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Q & A with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Iyad Al-Samarrai | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Q) The current Parliament is now four years old, what are its achievements?

A) When we speak about the achievements of this Parliament, it has achieved a number of important things. We can say that some of the legislation has been very important and legislations issued by the council regarding public service, salaries, pensions, and university service have represented a qualitative transformation in terms of benefits and what has been achieved for this sector, especially since previous legislation had been based on the previous national currency and had laid down the new bases and lucrative salaries for those who are in employment and those who have gone into retirement.

The council has also approved a number of laws, within the social protection network, starting with the poor classes to compensating those affected by the military operations, politicians who have been fired, and political prisoners. These compensations have included many categories that have been affected or denied [compensation] in accordance with a number of legislations in addition to legislation that has contributed to organizing the situation in the state and organizing the work of the ministries and institutions, such as the Accountability and Justice Commission, in addition to the Federal Service Council Law, which has yet to be implemented, and the legislation specific to the Human Rights Commission. All these legislations contribute to the process of nation building.

There is some sort of procrastination in implementation specifically from the executive authority. According to the law, the executive authority must nominate and appoint in accordance with the Constitution. So we do see a state of procrastination. The council is in harmony with the Constitution regarding the legislation related to the Governorate Council, the Governorate Council Authority, and the method of election, therefore the council’s vision is in harmony with the Constitution and it is demanding that the authority of these councils be expanded.

This means that the political and administrative system in Iraq is built on the basis of increasing the role of the Governorate Councils and reducing the role of the ministries. However, this trend has yet to receive a response from the Cabinet, whose direction continues as it was in the past, which is the central administration of Iraq through the ministries. Therefore, while the Council of Ministers issues legislation, we find that executively our government is not in harmony with the legislation and therefore its procedures are somewhat obstructive, and this has created a kind of conflict. This conflict is not based on a political background, but it seems that the differences are over the directives, because those who placed the legislation with us are those who represent the government, but when it comes to implementation we find that they are holding onto their powers on the basis that they are ministers. For example, the Supreme Islamic Council is one of those parties that strongly support expanding the powers of the governorates, and the municipalities’ minister follows the Supreme Council.

However, today we see that the municipalities’ minister is one of those who oppose expanding these powers. Therefore, what I mean to say is that the conflict does not have a political direction, but I can say is that it is some sort of governmental mood or mood of the minister who does not respond to this issue. This is one of the laws that the council approved but is facing a kind of opposition or lack of harmony by the government authorities.

There are also some obstacles when it comes to determining some issues at the political level. One of the initial issues that was determined was that the oil sector was in need of some sort of legislative revolution. Iraqi experts said that Iraq is unable to achieve great advancement in utilizing the oil fields and increasing production with the same limited capabilities and that investment requires tens of billions of dollars to fulfill. Iraq should use its capabilities in infrastructure projects; but for projects of an economic nature, which bring in revenue, it seeks the support of foreign companies. This was the general direction, which enjoys some degree of approval. However, this direction needs reconsideration in terms of legislation since our previous legislation was built on the basis of the direct national investment theory, which is the theory adopted by the previous regime. This theory was correct in the seventies and was used following the arrival of foreign companies, and this resulted in a kind of development. However after the war with Iran and the other wars, the development of the oil sector stopped from 1980 until today. This means that oil development in Iraq ceased thirty years ago. The gap between us and the world and between our capabilities and production has become very wide. During this period, we denied ourselves from investment in the oil sector. Therefore, there is a need for legislation that is in line with our need and our vision.

Among the achievements that have taken place is the change in the Election Law, along with the principles and bases that were included in the Election Law. There are some tasks that we need to complete in this field.

Q) Regarding the supervisory role of the council, has this faced opposition from the government?

A) The council has managed over the past period to activate the supervisory aspect [of its role]. However, had this aspect been activated two years ago and had it been taken seriously, the results would have been much better. The supervisory aspect of its role was activated despite the opposition by the government at the time because of the belief that the activation of this role was aimed at toppling the government and therefore we faced a political problem. Everyone talks about wanting integrity and activating the anti-corruption files, but there was a state of (anger) by the ministers and they were not willing to come to the Council of Representatives to be questioned, which they saw as humiliating. Efforts were made in order to avoid the questioning. From my point of view, I believe that questioning is a form of democracy; in fact, parliaments around the world are proud to achieve such questioning, especially if it is done in the proper framework.

