Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi talks to Asharq Al-Awsat exclusively on George Bush’s new Iraq strategy, the current political situation and Iran’s involvement in Iraq.
The following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) what’s your assessment of the currant situation in Iraq?
(Allawi) As it is known, the situation is, naturally, bad, and it will certainly get worse for clear reasons: the absence of the state, the adoption of a sectarian and factional policy in running the affairs of what is left of the state in Iraq, and the negative regional interferences in Iraqi affairs. More of these factors will lead to further slide toward the disaster.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think the situation will get worse?
(Allawi) Yes, it will deteriorate into further blood and destruction. The deeper the differences get the more difficult the correction of the Iraqi situation becomes, and the problem, consequently, will spill out of Iraq and will take roots in Iraq. The forces in Iraq will engage in struggles in the future (God forbid), entering the frameworks of sectarian fighting that will have a beginning but no end. This is the danger against which we warned when we said that the sectarian quota system would kill Iraq and the region. No one paid attention at the time. I was the first to warn that there was civil war in Iraq. Some brothers, and even some Iraqi officials, criticized those statements, but the fact is that what we see today is far more serious than civil war. The losses incurred during civil wars are far less than the human losses among the Iraqis today.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) This means there is a civil war taking place in Iraq today.
(Allawi) Absolutely. There is civil war.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You often criticize the Iraqi government, which says it is a national unity government in which you participate. Why don’t you withdraw from the government?
(Allawi) This is not a national unity government. It is a government of sectarian quotas that does not represent national accord. We reluctantly agreed to join it in the hope that it would amend its course, learn, and be a really national unity government. But after the deadline we gave the government, we now have a different and a new position that we in the national Iraqi List began to study to see if it is useful for us to remain in the executive power. The Iraqi List has no role in the executive power. I can clearly say that our List and its components, including the Iraqi National Accord Movement, are being subjected to daily attacks and continuous destruction. We have a large number of detainees in the jails of the Iraqi regime. They suffer the harshest forms of torture. Tomorrow (today), a National Accord Movement delegation will meet with officials from Amnesty International in an attempt to obtain the release of the detainees, one of them was placed in a coffin for more than 20 days and was threatened to be buried alive. The members and inclinations of the Iraqi List are targeted. Very regrettably, the Iraqi government did nothing against these practices. It is just watching the arrests, torture, killing, marginalization, and dismissal from work. There isn’t any government measure to stop this hostile episode against the Iraqi List and the National Accord Movement.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Who rules Iraq today?
(Allawi) All the armed militias — Shiites and Sunnis — the takfiri forces, the terrorists, and those who call themselves resistance — these are the forces that control the Iraqi street today.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there a genuine Iraqi resistance?
(Allawi) There is certainly a genuine Iraqi resistance. The Americans talked with this resistance and with the Baathists. That happened in my presence. But it appears they achieved no results.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Whom do you mean by Baathists?
(Allawi) The official representatives of the Baath Party. They officially talked with high-ranking officials from the coalition countries, including the Americans. But they did not achieve results. One of the reasons is that one of the coalition countries told the Baathists to negotiate with the government, but the Baathists said they do not recognize the government because it does not represent the Iraqi reality. Add to this the fact that the brothers in the government do not want to change their policy with regard to the Debathification. They want to entrench this policy. They, indeed, want to fight all the nationalist inclinations that have nothing to do with the Baath Party, as is happening to us in the Iraqi List or the National Accord Movement. They want to marginalize us for many reasons, including the fact that we differ with them over the issues of militias, the sectarian-sharing system, and the building of the modern state. We also differ with them on the issue of Iraq’s Arab and Islamic affiliation. We believe that Iraq is part of the Arab and Islamic nations.
It appears that the government and many other parties do not want Iraq to have an Arab or an Islamic wing. This is why I am surprised why we in the Iraqi List and the National Accord Movement are being treated with such tyranny and persecution. I spoke with the prime minister and with others in the government, but this led to nothing. I sent memorandums to the head of the government and the president of the republic. I wrote to the president about the unfairness by the Debathification committee to colleagues of us in the List who won in the recent elections but were removed although some of them were not Baathists. Indeed, one of them was a communist and never a Baathist. Some people had been plotting against Saddam since the seventies and eighties and yet they were removed. It appears to me that this happened against the background of the positions of those people toward Iran and its interference in Iraqi affairs. There is a great deal of unfairness to us, which shows that there is no genuine desire for national reconciliation, which should begin with the participants in the political process. We are participating in this process and we played a key role in it and in the liberation of Iraq. We were inside Iraq while many of the forces of the coalition came to Iraq in a later stage. We, therefore, decided to revise our positions and to be clear. If the government is serious about ending the quota system and dissolving the militias and about the issue of reconciliation, then we — as I personally informed Nuri al-Maliki — will be his strategic reserve. If the government is not serious in this approach, then we will see what we will do.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You talked about new programs and about the expansion of the leadership of the National Accord Movement. What are exactly your plans?
