London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Leader of the National Iraqi List, former Iraqi Prime Minister Dr Iyad Allawi, who was the first Iraqi prime minister following the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a dialogue has been taking place between the US administration, the Baath Party and the Iraqi resistance. “This information is from important and trusted sources,” he said, pointing out that “some Baathists have actually stood as candidates for the governorates councils, but under names other than that of the Baath Party.”
Allawi condemned the media campaign launched against Saudi Arabia by some parties in Iraq, saying: “Saudi Arabia has supported the Iraqis and Iraqi opposition and has adopted opposition Iraqi personalities, and it is those same people who are now attacking Saudi Arabia.” He pointed out that the custodian of the two holy mosques King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz cares about Iraq and the Iraqis, as he cares about Saudi Arabia and the Saudis.
In his exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, during his short stay in London, Allawi criticized the performance of the present Iraqi government and the policy of ‘mistrust’ between the central government and the Kurds, who, during the Kurdish revolution raised the slogan: ‘Democracy for Iraq, Self Rule for Kurdistan’.
Allawi also severely criticized the administration of former US President George Bush, which he said “made Iraq and the rest of the world pay a high price for its failures.”
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who are the winners and losers in the Iraqi political process?
[Allawi] The losers are certainly the Iraqi people; their loss is tremendous, and was caused from the very beginning by the imbalance in the political process, when the state institutions were dissolved; the political sectarian quota system introduced, and the doors opened wide, whether for harming the Iraqi people or attacking US forces in Iraq. All these wrongdoings committed by the US administration created vacuum and imbalance in the political process, and consequently the tremendous loss to the Iraqi people. Even if some people imagine that they have made some gain by occupying government positions for instance, that also is a loss.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As an Iraqi List, do you count yourself among the losers, especially after your withdrawal from government?
[Allawi] This depends on how you look at the balance sheet. If by loss you mean loss of ministerial positions, our ministers did not occupy influential positions. Political reform programs that our List proposed to the government were met with silence and indifference. Even when we suspended our participation in the council of ministers due to lack of government response to our political reform proposals, which consisted of 14 points, the government persisted with its silence, which means that our presence in government was ineffective and of no consequence.
Contrary to what was said about the government as a government of national unity, the government, through its lack of response to our proposals and not entering into dialogue with the Iraqi List, actually proved that calling itself a government of national unity was merely a slogan that bears no relation to reality.
When we suspended our participation in government, some of our ministers were subjected to pressure and remained in government, but certainly they ceased to be members of the Iraqi List, otherwise, the government and the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki should either have entered into a dialogue with us, or admitted the government’s wrongdoing.
The strange thing about this matter is that our proposals to the government are now being spoken of and adopted by the prime minister as if they were theirs, whether with regard to national reconciliation, constitutional amendments, respect for the judiciary and the rule of law, building state institutions, or opening dialogue with all sections of the Iraqi people. All these points were among our proposals and the government is now talking about them. During the elections of the governorate councils, the list headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, calling itself ‘The List of the Rule of Law’ even adopted the slogan: ‘the state of institutions and the rule of law’. This slogan was and still is our main slogan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the performance of the present government?
[Allawi] There are sectarian alignments, violations of the rule of law, marginalization and harassment of the marginalized elements, exactly as used to be the case under the former regime. The government’s performance is faulty in many respects.
Take for instance the issue of the Kurds. When I was a student at the school of medicine and a Baath party member that believes in pan-Arabism, which was the salient trend at the time, we fought against the Kurds from this perspective, and in 1970 we ended up recognizing the Kurdish national rights in Iraq through the declaration of 11th March, after wars and negotiations that went on for decades. We had to deal with the Kurdish issue logically and from the perspective of ‘one people’. That is why, when I see mistakes committed as a result of the imbalance of the political process, regardless of who is ruling Iraq, the situation in Iraq will remain unstable as long as this imbalance continues.
This view is confirmed by the fact that two political parties – the Iraqi List and the Iraqi Islamic Party – have adopted the political reform document which was among the conditions for approving the security agreement between Iraq and the US. We said that this agreement should be accompanied by real political reform and a universal plebiscite, and thus the parliament voted unanimously for this agreement. This provides evidence that the political forces in parliament – let apart the forces that are outside parliament – are looking for political reform.
