London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Adel Abdel Mahdi, Iraqi Vice President and a senior member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, deals with the political events and issues in Iraq in a methodical and precise manner, personally viewing the situation from a purely national perspective away from political, partisan, or religious extremism.
Dr. Abdul-Mahdi eschews sectarianism, and he views any Iraqi citizen, whether they are a Sunni, Shiite, non-Muslim, Arab, Kurd or Turkmen, as being first and foremost a citizen of Iraq. This is what has resulted in Abdel Mahdi’s strong reputation in Iraqi politics, in addition to the good relationship that he enjoys with other Iraqi politicians. It was this belief that also resulted in Dr. Abdel Mahdi deciding not to head the previous government “in order to protect the unity of Iraq and the Iraqi people” as he has confirmed on more than one occasion.
Abdel Mahdi is known for his political and social civility, and during the current political stalemate with regards to the formation of the next government of Iraq, he has dealt with the situation in a logic and realistic manner, but also diplomatically and responsibly. During this political stalemate, Dr. Abdel Mahdi has only ever spoken of his support for the National Iraqi Alliance, which he is a senior member of, refraining from putting himself forward as a prime ministerial candidate but rather defending the constitutional rights of others to lead the next government, as can be seen in the following interview that Asharq Al-Awsat conducted with Iraqi Vice President Dr. Adel Abdel Mahdi via email.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on the recent strong statements made by Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of the outgoing government?
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] Despite the sorrow and sadness, these interviews consisted of many matters and concepts that should be studied and whose background should be diagnosed. Despite this, I say that all emerging and frail democracies have passed through such experiences until their traditions became entrenched and led to statesmen and a public opinion that appreciate institutional action and commitment to rules and measures. I have no doubt that brother Al-Maliki is one of the senior leaders that can contribute to the consolidation of this experiment but not in this manner. Despite the negative points and ramifications contained in these debates, they constitute one way of learning our mistakes and learning from one another. Everyone that participates in the political process and abides by the constitution is our partner and friend. Our differences do not mean estrangement or hostility or insults; they mean self-review and putting everything in its right place. Our situation says, “God show me what is right so I can follow it and what is wrong so I can avoid it”.
In your opinion, is it true that there is no other candidate better than Al-Maliki to be prime minister, as he has said in his recent statements?
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] My censure is that Mr. Al-Maliki attacked everybody and considered each one of them as a conspirator and deceiver of the people. He exonerated no one but himself. One should not talk about people in such a manner. It may be said by a researcher or a citizen but it should not be said by a prime minister of Iraq still in his post. This is something that should be reviewed; at least, this is my opinion. Had any prime minister in the world still occupying his post said this of his people, everyone would have turned against him. The prime minister had something bad to say against everyone. He accused the political blocs and forces of deceit and procrastination and accused others of bad manners. He accused scholars and states and did not spare anyone. His recent remarks, especially his interview with the (official) Al-Iraqiya satellite channel consisted of contradictions that refuted each other.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Maliki has repeatedly accused the independent higher commission and the United Nations of manipulating and rigging the elections. What is your comment?
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] Yes, this is what the prime minister is saying or concluding implicitly. Until the moment he was convinced that his list will be the biggest winner, he insisted that the biggest bloc is the winning bloc. He replied to the complaints of those who protested against the results in a public press conference that was covered by all the news agencies and the European Union by praising the integrity of the elections and the electoral commission. He said that it is the habit of losers to protest. After reports were released about the change in the positions of the lists, the whole thing turned upside down and his logic changed. He began to attack the electoral commission and the United Nations and the country and the whole process came to a standstill due to the protests and recounts that did not change anything. No doubt, some fraud did take place, but did it change the basic results or question the integrity of the elections in general? It is regrettable that although the elections were guaranteed by the United Nations, we come and contest the basic mechanism of our political system. Accusing the electoral commission and the United Nations by this senior post casts serious shadows on all the elections and the legitimacy of everyone, including that of the prime minister. This should have been avoided by such a senior official. In performing his official responsibilities, an official should not act emotionally and say I shall pay back four-fold and I do not placate. He should not attack everyone based on his whims. His words represent his position, the state, and the government. He should speak in the name of the government and use its methods and means when he speaks in public. He can say what he wishes in his home, among his friends, and inside his party and coalition.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you consider the current government as a caretaker government of daily affairs or one with full powers?
