Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Head of the Al-Iraqiya Coalition and former prime minister of the Iraqi Government, Iyad Allawi sees the initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz as an important opportunity for dialogue among the Iraqi groups in order to resolve many issues. Most important of these issues is national reconciliation, to hold meetings between the Iraqi political groups with their Arab brothers since the initiative will take place under the umbrella of the Arab League, and to confirm that the strategic depth of Iraq is in the neighboring Arab countries and not Iran. Allawi criticized some Iraqi parties for responding to its [Iran’s] calls “while these parties did not respond to (sincere) Arab calls.” Allawi says: “It is illogical to respond to calls from Iran and not respond to calls from the Arab League and Arab countries that strongly stood by Iraq.” He pointed out that the “political process has been confiscated by Iran.”
Allawi, the politician who has lived through two eras, insists that “dialogue must take place over basic issues in the country and not over positions. Dialogue must take place on the basis of national partnership, partnership in the political strategic decision, and the issue of distributing jurisdiction in a balanced way among the Iraqi leaderships must be discussed before discussing who will become the president or prime minister. We place these matters at the bottom of our list of priorities.” Despite his numerous concerns, Allawi gave Asharq Al-Awsat the opportunity to conduct this interview with him over the telephone from London and directly from Baghdad.
Following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You welcomed the initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. What are the mechanisms through which the initiative will be implemented?
[Allawi] Everyone knows that the Arab League will supervise the implementation of the Saudi monarch’s initiative. This is one of the important elements of the initiative because it links between the invitation to Riyadh on the one hand and for it to be under the Arab League umbrella on the other. The Arab League will also place its own mechanisms too and Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa will also contact the concerned Iraqi parties in order to determine many issues relating to this meeting. The Arab League has previously supervised many meetings, most important of which was the first national reconciliation conference and probably the only successful conference.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The initiative has proved that Saudi Arabia views all the Iraqi parties as equal and that it will support any decisions made by the Iraqi parties. In your opinion, to what degree are you and other parties committed to the results?
[Allawi] The invitation is for dialogue and to find an exit under the auspices of the Arab League and hosted by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Saudi people. The dialogue that will take place must reach conclusions especially since it crowns a dialogue taking place now in Baghdad called for by brother Masud Barzani, and it does not go against the initiative of the Kurdistan Region president, it complements it. Anticipating that these current meetings will bring results, then the meeting called for by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques will achieve two issues in my view: First, drawing the outlines of true national reconciliation in the Iraqi society, and this is very important, and the Arab League has experiences from the previous conference in this framework, and maintains relations with all Iraqi political blocs. The Arab League also supports all the Iraqi political spectrums and does not support one side against another. Therefore this point must be achieved during the meeting, and God willing it will be achieved because Iraq is in desperate need for national reconciliation.
The second point relates to continuing the talks and discussions over the formation of the government. I have absolute trust that the kingdom has no intention to interfere; otherwise the call would have come from the kingdom and under its supervision. This did not happen. The call came from the Arab League and is hosted by the kingdom.
This is why I believe that the results will be positive, important, and benefit the Iraqi interest. I also believe that if this conference brings important successes, then this will encourage all countries in the region to positively approach the Iraqi cause and help the Iraqis to rise and exit this setback that the country has been suffering for years, and these countries will help in all political and investment ways, protect the borders, and deal with the pending issues in an open and positive way. Therefore, I see this initiative as generous, good, and benefiting the stability of the region, and more importantly the stability of Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your view, what is the connection or what is in common between the initiative of the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and that of the president of the Kurdistan Region?
[Allawi] The two initiatives stem from an important issue that is based on the principle of dialogue. It has been eight months since the elections and the government has yet to be formed. The situation in Iraq is starting to become complex, and the interventions of regional and international countries are increasing. The security situation has become dangerous and we can see the repercussions on a daily basis. This is why Barzani made a call to build a basis of dialogue. The custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ initiative also came to give momentum and to push forward the first initiative. Second, we will create a framework that protects Iraq’s safety through the Arab League. This is something good and I believe that what is common between the two initiatives is that they are both keen on dialogue.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal confirmed that the Saudi monarch’s initiative does not go against President Barzani’s initiative since brother Barzani’s initiative is taking place right now, and the Saudi monarch’s initiative is complementary and it crowns the first one. It fills the gaps and makes new points that are guaranteed by proposing the Arab League as an important contributing element. In addition, after the parties meet in the presence of the Arab League, and probably the presence of the UN, the results of the Riyadh meetings will most certainly be documented at the Arab League, which will seek to contact the Iraqi parties and fulfill the results that are reached by those who are meeting. This will lead to a commitment, God willing. We need to commit to what we say and what we agree upon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some Iraqi political parties had some reservations over the initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah despite the fact that these parties welcomed it because of the presence of Barzani’s initiative. To what degree are you convinced of these reservations?