For my part, I was eager to overcome two obstacles: the first was the governmental opposition, which was reflected inside the council through obstruction within the council to avoid the questioning. Great efforts needed to be exerted within the framework of the political blocs and the government to convince them that there was no underlying agenda behind the questioning, and that there was no need to claim the existence of such agendas in order to cancel the questioning. This task took a great deal of effort in terms of meeting with the bloc leaders and holding talks with them.

The second obstacle was the fact that some people tried to turn it into a media protest as a way to defame and harm the minister. This also required great effort in order to control the issue by managing the session and ensuring that the method of questioning does not go beyond the boundaries, and to maintain ethical and professional standards. We managed to overcome the opposition obstacle and the obstacle of those who tried to turn the questioning into a media show, and we managed to succeed in this issue.

Q) What happened after the questioning? We have not seen anyone from whom confidence has been withdrawn?

A) Withdrawing confidence is not the aim. The purpose is that control improves the performance of the government today. When the government is changed then this is weakness in the performance of the government. We want control to be a means of pressure on the concerned minister or official that there are those who follow up the issues, that there is accountability, and that all files are open.

Q) We see that every time there is an issue in the Council of Ministers, the council members take months to reach solutions; in fact, the council and its members use it as substance for a media show that calms down once a law or legislation is adopted, which takes a long time. Is this due to the lack of coordination between the parliament blocs?

A) Every committee in the Council of Representatives represented all the political blocs, in fact all the political blocs were keen to join the basic committees such as the security, defense, legal, economic, and other committees. The general direction of these committees is that there is good coordination within their frameworks. However, in some cases we see that the deputy in the committee is interacting with the committee’s work, but the bloc that he represents is not in fact interacting and wants to utilize the law for political gains. This means that the deputy is carrying out his role well within the committee and is doing his work, but the bloc wants to achieve as much as possible through bargaining. This is what happened in the military service law and determining the powers of the general commander of the Armed Forces, and other laws.

A citizen may say that such talk gives him a headache, but what can we do when we are demolishing an entire political regime and [building] a new political system, a system that embodies agreement on the general features, but agreement on details continues to be absent. In fact, the Constitution has not managed to resolve the issue and we have to bear the consequences. The next Council of Representatives will come and it will not be any better than our current parliament in terms of the nature of challenges and the nature of the difficulties it will face and how it will overcome matters. We will find many deputies inside the parliament that are ineffective and the desire to address the masses will be stronger than carrying out their duties. This is what we will face with the next council and therefore we will continue to face these major challenges.

Q) Has there been any pressure by the government to approve some legislation? It was said that during your meeting with the prime minister you faced such pressures?

A) I do not call them pressures in the true sense. The government expresses its point of view and wants the council to respond to that point of view. For my part, I was clear with everyone. I do not accept pressures in the sense that if the prime minister has a certain opinion then he must present it as a government, and I tell him to leave the issue for his political bloc inside the council and let it announce this opinion and adopt his point of view. However, for the government to put pressure on the council then I reject this; and I told the prime minister more than once that if your bloc is not performing, it must not be a reason for him to intervene. If you have a point of view then let the bloc adopt it and do not force it.

Q) [Regarding] the border issue and the Iranian intervention in the Al-Fakkah oil field, the Parliament simply spoke about the issue but there was no firm decision by the Parliament.

A) The Iranian side did not say it was not committed, but that it is committed to its agreements with Iraq within the agreed limits. Had it said that it was not committed then the situation would have taken a different course. What happened is that the Iranian side leveled accusations, and this is why it adopted such a stance. We wanted to put pressure on the Iraqi Government since such pressure will give it strength because when it goes to negotiate with the Iranian side it will say: look at the popular reaction, and I cannot do anything but maintain my position. This is a natural stance. We told the Iranian side that its forces must return to the initial point from where they came and that Iran and Iraq are not in a state of war with one another to justify mobilizing their forces, and therefore there is nothing wrong if the Iranian forces remain 200 meters away from the borderline or for the Iraqi forces to be the same distance away from the border.

What happened was due to popular pressure and because the government in the first place rejects this violation and insists that the Iranian forces return to their locations, and the Iranian side has responded. A few days ago, the Iranian foreign minister was in Baghdad and he confirmed to the Iraqi foreign minister that the forces have returned to their previous locations, ie the location inside the Iranian territories.