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] There are two articles in the constitution on this matter. The first refers to the resignation or the dismissal of the prime minister and hence the government; the second refers to the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies. In one of these two cases, the government is considered a caretaker government of daily affairs. We also add that there is no direct article in the constitution that says that when the date for elections approach, the government is considered as having resigned and turns into a caretaker government of daily affairs. But is this sufficient for us to conclude that the government is not a caretaker government of daily affairs? Absolutely not; the government is a caretaker government of daily affairs par excellence in accordance with the same article in the constitution that says that when the Chamber of Deputies is dissolved it immediately becomes a caretaker government of daily affairs. The essential factor whether the government is a caretaker government or not is the presence or absence of the legislative power. According to the constitution, the former legislative power ended at the end of its fourth year. Dr Iyad al-Samarrai, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, submitted an extension request to the federal court but he did not receive a positive response. In accordance with the constitution, the Chamber of Deputies thus became absent and dissolved in practice. The first session ended fully and the country waited for the convocation of the second session. The Council of Ministers, the prime minister, and the presidency should have been considered as having resigned and empowered to remain in their positions and run the country on a daily basis in order to prevent any interregnum in accordance with rules and regulations that are known to the state legislators, jurists, and those that drafted the constitution. They should not have depended on the opinion of one person who has a personal interest in the matter.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the current government is acting as if it enjoys full powers despite the objections of the other parliamentary blocs.
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] No government can operate with full power and authority as if it were in a normal situation – as the prime minister insists – without oversight, interrogation, and accountability. Many matters pertaining to the operation of all powers are related to the presence or absence of the Chamber of Deputies. Many arguments have been made that convinced everyone of this except the prime minister. At the meeting that the Iraqi National Alliance held the evening of 26 July, Ali al-Adib, the representative of the State of Law Coalition [SLC], said that when the parliamentary blocs will meet the next day, his bloc will support describing the government as a caretaker government of daily affairs. This indeed took place in the statement that Sheikh Khalid al-Itayah made. At the aforementioned meeting, Al-Adib also said that the government will issue a statement in this regard the next day. The official government spokesman also said that the government is a caretaker government of daily affairs. In fact this is the constitutional measure that was adopted and was not questioned by anyone when the former era ended and the new era began, that is, after the end of Dr Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s first government that was established on the basis of the State Administration Law and an electoral process the ratification of whose results marked the start of operation of the permanent constitution. In early 2006 and based on the permanent constitution, the Chamber of Deputies convened on time and less than 15 days after the elections were ratified. All the executive officials took the constitutional oath as having resigned. Upon a decision by its prime minister, who was then brother Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the government sent out a circular that it is a caretaker government of daily affairs although the election of the speaker and the president of the republic and the designation of the prime minister did not take place except weeks after the constitutional oath was taken. Article I of the constitution defines the political system in the Republic of Iraq as a “parliamentary democratic system”. This is the basic axis around which all the remaining issues revolve. The absence of this axis will obstruct everything and movement will gradually come to a stop. On top of the above, I also emphasize that the Council of Ministers or the prime minister cannot make decisions alone based on private opinions or even the opinions of advisers or jurists. The matter is related to the state as a whole and not to just one institution. It does not have a precedent or a constitutional matter or a law or a decision by the Chamber of Deputies or the presidency or the higher federal court that allows it to do so. When the Council of Ministers or the prime minister makes such a decision alone, he would be committing an extremely serious violation. As described by jurists and constitutional experts, he is in a position to defend interests or in a position of conflict of interest. He cannot be one of the sides and also be the judge. Moreover, his state responsibilities are equal to those of the others and not above them. A legislator does not wish to weaken the government but wants to protect it and protect public interests. An executive official may be seduced by power and may use his legal, administrative, executive, and procedural tools to do so. He may use various pretexts to keep parliament obstructed, particularly in our situation where the Council of Ministers is not governed by an internal ratified system. This exposes all public interests and the future of the country and its political system to serious danger. I hope the prime minister would understand that the purpose of this debate is not to weaken him or to bring a weak prime minister. We are part of the executive power and we may be tempted by our high salary and the many privileges we enjoy or as the prime minister describes the presidency as “privileges, irresponsibility, no bombings, no electricity, and this is not the problem and not the daily problem with the countries in the region”. These oft-repeated slips of the tongue are untrue and inappropriate. I do not know how the presidency will accept such remarks. I do not know how it will retain its respect among the people and the world, particularly since it represents the symbol of the unity of the homeland, the guarantor of commitment to the constitution, and the protector of Iraq’s independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity. Alongside the Council of Ministers, the presidency of the republic is the second pillar of the executive power with all its burdens and responsibilities.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Maliki has accused all the lists that they were made abroad except for two lists, namely, the SLC and the Kurdish Alliance. How true is this?
