Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to Al-Iraqiya's Iyad Allawi
By Ma'ad Fayad
London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iyad Allawi, former Iraqi prime minister and leader of the Al-Iraqiya List that has won 91 seats in the House of Representatives, insists on continuing work to bring about the change they have promised to the Iraqi voters. This is despite the fact that they have been deprived of forming a new government, contrary to their constitutional and legal entitlement. Allawi added to their new tasks a political fight against Iranian influence in Iraq. He considered that Iran strongly intervened to ensure that outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains in office, thereby confirming the principle of political sectarianism.
Allawi considered that the initiative of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi monarch, that calls for a meeting of the leaders of the Iraqi political blocs in Riyadh under the umbrella of the Arab League, is still appropriate to realize national reconciliation and that this initiative is not at variance with the initiative of Kurdistan Region President Masud Barzani.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How was this operation conducted? The Al-Iraqiya List won the election, the Iraqis voted for it, and then things changed and Nuri al-Maliki remains in office. In fact, he decided to stay on, whether or not his list won.
[Allawi] A range of factors have led to this result, the most important of which was the position of Iran, which has intervened strongly and widely on two issues. First, it has fixed red lines in relation to certain Iraqi political leaders, primarily me and the Al-Iraqiya List. Second, Tehran has focused its main support on the forces that represent the sectarian political project. This is why it was no coincidence and not surprising to see the State of Law Coalition [SLC] under the leadership of Al-Maliki and the Iraqi National Alliance under the leadership of Ammar al-Hakim invited [to Tehran]. Subsequently, the formation of the National Alliance was declared. This alliance or bloc was then considered to be the largest bloc, and the Federal Court gave its opinion and said that the largest bloc is one that can be formed after the election. This is neither correct, nor constitutional, nor legal, nor democratic.
Moreover, in the first three months after the publication of the election results, the brothers in the SLC tried to prolong the status quo. For this end they used the Debathification issue (the Accountability and Justice Commission) and removed about 500 candidates from the electoral list. Then, they involved the country in the problem of the definition of the largest bloc and the smallest bloc, and whether the largest bloc is the one that has won the election or the one that was formed in the House of Representatives. Then, they involved us in the issue of recounting votes and sorting them by hand, which did not change the results of the election. These three months gave them room to consecrate a few matters. This is in addition to the role played by Iran, and to the unclear and vague role of the United States concerning the situation in Iraq.
The problem came to an end in a clear fashion: The confiscation of the electoral entitlement [of the Al-Iraqiya List] and what the Iraqi electors wanted. Things then moved on in favor of the second bloc, the SLC. The international community has taken a negative position, about which the best that can be said is that it was ambiguous. I remember that the UN Security Council issued a statement saying that it respects the results of the election and electoral entitlement; then, it went back on this statement, especially the United States. It is now clear that there is a question mark about the democratic process in Iraq: Is there real democracy or not? If there is democracy, then there must be commitment to electoral and democratic entitlement. This means that the Al-Iraqiya List that has won 91 parliamentary seats should form the next government. However, this did not happen, and the Iraqis have lost faith in democracy and in elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the position of the Al-Iraqiya List that has been elected by the people? How do you read this result, and what has your list achieved in the eyes of the electors?
[Allawi] The Iraqi electors know that there was a conspiracy to confiscate their wishes, their ideas, and their convictions. As far as we in the Al-Iraqiya List are concerned, we are determined to carry on with what the Iraqi people have entrusted us to do, to the bitter end. This concerns our performance in the forthcoming stage, as well as our position, and whether we will be part of the executive power or not. The mandate given to us by the Iraqi people concerning change means abandoning the sectarian political quota system and eliminating the Iranian influence in Iraq. This is not fighting Iran but the Iranian influence in the country, rebuilding the Iraqi institutions, restoring the Arab identity of Iraq, and returning it to the Arab fold, ensuring that Iraq has a clear identity, together with performing institutions. These are some of the basic tasks that we will seek to perform until they are fully achieved. We will not abandon them in any way, wherever we may be, whether in power or outside it. Nonetheless, the Iraqi masses are now very frustrated as a result of what has happened. They know that what happened is in fact one of the chapters of the Iranian victory over the political process in Iraq, pending the arrival of the other chapters, God willing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are talking about waging a battle; a battle against who?
