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Ayatollah Al-Sadr: Arab Role in Iraq Lacking - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr urged the political parties and blocs standing in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq to present their electoral programmes, saying that the majority of these parties have not and will not put forward political agendas that will allow the Iraqi electorate to get to know their political aims and objectives on political, economic, security and public service issues. Al-Sadr also called on the Iraqi decision-makers to open up to the Arab world.

In an exclusive interview conducted with Asharq Al-Awsat via e-mail, Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr stated that the issue of “competition between [political] parties and blocs is – to some degree – natural and healthy, as this is what is imposed upon the country by the democratic reality, therefore each party is trying to prove its superiority, suitability, and capability.” However Ayatollah al-Sadr raised an important issue, which is that “the majority of the proposals put forward by [political] blocs standing for election are based on unstable foundations, including sectarian, national, ethnic, ideological and partisan foundations. These proposals will be unable to [help] build Iraq, and they are neither in the interests of the Iraqi people nor do they serve national unity. These proposals should be based on citizenship and belonging to Iraq, competence and integrity.”

Ayatollah al-Sadr also told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We hoped that political entities [would operate on] a high political and cultural level, and avoid bickering and exchanging accusations as such methods will not benefit the Iraqi electorate in any way. We also hoped that political entities would introduce themselves and their candidates and their political agenda in order to allow the Iraqis to choose who – in their opinion – is best for them.”

Alluding to his optimism in the Iraqi democratic system, Ayatollah al-Sadr added “Despite this, and all the problems and obstacles that it has suffered, I think that Iraq is now moving in the right direction.”

With regards to controversy in Iraq on open and closed election lists, as well as the multiplicity of electoral constituencies and whether voters are allowed to vote for individual candidates [open-list electoral system] or whether they are only allowed to vote for party lists [closed-list electoral system], Ayatollah al-Sadr said, “I was the first to speak out – and speak in detail – about the need to adopt an open-list electoral system as this represents the essence of democracy. I was also the first to call for there to be a number of electoral constituencies and for each province to have an electoral list. The closed-list system goes against democracy, and so the Iraqi voter [should] pick an individual [candidate] himself rather than a vague list. I asked the electoral parties to be open and frank with the Iraqi people, and offer the voters the most qualified and distinguished candidates.”

Al-Sadr also pointed out that “the problems that Iraq is suffering from today are as a result of the closed-list electoral system…and today the Iraqi voters cannot find anybody in parliament to go to for help.”

Grand Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr is considered by most Iraqis to be the most open-minded of the religious Marjas in Iraq, a man who does not confuse politics with religion and is not afraid to pursue contemporary methodology. Ayatollah al-Sadr oversees the Al-Hiwar [Dialogue] organization which has branches across Iraq and throughout most Arab countries and will be opening its first branch in London next month. The Al-Hiwar organization incorporates dozens of academic and advanced training institutes which are open to members of both sexes and utilize modern methodology. Ayatollah al-Sadr is also the only religious authority that is open to the media, whether through his ‘Al-Salam’ satellite channel, his publication ‘Nada Al-Salam’ [The Call for Peace] or other publications that promote the ‘Al-Salam’ corporation. Al-Sadr is also well-known for frequently meeting with writers and intellectuals in his office in the city of Kadhimiya.

Grand Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the current situation in Iraq, saying, “Iraq is still going through a rough time, and is in the throes of political, security, economic, and ideological troubles. This may last for years, and result in increased requirements, and I do not think that the reasons [for this] are unknown to all those who meditate on the nature of the shift that was – and continues to be – experienced by this country, not to mention the shift in the nature of [Iraq’s] social, ideological and religious composition. There can be no doubt that regional realities also play a role in this, and until now the [new] features of Iraq’s economic approach have yet to appear, and the same can be said of Iraq’s educational system. I am talking [about this] at the level of state planning and state policy which continues to be stalled with regards to establishing a clear picture on the state and its programs.”