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] This is a serious charge against all the forces and against the political and democratic processes in Iraq. This charge is embarrassing for him before being embarrassing to the others. If what he says is true, why is he negotiating with the Al-Iraqiya after making all sorts of accusations against it? Why does he say that he insists on merging with the National Alliance and is asking it to nominate him? Why does he seek the support and nomination of lists that were made abroad and then attacks them when they do not agree with him? Such words should not be uttered by a senior leader and official. We do not deny that there are certain external interventions. We have repeatedly said that what we consider as interference in Iraqi affairs is when an Iraqi official or political leader submits to external decisions. It is natural to understand the surrounding circumstances and to take decisions based on an internal and national vision. In today’s world, everyone consults with others. The yardstick is the decision that is made and whether it meets national considerations or it implements external agendas. I hope that we will not hear the prime minister saying that he did not send his most senior advisers and leaders to meetings to build joint stands and receive the required support. I hope we will not hear him say that he and others did not meet with intelligence men from foreign countries inside and outside Iraq. The political movement in Iraq is not like that of the 1950s when sitting with a foreigner was considered plotting and treason. This led to the conspiracy theory that is still entrenched in the minds of many. Countries meet and political leaders from all countries sit and talk, form friendships, analyze, praise or criticize the policies of their own countries or those of other countries. This has become universal among opposition movements or ruling systems or political forces. These days, Al-Maliki’s nomination enjoys foreign and regional support by certain countries and is rejected by others. Should we analyze as we wish and prohibit what we wish or should we put a general rule that applies on all? I repeat and say that the remarks made by the prime minister are unrealistic, illogical, and cannot be implemented. The roles and responsibilities drive everyone to meet inside and outside Iraq. There is no harm or shame in that so long as it is done in accordance with the yardsticks that we mentioned.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Al-Maliki won the highest number of votes for himself and this is what is driving him to insist on nominating himself as the next prime minister.
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] The prime minister has the right to nominate himself and to insist on that but within the framework of the rules and not outside them. If he can obtain 163 votes inside the parliament he will be the next prime minister; there is no argument about that. However, he cannot assume things and be convinced of them and begin to operate accordingly, talk about the future, and want others who are the majority – at least for now – to march behind him and submit to his arrangements. The prime minister won many votes and was the first in Baghdad as far as the number of votes is concerned. However, this does not give him except the leadership of his list. He cannot conclude that he is the candidate of the other lists and that he will be designated by the president and be accepted by the people. Our systems talk about the candidate of the biggest bloc and he is not the candidate of this bloc if what is intended is the National Alliance. He is establishing a fact for himself in vain and saying that his list should have won 104 seats “had it not been for the electoral system and the manipulation”. In God’s name I ask you, is there a side more capable of manipulation more than a list that consisted of 16 ministers and headed by the most senior executive official in the country and the commander in chief of the armed forces? Who is more capable than the side that controls security, has funds, sets measures, and enjoys freedom of movement and ability to make statements and stop measures than the list of the prime minister? The prime minister’s list conducted its electoral campaign under the slogan of “the glow of authority and the charisma of the leader” and in the name of the prime minister who alone posted thousands of pictures and posters throughout Iraq prior to the start of the electoral campaign. The prime minister was the only one whose pictures were published alongside the pictures of the other candidates in his list. His words above do not belittle the others but belittles the good results that he obtained. The words of the prime minister constitute an argument against him and not for him. Otherwise, why do we not go to brother Dr Allawi and tell him assume the premiership because you have 91 seats and won about half a million votes in Baghdad alone and your list came first in votes? The fact is the fact.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Maliki says that the National Alliance refuses to nominate him and does not offer a candidate. He says that he dares the National Alliance to put forward a candidate that gets 80 votes and that he is prepared to freeze his candidacy if anyone can do that or can have 163 votes in parliament.