We believe there has been some negligence on the Iranian side in the negotiations file. Today, there is agreement and there are problems over the borders. There are a number of protocols that should have been activated, that is to say that if the problem pertains to the placement of markers, since the borderline and its coordinates do exist, then we have to hurry and place these markers. In order to avoid any problems between the two sides we need to fix these markers on the ground, and the borderline between the two countries is clear. There has been some negligence in this regard. During the meeting that was held, there was acknowledgement of this negligence. The Iraqi side uses the pretext of non availability of allocations [takhsisat] and we believe that this pretext is unacceptable for an important issue. However, these committees will be activated in order to fix the land and river borders. This is what we requested in order for issues to return to the way they were.

Q) Did you make sure that the withdrawal has actually taken place on the ground?

A) Our sources in Maysan say the opposite. They say that the Iranian forces continue to be in the same location following its withdrawal, which is only fifty meters.

Q) You are now bringing up a sensitive issue. When the Iraqi foreign minister says that the Iranian forces have withdrawn to their former locations and then this turns out not to be true, in other words, the government or its foreign minister are misleading the Council of Representatives.

A) We do not believe that the foreign minister is misleading the Council of Representatives. We believe that he is honest in what he says. When he came to the Council of Representatives he was very honest, and he said t hat the Iranian forces have withdrawn from the oil well area. However, today they are 50 meters away from the initial point. According to our calculations, they continue to be inside the Iraqi territories. When the Iranian foreign minister came, he confirmed the withdrawal of the forces inside the Iranian territories.

As for the issue of the Iran-Iraq border and any other border, Iraq does not bear responsibility for what was done by the former regime. It relinquished over 20,000 sq km and this is one of the crimes the previous regime committed against Iraq. It relinquished this land to others and therefore today we say as an Iraqi nation: We do not accept this.

Q) Regarding the upcoming elections, could the rivalry between the candidates and the political blocs reach the point of physical liquidation or assassination?

A) This issue is a problem. There are calls and there are some who say that some political forces have armed elements and that some forces, which were not in the Council of Representatives but will enter it, today have armed elements. Political assassinations are present in addition to terrorism and therefore this represents a state of danger. Therefore, one of the first jobs of the security agencies is to be firm and expose these gangs. We will have to be firm in the way we politically deal with any political force that has a military arm. It is not enough to cut the capabilities of these military arms that belong to these forces. The political force that has such arms must be indicted and be accountable because this is against the law and the Constitution.

Q) You have been accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and that the purpose of your visit to Egypt was to meet with them. Your name is also said to have been mentioned when a group of them was questioned. How do you respond to this?

A) We are within a framework of a complex political situation. Unfortunately, the agendas of some political forces seek to bring down others or try to bring suspicion on them. These accusations came from inside Iraq and not Egypt. They were mentioned in media reports. They are completely baseless. We have great respect for the Islamic movement and it has a considerable status within the Egyptian state. They have declared offices and they take part in elections and practice their activities. When one is arrested it is not because he is a member of the movement, but because of creating political organizations. Their sentences do not go beyond six months or a year, and they are not accused of terrorism.

Q) Does this mean that Iraqi parties are behind these accusations against you and are there some people who want to bring you down politically?

A) There are a number of parties that are making unjust accusations against us. This is the product of the Iraqi political scene. They do not want Iyad al-Samarrai to perform his official and political role. We see them make accusations every time there is a meeting with an ambassador, a prime minister, or minister. They want the Parliament Speaker to be paralyzed and I do not think it is appropriate for the Parliament Speaker to be paralyzed as is the case in dictatorship regimes, and Iyad al-Samarrai will not have this role at all.

Q) What do you propose through your nomination for the Baghdad [district] since you are the number one candidate for the Al-Tawafuq Front in the elections?

A) We are fully confident that we are capable of serving the Iraqi people. We have a clear vision because of our experience over the past four years. We know what we need to focus on, and at the end of the day the matter is left to the people regarding whom they decide to choose. In the Al-Tawafuq Front, we have not suffered from internal problems and we have not disagreed over governorate candidates. We have an internal methodology and a message. We have benefited from our past experiences and have put these experiences before our eyes and the decision is ultimately up to the voter.