London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Iyad Allawi refuses to retreat from the battles that are being waged against him and his Iraqiya coalition. He and his coalition won the most recent legislative elections in 2010, but Iran opposed his formation of the government. He agreed to concede power to Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of the State of the Law Coalition, on the condition that he carried out political reforms and formed a true national partnership government in accordance with the Erbil agreement.
Now, along with Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, Sadrist trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and the leaders of Iraqiya, Allawi is waging a battle to rectify the political situation by questioning the Prime Minister in the parliament.
In the following interview conducted with Asharq Al-Awsat during his brief visit to London, the leader of the Iraqiya coalition and former Prime Minister elaborated on the attempts to withdraw confidence from the al-Maliki government. He also spoke about the general situation in the region and in Iraq, which he described as “extremely dangerous”. Allawi also called for the situation in Syria to be resolved quickly in order to spare any more Syrian bloodshed. The following is the text from the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In what direction is the situation in Baghdad heading these days? Is there still a possibility that the Prime Minister will be questioned in parliament?
[Allawi] Yes this possibility is very much alive; the outstanding are being prepared for the questioning process at this minute. At the same time, there is still a chance for the Prime Minister to carry out the reform he claims to be doing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were a strong supporter of withdrawing confidence from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but then this process was aborted. Who was behind this process in the first place?
[Allawi] Let me be very frank on the matter. Muqtada al-Sadr was and continues to support us strongly with regards to withdrawing confidence, and he was committed to this stance. He said if you obtain 124 votes, I have 40 more votes ready in parliament to complete the legal quorum. Of course, this is in addition to the stance of Massoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, who is known for keeping his word and strongly abiding by his positions. Our position on this subject was also well known, however part of the Iraqiya coalition lost its balance. After Jalal Talabani, the President of the Republic, asked for the names and signatures of the MPs that wished to withdraw confidence, and after these were sent to His Excellency, a member of the Iraqiya contacted him and claimed that seven or eight of the Iraqiya MPs wished to rescind their signatures. This was a major obstacle and it undermined the entire process. Because the President is the guardian of everybody and the constitution, and does not wish to favor one side over another, he did not act on the parliament’s request to withdraw confidence from the Prime Minister because the constitutional quorum had not been met; this is his prerogative. The reason behind this lies in the behaviour of a small group from within Iraqiya. However, this matter is now over because the group has returned to the coalition and all is well now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the option of withdrawing confidence no longer a possibility?
[Allawi] We basically had two options. The first was to withdraw confidence through a request to the President, and the second was to question the Prime Minister and hold him to account directly in parliament. We now prefer the second option so that the President can maintain his status as the guardian of the constitution and remain impartial and distanced from either side.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was al-Maliki able to breach Iraqiya and weaken its position?
[Allawi] I do not think so; the issue is not a matter of whether al-Maliki breached Iraqiya. To be more accurate, let me say that Iran interfered forcefully in the subject; it threatened several entities in order to abort the confidence-withdrawal process. Likewise, the United States did not want the process to happen because it is currently preoccupied with presidential elections. Yes, as I said, some within Iraqiya lost their sense of balance, but our coalition consists of leaders and members that are strongly focussed on achieving the Iraqiya national project. Some opted to leave the coalition; but this happens in all coalitions and even in parties. These days, for example, several splits have place in the Dawa Party; there are now three Dawa parties! Look at the developments within the Kurdistan front, where the Change Movement was formed. Changes have also taken place regarding the stances of the Kurdish Islamists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and the National Alliance. Such changes are normal and they happen everywhere. With regards to the Iraqiya Coalition, some believed that our plans were contrary to their interests, and so they decided not to abide by them. But as far as Iraqiya’s leaders and principal currents are concerned, everyone is committed strongly to the national project.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So there have been no changes in the stances of Usama al-Nujayfi and Saleh al-Mutlaq?
