London, Asharq Al-Awsat- On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, Asharq Al-Awsat sits down with head of the Iraqi List and the first head of government in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; Iyad Allawi to discuss the current state of affairs in Iraq and his outlook regarding the country’s future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have just come back from Iraq; could you give us a summary of the situation there?
[Allawi] I am sorry to say that the situation in Iraq is going from bad to worse. There is no progress worth mentioning and there is no security stability, no services, the economic situation is miserable, there is no development or construction, and there is no improvement in the economic situation for Iraqi citizens. Even more dangerous is that the regime is moving further and further from national reconciliation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you see anything looming on the horizon indicating progress in the near future?
[Allawi] Let me cite in support what US Presidential candidate John McCain has stated, as he is close to the US decision-making quarters. He is insisting that the withdrawal of American and British forces from Iraq will cause a real disaster for Iraq; this is even though the British forces have withdrawn from Basra, one of the largest and most important Iraqi cities, and deployed near the airport. This is what has been stated by McCain, or the US shepherd of Iraq, if you like. What is regrettable about McCain’s remark is that it comes after five years and the beginning of the sixth year since the war started. This means that the level is below the zero mark, not just on the zero mark, and it means that Iraq is not qualified regarding stable security yet. This makes one wonder how much longer this situation will continue to prevail. When is Iraq going to get back its full sovereignty and rebuild itself? We have entered the sixth year and Iraq is walking backward and facing security and economic challenges. When will things change for the better and when will Iraq get full national rule and independence: 50 years from now, for instance? What is the US plan or strategy? This remains unclear to this day.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Hence, how do you explain the Iraqi Government remaining in office, if the situation is as bad as you state?
[Allawi] The Iraqi Government remains for several reasons, some of which are logical and some are external. Some regional parties see this government as representative of what Iraq should be today, while the international parties think of the present situation, not of the future of Iraq. These day, the United States, the most prominent of the international parties, is engaged in the presidential election and the publicity accompanying it. The US Administration is going to be changed. It is not interested in today’s situation in Iraq because of its domestic commitments, and it is better for the US Administration that the situation in Iraq remains as it is. As for Iran, it is happy with the present situation, and the evidence is the visit of the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Moreover, the Iranian leadership is supporting this government.
The Iraqi Government has been paralyzed since the Iraqi List, the Sadrists, and the Reconciliation quit the government; there is no serious effort to mend the situation. There is a real crisis in government, which causes perplexity and confusion. The Iraqi people and their future are paying the price, and the price is Iraqi blood.
The prime minister is required to find quick solutions; the government is in suspense and the country is in suspense and the keys of the country are in the hands of the government. Remaining in this chaos costs the Iraqi people dearly. The government should undertake decisive action to put things on the right path; otherwise, the situation will continue to worsen. There is a legislative crisis over the oil and administrative law, and the government is required to find solutions. The country is kept in suspense and this should come to an end.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Iraq?
[Allawi] In my view, the visit of the Iranian president is a message to the whole region, to the Americans, and to the whole world; it is concerned with the internal situation in Iraq. The implied message to the world and to the United States in particular is this: come and discuss things with us because we are the more powerful party in the equation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been stated that the Iranian Ambassador in Baghdad requested that you meet with President Ahmadinejad during his visit to Baghdad. Was that true?
[Allawi] It was the Iraqi Government who requested that of me and stated that the Iranian president wanted to see me. Then, the Iranian ambassador came to my office and requested that I meet with the Iranian president. I replied that what concerns me is the existence of a state of stability and non-intervention in the affairs of others, a real dialogue to discuss the basket of problems between Iran and Iraq, and then a discussion of the region’s problems in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, and wherever else there is an Iranian hand. The Iranian ambassador stated that he understands that. I told him that we are prepared for dialogue inconformity with this vision, whether in Baghdad or in Iran. We are waiting for a reply. If they are ready for dialogue, we also are ready. We understand that Iran is a neighboring country and we are connected with it historically and geographically, but we also are concerned about Iraq’s sovereignty and unity and mutual non-intervention in each other’s affairs.
Yes, the visit of the Iranian president at this particular time is a message to the Iraqi authorities stating that we are with you, and a message to the United States and the Gulf countries stating we are the main party in the Iraqi equation and you have to talk to us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Accordingly, how do you see the Iranian attitude toward the Arab islands, especially as the Iraqi delegation to the Arab Parliamentary Conference was split on the issue of the islands?
