London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr Muhammad al-Mashhadani, Iraq’s National Assembly Speaker stressed that “the Sunnis in Iraq do not have enough rights in the executive apparatus, and we have a feeling that the present Government is not a government of national unity in the way we had hoped for”. He said that “the executive body has failed par excellence to provide the Iraqi citizen with a sense of safety”.
“Had it not been for Parliament, we would have witnessed disasters on the streets,” al-Mashhadani said. “We have protected the coherence of the executive body. Otherwise how would it have been possible to imagine a government that raids the offices of the Health Ministry, the Parliamentary Speaker, or al-Da’wa Party to which the Prime Minister belongs! The Government carries out all these acts yet the political situation remains strong and coherent because Parliament is strong and sticks together”.
Al-Mashhadani made the statements in an exclusive interview with Asharq al-Awsat while on a short visit to London during which he met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a number of British political and parliamentary figures. He described the visit as a “more of a protocol than a working visit, with the aim of exchanging views and making consultations about issues of interest to both countries. There was no specific program. Explanations were made, practical issues were discussed, and there was an exchange of expertise”.
Al-Mashhadani, known for his frankness in addressing issues in Iraq, admitted that “the Sunnis in Iraq, if it is correct to put it that way, are partners in the political process but they do not have enough rights in the executive organs. However, they have been effective and influential in the legislative body. When we laid down the political scheme, it was an integrated blueprint and was sanctioned by all sides, even the ones that did not participate in the government. That is why we have participated in the political process, hoping that there will be some important impact at the levels of the defense ministry and deputy prime minister who is representing us at the ministerial security committee. But it seems that these two posts have not been of interest to the Sunni Arabs because both have been marginalized to a great extent and have not been successful in providing the Sunnis with a feeling of security or convince them that they are decision-makers”.
On describing the Government as a government of national unity, al-Mashhadani said: “Whether a national unity government or not, these are flowing expressions. Sometimes they have a meaning and sometimes they do not. But right now we get a feeling it is not a government of national unity in the manner we had hoped for. However in practical terms, all sides that have taken part are still present in it”.
The Parliamentary Speaker who is affiliated to Iraq’s Accord Front bloc, led by Adnan al-Dulaymi reiterated “threats of withdrawing if we believed that our presence in the executive organ is ineffective, so why then should we stay on? We should withdraw to the legislative”.
Al-Mashhadani explained the mechanism of decision-taking in parliament. “The chairmen of the blocs are the same in all countries. They have their opinion, but the mechanism of decision-making differs from one bloc to the other. We in the Accord Front for example have a Shura consultative council made up of 44 members and it sanctions the strategy and positions in full. The front’s chairman or its spokesman announces these positions. The important thing is that there is no single person who takes the decision. The same applies to Iraq’s Unified Coalition bloc made up of seven organizations. It also goes for the Kurds where there is agreement among the participating parties, particularly Barzani’s group (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and Talabani’s group (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). The bloc chairman transcribes the position required of his front but he is not the one who makes the decision or programs. Each bloc has a political kitchen in parliament”.
Al-Mashhadani denied that there is a “conflict in the traditional sense between the Government and Parliament. The Government is in Parliament, and its members are mostly members in Parliament. Parliament has given the Government a vote of confidence. On the performance level, this person succeeds and that one fails and sometimes if a minister comes to parliament he does not feel that he will be held accountable but that he is surrounded by the bloc to which he is affiliated. These are minor discrepancies”.
He went on: “The daily violations of law and human rights, rapes, murders, killings, and displacement are part of the failure to demonstrate the ideal image that we should give to those who have elected us, both at the level of the executive and the legislative”.
The Speaker also believes that “the failure of the legislative body is less acute when compared to the executive that has failed par excellence in providing the Iraqi citizen with a sense of security. In order to see these failures within an objective rather than a subjective context, they should be attributed to the dismal security situation, defective sovereignty, presence of foreign troops, and the existing security infiltration and agendas of the neighboring countries. Thus, if the conditions were different from what they are right now, perhaps the performance of the executive would have been better than it is now”.
Al-Mashhadani also admitted that “there are parliamentary sessions that are disrupted as a result of a security flaw, when a booby-trapped vehicle blocks the road and prevents the arrival of the deputies. This disturbs our work and that of the parliamentary committees that are the basis of the parliamentary action. Parliament does not work under the dome, but works in its committees. Each committee has its permanent work in following up the executive branch and various projects, and in examining proposals and draft laws. In many cases, the committee can not get to the organ it is responsible for, or does not find the proper expert to give it his opinion over the issue raised for discussion or study”.