[Allawi] No, absolutely not; Usama al-Nujayfi stances are clearly and strongly patriotic. He is strongly committed to the national project that Al-Iraqiya wants to achieve. So is Dr Saleh al-Mutlaq; I do not feel there has been any change in his position and he is the Deputy Prime Minister. However, I believe that al-Maliki should apologize to al-Mutlaq and to the Iraqiya coalition for his conduct. Al-Mutlaq has a long, honourable, national legacy that al-Maliki cannot breach, even if some of his convictions on some issues have changed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us what took place during the meetings in Erbil and later in Najaf?
[Allawi] I can truthfully say that they were patriotic Iraqi meetings. They were not influenced by any sectarian or ethnic calculations, or by any the agendas of any foreign forces or countries. In fact, some countries, particularly the United States, wanted to know what was happening. Each day, US officials contacted those in attendance by telephone to know what was happening. I am the only one they did not contact. The spirit of patriotism and an interest in the country and the people was dominant and brought all the sides together. Other national groups did not participate in these meetings but they supported us and expressed their support for our position in private meetings.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Such as the Islamic Supreme Council?
[Allawi] I do not wish to mention names here, neither that of the Council or any other side. But many important sides sympathized with our stance, and this includes groups within the State of Law Coalition. However, some government entities, in addition to Iran of course given its influence Iraq, played a fundamental role in obstructing these meetings.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will negotiations or meetings be held between you and the State of the Law coalition?
[Allawi] As far as we are concerned, there are no plans for negotiations or a national conference. The Erbil agreement stipulated reforms and they [the State of Law coalition] approved them. The former parliament also approved the same reforms. If they implement these reforms, then fine, otherwise we will proceed with the plan to question the Prime Minister and form a supreme federal court as stipulated in the constitution. We are also looking into the issue of establishing equal terms in office for the President and the Prime Minister. The President is currently limited to two terms.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the term in office for the speaker of the parliament?
[Allawi] The position of speaker of the parliament is subject to elections and voting, but the Prime Minister’s term in office is subject to political deals, as happened with al-Maliki who remained in his post under Iranian and American pressure. Everyone knows that the electoral process was clearly and openly violated. The Iraqiya coalition won the elections but it was not asked to form the government. We do not want the Prime Minister’s powers to remain absolute, for this would mean that we have not accomplished anything. That is why we believe it is important to limit the Prime Minister to two terms in office, because he holds so much power. We see him adopting an individualistic style in managing conflicts and the situation in general in Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Should the Prime Minister’s powers also be limited – for instance, he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces – as stipulated in the constitution?
[Allawi] Definitely they should be limited. Contrary to the claims of the State of the Law Coalition and al-Maliki, major violations are being committed against the constitution. First and foremost, there is a lack of internal rules of procedure for the Council of Ministers. In the constitution, there is no post called the Prime Minister; therefore al-Maliki is not the Prime Minister; he is the head of the Council of Ministers. He (al-Maliki) has been governing in this term for about two years, in addition to his past term, whilst the Council of Ministers is operating without internal rules of procedure. Also, according to the constitution, the appointment of ministers, undersecretaries, counsellors, director generals, commanders of military units or those in charge of the security organs should all be voted on by the parliament. This is not happening and this is another violation of the constitution. This is not to mention the human rights abuse and alarming security violations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, who should be held to account for the security violations? Who is responsible for the Iraqi blood that has been shed?
[Allawi] The entities that should be held responsible are the government, specifically the Council of Ministers, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the commanders of security organs such as the 56th Brigade in charge of combating terrorism, the anti-terrorism directorate, the intelligence service, the military intelligence unit, the special forces, and many other organs that come under the general command of the army. All these are responsible for the bloodshed of innocent Iraqis. Parliament should summon them for questioning so that people can understand what is happening. Every day the government releases statements that claim that security is being safeguarded. They said that if the US forces left, there would be no need to worry about the security situation. However, the security situation was bad when the American forces were present and it has remained so after they left.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is talk today about a national conference bringing together the main parties under the auspices of President Jalal Talabani, after he returns from medical treatment. Is this true?
