London, Asharq Al-Awsat-Iraqi Vice President Sheikh Ghazi Al- Yawer has called for confronting terrorism with an enlightened thought and by curbing the activities of armed militias, which he believes, contribute to the consolidation of sectarianism in Iraq. He called for the adoption of forbearing steps toward the Iraqi people, especially the release of innocent Iraqis who are being held in the detention camps of the multinational forces, with the advent of the blessed month of Ramadan.
In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat on 1 October 2005, Al- Yawer said, "The short political stages, which Iraq went through in the past two years, have made it impossible to build a mature political climate on democratic bases." He said the transitional stages have consolidated the quota system in Iraq, has politicized the ministries, and contributed to inflaming sectarian and ethnic sensibilities in the country.
Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer warned of the danger of igniting the fire of sectarianism in Iraq and its effect on other states, because "what is happening in Iraq will knock on their doors, one door after the other."
Following is the text of the interview:
(Q) Can you explain to us your initiative regarding the release of Iraqi detainees?
(A) We are embarking on two political moves: the referendum (on the Constitution) and the elections. The main aim of any political process is to carry it out in a democratic climate and to have full and balanced participation by the Iraqi people. Terrorism exists in Iraq, but fighting it should not be by the force of arms alone. Regrettably, a section of that terrorism adopts religious thought and distorts the image of religion. We believe it is necessary to confront thought with thought, and not only with the force of arms, which entails a strike here and a strike there, and thus resulting in great destruction. Some of the military operations have negative results, for although some terrorists are eliminated, there are losses amongst innocent people who are within the range of fire. That adds to the Iraqis” bitterness and to a feeling of isolation among a section of the Iraqi people. Therefore, we have made the step of helping the innocent among those detained and their families.
There are many who are detained (not imprisoned) in the detention camps of the coalition forces. That is a violation of human rights and humanitarian concepts. We did not ask them to release all detainees unconditionally, but we asked for the release of those who have been detained for three or four months or more and who have not been referred to court or proved guilty of any crime after interrogation. There are villages in Iraq in which there are no men above the age of fifteen. We have not said we are prepared to guarantee everyone. We simply question why those whose crimes have not been proven are still detained after all that time. Those who have no kin or anyone to bail them out, we guarantee their bail. With the advent of the blessed month of Ramadan, it is wrong for people to have to suffer in this way. If we want the Iraqis to participate in the political process, how can we ask someone who is detained and does not know what charge is leveled at him to participate in the political process?
I remind you that all Iraqis are against terrorism and against those who want to kindle sectarian or nationalist sedition in Iraq. All of us are against that. However, we must take an intellectual forum and resort to thought. We must rely on the tolerant teachings of Islam to confront such blind extremism that is killing innocent people.
(Q) What was the response to this initiative?
(A) We have agreed with the coalition forces on freeing those against whom no charge has been proven. That does not mean opening doors of prisons for criminals to get out. However, after three committees reviewed their files it was evident that those people were not criminals. They were arrested on political bases or on suspicion of engaging in acts of violence. Some of them are still imprisoned. We did not ask to what sect or ethnic group the detainees belonged, for they are Iraqis.
(Q) Recently you expressed support for "a code banning the shedding of Iraqi blood." How can such a code be applied on the ground?
(A) I believe it is more of a moral code than a practical code, because honorable and rational Iraqis do not seek to ignite sectarian sedition and do not shed innocent blood in such a way. It is a kind of moral participation, and we hope it will be applied on the ground. The idea was put to us two weeks ago, and we were asked to adopt it. We decided to support it, because if we adopt something it should be implemented on the ground, instead of being just moral. However, we are for it 100 percent.
(Q) What is the role of armed militias in Iraq today?
(A) For two years, we have been hearing about the disbanding of the militias. However, in reality, the militias are still there, and previously some of them have been receiving funding from the Iraqi Government budget. How can we have democratic elections in the absence of security and in the presence of armed militias? The militias are a kind of organized gangs, or organized crime. They must be dissolved and there must be only an Iraqi army and a free police force. Crime results from terrorism and taking people from their homes after midnight. We talked a great deal with the commanders of the multinational force and with General (George) Casey (US military commander in Iraq) about the militias and their actions. Such actions help the takfiris (those who declare others to be unbelievers; presumably reference to Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi”s group) in igniting the fire of sedition in Iraq.
(Q) It appears the situation in Iraq is getting worse. How can the political process succeed?
(A) Regrettably, we passed through a bitter experience, and a political phase that is possibly unparalleled in the world in extremely short periods. The provisional government stage was six months. That did not allow sufficient time to create a national-political-intellectual forum founded on firm bases. Every politician has his eyes set on how many seats he will get in the coming National Assembly, because the political stages are very short. Our ministers are wronged when they are accused of not being productive, but how can they produce efficiently in a country that was in ruins when we took over. A minister needs three months to know his ministry before he can take action in it and usually leaves it after another three months. It is regrettable that ministries in Iraq are politicized, not only confessionally and ethnically but there are political quotas as well. The minister has to represent a certain trend. He may not be specialized in the field, but he is there only because he represents a certain trend. Ministries here have begun to breed. There are now 33 ministries, so that everyone will be satisfied. When we have governments that last longer and the political process settles down, quota sharing will be less. However, I do not expect that will happen in the coming stage. Let us be frank, the situation so far is heading towards a negative direction and not a positive one.
