Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- The emergence at the forefront of the events of the youthful religious leader Ammar al-Hakim has not been a surprise.
Today, Al-Hakim plays a prominent role in the political process through his leadership of the Iraqi National Alliance, the third winner in the legislative elections.
Al-Hakim, who left Iraq, together with his family when he was nine-years old, fled to Iran escaping from the previous Iraqi regime. He returned to Iraq with his father, Abdulaziz al-Hakim, the second leader of SCIRI, to participate effectively in political action, especially after he was commissioned to be the leader of SCIRI, which changed its name to the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council [IISC] after the death of his father last year.
Al-Hakim has been refraining from giving any political interview; however, he gave an exclusive interview to Asharq Al-Awsat, in which he speaks in a diplomatic way about the entanglements of the current political process.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the IISC by not having enough votes has suffered a loss?
[Al-Hakim] First of all, let us say that we did not have enough seats, because it is well known that the IISC obtained a large number of votes, but due to the electoral law these votes were not translated into seats to equal the volume of votes. Thus, the problem is in the seats and not the votes. It is well known that the parliamentary system that allows working within coalitions gives parliament flexibility and scope to act within a circle of allies and allied powers, with which it always has worked, and with which it is working today. The fundamental issue is the project, and we are successful as long as the project is successful. Democracy is getting more established in Iraq, and cooperation and real partnership among the sons of the united country is getting more established every day. The Council of Representatives is one of these constituents. Political action includes experiments, some of them are successful and others are not, and man sometimes advances a few steps, but at other times he retreats a few steps; this does not harm him as long as the project is proceeding in the right direction.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were, as they say, within a hair’s breadth of contracting a coalition with the Al-Iraqiya List, which is led by Dr Iyad Allawi, and your statements in the defense of this list gave rise to such suggestions; then suddenly your coalition was announced with the State of Law, which is led by Nuri al-Maliki. Some people are talking about Iranian pressure that led to this latter coalition. What is your opinion?
[Al-Hakim] From an early time, we have been proposing a national participation government that is formed with the participation of all winning and principal lists. We have been stressing that this is an important pillar in making this project and this partnership succeed. On this background, we started early to contact all sides: Al-Iraqiya List, the State of Law, and the Kurdistan Alliance. These consultations continued with all sides. Even when the coalition was declared between the National Alliance and the State of Law we were keen that a large Kurdish delegation attended from the Kurdistan Alliance, and we also were keen that this coalition after 24 hours of its declaration invited the Al-Iraqiya List to a meeting to confirm our true vision of the participation of all sides in the formation of the government. The Al-Iraqiya List has been, and still is a fundamental and important ally in this process. What remains is the issue of the first and second steps, and how these steps can be taken, as this is subject to the nature of the prevailing understandings and dialogs, and the available opportunities.
It is well known that the State of Law and the National Alliance consist of powers that have worked in the Unified Iraqi Coalition in the national assembly elections and the second elections (2005). There is some kind of communication and understanding between these two sides; they were supposed to be in one list, and they had started some kind of consultations and dialog before the elections. However, the formation of the single list was hindered by technical issues, and our brethren in the State of Law opted to be in a list on their own. Perhaps such previous understandings, and continuing contacts and dialogs have facilitated to some extent reaching an understanding over a unified vision. Anyway, we consider that the rest of the lists are fundamental partners, and it is impossible to disregard any of them. We still are committed to our stance that we cannot be a party to a government that excludes any fundamental sides on the Iraqi political scene. Thus, the issue is subject to technical considerations related to this-or-that step, but everything comes within the same framework, namely the national partnership government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But when you went to the elections you presented national slogans, and there are those who say that your coalition with the State of Law has taken you back to square one, i.e. to the Unified Iraqi Coalition, which is a Shiite-Shiite coalition, and hence what brought you together is the sect and not the national slogans or programs?