Political reform may be interpreted in different ways; but unless we abandon the sectarian quotas, lay foundations for an Iraq for all, and establish the state of the rule of law that does not resort to vengeance but respects the rights of all Iraqis; the situation in Iraq will never become stable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have talked about the relations between central government and the Kurds. Do you expect these relations to reach the level of military confrontation?
[Allawi] For a start, unlike the old days, there are no armies left in Iraq to fight each other. In the past there was an Iraqi army and Kurdish Beshmerga; while at present, according to the Iraqi constitution, the Beshmerga is part of the Iraqi political establishment. Moreover, the Iraqi army does not have the weapons that it needs. Therefore, I believe the issue is no more than a reflection of the faulty political process and the manner in which the state is being run.
The most important thing that is lacking in the relations between the central government and the Kurds is the element of trust and security. Unfortunately, this element is not prevalent and therefore tension will continue. Trust can only be built through a real practical positive policy that embraces all Iraqis, through which we all work together as members of the same people. But to say this is a Kurd and that is an Arab or Turkoman or Christian or Muslim would not benefit the political process; we are all Iraqis.
As I said earlier, in the past we fought the Kurds in the name of Iraq and pan-Arabism. We discovered that this confrontation was wrong and we sat down and talked to the Kurdish leaders. The leader of the Kurdish revolution at the time was Mullah Mustafa Barzani; he was the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP]. We had negotiations in 1967, before the coup of 17 July 1968. The negotiations continued after that date and culminated in the declaration of March 1970, which Saddam Hussein and some other Baathists leaders in top government positions circumvented.
However, the important thing is that the Arab nationalists and the armed forces reached the conclusion that battling it out with the Kurds was not beneficial and that the only way out was to have dialogue with the Kurds to sort things out and clear the air. This was achieved through difficult but frank negotiations that even gave birth to a new Kurdish governorate in Dahuk, which until then was only a district, and was included in the self-rule region. The motto of the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP].was clearly a nationalist one: ‘Democracy for Iraq, Self Rule for Kurdistan’.
For all that, I believe war is a remote possibility because its conditions are not present and the political situation does not allow it. The escalation in the relations between the Kurds and central government is a reflection of an unhealthy situation in the administration and the way this issue is being dealt with.
Regrettably it seems that the issue has been politicized. We are not in a battle with our Kurdish brothers; we are in a battle for Iraq – a battle of
‘To be or not to be’. Our battle is not with the Kurds, the Awakenings, the Sunnis, the Shiites, or the Christians. The essence of the matter is whether there would be an Iraq for all, within the framework of a balanced all-embracing political process that would only exclude murderers and terrorists. This is the essence of the matter. Moreover, Iraq is governed by a four-party leadership that would not allow military confrontation with the Kurds to take place. The four parties are: The Dawa Party, the Supreme Islamic Council, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK].
These four parties were in charge of the issue of the constitution. When Zalmay Khalil Zada was US ambassador to Iraq, he and I went to meet Masud Barzani in the Saladin district to persuade him of the constitutional amendments on condition that the issue remains open. After an hour of discussion he agreed, which indicates that as a Kurdish leader, Barzani has no hidden agenda; he was and still is clear. When we reached agreement, that was it; the issue was over. There was only the three of us, and brother Barzani relied on trust in this agreement, not on a written agreement or signatures, even though at the time I was not in government.
We have to admit that mistakes in the Kurdish issue were not only made by the government; the Kurdish side also made mistakes. But in the final analysis, the central government or the union government remains the government of all Iraqis. What we want is that this issue, whether in its Kurdish, national, regional or international dimension, be balanced and based on goodwill.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The issue of national reconciliation comes up over and over again; reconciliation with whom and between whom?