From the beginning, I have not been optimistic regarding the short periods of the political stages. In Sudan, the transitional period is six years; in Afghanistan, it is three years. A country like Iraq, with its importance, demographic size, political significance, and problems, is much more complicated. Thus, regrettably, we did not have a chance to have a strategic view. There is a crisis of civil political thought in Iraq. There are religious parties that have heads and grassroots. Nonreligious civil parties have heads and big names but regrettably, they do not have grassroots, because there has been no time to formulate programs for those parties. Furthermore, we are experiencing arbitrary killings and destruction throughout the period, and there is intrusion by regional states, as well as Great Powers.
(Q) With regard to the situation of the tribes in Iraq, what role can the tribal chiefs play?
(A) Iraq is a country where perhaps 95 percent of its population has tribal backgrounds. In the absence of an aware political thought and political credibility, Iraqis turn to places of worship and to their origins in order to create groupings. Iraqi tribes wield political influence. They are the conscience of the people. We do not want them to operate in the same way religious forums operate. We do not want them to become directly involved in politics and we do not want the clan to become a political party. That is a big danger and a ball of fire. The political process must be left to the citizens who are qualified for it, who believe in one Iraqi homeland, who have a broad view and are not entrenched in tribal and sectarian biases.
(Q) Are you satisfied with the draft constitution and the constitutional process?
(A) My view was that the process of drafting the constitution should not be a mandate that arises from the previous elections. In the previous elections (January 2005), we hoped for the participation of the entire spectrum of the Iraqi people. However, the results of the elections led to an imbalance in the representation of the Iraqi people, for many reasons that are known to all. We had hoped that the committee drafting the Constitution would be elected, but two thirds of its members were elected and one third was appointed. Thus there was a lack of balance in the committee.
The shortage of time has affected the process. It took three months for the Government to be formed, leaving two months to write the Constitution of a country as complex as Iraq. We are still hearing about the possibility of introducing amendments to the draft Constitution. We have two weeks left (before referendum on Constitution) and we are still talking about the possibility of new amendments. It is very difficult.
Generally speaking, there are many matters that are agreed upon by everyone. They are reasonable checks and the majority of the Constitution”s clauses are positive. There are some few, but important, points that should be reconsidered. The Constitution contains many contradictions and it is difficult to apply it in practice. For instance, it states that no law should contradict the constants of religion and the principles of democracy and human rights; yet there are no ways to apply them. Some points have the potential of partitioning areas of Iraq. For instance, there is a clause on opening an office for every governorate or province in Iraqi embassies abroad. That is a development to prepare for possible partitioning and does not exist anywhere in the world.
(Q) There have been reports on the possibility of amending the draft Constitution so that it includes a clause on Iraq”s unity and safeguarding it. Do you support such an amendment?
(A) One thing binds us in Iraq and that is the Iraqi identity. If the amendment prescribes that, then it will be a very positive point.
(Q) With regard to the coming elections, do you expect the participation of the groups that boycotted the previous elections?
(A) The reactions we have seen show great regret for not participating in the previous stage, and there is determination to take part in the coming elections. We call on all Iraqis to think strategically, instead of just reacting. We say to those groups, if you focus all your efforts on the referendum on the Constitution, perhaps you will get some points but you will have little time to prepare for the elections. Our advice is that you prepare for the elections and restore balance to the political process. Then we can change the Constitution, for it can be changed with time.
The question is: Will the security situation be better to enable those people to go to the ballot boxes? That is what the Iraqi Government and the multinational force must achieve. It is the Iraqi citizen”s right to move freely.
(Q) However, there are areas that have a dense Sunni population where in the previous elections centers for registering for the poll did not open until the last moment. How can that be prevented?
(A) It is the duty of the Government to create security. The Government and the multinational force cannot resort to the excuse that there is not sufficient security. They must secure areas where the people can vote.
(Q) Will you stand up for the coming elections, and will you forge an alliance with a particular side?
(A) We cannot withdraw from the political arena now. Although we had hoped to build a modern Iraq, but regrettably the circumstances did not allow the achievement of the aspirations of every honorable and patriotic Iraqi. However, we still have a duty towards the Iraqi people who gave us their trust in the previous stage and we owe it to them to continue. We have learned a hard lesson in the previous elections. Everyone who did not enter into an alliance or did not unite lost; even those who won seats in the National Assembly got less than what they deserved. We see the presence of a number of politicians, who are tinged with sectarianism, but what Iraq needs now is political thought and a leadership that has a patriotic Iraqi inclination and is not biased in favor of any particular sect or ethnic group. The political line I represent respects religion but it does not mix religion with politics. Our line is a patriotic Iraqi line and our main aim is to restore security and strengthen the Iraqi national identity, without adopting entrenched intellectual or sectarian attitudes.
(Q) What is your view of President Jalal Talabani”s statements that the prime minister is violating the law?