[Al-Hakim] The criterion of the national character of a list is the program it applies, which stems from the concerns of the citizen regardless of his belonging. For instance, Al-Iraqiya List includes most of the fundamental powers of another social constituent of our people, and it focuses its voice in certain governorates and certain climates, and hence Al-Iraqiya List is the one that to a great extent gathers the situation of that constituent; do we have the right to accuse this list of being sectarian? The answer is no, it should not be accused of this. The dialogs we undertook with the State of Law before the elections resulted in disagreement over technical issues; as we said, this is what made the State of Law participate in the elections through a separate list. Had the National Alliance and the State of Law agreed before the elections, and participated through a single list would it have been possible to accuse them of sectarianism? The answer is no, because the program is a national program, the candidates in either of the two lists are from all colors of the spectrum, and they were completely open to the national course, but fate decided that these candidates are divided into two lists. Therefore, when they return to reach an understanding with each other, why do we say that they are sectarians, while we know that sectarianism involves the exclusion of the other and the disdain of the rights of others? Today, as long as the coalition of the two blocs insists on the participation of all in the political process and the government I find that these two blocs are as far away as possible from sectarianism.
We are completely committed to not going backward. We are the son s of the present and the future. We find that our future lies in our unity, our partnership, our real cohesion, our real partnership, and our opening up to all Iraqis. We will remain the defenders of all the Iraqis from all colors of the spectrum; as long as there is a right for an Iraqi, we will defend the right of this Iraqi regardless of his belonging or tendency. Perhaps the stances adopted during the past months or weeks in defending the Al-Iraqiya List and other rights are in response to this principle, course and vision we adopt of standing by anyone who is wronged, and anyone who has a right. We will continue to do this, and this is what strengthens the national issues of the lists that follow this course.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Al-Iraqiya List has considered this coalition as a step against it. I do not want to say that they consider it a conspiracy against them, but it is a step that targets them?
[Al-Hakim] We have spent a long time, before and after the announcement of the coalition, in the dialog with the brothers of Al-Iraqiya to explain our stance. When I met my brother Dr Allawi, and we spent some time in discussing this issue, he announced after our meeting in a joint press conference: Now we are confident and reassured. He welcomed the coalition of the two blocs and expressed his confidence that this coalition would not exclude the Al-Iraqiya List or stand against it.
As we know, in the democratic system there are steps, one to be taken after another, and sides that ally themselves to each other. As we have noticed in the British experience, we have seen there that the political majority prevails; when two lists formed a coalition and formed the government, the third list became the opposition. Today, we do not talk about a political majority in Iraq, and even when the coalition between the National Alliance and the State of Law is announced, it is a road to a wider coalition and the formation of the national partnership government. Thus, there is no intention either to exclude or to marginalize anyone; we cannot be a party to a government that excludes the fundamental sides in the country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect your coalition with the State of Law to continue, especially as Baha al-Araji (leading member of the Al-Sadr Trend) has stressed that this is a preliminary agreement, and that there are surprises on the political arena? Is it a Catholic marriage, or a temporary marriage?
[Al-Hakim] I believe it is a permanent Islamic marriage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But in an Islamic marriage divorce is possible?
[Al-Hakim] Praise be to God, we do not see any horizon for divorce or separation in this coalition. The bases are clear. Perhaps the consultations, which continued for two months, indicate that we do not want to engage in a project that might collapse within a short period, but we want to engage in a clear-featured project. This does not mean that there are no disagreements in the viewpoints, and that there are no problems in some internal issues. This is not restricted to this coalition. We know that the existence of differences in viewpoints is a phenomenon that exists nearly in all lists; this is a healthy phenomenon as long as it is placed within the framework of the correct mechanism to organize the disagreements. There is nothing wrong in the existence of disagreements among us, and it is not a shortcoming that there is more than one opinion. However, the problem occurs if we are unable to find the mechanism through which we deal with our differences and unite our visions. I believe that this coalition is solid and cohesive, and that it will be an important nucleus and a fundamental pillar on the Iraqi political scene within the framework of the wider coalitions with the other Iraqi fundamental sides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, why do people say that this coalition (between the State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance) has taken place as a result of the Iranian pressure?