[Allawi] I have read about the regrettable position of some members of the Iraqi delegation to the Arab Parliamentary Conference, where some of them took Iran’s position on the islands, whereas the others stood against it. This is very saddening and regrettable. Yes, there is the problem over the United Arab Emirates’ islands with Iran, and Iraq should be an important party in returning the islands to their rightful owner. This is our duty as an Arab and Islamic state. As a state, we should be grateful to the United Arab Emirates for its stands, in particular the position taken by Sheikh Zayid and his initiative that called on Saddam to abdicate from the Office of President and save Iraq and the region from the horrors of war. This is as if he was seeing a vision of the consequences of this war.
I am not going to enumerate what the Emirates have done for Iraq in order to change the regime. However, I am going to reveal a secret for the first time: when we were in the opposition in the Saddam era, we used to meet with Iraqi tribal leaders in the UAE secretly. This is a secret I reveal for the first time. I used to meet with tribal leaders and Iraqi political personae in the Emirates in order to change the regime of Saddam Hussein, not to mention the fact it also is a sister country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some observers suggest that Iraq’s Arab stand on Arab issues is receding.
[Allawi] This is what I would like highlight. I find it curious that the United States is calling on Arab states to send their ambassadors to Iraq. The Arab states were the first to support the Iraqi position; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Syria were the launching pad of the Iraqi opposition in the early days of its work for regime change. The Arab states were the first to send their ambassadors to Iraq before many Western countries did. The Arab states refrained from intervening in Iraq’s affairs pursuant to US advice. The Arab embassies were the only embassies that were violated and its ambassadors and employees killed. Yet, curiously enough, accusations are made through the media considering the Arab states a source of terrorism. This is unfair. There has been a strategy whose purpose has been to distance Iraq from the Arab states, but it failed because the Iraqi people are aware of belonging to the Arab nation. Iran should work toward strengthening relations between Iraq and the Arab states. This is because it is us who have to protect the region, not the United States and Britain. I suppose that Iran also has an interest in Arab power in the region, while the converse of the weakening of Iraq’s relations with its neighbors is wrong.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Five years on since the war started, how do you seethe situation today?
[Allawi] We have been with the regime change from inside with other forces of change: the civil and military forces, tribal leaders, and Baathists. We, in the Reconciliation Front were in favor of Sheikh Zayid’s initiative.
The US Administration has committed three deadly strategic mistakes. They are: dismantling the Iraqi state; putting Iraq on the road to sectarian and political division; and acquiescence in the intervention of neighboring states that augmented their influence and so became the states that actually control the Iraqi situation today.
We wanted the end of the despotic regime but we wanted the Iraqi state to remain. Dismantling the Iraqi state in this manner was out of the question. I have stood against this before, during, and after the war, as well as to this day. All the consequences we are living today emanate from these erroneous policies, whether before or after the war. Disbanding the army and uprooting the Baath Party happened after the war and was adopted by some Iraqi groups. The real catastrophe is that the United States does not know what it is doing, and we have to draw its attention to the right path.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have visited the Kurdistan Region and met with the region’s President Masud Barzani; what is your assessment of your relations with the Kurds?
[Allawi] Our relations with the Kurds emanate from political, personal, and social grounds. The Kurds have played an important part through the Kurdish revolution under the leadership of Mullah Mustafa Barzani and the leaders that followed. They played host to political forces and bore the risks of their presence. The Kurdish people are peaceful and goodhearted; they have supported us. We look to them as an indivisible part of the Iraqi people. There are Kurds everywhere in Iraq; today, the number of Kurds who live in southern Iraq amounts to half the number of Kurds living in Kurdistan perhaps. I have personal and kinship relations with Masud Barzani; we differ as brothers and men, and we reach agreement as brothers and men within principled attitudes. This needs no documentation to prove it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do you not make a coalition with the Kurds as an Iraqi List?
[Allawi] We have tried to enter elections as one list with the Kurds, but they preferred to have an independent Kurdish list. However, the Kurds have come to realize that, wherever the Iraqi List is launched, it insists on the renunciation of political and sectarian division, and on the slogan “Iraq for the Iraqis” regardless of the ethnicity of sectarianism, and that this will pave the way for Iraqi alliances based on loyalty to Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have a new political project?
[Allawi] We have a project, but it is not new. We are working on a project that we started less than a year ago. This is to establish a national political conglomerate to work via the political process, a coalition on the parliamentary and popular level working under the slogan of “Iraq for the Iraqis.” This is an Iraq that is independent and committed to the presence of Kurds and Turkmen, to the abolition of militias, and to free and fair elections.
We have begun the establishment of the national conference preparatory committees that will prepare for this project, which is an extension to a former project on which we were working; that is, the formation of a front. At the time, the United States opposed the project in the mistaken belief that we were trying to change things by means of military force, but now they have realized that it was a political front. Meanwhile, the others have realized that the aim of the front was to combat sectarian and ethnic enclosures. These are the Iraqi List’s plans and we are proud of them.