[Allawi] I will not attend any such conference or meeting. What is needed in terms of reform is already obvious. The Erbil agreement consisted of two parts: One part was called national partnership and that has not been accomplished, nor will it be. The second part relates to political and economic reform. The documents exist, and they have to accomplish it, in addition to a political reform document that the former parliament ratified. So why are we having a national conference? What are we going to say during it? Will we make arrangements for more meetings, kiss one another on the cheek, and talk while the country is bleeding? The country is devastated and the Iraqi state is at risk. Killings are taking place unabated, services are suspended, the political situation is in shambles, there is no security, the rate of unemployment is rising, and the cost of living is extremely high. Everything is going from bad to worse. So why do we need a national conference? Meetings and dialogues are held every day, but what good are these dialogues if there are no results? We have been engaged in a dialogue for 10 years, but what have we accomplished? We were engaged in dialogues before that and for 30 years when Saddam Hussein was in power. What has been accomplished? Nothing happened and nothing was accomplished. What is even more comical is someone comes up and says let us call it a national conference, another says let us call it a national meeting, and another says let us call it a national gathering. All this is part of the farce. They want to conduct reforms? Then let them, the documents exist. I do not believe they are serious about conducting any true reform. There is a constitutional alternative that we are adopting instead, namely an interrogation of the Prime Minister inside the parliament, under the dome of the parliament.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you considered the likelihood that a federal court may deem it unconstitutional or illegal to question al-Maliki on the grounds of parliamentary immunity?
[Allawi] That is why we are very much interested in forming a supreme federal court to debate these issues in accordance with the constitution. It is not conceivable to keep the judiciary confined within the hands of a small group of people. There is an article in the constitution that says that a supreme federal court should be formed. Otherwise, why was the constitution drafted and then submitted to a referendum? I have always said that some paragraphs in the constitution should be amended, but this does not mean that we should not fully abide by the constitution until then.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Maliki is saying we should abide by the constitution. You, the Kurds, the Sadrist trend, and the Islamic Supreme Council are also saying we should abide by the constitution. So, who is violating the constitution?
[Allawi] I am also asking this question, but it can only be violated by the one who holds power. As for people like us who are persecuted by the authorities, we have nothing with which to violate the constitution. The constitution is violated by the one that persecutes others, kills, dismisses ministers according to his whim, or attacks the deputy Prime Minister or accuses the Vice President. He is the one who violates the constitution. We, however, are the ones that adhere to and defend the constitution, defending the rights of all the Iraqi people, Arabs, Kurds, and all other minorities. The one who violates the constitution is the one who holds power but does not abide by it. Who draws up the bylaws for the Council of Ministers? Who is drawing up and applying laws on oil, gas, elections and political parties? Is it us or the one that holds power? When al-Maliki abides by the constitution he can talk about protecting it and adhering to it. He is mocking others with an ugly power-sharing process that is not built on professional or national foundations. It is a process based on ethnicity and on sectarianism. This has nothing to do with the constitution and does not serve the country or the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has any meeting or contact, whether direct or indirect, been held recently between you and al-Maliki? Did one of you ask to meet with the other?
[Allawi] No, not at all; on the contrary, al-Maliki is doing his best to isolate me from the political process through his unsuccessful attempts to divide the Iraqiya coalition. I did not contact him and I have no business with him. We met after the elections and we gave him something he did not deserve when we conceded our right to form the government in order to achieve genuine reforms and national partnership for the good of the country and the Iraqi people. This did not happen; so why should I meet him again? He finds himself in a strong position and that is correct. He holds the power and Iran and America support him. We, however, have only God Almighty and the Iraqi people, praise be to God.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on the problem between al-Maliki and the Iraqi Kurdistan region?