[Al-Hakim] It is no secret that the Islamic Republic (of Iran) in its concept of the situation and its complexity perhaps preferred to see these powers united or close to each other. This is undeniable; there is such desire or assessment of the situation. However, we look at the situation from our Iraqi angle and according to the criteria of Iraqi national interests. We believe that such powers have worked in the past, and still are working, and they have the ability to be the cornerstone of an important pillar of the Iraqi political scene. If these powers reach an understanding with each other, they will be able to build the extensive political coalition that will enable the others to form the wider national coalition that will include all the sides and all the lists.
We are consulting will the countries of the region, and with various countries in the world. We have welcomed the tour undertaken by Iraqi political leaders in the region. This is because we believe that we are not an island in an ocean, but we are a part of a regional and international system, and our security and stability are reflected on the others, and God forbid, the lack of security and stability in Iraq will lead to negative effects on the regional environment and the international situation. It is in the interest of the other countries to deal with Iraq, and it is in the interest of Iraq to deal with the other countries. I had the honor of visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and of meeting the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, in addition to a series of meetings and consultations before the elections with many Arab countries. Therefore, we welcome all the consultations, and we see the experiences of others, we listen to them, and inform them about what we think. However, the decision has to be Iraqi, and first and foremost within the boundaries of the Iraqi national interests.
We believe that if we are to decide to build this coalition, this will be for the Iraqi national interest, and not for any other reason. Therefore, any step we take will be compatible with the assessments of some of the neighboring countries and the countries of the region, and with their vision of the interests. When we state something and reveal a stance in which we believe, some of these steps are compatible with this-or-that vision. Our stance and deep vision of the Al-Iraqiya List might be compatible with the vision of some neighboring countries, and might not be compatible with others; can our stance in this case be interpreted as taking the side of one country against another because we are talking about real partnership? I believe that such a vision that always tries to interpret the Iraqi national stances as being under regional or foreign influence might be far from correct. We are witnessing national powers that understand the interests of the country, and they act on this basis; God willing we will never deviate from the Iraqi national interest, and at the same time we pay attention to the viewpoints of others, as we listen and study the consultations with the others, and also advise them about what we consider appropriate; however, the decision is an Iraqi one.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is clear that in the two blocs you are facing the problem of the selection of the prime minister of the upcoming government, especially as Al-Maliki stated to Asharq Al-Awsat last Thursday that “the prime minister will not be from outside the State of Law.” How will you deal with this problem?
[Al-Hakim] This is a view point that we respect to a great extent. However, what I know is that we still are at the stage of studying the mechanisms through which we select the prime minister. As soon as we agree a mechanism, whether its result is a candidate from the State of Law, from the two blocs, or from outside the two blocs, we will adhere to the requirements and results of the mechanism we agreed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect a prime minister from outside the two blocs?
[Al-Hakim] As I said, the mechanisms now are at the stage of study and discussions. If we agree a mechanism, and it led to a specific name, we will abide by it whether this candidate is from within the two blocs or from outside them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you allow Dr Allawi, the leader of the Al-Iraqiya List, to take the initiative to form the government, as President Jalal Talabani and President of Kurdistan Region Masud Barzani proposed?
[Al-Hakim] We adhere to the constitutional procedures. If the constitutional understanding and the interpretation of the Federal Court of the Constitution and of the constitutional criteria give the opportunity to the Al-Iraqiya List, we will support this understanding, and if they give the opportunity to a coalition or a bloc that is formed when the Council of Representative convenes its session, and that represents a larger number of the council members, we will acquiesce. We support what the Constitution says. As long as we are talking about real national partnership, and everybody will be present on the scene, these details will not be of great value.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You talk about partnership and call on Al-Iraqiya to participate, while the two blocs (the National Alliance and the State of Law) reserve the post of prime minister. What is left for the list that won 91 seats of the upcoming parliament?
[Al-Hakim] You are talking about a position that requires 159 seats and say why not the list that obtained 91 seats having it. In a democratic system roles and opportunities ought to be distributed, and every one of these posts needs one person. There is no alternative to having one president, one prime minister, one parliament speaker, and a specific number of ministers for the sovereign and service ministries.