(A) This government was established on the basis of an agreement between the Kurdistan Alliance and the Unified National Coalition. They have signed an agreement to which I am not a party. I believe the parties in the Kurdistan alliance, in the person of Jalal Talabani, believe that the prime minister did not adhere to what they had agreed upon. That is what we have heard. The fact is we do not want to be a party to that arrangement. It is a matter between them and we hope they reach an understanding over it. We are going through very difficult circumstances in Iraq. We do not want that to affect the performance of the Iraqi Government. However, that is one of the few benefits that democracy has brought to us, an Arab country in which the prime minister is openly criticized. It is a kind of transparency. Yet we hope the matter will not exacerbate.
(Q) However, the Presidential Council should have executive power. Why do we not see it exercised?
(A) The Presidency Council is part of the Iraqi Government. It participates in the Government”s executive arm with the prime minister. We should have a role in decision making. All the shades of the Iraqi spectrum are more widely represented in the Presidency Council than in other bodies. We are responsible before the people. There is a kind of coordination among us. However, some decisions are made in isolation of the Presidential Council, and that is what the president has touched upon.
(Q) Are you satisfied with American behavior in Iraq today?
(A) The United States usually views matters from its own point of view, and they expedite matters for their interest. Usually, that has a negative effect on us. In the past, there were many mistakes in that experience, the first of which were the occupation and the disbanding of the army. The current US ambassador has great awareness of Iraq. He is flexible and is prepared to reach understanding, especially as he has an Afghan background. Sometimes, they behave wrongly at the worst of times.
(Q) Is the Presidential Council informed of military operations in Iraq before they are carried out?
(A) No, sometimes they inform us of what they have done after the military operation. And I reject that. Any matter on which they do not consult us, we cannot support them in it. That is why I criticized the operations in Tal afar on which we were not consulted.
(Q) How do you assess the stand of the international community toward Iraq?
(A) There are several sides. With regard to the Western states, there are many states that do not like the US presence in Iraq, not because they hate us but out of competition with the United States. We hope those states will view Iraq as the gateway to the Arabian Gulf and a source of oil, and realize that any threat in the region will have an effect on the remotest parts of the globe. The terror that exists in Iraq concerns the entire international community. We in Iraq believe that we are bigger than "a banana republic," and that Iraq cannot rotate in one orbit, for that is not in Iraq”s interest. We believe that in the future Iraq should be a friend of the United States, but at the same time we want strong ties of friendship with other states. The countries of the region are not comfortable with what is taking place in Iraq, and they have not been comfortable since April 2003. There are forces of a superpower in Iraq, and if I were in their place I would also have felt confused and worried by such a presence. The regional states are directly concerned with what is taking place in Iraq, because the sectarian problems directly affect the states neighboring Iraq. We hope that our brothers in the regional states, and particularly in the Arab states, to be alert to what is taking place in Iraq now, because what is taking place in Iraq will, God forbid, knock on their doors one door after the other.
Some states have respected their neighborliness and have been the best of neighbors. Some states have interfered in our affairs and made matters worse. Everyone will lose if there is sectarian sedition, because most of the neighboring states have the same make-up and ethnic and religious diversity that exists in Iraq. If they should encourage the development of sectarian conflict in Iraq then it will affect them.
(Q) With regard to the regional states, how true are the statements we hear about Iranian interference in Iraq?
(A) It is very clear that there is an Iranian presence in Iraq. We have seen examples of that. The multinational force knows about that. We hope to build good neighborly relations with Iran. Iran must not entrench itself with certain parties in Iraq.
(Q) What about Syrian intervention in Iraq?
(A) Clearly, there is infiltration from Syria. Syria should not get itself into the wrong position and have what happened to Iraq happen to it. We fear that the alternative in Syria will be a religious government, similar to what we see in Iraq on the other side of the religious spectrum. If a Sunni government should take office in Syria and a Shiite government (take office) in Iraq they will grind the country and grind the region. I have confidence in President Bashar Assad and we hope he will get rid of some elements that cause disturbances in Syria.
(Q) How do you assess Saudi Arabia”s relations with Iraq?
(A) Saudi Arabia is a country that is methodical and not whimsical in its relations with others. The Kingdom is a political school. The kingdom decided that Iraq”s problems should be resolved within the Iraqi house. If all the other states were to leave the matter to the Iraqis, the Iraqis will solve their problems themselves without interference from regional and world states. We would not have all these problems, and we would be living the way we always have lived in the past. The differentiating terms Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd are imported from outside the country and did not spring from Iraq. However, circumstances have now changed and it has become necessary for states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to contribute, with its Arab, Muslim, and world influence, toward the relaxation of the political situation in Iraq, and to maintain a unified, effective, positive, and stable Iraq in this sensitive part of the world. The Saudis believe that Iraq”s safety and stability are necessary for the Kingdom and the whole world.
(Q) After being President and vice president, what post can you assume in the future?
(A) That is a hypothetical question. Frankly, I am prepared to work anywhere I can contribute more. I am not a worshipper of positions, and to prove this is the fact that after being president, I accepted the position of vice president.