Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Despite acknowledging the failures of the current government, Jafar Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, the son of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, has joined Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition. Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr was a founder and leading member of Nuri al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party, as well as father-in-law of Muqtada al-Sadr. His son, Jafar Baqir al-Sadr, is also a religious cleric, having studied in Iran. He has returned to Iraq and is standing for election to the Iraqi Council of Representatives as part of Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition.
The text of the interview is as follows:
Q) What big is the challenge faced by the State of Law coalition at the forthcoming elections which are scheduled to take place next month?
A) Despite the excellent achievements made by the [State of Law] coalition during the provincial elections, there are important challenges that must be faced in order to secure a victory with a comfortable majority at the current elections; such as protecting the national project which is something that has been built for everybody over the previous years, and not being drawn to using contradictory slogans for this project for the sake of electoral outbidding, It was this project that enabled the coalition to make excellent achievements at the previous election. Governmental failures in some files may cast a shadow over the coalition, despite the fact that many of these [failures] are as a result of the structure of the government which is based upon a quota system, as well as ministers not being directly responsible to the Prime Minister, and the disruption of governmental work by some parliamentary blocs.
Q) Why have you chosen to join the State of Law coalition, rather than another electoral party? And why have you chosen to appear on the political scene at this time?
A) Iraq is passing through a very sensitive period, the political process in Iraq is at stake and such circumstances require all efforts for the sake of escaping from them. [We want to] install the new Iraq and make a success of the political process, and attempt to get rid of the negative aspects and failures. At the same time, the security agreement concluded by the Iraqi government with the occupation forces with regards to a timetable for their withdrawal from Iraq has lifted the major issue that prohibited me from direct participation in the political process. What also encouraged me was the State of Law coalition which shares some of my ambitions with regards to a national project that is away from sectarian or partisan alliances, as well as its clear economic vision for building Iraq politically, economically, and socially. In the next stage, we are in need of a government with a will and determination and which is in possession of a clear and promising transformative project.
Q) Where did you live during the previous period, and where you expect to get involved in politics?
A) There have been many stages in my life, the most prominent of which is when I lived in Kadhimiya [in northern Baghdad] in the care of my cousin Ayatollah al-Sayyid Hussein Ismail al-Sadr, following the death of my father. After my university education I returned to Najaf in the nineties in order to study at the hawza at the hands of the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr. As a result of the pressure of the regime, and at the behest of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr who wanted to spread his message to the Iraqis in Iran, he sent me there in the late 1990s, and I continued my religious studies there…until after 2003 when I left Iran. I continued my studies and research, in particular on the ideological debate between the cultures of the east and west, however I also paid attention to the course of events and the development of the political process [in Iraq] since the collapse of the former regime. I retained good relations with most political parties, who I supported with mediation in order to resolve some problematic issues.
Q) What are your political interests outside of standing for parliament, and do you have any ambitions to assume a senior state position in the next Iraqi government?
A) I think that standing for a seat in the Council of Representatives is the beginning of an [ongoing] political activity in which I can invest myself and my experience and scientific and cultural knowledge to serve Iraq and its people, especially the poor, and the marginalized and disadvantaged, as well as to contribute to building cultural and ideological awareness to the young generations. As for a position [in government], this is not an end in itself, but a means for an individual to achieve his goals.
Q) What is your view on the future of the political process in Iraq, and when will Iraq finally see political or military stability?
A) The future of the political process is linked to the ability of each Iraqi [internal] component to build genuine partnership in order to lead Iraq, as well as everybody feeling that they have a hand in drawing up Iraq’s policies and building its future, and not marginalizing any class or component for any reason. This will reduce the foreign intervention which is a negative factor in achieving stability in Iraq because it exploits the internal division and benefits from this in order to achieve its own interests. The economic file is also an important factor, for economic growth and fairness to the marginalized classes and finding solutions to society’s problems such as unemployment, poverty, the lack of housing, is a key part of achieving stability.
Q) What is the nature of your relationship with Muqtada al-Sadr, do you agree or disagree with his positions?
A) Muqtada al-Sadr in a devoted national figure, he has courageous positions in confronting the occupation and he desires sovereignty, independence and stability in Iraq. These are all things that I agree with him on, but I disagree with him on the way that he pursues and resolves such issues.
Q) In your opinion, has the deterioration in the political and security situation in Iraq that has taken place over the past few years been caused by foreign intervention? And what is your opinion on the Iranian or Arab role in Iraq?
A) There are many reasons for this [deterioration], including the policies of the former regime whose results have come to the surface following the regime’s collapse, as well as some decisions made by the foreign transitional government, such as the decision to dissolve the army and the security services, as well as Debathification. [In addition to this] the political discourse of the ruling class promoted feelings of sectarianism and racism at the expense of an [Iraqi] united national identity. Regional interference also played a role in aggravating the situation because the foreign military presence in Iraq created a fear in some neighboring countries regarding the US project in the region, and the emerging democratic experience in Iraq [also] concerned some people, while the fundamentalist terrorist forces that considered Iraq to be an “arena of jihad” benefited from this and so under the pretext of jihad they started utilizing violence and splitting ranks and sowing discord. Today we need a unified address from all Iraqis to the neighboring countries in order to reassure them that the new Iraq is not a danger to anyone, and that it is outstretching its hand to everybody in order to build the best relations. In return for this we do not accept any interference in our affairs and it is up to these countries to stop this and work to promote national unity by solely dealing with the Iraqi state via official channels, as ties with any component or internal organization is not in the interests of a unified Iraq.
Q) All electoral lists are campaigning for Iraqi unity and in the interests of Iraq. How should the electorate decide between the electoral lists genuinely seeking Iraqi development and unity, and those who do not?
A) Iraqi voters showed great awareness during the provincial elections, as the atmosphere which was full of sectarianism and partisanship was transformed and they [the electorate] sided with coalitions of national discourse that possess ambitions projects to serve their citizens, away from sectarianism and the politicization of religion. I rely upon this awareness at the forthcoming elections.
Q) Do you believe that the coming stage up to the elections will result in political violence and assassinations, and if so who do you believe will be responsible for this? Will it be internal or external parties?
A) I hope that this does not happen, and I have confidence in the efforts of the security forces – the army and police – in creating a safe environment until the day of the elections, as well as in ensuring the equal participation [in the elections] of all components of the Iraqi people. As well as [preventing] irresponsible electoral campaigning from disturbing the [electoral] atmosphere, and denying those who want to utilize this opportunity in order to attack the political process through violence such as terrorist groups or pro-Saddam groups.