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Iraqi FM Zebari on the Iraqi Constitution, Arab League''s ''Interference'' and Other Issues - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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(Q) Some people consider the dispute in the Iraqi street over the draft constitution a significantly negative sign with serious repercussions if they are not tackled?

(A) On the contrary. The argument over the constitution is normal and even a required civilized form. The argument that took place is normal and expected, especially as this is a unique experiment, not only in Iraq but in the entire region too. We do not feel there are dangers from this argument because all the Iraqi people”s groups and components helped and took part in writing the draft constitution publicly and transparently.

(Q) Why are you afraid of Arab criticism? Is the United States the only party allowed to assess the constitution?

(A) There is no need for confusing things. Criticisms are normal and acceptable on any front. But it is the timing that caused the sensitivity. The Arab League”s secretariat general intervened in this matter or made its contribution regarding the constitution at a stage when members of the constitutional committee and the political blocs were in the last hours of finishing writing it. The views of all the parties were taken, including those of the Arab Sunnis. These statements came at that particular moment and had an impact, which prompted the negotiating parties to take hard-line stands on the constitution. This is why these statements were interpreted as some kind of interference in the Iraqi internal affair. However, generally speaking, any Arab official has the right to voice his opinion on the constitution question.

(Q) Some consider the constitution”s text, before the changes, and your stand on the Arab League secretary general”s statements tantamount to a message to the Arabs that you are not concerned with the Arab connection anymore?

(A) This is absolutely not true and inaccurate. Iraq”s fate is that it is geographically and culturally at the heart of the Arab and Islamic world and it cannot disengage or isolate itself from its environment. This change in the draft constitution was made to underline our opinion. If this change solves a problem, then what is the objection to doing so? Everyone knows that the majority of the Iraqis are Arabs, whether Shiites or Sunnis, and the absolute majority of them are Muslims. No one can deny this. The identity should certainly reflect these two aspects. There is also a constitutional problem. It has to be acknowledged that the Iraqi people differ from any other Arab country because they include other nationalities and creeds. This pluralism and the other must be recognized. Six million Iraqi Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkomans cannot be forced to belong to Arabism. This is the disagreement and it was handled legally so as to take into consideration this varied Iraqi reality.

(Q) How was this dispute with the Arab League overcome?

(A) I explained the Iraqi position in a fraternal and frank way to the secretary general and the Arab ministers. I took up the issue of the criticisms. Why the Arab League and Arab countries did not help us and provide any technical, consultative, or legal assistance and then started to criticize, especially as we did ask for legal and consultative assistance when writing the constitution. The UN secretary general sent to us a team of experts to help us but not a single Arab came.

(Q) Some Sunnis say the constitution includes a mixture of good and bad elements. What is your comment?

(A) The good elements are much more. Moreover, I do not see any of the bad elements. The new Iraq must be different and the constitution has to be in line with this change. Iraq will not be a copy of the old Iraq. The centralized, totalitarian, and undemocratic state that monopolizes powers and holds all the resources in its hands could lead to the emergence of a new dictatorship. A massive army, power, and wealth could create another Saddam who aggresses against another country and commits crimes against his people and neighboring countries. This is what happened. Briefly, we do not want to repeat the experience. Therefore, the constitution was written in a free will and was not imposed. There were no ready-made drafts. This is what is new.

(Q) Many believe that the proposed options for the new system in Iraq, by which I mean federalism and regionalism, are mechanisms for fragmentation. What are your thoughts on that?

(A) They are not many because the majority supports a federal system. The Iraqi majority in the north and the south supports federalism and there are also voices in the center that support it. The federal system unites and does not divide. But it is a new experiment, especially as there is no federalism in our region. But federalism is a successful experiment. The Emirates is a federal state and Pakistan is a federal and Islamic country.

(Q) But the text of the draft constitution says federalism is voluntary and this means that secession is likely?

(A) The text says the Iraqis have decided of their own free will to live in a unified, undivided, and non-partitioned homeland. This is their choice and it was not imposed on them. What is imposed by force does not succeed. We have &#34Yugoslavia&#34 as the best example of this. All the Iraqi people”s groups are eager to coexist as equals based on equal rights and duties without discrimination and with a fair distribution of the national wealth.

(Q) Do you have any fears that the Arab Sunnis might possibly boycott the political process and not take part in the referendum?

(A) The Sunnis” main problem is that they do not have a unified authority to speak on their behalf. There are many who are speaking on their behalf. In my view, the referendum is the test. The question is: Can the boycotters or supporters guarantee the two thirds of the votes in three governorates to say &#34no&#34 to the constitution? If this percentage says &#34no&#34, then the National Assembly will be dissolved and new elections will be held to elect another one. However, if there is a positive approval, &#34yes&#34, then the political process will proceed as planned. The step that will follow the referendum is to hold general and comprehensive elections at the end of this year to elect a new constitutional government in accordance with this constitution.

(Q) But there are US efforts to change the draft constitution to please the Sunnis. Are you expecting a positive approach by the Sunnis as a result of this?

(A) Many of the drafts were changed to please the Arab Sunnis. All the parties made concessions in order to involve them in the political process. The Shiites and Kurds made essential concessions on many issues. But if the Sunnis” demands continue endlessly, then this means that they are not really serious about participating. The referendum is the test. Can they guarantee (the percentage) for rejecting the constitution? They are claiming that the Iraqi street is rejecting it. We asked them: Which street is it that you are talking about, Arbil Street, Basra Street, the closed Haifa Street in Baghdad, or Al-Ramadi streets?

(Q) You are accusing the Arab countries of failing to support Iraq because they have not opened embassies in Baghdad. How will you protect the Arab diplomats when you cannot protect yourselves? Do you not think this is an Iraqi bias against the Arab countries, especially as the Egyptian and Algerian ambassadors were killed and there is no safe area other than the Green Zone?

(A) We expressed to the Arab foreign ministers and countries a real Iraqi complaint from the government and people that there is indifference on their part toward the Iraqi situation. We even told them that there is an Arab expectation that the experiment in Iraq will fail. But we promise you that it will not fail and that the Iraqis are determined to press ahead according to the planned schedule to achieve a safe, prosperous, and promising future for their country. If they can do it, let them help us.

(Q) Important Iraqi figures continue to accuse Iran of playing a suspicious role in Iraq. What is your comment?

(A) There is a new Iranian leadership that will definitely differ from the previous leadership in its dealing with our situations. I met Iranian President Ahmadinezhad and the meeting was good. We are in constant contact with him. Briefly, Iraq has a problem in one way or another with all the neighboring countries.