[Allawi] This term is a result of the policy of exclusivity and marginalization, as well as the unclear position of the US administration, which adopted a divisive policy in Iraq. Reconciliation should be achieved between those who oppose each other. Say for instance, there should be reconciliation with the Sadr Trend. Like all other parties and societies they have good elements and a handful of bad elements; this is also the case in our National Accord Movement. But, the Sadr Trend exists like all other trends in Iraqi society. I am not talking here about the Mahdi army; I am talking about the political trend. The leaders of the Sadr Trend are either in detention or fugitives, according to its leaders. So the Sadr Trend should be a target for reconciliation, and the detainees who are not involved in crimes against Iraqis should be released.
There are also problems with the Supreme Islamic Council, the National Accord Front, and the problem that started with the ‘Awakenings’. So, we say that reconciliation should be made with all these parties on the basis of the following: the accused should brought before the courts, whether they were from the awakenings, the Sadr Trend, the military, the former Baathists, or any other party; but the innocent should be allowed to lead a normal life. There should also be an independent and fair judiciary that has the final word in this matter. The judiciary is at present politicized; they should not be so. Moreover, we should set out from an important and axiomatic premise; that no single, political, ethnic, religious, or sectarian group, regardless of how powerful it may be, or how much popular support it may have, should ever singly rule over Iraq.
These are fundamental starting points in the national reconciliation process, and they all need political government decisions, not meetings and conferences. When that happens, Iraqis will return to their country. The Iraqi citizen who has taken refuge in Syria, for example, and knows that he is innocent of any crime against Iraq, and his only crime is that he belonged to the Baath party, whether forcibly or out of conviction, yet he is being pursued for the sole reason that he is a Baath party member, would certainly return to Iraq if the principles I mentioned above are put into effect. The same applies to those belonging to the Sadr Trend, the Awakenings, or any other party.
Reconciliation is not merely a slogan; it is practice, and it should be a real national practice. Unfortunately, the issue of reconciliation has become no more than a mere slogan for local consumption. So far, we have not seen any procedure to deal with Iraqi political refugees, no procedure dealing with the issue of the Iraqi army, or the release of innocent detainees. I have even heard in the news that detainees released by US forces are being pursued by the Iraqi security forces. What are we going to make of all this?
There is the issue of the Awakenings which, until three months ago were regarded as nationalists who fought against Al-Qaeda and of whom the government was proud and spoke on their behalf. All of a sudden, the Awakenings became outlaws in the eyes of the government and a threat to the country’s security. Are they no longer needed or what?
There is also an important matter – that what happens in Iraq should not be dissociated from regional and international influences as far as the issues of marginalization and exclusiveness are concerned. It was the US administration who started this process. They, together with some Iraqis created the law of uprooting the Baath party before the war. It was in 1999 or 2000 to be precise, when the US Congress, responding to calls from some Iraqis, adopted the law of eradicating the Baath Party. It is a US law which the previous administration implemented in Iraq, as well as the sectarian political project, according to which, Iraq was politically divided on sectarian, ethnic and regional basis. Today, we are paying the price of that US policy, with support from Iraqi forces. Iraq has been transformed into a theatre for regional influences. That is neither acceptable, nor does it contribute to the security of Iraq and the region.
[Fayyad] What is your explanation of the media campaign launched by some Iraqi parties on Saudi Arabia?
[Allawi] I remember the position taken by King Fahd Bin-Abdulaziz, God bless his soul. Frankly and unequivocally, he was the first Arab leader to call for a national Iraq government in Iraqi Kurdistan or in exile, even in the days of Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia hosted Iraqi opposition conferences, and adopted and supported Iraqi opposition personalities. When I was prime minister of Iraq, I visited the Saudi Kingdom and I met with King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz. He was crown prince at the time, but I felt that he cares about Iraq and the Iraqis as he cares about Saudi Arabia and the Saudis. With open heart he said: “I am ready for anything you need, your battle and our battle against terrorism are one. We are with you. Terrorism is as much against you as it is against us.”
Therefore, I find it surprising that this spirit is not being exploited; and that instead of exploiting it in the right direction, statements are being made by this and that against Saudi Arabia. It is regrettable that the people who started this campaign were opposition personalities, whom Saudi Arabia had adopted, supported and with whom it continued to have good relations.
