New York, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari deemed it unlikely that sectarian war would erupt over disagreements on the draft version of the permanent constitution, and said that the experience of the past two years "has proven that all the fears for Iraq”s unity and the integrity of its national unity were exaggerated." He divulged that Baghdad asked Arab countries to persuade Syria to help stop the violence and stop gunmen from crossing its borders into Iraq. He said that Iran had begun helping in this area, and denied there were any plans to export Iraqi oil to Israel.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat while in New York to attend UN General Assembly session and the World Summit, Zebari said that among the strong factors that "keep the ghost of sectarian war at bay is the abundance of inter-marriages between Sunnis and Shiites, which account for 26 percent of all marriages." Zebari stressed that the "biggest danger facing the new Iraq is the black terrorism and mass murder perpetrated by gangs of remnants of Saddam Hussein”s regime and extremists terrorists coming from abroad." He hoped that "all Arab and Islamic countries, especially those neighboring Iraq, would respect the Iraq people”s free will to determine their own fate and make their own political decisions."
The Iraqi foreign minister insisted that Syria is party to the violence in Iraq, and said that the problem lies not in the lack of resources or equipment needed to monitor borders, as Syrian officials keep saying, "but in the lack of a Syrian political will to end the terrorism in Iraq." He stressed that "it is not in Iraq”s interest to incite the United States or any other foreign power against Syria," and hinted that Damascus seeks to change the political system in Iraq.
Zebari added, "According to intelligence data and investigations, most of the terrorists coming from abroad do so via the Syrian border. We are not accusing Syria of intentionally allowing this, but we do complain from its failure to take deterrent measures to stop these terrorists. Furthermore, a number of Iraqi Ba”thist leaders who are wanted by Iraqi security and legal authorities are in Syria." Zebari said, "We asked sisterly Arab countries to persuade Syria to help us. Honestly speaking, the prolonged deterioration of security in Iraq will reflect on Syria and the region”s countries. What we want is for them to cooperate with us; there are many steps that can be taken."
On a separate note, Zebari said "the Iranian agenda in Iraq differs from the Syrian one." He went on to say "We cannot deny the Iranian influence and involvement in Iraq, but this influence seeks to promote participation in the political process instead of violence as a means of undermining the government and destroying the regime." He added, "In our latest visit to Tehran, we confronted Iranian authorities with all the information and statistics on weapons, explosives, and drug trafficking to Iraq via Iran. This was one of the issues I took up in person with officials in Tehran, who said they were willing to cooperate and set mechanisms for resolving these problems. We were not faced with disregard or denial as with others."
He categorically denied that the temporary Iraqi Government intends to construct an oil pipeline that runs through (Jordan”s) Al-Aqaba all the way to (Israel”s) Ishkilon seaport in order to export Iraqi oil to, or via, Israel. Zebari said, "These are inaccurate and incorrect reports that seek to distort the Iraqi Government”s positions and disrupt its work." He stressed that the Iraqi Government cannot for the time being embark on such a project and that all its efforts are focused on the rehabilitation and maintenance of existing oil pipelines.
Regarding the differences over the constitution, Zebari said that reservations on the draft constitution and objections to certain articles are not restricted to the Arab Sunnis, "for there are some Kurds and Shiites who share these positions." He said: "Our message to the skeptics and boycotters is to wait for the results of the referendum test to learn whether or not the Iraqi people supports or rejects the constitution."
He said that the draft constitution has "almost as much" of a chance of being rejected or approved in predominantly Arab Sunni governorates on the day of the referendum, 15 October, but noted: "But the strongest and most likely scenario is that the majority of these governorates will vote in favor of the constitution." He deemed it unlikely that those opposing the constitution will rally two-thirds of votes in three governorates, which is the set condition for annulling the proposed constitution and forcing the drafting of a new one. He maintained that various groups and trends speak in the name of Arab Sunnis, and said, "No one party or trend can represent them all. There are certain Sunni political, social, and tribal figures that support the constitution." The Iraqi minister said, "if the proposed constitution is rejected, we will face a constitutional and political crisis. This is what Saddam”s men and the extremist terrorists are working hard to achieve in order to disrupt the process and drag the country into a political and constitutional crisis, meaning our return to square one."
Zebari deemed it unlikely that the general elections slated for this December would be postponed in the event the constitution is endorsed. He said that it would not be in the interest of the United Nations or Iraq to postpone the election as desired by some UN circles that say that the General Assembly is yet to gather the required funds for the electoral process given that some donor countries have not honored their commitments in this regard. Zebari called on UN Security Council member countries to honor their promises so that the elections may be held.
Zebari said, "Preliminary indicators are extremely encouraging and promise broad participation in the elections in all the governorates." Zebari said that the new election, on which some UN officials had reservations, "will boost national and public participation, especially since it identifies each of the 18 governorate as a single constituency, and has earmarked 45 of the 275 National Assembly seats to members voted in a larger constituency that encompasses Iraq as a whole, in order to guarantee the representation of minorities and small political forces whose candidates might strike out at a governorate level." He said he is convinced that the new law "will reduce the racial and sectarian domination" that was brought about by the 30 January elections in which Iraq was treated as a single constituency. Zebari admitted that Iraq is suffering from financial and administrative corruption, which he said is "just as dangerous as terrorism, but the positive thing is the presence of societies and institutions that are following up this issue." He refused to comment on the accusations leveled against former Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha”lan and said that the accusations and the information being leaked "could be" interpreted as falling within the framework of an "election campaign."