Asharq al-Awsat, Baghdad- Former Iraqi Defense Minister, Hazem al Shaalan, announced his unilateral decision to suspend his membership in the Iraqi National Assembly, starting Wednesday, “in solidarity with the martyrs of Iraq” and in rejection of the increasing Iranian influence in the country.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al Awsat from Amman, al Shaalan indicated, “I have decided to suspend my membership in the National Assembly in support of the martyrs of Basra, Haditha, Baghdad, the village of Karabila, Sadr city, Ramadi, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, and Hilla, and in honor of all the children who died in explosions around Baghdad and the innocent men and women who lost their lives in terrorist operations around the country.”
He urged the Iraqi government and the political elites to show responsibility and guarantee the unity of Iraq and its Arab identity. He said, “Iraq is at a crossroad; its Arab character is under threat from Iranian influences.”
The head of a southern tribe, al Shaalan expressed his fears on the draft constitution currently being debated, “especially the issues of federalism and regional governments”. He added, “The situation is slightly different in Northern Iraq where our brothers the Kurds have ruled themselves since 1992. We respect that and do not seek to modify the situation.”
“As for efforts to divide Iraq under the banner of federalism, as has been suggested recently, with 9 governorates in the center and the south, this will undoubtedly lead to Iraq being torn apart”, he told Asharq Al Awsat. “What else can you call it other than sectarian or geographical federalism?”
The ex- minister reaffirmed his vision of a "united Iraq that does not need a federalism which will lead to division."
Speaking on the talks on a news constitution, al Shaalan said, “Some parties demanded the recognition of a Persian national identity as a fourth ethnicity in Iraq.” He fears this Persian influence will dominate the south and then spread to the rest of the country and become the dominant identity; “In this case, Iraq will become a second Arabistan.”
In a plea to the Iraqi religious authorities, Shiaa and Sunni, al Shaalan urged them to defeat those who sought to destroy Iraq. “I ask all religious figures, such us Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al Sistani and Sunni leaders, to speak out and put pressure on government figures to resist Iranian interference in national politics and Iraqi terriroty, as well as to show commitment to the unity of Iraq and its people and defend its Arab identity and united the nation.”
His decision to leave the National Assembly comes as he oversees the preparations for holding a national conference entitled, “The national parliament”, with leading figures from across the political spectrum, including tribal leaders, Sunnis, Shias, Christians, both Arab and Kurds, expected to take part. “This will prepare for a second conference in October to prepare for the upcoming election,” al Shaalan said.
The latest figures show “250 individuals will attend from 31 political groups, factions, and tribes from around the country”. The conference will discuss the emergence of democratic government which will guarantee the rights of all its citizens. We are also concerned to ensure the unity of Iraq and preserve its Arab identity, whilst taking into consideration the different religions and ethnicities.”