(Allawi) Our plan is to build a national front with presence inside and outside parliament. It will comprise the forces that do not believe in the system of sectarian sharing, along with figures that believe in the building of an Iraq for all the Iraqis, an Iraq free from irregular entities, and in building establishments that have their loyalty for Iraq, and independent judicial establishments where the law is applied equally on all the Iraqis. This is what we are tying to do. This is in addition to the building of strategic, complementary relations with the Arab and Islamic countries.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You are a politician and have been involved in politics since you were 18 years old. You know that every plan requires a force to implement it. what force will you depend on in your effort to implement your plan? Do you have, for example, a plan to form a national military wing for the Iraqi List, the National Accord Movement, or the new front?
(Allawi) We will see. We are talking with the other brothers on various levels. One level is the discussion with the government. It appears to me that this track is complicated because the brothers believe in the policy of the majority dominating the minority. This is another headline for dictatorship. If the situation continues like this, we will discuss all available and possible options. But within the existing situation we want to rationalize the political process through the adoption of real positions, not shallow positions or slogans. We are trying to build a real national front that will steer Iraq away from axes, sectarian systems, and bias toward regional parties, and that will adopt the Arab and Islamic depth.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do these options include the formation of a militia or a military wing?
(Allawi) All options are open, and we will cross that bridge when we reach it. We prefer the democratic track, but it is inconceivable for this abnormal situation to continue, and we do not allow ourselves to be dragged into these bizarre situations.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Which parties will join this front?
(Allawi) We approached groups inside the Unified Iraqi Coalition and the Iraqi Accord Front as well as Kurds, forces outside the political process, and important figures. Important Iraqi figures are now calling for the establishment of a front. I must say that our efforts have recently focused on a proposal we submitted to the Americans before President Bush’s new strategy was announced. We presented visions to serve the Iraqi cause and the region, and we hope they will take them into consideration. They told us that they would take some of our ideas into consideration. So our efforts to form the front are now put on hold because we are focusing on the more important issue: addressing the security situation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is your assessment of President Bush’s new strategy?
(Allawi) There are many questions about President Bush’s strategy. There was the Baker-Hamilton committee report and we do not know what happened to it. What is its fate? Why does this strategy come four years after the American presence in Iraq while the situation is getting worse day after day? Why were the political leaders in Iraq and the leaders of the Arab and Islamic countries not consulted? All this shows confusion in the American vision toward the situation in Iraq and the region. It also reflects American divisions and shows that the US Administration is out of touch with the real Iraqi situation. But despite this criticism of President Bush’s new strategy, I believe that we have to deal with it with openness and awareness and to amend its courses. We have to test it until the end and to apply pressure and see the extent of the United States’ commitment and ability to fulfill the requirements of the plan, not only in the military aspect, but also in the political aspect. A negative point in the plan is the rush with regard to the municipal elections in Iraq. I personally believe that these elections will entrench the sectarian situation in Iraq and consolidate extraordinary situations that the current security situation in the country does not help consolidate. The opposite is true. I was hoping the plan would be truly discussed with Iraqi experts and political forces inside and outside the parliament, and also with the leaders of the Arab and Islamic region because the issue of Iraq no longer concerns Iraq’s geographic area only. It affects the entire region and the world. If we take it in its current form, this strategy will not succeed. It should have focused on political solutions, which center on two issues: a real national reconciliation and the building of the state agencies and the rule of law. This is the solution to the Iraqi problem. But the American strategy that divides the Iraqis as Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds will not succeed. With due respect to the American effort, it wants to impose a sectarian and an ethnic reality. Some Arab leaders, regrettably, believe there is a Shiite situation and a Sunni situation and suggest that the Shiites and the Sunnis forge an alliance. I say that we as Shiites and Sunnis have no problem. This issue was created by the former regime and also by the current regime, but the Iraqi society does not believe in this division. We do not need a unity of denominations or ethnicities. We need to regain the national unity, away from sectarianism, ethnicity, and factionalism. This is with due respect to the special characteristics of the religions and nationalities in Iraq. Without such an inclination, no new or old plans will work. We must also note that the United States is now divided. Congress is moving in one direction and the Administration is moving in another. Even statements about Iran appear strange. The problems existed for a long time, but the statements began to appear now. We do not know the inclinations of the United States now, but we must deal with the Americans and give them our ideas and inclinations clearly and fairly. We must work hard to maintain the friendship with the United States.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In your opinion, why this talk about Iranian policy in Iraq now?