[Allawi] I believe that these reservations are too early. They should have looked at the initiative. Most of us did not look at the valuable speech by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques that included important points and a language that shows true concern over Iraq and the desire not to interfere for the sake of certain parties over others. His language was very clear in this direction. Therefore, the brothers who expressed reservation over the initiative should have waited for the Arab League to contact them to decide their positions. Their reservations were hasty in rejecting the initiative.
My view is built on the fact that this initiative is engineered to serve Iraq and its stability and not the contrary. Rejecting it in such a hasty manner is not right and I believe that as soon as the Arab League begins its contacts [with the Iraqi par ties] and the concepts of the initiative are understood, then there is no doubt that the position vis-à-vis this initiative will be positive.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, do you think the initiative by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques could be achieved if the State of Law Coalition or other groups refuse to participate?
[Allawi] Of course it could be achieved, as soon as all the parties participate, then the State of Law must participate. If it does not then this means it does not want to communicate with Iraqi political forces, it does not want to communicate with Arab countries or the Arab League. The State of Law Coalition accepts the Iraqi Constitution and the Iraqi Constitution states that Iraq is a founding country and an effective member. Therefore, how do they sign such a text and do not accept to deal with it. This represents a contradiction in political position. Therefore, I call on my brothers in the State of Law Coalition to adopt the participation and with strength, especially since they (the State of Law Coalition) no longer have strong Arab relations. This is why the initiative will be a fertile chance to rebuild relations with the Arab countries through the Arab League and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Iraqi, Kurdish, and Arab parties said that Iraqi blocs will reach a solution to end the crisis and form the Iraqi government before the date King Abdullah called for a meeting in Riyadh. What do you think?
[Allawi] Even in the event that a government is formed, the call by the Saudi monarch continues to be important in order to achieve national reconciliation. There is also a need (for the initiative) to draw up signposts to direct the path Iraq should take, and to open up to Arab countries and the Arab League so Iraq returns to the Arab fold, in addition to the Islamic fold. Iraq has Arab and Islamic depth. It is illogical to respond to calls from Iran and not respond to calls from the Arab League and Arab countries that have stood by Iraq through thick and thin. This is a very difficult issue, and this is where the initiative gains its importance.
I am certain that most Iraqi political forces want the initiative and see that it is positive. I know for example the position of the Kurdish brothers vis-à-vis the kingdom and the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in particular, and it is a positive position. Months ago, the Saudi monarch invited Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and awarded him with the most prestigious medal in the kingdom. The Saudi monarch also invited Masud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, and awarded him a very important medal. He also invited all Iraqi political spectrums without exception whether they were Islamic or Kurdish forces or liberal or national currents. This shows that Saudi Arabia has no agendas and certain programs except those through which it can help Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sami al-Askari, member of the State of Law Coalition, attacked the Saudi initiative and accused the kingdom of not being neutral and not supporting the State of Law Coalition. How do you view this?
[Allawi] Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries that supported the initiative do not lean toward one side and not another. This is one of the reasons behind the Iraqi and Arab support for it. I am surprised that Al-Askari said that Saudi Arabia does not support the State of Law Coalition. Saudi Arabia as a country supports everyone equally whether it is the State of Law Coalition, the Al-Iraqiya List, the Kurds, the central current and all of Iraq without exception. Evidence of this is the fact that all the leaders of the Iraqi blocs visited the kingdom and were honored by the Saudi leaderships, but I was not among them. This is proof that the kingdom does not want to stand by one party against another. I am surprised by talk of not supporting a certain side. This is not their job. Their efforts are directed toward protecting the safety of Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However, when Iran invited some Iraqi leaderships they responded and went to Tehran. These are the ones who today stand against the Saudi call?
[Allawi] The Iranian invitation was not extended to all Iraqi political spectrums, it was directed to certain people and blocs and other blocs were excluded. Therefore it was a selective invitation. There are members from our coalition, the Al-Iraqiya Coalition, who asked to visit Iran, but the request was never granted. After some insistence, a delegation from Al-Iraqiya was allowed to visit Tehran. We, and others, were not invited to the meetings that took place in the Iranian capital.
In all honesty, we were surprised by this selective position adopted by our neighbor Iran. We were surprised that some parties were invited and not others. We were even more surprised when we discovered that the invitations and meetings aimed at creating a new axis which was called the National Coalition and they regarded themselves as the largest group. This is what represents a danger to the Iraqi situation and the safety of democratic work.