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] This is a good question and contains a lot of ambiguity. First of all, the SLC is not the biggest bloc to propose a candidate from it. The biggest bloc is the National Alliance. If this alliance can agree on one candidate, agreement will be reached on this candidate. If it fails to do so, the constitutional right will revert to the Al-Iraqiya List. The National Alliance is not a merger between two lists so brother Al-Maliki can say that he is its candidate since he has 89 seats and the others have 70 seats. The National Alliance proposed a merger prior to the elections but Al-Maliki strongly rejected this proposal unless the merger included mechanisms that will ultimately guarantee him the position of prime minister but the National Alliance rejected this. The negotiations between him and the National Alliance lasted until the late hours of submitting the list to the electoral commission but to no avail. Following the elections and after the figures became clear, the SLC now asked for a merger but the National Alliance turned down the idea of a merger but later approved it on condition that regulating restrictions are put in place to select the prime minister. This stand by the National Alliance was compatible with its stand prior to the elections on the issue of the premiership. So it did not agree to form the National Alliance except after putting restrictions on which the two lists agreed. Brother Al-Maliki has to decide on one of two courses: Either he goes to the sides that form the nationalist arena to get their support for an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies or he goes to the National Alliance to obtain its support for his nomination. Al-Maliki has no third choice. He tried and approached all the nationalist sides but so far has not accomplished anything concrete or agreed upon. We hope he will ultimately succeed. He also came to the National coalition but did not obtain its unanimous support to nominate him. Thus his remarks asking the National Alliance to propose candidates otherwise he wins uncontested may convince him but it does not convince the others and has no basis. His remarks that what happened within the Iraqi United Coalition and that he came as brother Dr Al-Jaafari’s heir and that he won 64 seats in return for 63 seats are strange and consists of suspicious assumptions about the compatibility of the standards used. After the Al-Jaafari crisis, Al-Maliki was selected by consensus and unanimity, not because he is anybody’s heir. We all recall that the Al-Dawa Party’s first choice that it proposed to the Iraqi coalition was not Al-Maliki but Al-Adib. However, regional and international developments drove matters in a different course. We repeat that two days after the National Alliance announced the start of discussions between the SLC and the Al-Iraqiya – despite the SLC’s rebuttals of leaks made by some of its members about the possibility of such a meeting – the National Alliance was not consulted. This explains the theory of circles: We take the votes of the National Alliance to negotiate with Al-Iraqiya and we take the votes of the SLC to negotiate with the National Alliance. So who is putting his hand in the pocket of the other to take more than his share and rights, as the prime minister is hinting Who is seeking to invest in the assets of the other? The National Alliance set two clear courses: Either it goes with the SLC for a total of 159 seats or it goes with the Al-Iraqiya for a total of 161 seats. In both cases, the situation will be close to the constitutional threshold, particularly since both courses run parallel to dialogues, agreements, and negotiations with the Kurdish Alliance and the other lists.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Maliki is speaking in the name of the “Shiite component” and says that he will not hand over this position and that he stands like a barrier against the deterioration that may take place. He considers this stand as part of jihad.
[Dr. Abdel Mahdi] No doubt the prime minister can adopt the stand that it views as correct in defense of principles and the Iraqi people. However, here we are not talking about a current that has a future plan to confront the dangers; we are not talking about battles and mujahidin. All we are talking about is to provide constitutional mechanisms to submit a candidate to the Chamber of Deputies. He can do that by relying on the 89 seats that he has now to obtain the support of no less than 74 additional seats to be able to make the required quorum. This is his right as well as the right of others. If he does not obtain the required support, he should not make accusations and cast doubts on others that do not agree with him. As for the “Shiite component”, it should not be toyed with. The defense of the Shias is a right just as the defense of the Sunnis, the Turkmen, the Kurds, the Christians, and others is a right. The defense of the Shias or others is the defense of the Iraqi people and the defense of the Iraqi people is the defense of the components, groups, and citizens. The relationship is close in all its links; there is no conflict or contradiction or clash in these links. But the Shiite component should not be exploited twice, once to get the mandate in its name to control the remaining sides in the arena and once to impose control and tyrannize the same component and the entire arena. Then once we have control we begin to talk about sectarianism and emerging from sectarianism and accusing others of it. The sectarianism of the minority that was exploited by Saddam Hussein’s geography (in the words of martyr Al-Sadr) and the sectarian conduct that we see today and whose geography is being exploited are both rejected. We should not introspect and announce one thing and then apply something else. All this is a form of returning to the past that we should beware of. In the past, the party was in control through a leadership from the top to the bottom, then the party turned into a front through oppression to impose its control on the political life; then it imposed its control on the people and the bodies and components of society; and then elections are announced with already known results and democracy is proclaimed and the National Assembly is formed to select the “commander of necessity” and the “strong man that rules in the name of the people” who begins to accuse his critics of plotting and threatening them with all sorts of threats. Our present experiment – that the prime minister shared in making and is one of its leaders and symbols – is totally different. We have all pledged to abide by the constitution. It is the constitution that we wrote with our own hands and for which we fought supported by the supreme religious authority, the political forces, and our great people. All the discussions, agreements, and alliances – although they are no doubt necessary and important and take place outside the official institutional frameworks – will not mean anything if they do not adjust themselves to the constitutional frameworks and contexts.