(Allawi) A mistake with regard to the political geography and the balances of power in the region and Iraq was made. When the Iraqi state was dissolved at the hands of the American forces and some of the Iraqi parties that cooperated with them to eliminate the former regime, the balance was disturbed in Iran’s favor. Because of the political vacuum that emerged in Iraq and because it feared an American action against it, Iran began to interfere in the Iraqi affair. Iraq, thus, became an arena for regional problems, including America’s problems with Iran. Despite my attempts to build good relations with Iran, Iran adopted hostile positions toward me. But despite this we have to include Iran in balanced relations with Iraq and the countries of the region and maintain a climate of security and peace in the region without interference in the affairs of others. Today there is an American-Iranian escalation, and Iraq is the victim. We reject this. We call on all parties to engage in dialogue and protect the interests of the Iraqi people. Iran, as a neighbor with historical and geographic relations with Iraq, should help Iraq and its stability. The same applies to Syria. It is a sisterly country and we have to reach common conviction with it in order to build a healthy atmosphere in the region. We hope President Talabani’s visit to Damascus will produce positive results. I have big confidence in Syria and, based on my meeting with President Al-Assad, I believe Syria is ready for cooperation and openness.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What must Arab leaders do regarding the American policy, whether in the region or in Iraq?
(Allawi) I believe the Arab leaders and the leaders of the Islamic countries, in cooperation with the Arab League and the OIC, should draft a clear and detailed policy to support Iraq and the Iraqis and force the United States to implement their vision (the Arab leader’s), not the other way round. One of the reasons of my current tour of the region, and of my next tour, is that I have started to feel that there is a pressing need for the leaders in the region to act because they understand Iraq’s problem and crisis more than others do. They should not await opinion and proposals from the US Administration. They should take the initiative and drag the US Administration to the right Arab position that serves the region and Iraq and its independence. This is what I expect the Arab leaders to do. This is a call from me to the Arab leaders and the leaders of the Islamic countries to work in this direction. The leaders and peoples of the region know its problems more than others do. I believe it is necessary to maintain and stick to the relationship with the United States, but it is also important to guide the US policy on the issues of the region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you expect such a position before or during the Arab summit?
(Allawi) I expect it before the Arab summit. In my meetings with the Arab leaders, I admired certain inclinations because they represent and touch the Iraqi reality. There was a gap in some concepts about the Sunni-Shiite balance. Our view is that Iraq should take precedence over the sects. Therefore, I now expect the Arab leaders to demonstrate positions showing understanding for the issues of Iraq and the region. I am very pleased with the talks that were held with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They were strong and candid talks reflecting a high sense of responsibility, especially by the brother foreign ministers of the GCC states, Egypt, and Jordan. It was clear that what the brothers proposed serves Iraq and the Arab region. I sensed their genuine concern about Iraq. Let me say something about the Arab positions, and they are honorable positions, whether by Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, and even Syria. Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries that I had the honor to visit politically in September 1990. I have close and longstanding relations with the brothers there. What the Saudis said and are saying express their eagerness to safeguard Iraq and its unity and sovereignty. I still remember that the first Arab leader to propose in 1992 that the Iraqi opposition form a government in Irbil (in Iraqi Kurdistan) was King Fahd (may God bless his soul). He expressed readiness to support such a government. Saudi Crown Prince Sultan Bin-Abdulaziz’ recent statements to your newspaper touched the heart of the truth as far as the Iraqi situation is concerned. The same can be said about the statements of Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and the brothers in the United Arab Emirates, with whom I am in touch even at the hardest times, and the brothers in Jordan. All these statements express Iraq’s interest. Without the efforts of the brothers in Jordan, the United States would not have been able to arrest or assassinate Al-Zarqawi. This is contrary to what some Iraqi parties are trying to promote to target the Arabs and their embassies in Iraq. Playing down the role of the Arab and Islamic countries, therefore, harms Iraq and the regional balance.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Who are the parties involved in the conflict in Iraq and the Arab region?
(Allawi) This is a conflict between moderation and extremism. At the end of the day, sectarianism, terrorism, and extremism are different sides of the same coin. Here, through this respected newspaper, I warn against the focus on the issues of Shiites and Sunnis. All the Arabs and the Islamic countries should encourage the national Iraqi dimension and affiliation to Iraq. They should not encourage a Shiite-Sunni balance because if we raise the issue in this way it will lead to destruction. The right path and the final destiny of Iraq is the national affiliation, not the sectarian, denominational, or ethnic affiliation. No matter how long it takes, I am sure the will of the Iraqi people will be the strongest. We have seen the fate of the extremists, whether those who embraced the extremist national thought or the extremist socialist thought. Everyone with an extremist thought in our region will be on his way to his end. The thought of moderation and the forces of logic will ultimately prevail.