This is why unfortunately we find Iran not encouraging an Iraqi Arab and Islamic belonging. It is as though Iraq is being completely ripped out of its surrounds. This is not acceptable. Iraq is a country with a certain particularity; it includes Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen. The element of balance must exist. Iraq also has an Arab and Islamic depth. We want Iraq to be a bridge that connects the two largest Islamic countries and the Arab depth. This is an important issue and it serves everyone.
This is why we find that Turkey is keen on expanding Iraq’s relations with the Arab countries, and is keen on expanding its relations with the Muslim countries. We hope that Iran would adopt the same approach. It is a neighboring country and it ought to care about the stability of Iraq and communicate with its Arab brothers and the Muslim countries in order for it to be a balancing element. Iraq is the only Arab country that possesses this important strategic position because it is a country that has sight of the Arab nation with its depth and is adjacent to two important and major Muslim countries: Iran and Turkey.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you optimistic about reaching satisfactory results in the Iraqi party meetings that are currently taking place under the umbrella of Barzani’s initiative?
[Allawi] We have to be optimistic. This is something that is basic in political work. Iraq has shed enough blood, money, and capabilities. As political elites we must work seriously in order to rise from this low point, help the Iraqi people, and take their hand in order to build a prosperous Iraq that can benefit from its wealth and good relations with the region and the world. This is what we want to achieve and are working toward. Such calls must not be rejected. There needs to be a focus on communication. Even if the talks in Baghdad succeed, we must not miss the opportunity of the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ initiative and use it for the sake of true national interest and opening up to Arabs and Muslims. It is wrong not to accept this call. Rejecting it is something that will not benefit Iraq and the call is not interference in Iraqi affairs. We can sense that Saudi Arabia is concerned over Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your coalition expressed support for the nomination of Vice President Adel Abdel-Mahdi, the National Coalition candidate for the prime minister position. Media leaks say that this support comes in return for powers given to you from the presidency. To what degree is this true?
[Allawi] We do not know anything about these leaks. We have every respect for brother Adel Abdel-Mahdi and I see him as a qualified person. He has served Iraq and is from a good family. ; We tried to reach a detailed agreement with the Iraqi [Islamic] Supreme Council, and this issue continues until now. Its chapters have yet to be completed and the agreement has yet to be signed. We have shown that we are completely ready to sign a host of agreements. Unfortunately, I cannot delve into them right now, but we have not managed to sign the agreements, and the final agreement continues to be pending.
Everyone is aware that we are currently in the process of forming a government and making agreements between the political groupings. This is why our dialogue continues with others and will continue until we achieve what the Iraqi people want, which is to form a government that is capable of raising the people’s status quo. We have showed that we are completely prepared to cooperate with Abdel-Mahdi and the Supreme Council without any restrictions. We have agreed to a host of ideas that give the Al-Iraqiya its complete electoral rights and give the brothers in the Supreme Council a role in combating the governance crisis in Iraq. However, as I said, we have yet to manage to sign these agreements.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did you not agree to proposals made by US Vice President Jo Biden to form an alliance with Al-Maliki?
[Allawi] On the contrary, we have started negotiations with the State of Law Coalition and we spoke to them intensively during important meetings but we stopped at important issues pertaining to national partnership and identifying the principles of partnership and its meaning. We also discussed the issue of powers and the distribution of powers. We noticed that the brothers in the State of Law Coalition have a different view to ours, and thus the talks stopped. There were some mediators including the UN who said that the State of Law is ready to reconsider its position and that it is prepared to change its convictions on issues pertaining to national partnership and the national partnership government, and is ready to discuss the issue of powers at the Iraqi leadership level. We are open to everyone without reservation, regardless of the Biden project because he made these proposals on the basis that these two blocs are the largest, i.e. the Al-Iraqiya and the State of Law Coalition. We spoke and tried this before Biden even thought about this proposal.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recently the Kurds issued a statement stressing that they will not give up the position of the presidency and that this position is their legitimate right as the second national group. What do you think of this?
[Allawi] The Al-Iraqiya List is based on the reality that any position in a country is not owned by a certain sect and ethnic group whether the Presidency, the Prime Ministry, or the Council of Representatives. The same goes for the ministries. We believe that all state positions must be open to everyone. If the position of prime minister or president is occupied by a Kurdish brother then we do not have a problem with that because the Constitution protects this →. If we are equal and partners in one country then there is no problem. I think it is the right of the Kurdish brothers to nominate themselves or demand any position they see appropriate but what is more important is to reach true partnership and distance ourselves from sensitivities of having a Kurd, a Christian, a Sunni or Shia Muslim, or a Turkman in a certain position and to not name a certain position for a certain group. We are against such a direction that does not serve Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The National Coalition (the State of Law Coalition and the Sadrists) insist that the prime minister position has been decided in favor of Al-Maliki and the presidency has been decided in favor on President Talabani. Will you go for Barzani’s initiative to discuss obtaining the position of parliament speaker?
