democracies that are based on the law is that a defendant is innocent until he is proven guilty. The charges or the insinuations – by accusing one of his bodyguards of murder or robbery – that brother Adil Abdul-Mahdi is to blame and the damage done to his struggle history are indeed regrettable. This is unethical, unsound, and horrifying. It reflects bad intentions. Thus, when I talk about the integrity of the elections I am talking only about the integrity of the ballot boxes but also of the integrity of the stand as of now. This includes intimidation, marginalization, and the prevention of others from running and not giving them a chance. Therefore, it is inconceivable for the elections to be held in such a tense atmosphere that includes serious charges and insinuations made before trials are held and before the judiciary makes a decision regarding what took place. Moreover, what happened with Abdul-Mahdi is obvious, although I am not a security man or an investigator. I am a physician. However, I believe it is premeditated when money is stolen and put in a newspaper published by the office of brother Adil and when one of the officers in his guard detail is held responsible. Let us assume that tomorrow one member of my guard detail commits a mistake. Does this mean that I am responsible for this mistake? This issue should have been handled differently, but it seems to me that there are liquidations and vengeance. This should not happen at all.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some members of the Iraqi List have withdrawn from the list. Who will remain?

(Allawi) The majority will remain in the list except those that chose to withdraw and those that we made to leave for reasons dealing with the work of the list. We respect the decision of those that chose other courses or chose to join another list. This is their right. It is the right of any citizen to choose who he wants and with whom he wants to form an alliance. That is why I believe that the requirements of the coming stage differ from those of the past stage. We must be clear about moving forward. We have to decide together: Are we patriots or do we believe in political sectarianism? Are we patriots or do we believe in political Islam and the politicization of religion? Are we patriots or do we believe in dividing Iraq into sectors and cantons? Do we want a true and democratic Iraq for all the Iraqis or an Iraq that marginalizes broad sectors of the Iraqi society? Who wishes to be with us should believe in our nationalist line and should work for an Iraq for all the Iraqis distant from proportionate power-sharing based on sectarianism, the politicization of religion, and the marginalization of others. It is not possible and not right for a person to remain in the Iraqi List while his whims and interests are with another list. The Iraqi List is open to anyone that believes in our national course. Its doors are also open to anyone that wishes to leave and not follow this course. We are the most open of the lists and we are not subject to decisions made by one party. Contrary to other lists or blocs – regardless of whether they are sectarian or political – that are governed by a leadership or a policy or measures that are imposed on their members, we do not have such measures. Our decisions, especially our strategic decisions, are made by voting and by the majority. Just to give you an example: We debated the decision on the security agreement between Iraq and the United States. I supported approval but under certain conditions. I put three conditions to give my approval; namely, Iraqi military readiness; political reforms and the public referendum on the agreement; and working to emerge from Chapter VII while preserving the United Nations resolution to protect Iraq’s wealth inside and outside the country. But the general opinion of the members of the list was to approve the agreement regardless of the conditions, with the exception of one condition, namely, political reform and the public referendum. Nevertheless, I gave in to the majority that voted within the list to approve the agreement. I and one other brother were opposed to the agreement but I did not object. Now Iraq and our Iraqi people are paying the price for the unconditional approval of this agreement. There is a problem with Kuwait regarding Chapter VII; there is a problem regarding the military and security readiness in Iraq; and there are problems dealing with the implementation of the political reform document that has lost its value. Even the referendum is almost cancelled. I am saying this to demonstrate that our list is a democratic one and opinions are made clearly within it. I am really astonished that some are saying that the Iraqi List has a dictatorial character or that its decisions are made individualistically. At the beginning, I was even opposed to participation in (Nuri) Al-Maliki’s government. I believed that this government is doomed to failure, that it will lead to more sectarianism, that its trends are dangerously sectarian, and that the Iraqi society will be fragmented. However, I accepted the opinion of the majority in the list and agreed to participate in the government. This is what determines remaining in or withdrawing from the list. It is pointless to give the names of those that will leave. Some members of the list wish to join the Unified Iraqi Coalition and others wish to join a list that Al-Maliki is said to lead. This is their right; they will remain our colleagues. This subject does not pose any obstacle for us. The Iraqi List was formed voluntarily and will remain so. In the coming elections, the list will consist of names of Iraqis that rightly believe in the nationalist course. They were always in the nationalist line and have never been in any other trench.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What will your political program be in the next election?