I am the one who supported and used his relations with Saudi and UAE officials to invite Prime Minister al-Maliki for a visit. Al-Maliki did visit Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and we hoped that relations would develop between Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, respectively. But whatever might happen in Iraq, we cannot do without our Arab and Islamic strategic depth. It is true that the Kurds have their specificity, but our Arab and Islamic depth is very important, and the Saudi position is important for Iraq and the Iraqis. Iraqi foreign policy should play a positive role in this direction and build stable relations with Arab and Islamic states as well as with other states. However, it seems obvious to me that Iraqi foreign policy has no clear perspective, and I hope the forthcoming elections would produce a strong government to rule Iraq and improve its foreign relations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the new US administration is following the same policy as the previous administration towards Iraq?
[Allawi] The Democrats have criticized and are still criticizing much of what has happened in Iraq and they are looking for opportunities to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other hot spots. The previous administration plunged itself and the world into situations that we could do without. As far as I know, the new US administration has not yet made up its mind regarding its policy in the Middle East, Iraq and other hot spots in the region, such as Lebanon, Palestine Somalia, and more recently, Eritrea. The US administration is trying to find a way out of Afghanistan and Pakistan – which are their primary focus. But the US position regarding other issues, including that of Iraq, has not yet been decided.
We hope the new administration would have a clear political vision regarding their position towards the serious outstanding world issues, especially those of the Middle East, and I wish they would seek the opinion of Arab leaders who stand for wisdom and moderation, to stabilize the region. Instability in the Middle East reflects on the stability of the world at large and affects the interests of the United States. We are currently paying the price for the mistakes the previous administration had committed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your reading of the results of the local council elections?
[Allawi] They have reflected the extraordinary perplexity of the way the elections were conducted, as well as the people’s dissatisfaction. How else would one interpret 25 percent participation in the elections in one governorate? This means that 75 percent of electorate has preferred not to vote. The claim that 51 percent of the electorate took part in the elections is imprecise. This percentage should have been measured with reference to a clearly defined figure. No such figure has been announced.
According to the Elections Commission, the 51 percent was calculated with reference to ration cards; I do not have a ration card, nor do half the Iraqi population and the people who returned to Iraq. There must be something wrong that caused the Iraqi electorate to refrain from participation in the elections.
Another reason is the absence of a law governing political parties. No one knows who is financing this or that party and how much it spent of the public purse. All democratic systems in the world have laws that govern political parties’ finances; but no such law exists in Iraq. The third reason is that millions of Iraqis do not have the opportunity to elect or be elected. All these are strategic, not marginal issues. They all should be reconsidered, and election commissions should be established in the governorates.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki proposed the issue of reconciliation with the Baath Party, but he soon backtracked. What is your interpretation of this?
[Allawi] According to precise information I got from important sources, the Baathists and the Iraqi resistance are still negotiating with the Americans. I initiated this dialogue but now I am not a party to it. No doubt there are contacts between the US administration and the Iraqi government that influence the Iraqi decision to a large extent.
I hope the Iraqi government would continue dialogue with the Baathists seriously and achieve reconciliation. If the government has confidence in itself and its people, it should not be frightened of any party or of having dialogue with any party. When I was prime minister, I conducted the most transparent, secure and fair elections in Iraq, even though I knew I was going to lose for lack of interest in election campaigns and publicity, and because I refused to join the united Iraqi coalition, even though they proposed that I stand for election through them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the Americans having dialogue with the Izzat al-Duri wing of the Baath Party, or that of Muhammad Yunus al-Ahmad?
[Allawi] When they started dialogue through me, there was no Duri and Ahmad wing; there was only one Baath Party which was Al-Duri’s wing. Then Al-Ahmad wing appeared in Syria; they are tied to what we call the ‘Syrian organization of the Baath Party’. They too are having a dialogue with the US administration, and some of them stood for election in the local council elections and won seats in the councils of some governorates. They did not stand as Baath party; they stood under other names.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What have you prepared for the forthcoming general elections?
[Allawi] The issues we emphasize are: building the state of the rule of law and its supremacy; independence of the judiciary, liberation of the economy, and Iraq for all Iraqis. We need media support and we rely for that on good friends. That is because Al-Iraqiyah TV satellite channel was not open to us in the governorate elections, even though this channel ought to be regarded as free and independent, not as a government channel.