[Allawi] No, we are not in the process of discussing positions, neither that of parliament speaker nor any other position. The position of parliament speaker is inappropriate for what Al-Iraqiya deserves so we either agree in accordance with the Constitution and its requirements that clearly state that the winner in the elections is the one who forms the government, i.e. the biggest bloc according to the results of the polls. The bloc that they call the National Coalition has not been officially formed. It has only been formed by the media outlets. It has not been registered in the Council of Representatives, the Elections Commission, or at a federal court. Constitutionally, Al-Iraqiya is the largest bloc; this is if they want to follow the Constitution. However, if they want to completely ignore the Constitution too, then no problem, but it should be done according to a political agreement that is based on clear foundations.
This is where we strongly agree with Masud Barzani’s initiative. We were the first to support him even before he announced it. We believe that dialogue must take place over fundamental issues in the country and not over positions. The dialogue must take place on the basis of national partnership and partnership in the strategic political decision to discuss the issue of powers and their distribution in a balanced manner by including the Iraqi leaderships before discussing who will become the president or prime minister. We place these issues at the bottom of our list of priorities.
We must understand the roadmap and where Iraq is heading. Is it a country that has an identity or does it not have an identity? Will we have reconciliation? Will we emerge from sectarian policies? These are fundamental matters that will be discussed in the dialogue. It is not a discussion about who will take what. We will not accept that the will of the Iraqi people be crushed. If the chapters and series of confiscating the Iraqi people continue then this will result in us having another position. We will not be happy to see the voice of the Iraqi people going to waste because the Iraqi people went out in their millions, sacrificed, risked and voted. Therefore, we do not seek or run after posts or positions.
If matters start to head in this chaotic manner then we will take a stand from the entire political process. Therefore we support any call for dialogue whether the call by brother Barzani or the Saudi monarch’s initiative in order to reach conclusions that are in favor of our people. We will congratulate whoever forms a government away from us and we will stand by them. Personally, I believe the political process has been confiscated by Iran and it is laying its own conditions on the political process. We will not accept and the Iraqi people will not accept to be run by Iran or anybody else. Therefore, we will have an entirely different stance if Iran really succeeds in confiscating the will of the Iraqi people. Therefore we are keen that Iran, our neighbor, understands the situation of the Iraqi people and Iraq and we are eager for it to work toward creating positive atmospheres with the Iraqi people and not through dictating the political process.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you find it easy to relinquish your political and constitutional right to form a government? For what reasons would you give up these rights?
[Allawi] We will not relinquish our rights. How can we relinquish our rights? Al-Iraqiya must assume its role in leading the Iraqi nation. He who asks us to relinquish our right is asking us to depart from the political process and sit at home. We will have our position: we either sit at home or we will not accept the situation. Therefore, I leave the issue to see what comes out of the meetings.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, does the Iranian influence have all this power to decide the fate of the government and the Iraqi people?
[Allawi] Yes, the Iranian influence is so strong to the point that it is officially imposing red lines on Iyad Allawi and others. This is not talk of the street, it is that of country leaders who informed us of Iran’s position and we asked them to mediate with Iran. We said we want good relations with Iran. However, we will not allow it to interfere in Iraqi affairs. Otherwise, we have no problem with Iran. We sent a delegation from Al-Iraqiya to them and we spoke to them in such a way, but unfortunately we are informed by leaders of major Arab, Muslim, and international countries that Iran has imposed red lines against me personally and other names.
We ask: Are we the Iraqi people capable of imposing red lines against politicians in Iran? This is not our job. How does Iran allow itself to impose red lines and interfere in the political process in such a way? Therefore, we honestly do not accept this issue. We hope that our neighbor, Iran, stops such activities and stands by all and not be biased toward a certain party at the expense of the other.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion has Iran put any pressure to influence some Iraqi parties not to respond to the Saudi monarch’s initiative?
[Allawi] It is possible. I do not want to accuse forces of responding or not responding. However, I know and I can make an assessment. I am an Iraqi and a politician. I have an historic role in Iraqi political work. I have distinguished Arab links of which I am proud, and of my Arab affiliation. I see the initiative presented by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and his speech about the initiative as generous and positive. As for parties that fall under the pressure of certain quarters or who are not convinced because of a position they have toward Arab countries, then this is a different matter. Iraq will continue to be a country with its Arab depth. However, it is certain that Iran does not encourage this unlike Turkey which encourages Iraq to be open to Arab countries.