I do not believe assessment ought to be through the posts, and whether you are in this post or not. The issue is roles in which all alternate, and everyone has the opportunity. If we want to talk about the language of numbers, on the other side there also are numbers that might be larger if we consider the situation according to the criteria of coalitions. If we look at the general picture, how we can manage this country and how we can cooperate in building this country, we will find that everybody is present strongly in the decision making. This is what we are working for, and we do not accept anything less than this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have talked about your visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Have you noticed an indication, whether strong or weak, or even a mere hint that the Saudi officials are interfering in the Iraqi internal affairs?
[Al-Hakim] I listened to a clear commitment from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to deal with the Iraqi decision making. He respects the Iraqi decision making, and the results of political process are a part of this context. The King has stressed that he stands at equal distance from all sides, and that he has no specific candidate or viewpoint in these affairs, and that he respects the decision of the Iraqis in this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, who is interfering today in the Iraqi internal affairs?
[Al-Hakim] I do not know. The terminology has become too loose, and includes many opportunities for interpretation. There is great interest in the Iraqi scene by all the countries of the region; some of the world countries are interested in the Iraqi affairs and are in touch with these affairs. They have assessments, apprehensions, fears, and wishes; they are in contact with the Iraqi leadership, seek explanations, ask about the details, and express their viewpoints. There is confusion in understanding what interference is, and what interest in the Iraqi affairs within a system of interests is. I believe that the fragile political situation in Iraq allows such type of predictions and dealings with the Iraqi reality. The more solid, harmonious, and united we become, the more united our Iraqi decisions will be, and the more other countries’ dealings with the Iraqi reality return to the correct and logical context of dealings between countries.
Whoever considers that the Iraqi reality represents an integrated healthy situation, and expects the Iraqis to live a normal life, the same as in the countries which have been practicing democracy for a very long time, expects too much from the reality. When they were going trough the same circumstances under which Iraq lives today these old democracies also were suffering and had some problems. Therefore, we have to look at the Iraqi situation in its real volume, with the real volume of its wounds, of the pains from which we suffer, and of the ambitions that we are pursuing, and then we can assess the situation. In this case we will find that we are progressing despite all the remarks about the problems of the stage through which we are going.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the formation of the government will take a long time?
[Al-Hakim] We hope that it will not take a long time. We are waiting for the ratification of the election results by the Federal Court. This will open the way for convening the Council of Representatives, and then the process will proceed according to a specific timetable. We hope that the two blocs will reach a consensus to select the prime minister so that we can proceed with the political process.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you still intend to convene the round table?
[Al-Hakim] The table has been convened, and we intend to convene the round table. The table was offered by President Jalal Talabani, and we ate and drank good food with our dear partners of the Iraqi leaders; it has expressed the good taste of President Talabani in choosing the Iraqi dishes, both Arab and Kurdish, and these dishes were diversified. I wish that the table would have turned into a round table, and that I would have found the suitable opportunity to take away the food and the leaders would have found themselves in front of each other starting the dialog. We wish brother Allawi had attended, but we appreciate the special circumstances that prevented his attendance.
We have always believed that there are two tracks along both of which we have to proceed. The track of the round table at which all should sit and unite their vision of the future, of the required government program for the upcoming stage, of the guarantees that prevent falling into the problems of the past stage, of the priorities required by the country, of the priorities of the regional and international relations, and of the criteria that assess the individuals to be entrusted with leading missions regardless of the names. The second track is that of the formation of the government, which takes place outside the round table and within the coalitions that take place until we reach a national partnership government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect the Al-Iraqiya List to join your coalition, or a specific coalition?
[Al-Hakim] Most certainly, because Al-Iraqiya List, together with the Kurdistan Alliance and the other winning lists, is an important and fundamental pillar. We need all this Iraqi collection to build the country in the light of the difficult circumstances. We cannot dispense with anyone; the burden is heavy, and we have to cooperate together to shoulder it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you renew the presidency of President Talabani for another term?
[Al-Hakim] President Talabani is a great national character and a national symbol. During the past years and circumstances he has proved very well his great commitment to all Iraqis and to working for their interests. For this reason we look at him with great respect. We look forward to his distinguished role in the upcoming stage, and we support his nomination for a second presidential term. Also we respect the agreements contracted by the Iraqi national sides under the national partnership government.