“The security disturbances taking place prevent most members from attending the sessions,” he went on. “This could also be due to members being preoccupied with the work of the committees, inside Iraq or abroad, such as following up the draft oil bill that is an extremely important law because it touches on sovereignty, our interests, and the future of our generations. This law cannot be approached lightly, for seminars and symposiums must be attended inside and outside Iraq to ripen ideas. We have to send the deputy to Europe or the United Nations. Sometimes seven parliamentary committees are out for work. The second reason is inability to arrive at the parliamentary hall, from the Red Zone to the Green Zone. At times, a US soldier stands with his dog and insists on delaying the entry of people into the Green Zone. It becomes a problem and the deputy feels that his sovereignty is violated and curses the situation he is in. He goes back home, with the result that there is a decline in attendance and no parliamentary session is held. We do not announce this. There is also lack of discipline on the part of some deputies who do not feel they belong to Parliament or the political system. The member leaves angrily and does not come back. We do not have a mechanism to hold him accountable because he is elected by the people and has immunity.
“There are more deputies in neighboring countries than in Iraq because they feel more secure there. We have three meetings that we should attend weekly, and the deputy is free in the remaining time to meet his constituency members or join his family outside Iraq, particularly because the salaries of the deputies are good and enable them to reside outside Iraq easily. An MP cannot work under stressful conditions, and most of their families are either outside Iraq or in Kurdistan.”
Al-Mashhadani said that “Parliament’s most important accomplishment so far is proving that there is a parliament and giving a feeling to the neighboring countries and the world that it is possible to make the democratic process succeed under extremely difficult conditions. This is a non-conventional parliament because the conditions it is living under and the functions it is performing are non-conventional. We have taken charge of a Parliament from scratch, from virtually nothing. Today, the Iraqi Parliament debates hot issues without being shattered. If the conditions we are living under are prevailing in Britain or the United States, no executive or legislative body would have survived or existed. This is why we have tried to stick together under the Parliamentary dome to give a feeling to the citizen of coherence and that there is an ability to address the operations of eviction, killing, and sectarian war”.
On sectarian infighting, the Speaker said “we are not saying that we have come out of the sectarian infighting and tensions, but Parliament had its role in minimizing these tensions. If it had not been for Parliament, we would have witnessed disasters on the streets. We have also maintained the coherence of the executive body as well. Otherwise, how would it have been possible to imagine a government that raids the offices of the Health Ministry, the Parliamentary Speaker, or al-Da’wa Party to which the Prime Minister belongs! The Government performs its functions and the political situation is still coherent because Parliament is strong and sticks together”.
He said: “Look at the South Korean Parliament whose members fought each other lately with chairs. We have not until this day reached the stage of fist fights, even though we are living in a daily tragedy at the level of individuals and at the levels of our families and voters. Take the example for instance when they displace our families from al-Hurriyah (a district in northern Baghdad). I am a resident and elected by the people there, and I am Speaker of Parliament, then I must react strongly and I must do something. Despite this, we have not reached the stage of using weapons inside Parliament, thank God. We have not allowed entry of arms inside Parliament. Thus the nascent, tense Iraqi Parliament is characterized by the presence of ethnic and sectarian groups but has remained cohesive until now.”
On the oil law, the Parliamentary Speaker said: “until now, the draft oil law has not been submitted by the Cabinet to Parliament for discussion, but it is ready and being debated daily and in detail with the various factions. It will ripen. If we felt that it is in the interest of our future and our generations, we will work to back it. But if we felt otherwise, we have full liberty to cross it out, amend, add and replace any word or sentence, particularly because I have enough votes in Parliament to thwart any draft law that does not serve Iraq’s interest. We have with us the Accord, the Iraq List, Salih al-Mutliq, al-Sadri current and the Virtue Party and they are all in agreement not to pass any draft law that encroaches on the national sovereignty or the rights of the Iraqis. When I am certain that it is in the interest of the Iraqi people, I, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, feel fully free to pass what I want by relying on these blocs whose positions are known and who are working within the context of national tenets.”
Al-Mashhadani said that the Constitutional Committee “was pursuing its discussions, with an open mind to all other experiments. It will start redefining some terms in the next few days”.
He expressed conviction that the federation issue will be settled within the framework of political consensus. “There are issues we feel are within the red lines, and we seek a political consensus on them. I think that there is a trend toward a federation of governorates, meaning a decentralized administration of the governorates,” he said. “This is a compromise under which each governorate will be an independent federal entity. The central federal government will be the strongest and have responsibility for national resources, foreign policy, security, and defense. The federalism of the governorates will be in services. This will facilitate the reconstruction of Iraq for us”.