[Allawi] The problem is not only between him and the Iraqi Kurdistan region, but with all the Iraqi governorates. This is what drove the majority of the governorates to demand to be turned into regions. The problem between Baghdad and Erbil or between the federal Prime Minister and the Iraqi Kurdistan region consists of two parts: Firstly, there is no trust or goodwill; if these elements were available then all the problems would be solved easily. Secondly, laws should be drawn up to interpret the articles stipulated in the constitution. For instance, there should be a law distributing financial wealth fairly; there should be a law on oil and gas; and there should be dozens of laws to regulate the relationship under which Iraq is managed. At present, these matters are hindered by sensitivities, personal complexes, and factional problems. This is why affairs are being managed haphazardly and are not based on laws or institutions. This is why the country is going backwards in many domains, investments for example, since no-one is venturing to invest money in Iraq. Many people, including friends that we know, want to invest in Iraq but there are no clear laws regulating investments. Every day, the government wages a battle against the governor of the central bank, and this is in addition to the corruption and the bribes. Therefore, the problem between the Iraqi Kurdistan region and the federal government is just part of the rampant chaos prevailing across the country due to the policies of the federal government. In view of its importance, the problem between Baghdad and Erbil should have been dealt with laws in harmony with the articles of the constitution. I remember when I was Prime Minister and whenever a problem arose between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan, I used to solve it with a visit or a conversation with Talabani and Barzani, and we would solve the problem quietly. That is why there were no real problems between us and them, particularly since we share a history of struggle, brotherhood, and national action. I also wish to refer to another important point. We have to decide who is an Iraqi and who is not an Iraqi? Is the Iraqi Kurd an Iraqi national or not? Is the Turkman or the Sunni or the Shiite or the Christian or the Sabean or the Yazidi or the Shabaki or the Kaka’i an Iraqi national or is he American or French?! Should we consider ourselves as the sons of one nation living in one homeland and protecting it? Should we live as equals or should we consider some sides unequal, as is happening now where infighting, injustice, problems, chaos, and tension are prevailing and reaching dangerous levels across the country? I am certain that this problem and a number of other problems are the result of the monopolization of the political situation, the violation of the constitution, and absence of laws that regulate the articles of the constitution. I believe there are 68 articles in the constitution that should “be regulated by a law”, but these laws have not yet been passed. Two important laws can solve most of the problems pertaining to the relationship between the centre and the Iraqi Kurdistan region, or between the centre and other governorates. These laws relate to the distribution of resources and oil and gas.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You recently mentioned there has been a fresh attempt to assassinate you. Can you elaborate on this?
[Allawi] It was not an attempt but there were plans ready to kill me, which I was alerted to by a number of countries in addition to our own information. These attempts continue. The first people to warn me about these plans at the time were the multinational forces – we have an official report about it from then – and the original plan was for a sniper to target me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What precautions are you taking?
[Allawi] What precautions? Where can I go? Should I leave the country, for instance? I do not know who wants to kill me; I am not in power and the government does not provide us with information. We do not even know who is in the government, what their plans are, and with which entities they are associated. At the time, I alerted the government of these plans but the authorities denied them, saying this is not true. Then I mentioned the multinational forces’ report and said either the government knows about this and is denying it, or the multinational forces did not pass on information to the government relating to a plot to assassinate the leader of a political movement and former Prime Minister. At that point, the government admitted the validity of the information and said yes, we are aware of this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have an idea who is behind these plans and attempts?
[Allawi] There definitely are entities capable of this who could reach me to carry out an assassination plot. Here I mean state organs, not individuals. I know there are countries that do not like me and do not want me around, first and foremost Iran. Moreover, the authorities in Baghdad cannot be trusted or relied upon and I do not know what they want. For example, I remember when I was a member of the governing council my friends gave me an armoured vehicle. I then bought two more armoured vehicles from my own funds. These cars are now old. I recently bought replacements but had to wait for more than seven months for the Iraqi government’s approval to allow these cars to enter the country. I am certain that I would not have received this approval had I not mentioned it in the media. It seems some organs within the Iraqi authorities are colluding with other specific organs to facilitate my assassination.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the situation in the region like these days?
[Allawi] Major changes are taking place in the region. What will happen over the next two or three months will bring many developments.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you referring to what is happening in Syria?
[Allawi] Yes, at the top of the list of changes is what is happening in Syria and in other places in the region. For example, Al-Qaeda has become a force that cannot be taken lightly. It has established strongholds in Yemen and has significant power in Mali, Somalia and in southern Libya. Al-Qaeda has asserted a clear presence and control on the ground.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the Syrian scene now?