(Allawi) Our program is based on several clear and basic points that deal with the current crisis in Iraq. This includes the subject of a society of justice and prosperity that relies on providing services to the Iraqi society, such as water, electricity, health services, education, transport, reduction of unemployment as much as possible, providing work opportunities for Iraqis, and providing housing. Our program to build a society based on justice is founded on the abolition of political sectarianism and justice in society for all Iraqis and where justice takes its course in dealing with the murderers and terrorists. The other aspect of our program is to raise the degree of security and military readiness to ensure the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of Iraq with a strong army that defends the homeland and well-established constitutional institutions that can protect democracy. This is a summary of our program. We have not engaged in detailed theories that confuse the citizen. We are presenting our program directly so that every Iraqi would understand it and know what this program needs and what we can provide. The Iraqi citizen wants his dignity, life, and freedom to be respected and preserved. He needs work, housing, education, medical services, and other services. He needs more justice and the sovereignty of the legal institutions so he would feel that he is living in his own Iraq and that all of Iraq belongs to him. This Iraq is for everyone without depriving anyone of his Iraqi identity because he was a soldier in his country’s army or was an employee in his country’s government or was a Baathist or belonged to the Al-Sadr Trend or this or that trend or is a Sunni or a Shia or a Christian or a Kurd. Iraq can accommodate all of us. This is how it was and this is how it must stay. Without that, the feeling of true citizenship would not be built among the Iraqis. This is our program simply and clearly. It is a program without any philosophizing or theorizing or sophistry. I believe that we may be the only party that presented our electoral program to the citizenry and proclaimed it on the Internet in order to debate it, critique it, and amend it or add to it. We believe that political programs should ultimately be in the service of the Iraqi people.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You mentioned the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq and the Iraqi government had talked a lot about its security preparations that will compensate for this withdrawal. However, the reality showed the opposite! The violence and number of bombings rose in Iraq in general and in Baghdad in particular.

(Allawi) Absolutely; the government was not honest when it talked about this subject against which we cautioned early on. I personally -and my colleagues in the Iraqi List recall – that in our discussions with the US side on the security agreement, I was clear in emphasizing that it is important for the Iraqi forces and security forces to be ready to shoulder the security requirements and to be at high degree of readiness and efficiency. I said that this agreement would be deficient without the political reform document and the popular referendum on the agreement and if Iraq does not emerge from Chapter VII so it would enjoy full sovereignty and preserve its funds outside the country. The events demonstrated that the government was not clear, honest, and realistic when it made these statements and talked about the readiness of the armed forces and the security forces to shoulder their security responsibilities. Meanwhile, bombings are taking place almost everyday. The latest bombings in Baghdad showed that these statements were incorrect and inaccurate.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) In your opinion, who is to blame for the deterioration of the security situation in such a horrific manner?

(Allawi) The government is definitely to blame. It should proclaim its responsibility clearly, frankly, and publicly. In fact, I am very astonished by the statements of the prime minister when he says I am cautioning against bombings that will occur prior to the elections. He is the prime minister! He is supposed to have taken measures and put in place the requirements, capabilities, soldiers, and internal security forces that can preserve security and shoulder the responsibility. It is not the work of the internal security forces to pursue the vice president and to frame him or to catch some followers of the Al-Sadr Trend and accuse them of something or to arrest some members of the Al-Sahwahs and charge them with something. These forces should hunt down the terrorists. They should crush the terrorism that has destroyed and shed the blood of the Iraqi people. Can you imagine? It is hard to believe that seven years after the fall of the former regime, the government prevents the Iraqis from visiting Saddam Hussein’s grave! After seven years, they are telling the people: Protect yourselves. After seven years, the government is still hunting down the Baathists and is afraid of Saddam Hussein in his grave. This also shows that the forces of the Iraqi opposition – and I am one of them – that fought Saddam Hussein’s regime came with the efforts of the big powers; they did not come on their own to change the regime in Iraq. That is why they do not have full self-confidence. This reflects a defect in the Iraqi situation, a defect in the security situation, and a defect in the general political situation. I hope the coming elections would, God willing, deal with these defects. This is what I hope; however, as I just said, I do not have confidence in the integrity of the upcoming elections.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have been known for your close Arab ties before, during, and after you became prime minister of Iraq. When you were prime minister, you were determined to strengthen the relations between Iraq and the Arab countries. However, we notice that these relations are deteriorating. What is the reason, in your opinion?