Ayatollah al-Sadr added, “There is something of a move towards a civil democratic pluralistic country that incorporates [Iraqi] heritage and in which religion occupies its distinctive and spiritual place. There is an awareness of the importance of this as a spiritual guide, and in my opinion this is a good sign.”

Ayatollah al-Sadr also told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The security situation will continue to be shaken now and then because Iraq is the weakest link in the regional equation and because some neighbouring countries have transformed Iraq into a proxy battlefront, or they [neighbouring countries] covet Iraq’s riches. There is a clear flaw in the composition of Iraq’s armed forces, and these forces are not being built-up in a structured and coherent manner.”

He called for “the Interior Ministry and Ministry of Defence to re-evaluate their plans; there must be an operation to comprehensively review the security plan [in Iraq] as without security there can be no democracy, in the true sense of the word.”

The Ayatollah also stressed that “the entire population is against sectarianism and racism, but the politicians are playing with these destructive issues. We respect the religious, sectarian, and national identities; Muslim, Christian, Shiite, Sunni, Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen – these are sub-identities, and we are not among those who say that these identities are lethal. This perception is contrary to reality, and against humanitarian laws. These identities only become lethal when they take precedence over national identity, which is that of Iraq. In any case, Iraq has changed, and perhaps evidence suggests that Iraq has moved forward, and this is a fear that haunts some of Iraq’s neighbouring regimes.”

As for the crisis that the Iraqi government is experiencing with some Arab countries, Ayatollah al-Sadr informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is no apathy between Iraq and some regimes in the Arab world, rather there is a crisis. For example this is the case with Syria, and there is coolness with Saudi Arabia, there is a hesitant trust towards Egypt, and there are a number of difficult points of contention between Iraq and Kuwait. The outcome of this is the existence of an abnormal situation between Iraq and many of the regimes in the Arab world.” Al-Sadr blamed “political decision-makers and some Arab regimes for being responsible for this situation.”

Ayatollah al-Sadr added to Asharq Al-Awsat, “It would have been better for the Iraqi political decision-makers to open up to the Arab world since the collapse of the [Saddam] regime, and it was the duty of the Arab world to accept Iraq as it is, rather than set out to change the reality [of Iraq].”

Al-Sadr said, “Iraq’s relationship with the Arab world was in crisis during the previous regime, and for the new state of affairs in Iraq to continue this is a big mistake. The previous regime followed the premise of the project of Arab national security, and there can be no doubt that some Iraqi political decision-makers were reluctant towards genuine and serious openness with the Arab world, which has resulted in unfortunate consequences in this area.”

Al-Sadr added, “It would be better for Arab governments to take the initiative and consider this matter seriously and responsibly, especially for those that are stable regimes, and suffered due to the previous [Iraqi] regime. The flawed policy [of avoiding this] had negative consequences on the Arab regimes themselves.”

Ayatollah al-Sadr informed Asharq Al-Awsat “nature hates a vacuum – as they say in physics – and the political arena also abhors a vacuum. The lack of a positive and constructive Arab presence in Iraq has resulted in non-Arab powers gaining strength in this arena…rather what we see from some Arab regimes are painful scenes of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda and others, and perhaps one of the main reasons for this is due to this vacuum. The problem of Arab regimes – or some Arab regimes – is that they are utilizing politics to play a dangerous game of either/or, and this is a game that has been seen throughout history, especially after the world’s minorities have become aware of themselves, and democracy spread throughout the world if only in the form of ideas and wishes. In my opinion, this is a primitive game that does not take into account developments in modern political thought and the experiences of contemporary politics.”

Ayatollah al-Sadr called for “Arab regimes not to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs, but unfortunately there is doubt over this. I do not want to stereotype here but information and analysis says that some Arab regimes are interfering in Iraqi issues in one way or another, and this allows Iraq’s Eastern and North-Eastern neighbours to have an even more effective presence in Iraq.”

Grand Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr also called on Iraq “to be frank with Arab regimes, who are still struggling to open embassies in Baghdad, or allow those that have strategic problems with Baghdad to publicly sit at one table in order to explicitly develop a vision for better relations.”