[Allawi] A dangerous and destructive crisis is unfolding in Syria. The regime cannot continue to remain in power following all this bloodshed of the Syrian people. The regime has to decide what to do. I do not know whether it has decided to wage an all-out battle against the Syrian people, which is not right. The situation is producing worse and worse results. We can only imagine the state of affairs if the Syrian Prime Minister, who was appointed under difficult circumstances, defects, leaves the country and attacks the ruling regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Iraqi Prime Minister has said that the Syrian regime is strong and will remain in power. What do you say?
[Allawi] I do not know if al-Maliki can read predict the future or not, but I believe that the Syrian regime will not stay. The Syrian people do not want the regime; they will not allow it to remain and the world will support them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So how do you explain the Iraqi government’s current dealings with the Syrian regime?
[Allawi] When the Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry in Baghdad were bombed, resulting in hundreds of Iraqi victims, al-Maliki attacked the Syrian regime accusing it of being responsible for the bombings and claiming that Syria was supporting Al-Qaeda and facilitating its entry into Iraq. The situation has now changed with al-Maliki supporting the Syrian regime. We do not know what the Prime Minister’s policy towards Syria is, and I do not have any more information on the situation, the nature of the relationship, and the reasons for this support. However, I am certain about what is happening in Syria. I know that the situation there is very dangerous, that the conditions of the Syrian refugees are bad, and that the Iraqi authorities are not providing adequate help and support for these refugees.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the potential ramifications of the Syrian situation for the wider region?
[Allawi] The ramifications are very serious; that is why the Syrian government should end. The regime should leave quickly to prevent more serious repercussions. The volume of blood being shed in Syria is very dangerous. Other Arab leaders faced revolts and opted to step down from power, like in Tunisia and Egypt. But in Syria, the regime has decided to fight the people and shed their blood. This situation will also have an impact on Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. I do not understand why the Syrian regime continues to remain in power whilst the people are against it. Is it reasonable to believe that the thousands that have died or fled from the country seeking refuge are all terrorists? This is inconceivable and totally unacceptable. Regime change in Syria will weaken the role of Iran and those that it supports in the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Iraq chaired the 2012 Arab summit but the Iraqi government’s relations are not good on the Arab level. How do you explain that?
[Allawi] Unfortunately, some rulers in Iraq detest some Arab countries and their leaders. In fact, they harbor hatred against the Arabs. We are Arabs and I am an Arab. I have wide contacts with Arab countries; I approve the policies of some of these countries and do not approve the policies of others. However, this Arab milieu is important for Iraq and the Iraqis and we cannot be isolated from it. In other words, we cannot now say that there is no problem in Syria. Iraq’s current relations with its Arab neighbours are non-existent. The Iraqi government does not have a clear foreign policy and its relations are poor with most of the countries of the world, with the exception of Iran. There were enormous efforts, supported by the United States, to hold the Arab summit conference in Baghdad, however this conference failed miserably; it was not attended by a large number of heads of state and not all the Arab countries participated. All this is due to bad foreign policies. The Foreign Minister is not to blame for this; the problem relates to the policies of the government and the Prime Minister. So far, parliament has not been able to draw up a foreign policy to which the government can adhere, and no one has held the government to account for its poor foreign dealings. As a result, Iraq does not have good relations with any country in the world except Iran and only Iran. I am not opposed to Iraq having positive relations with Iran, but this relationship should be balanced and serve the interests of the Iraqi and Iranian peoples. These days, however, Iran has substantial and widespread influence in Iraq; it makes the political decisions in the country. We were aware of this in the recent elections and the formation of the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on the Iraqi Prime Minister heading an important delegation for the Non-Aligned Movement summit that was recently held in Tehran?
[Allawi] I believe that the Non-Aligned Movement is no longer important. This organization was important during the Cold War, when there were giants in the world such as [Gamal] Abdul Nasser, [Josip Broz] Tito, and [Jawaharlal] Nehru. It does not have much importance these days. On the contrary, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit that was held recently Mecca was very important because the Muslim world is passing through an extremely dangerous juncture whether in Afghanistan or North Africa or Somalia. Unfortunately, Muslim blood is being shed cheaply these days. Iraq’s representation at this conference should have been significant regardless of who chaired the delegation, but this was not the case.