(Allawi) I deeply regret the fact that today’s Iraq considers all the neighboring countries as hostile countries. The government is against Turkey because, according to the government, Turkey brought together the resistance and the Baathists to contacts and meetings that were attended by brother Tariq al-Hashimi (the vice president). Syria is sending terrorists; Jordan is conspiring; Saudi Arabia is sending gunmen. This is indeed regrettable. Moreover, Arab affiliation in Iraq has become something shameful. The claim that one belongs to the Arabs and is part of the Arabs has become a crime or an accusation at a time when I believe that Iraq’s power comes from the power of the Arab and Muslim region. I acted on this basis when I was in the opposition, when I became prime minister, and when I left the prime ministry. I thought that unless we are in a safe and secure region for all without intervention in our domestic affairs, this tension will remain the source of all the problems in the region. That is why I am astonished at our foreign policy. Instead of making accusations against Turkey, we should open up toward it and engage it in dialogue, especially since I know that the Turkish leadership is eager to remain in positive contact with Iraq. Turkish President Abdullah Gul – with whom we have good and excellent relations – is eager to safeguard the unity and safety of Iraq. Even regarding the Kurdish issue, I talked to the Turkish president and things are improving. But the question is: What is Iraq’s foreign policy? What are the reasons for these accusations? Let us take, for example, the meeting that took place in Turkey between the Iraqi resistance and the Americans. The Iraqi government was aware of all its details. The meeting was attended by a representative from the Iraqi National Dialogue Ministry and the US side used to brief the government on everything and in detail. That is why I am astonished at this clamor that was raised and from the statements that “Turkey is plotting against us with the Americans” and that “the United States is plotting against us although it is the United States that is protecting Iraq. Also the accusations made against Tariq al-Hashimi, another vice president. All this shows lack of clarity in the government’s foreign policy toward the neighboring countries or the Arab depth of Iraq. It is inconceivable to accuse these countries one day and want to establish relations with them the next day or ask them to send their ambassadors. This is indeed sad and the Iraqi government is to blame for it. Regardless of our opinions on the policies of the Arab countries, we will remain brothers and the sons of the same region and one nationality. We will continue to need each other.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) These are the last months in the life of the Iraqi government. In your opinion, after four years, what has it accomplished?

(Allawi) It has accomplished nothing. Services are regressing, electricity is regressing, water is regressing, agriculture is regressing, health services are regressing, living conditions in general are regressing, and the economy is regressing. Even security that improved relatively and temporarily as a result of the rise in the number of US troops has regressed very much. Violence has returned with force to Iraq. It is a destructive, fatal, and criminal violence that is targeting the innocent in a horrible and systematic manner to foment sectarian sedition in the country. That is why I believe that nothing has been accomplished. Iraq’s capabilities and the internal situation have been exhausted. Once again I say that I have big hopes in the coming elections. I hope that the Iraqis will succeed in serving themselves and changing the situation.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Can we talk about the current Iraqi alliances that you head?

(Allawi) So far, there are no alliances but dialogues with most of the political forces. Several meetings have been held as well with nationalist figures in order to reach common denominators and to points of agreement and disagreement with others. Some alliances will be made prior to the elections and some after the elections. These dialogues will continue for a month. But what I am worried about is the return of sectarian projects once again to the Iraqi arena because they have definitely harmed Iraq and the Iraqi people.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you mean by “the return” of sectarian projects? Do you not think that they already exist?

(Allawi) There is now a call for the return of the coalition just as it was established although they want to give it a foreign character as a national coalition. We do not doubt their nationalism but we are opposed to political sectarianism. We do not believe that this approach will lead Iraq to stability. We are all Muslims and we belong to different sects. I personally am a Shia and I respect Islam and the sects. But this does not mean that I should exploit a sect for political reasons in order to classify and categorize the Iraqi society and deal with it from sectarian perspectives.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Freedom of opinion and the media and the life of Iraqi intellectuals are threatened and in danger. Matters have reached the stage where intellectuals are threatened from the pulpit of Buratha Mosque during Friday prayer. The Interior Ministry has also made decisions banning certain Internet sites. Do you not think this is serious?

(Allawi) The basis of freedoms is the sovereignty of the law and the independence of the judiciary and we continue to lack that. Talking about freedoms – freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of exchanging information – does not mean anything unless there is a clear and prevailing law and an honest judicial system that protects these freedoms and other freedoms that are the right of the citizen. This is lacking in Iraq. Instead, we have repression, marginalization, detention, killing, and exclusion without laws and a judiciary that would distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. Democracy needs two things to strike roots in a society. It needs laws and institutions. We do not have integrated institutions and we do not have laws or an independent judiciary.