[Allawi] Against sectarianism. It is a political battle against the growing Iranian influence in Iraq, as well as the influence of extremism in the country. In an Al-Iraqiya List speech, I have said that the fight against the forces of extremism and the forces that believe in political sectarianism will be a harsh, long fight. This chapter has not come to an end, and there are other chapters ahead that require more cohesion among the Iraqi people and more determination to overcome the political sectarian quota system. This requires also more cohesion to build an Iraq that will be large enough for all the Iraqis, an important Iraq that plays an important role in the region and its future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A battle with Iran implies intelligence services, weapons, and assassinations. Are you capable of waging these kinds of battles?
[Allawi] First, we are not talking about a military battle. We are talking about a battle that, as far as we are concerned, is a political one, but to others it is not political. I do not believe that Iran will be victorious, because the willpower of the Iraqi people is strong, determined, and decisive. We have informed Iran directly and through state leaders in the region that we are not against Iran, that we do not call for war against Iran, and that we will not permit Iraq to be a base and a launch pad for an aggression against Iran. However, at the same time, we reject any Iranian interference in Iraq's domestic affairs, just like we are against any Iraqi interference in Iranian internal affairs. Clearly, the brothers in Iran have not understood this position, and they have kept trying to impose a prime minister on the Iraqis, as well as determining who should be part of the political process and who should not. Regrettably, in the face of this growing Iranian position, there was a hesitating, vague, and confused international position, as well as an ambiguous Arab position, to a certain extent. The result is that the Iranian position was almost the only one that has influenced and continues to influence events in Iraq. As for the means that may used by Iran, the documents leaked by the WikiLeaks website about clear assassination attempts, in addition to information that has been received, and is still received, by us about assassination attempts, well, they will not deter people from their positions, and they will not abort the Iraqi cause. Iraq has offered many martyrs, and is prepared to offer more, to emerge victorious from this lamentable situation, and to build a promising future for itself. We do not fear Iran.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The WikiLeaks documents have shown the implication of Iraqi officials and that of the Iraqi Government. How can this issue be left to pass easily, with the implicated ones remaining in power?
[Allawi] The WikiLeaks documents are not legal documents. They are reports sent by US soldiers and employees to their officials about their remarks and what they saw. They do not reach the level of being legal evidence, but they are important for a fact-finding quest and investigations. They do provide a clear expression of facts. They are documents officially conveyed to the US Administration and its Defense Department. It is true that they do not represent legal evidence, but they constitute a basis for an efficient legal investigation. However, regrettably, no investigation has been initiated concerning the interference of Iran in the Iraqi situation, or the internal situation in the country. Concerning the United States, I do not know whether it has formed investigation commissions or not.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why has the Al-Iraqiya List not been able to build alliances? Have there been tactical errors? You have stood at the side of the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council [IISC] and praised its leaders. You also stood with the Al-Sadr Trend, met with its leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and praised his patriotism. You are also very close to the Kurds, but you could not build any alliances during this period of time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been no alliances formed because of what I have just said. The reason was the first three months that have passed in a chaotic way; then it was declared that the largest bloc was what is called the National Alliance. Third, there were positive moves, especially on the part of brother Masud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. I want to recall the clear statements made by brother Barzani to the effect that the Al-Iraqiya List should form the next government as an electoral entitlement. He made such statements on more than one occasion, but brother Jalal Talabani, president of the Republic of Iraq and leader of the Kurdistan Patriotic Union, has had a different position from the beginning. He sided with the SLC and the Iraqi National Alliance. The Iraqi National Alliance also was not clear. It went through a period of indecision until the Al-Sadri Trend decided to back Al-Maliki.
I want to add also that we are not operating in a vacuum. We are in a changing Iraqi, regional, and international situation. We have noticed two things. First, was a determined Iranian position backing a prime minister from the National Alliance and specifically Al-Maliki. This was no secret, as the Iranian side declared on more than one occasion. In contrast, there was a US position in harmony with the Iranian thesis. We know that the Iranian influence is strong in Iraq, and we know also that US influence exists, but it is weaker than the Iranian influence. We also know that part of the general political orientations of the political blocs is influenced by the positions of these states. In reality, we have tried to build a position against these orientations on the basis that the Iraqis themselves should make political decisions, and that no political decision should come from abroad. This is one of the causes of my trips to certain states to ask them to persuade the United States not to interfere in Iraqi affairs, and second to urge certain states that have relations with Iran to put pressure on Tehran not to interfere in Iraqi affairs. In this connection, the latest visit I paid was to meet with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The visit was about Iran; however, regrettably, no result was achieved, and we saw that things remained unchanged.
The United States has its own justifications, and so does Iran, surely. However, we as Iraqis we do not accept these justifications, because we do not accept and we do not want any interference by any state to impose a fait accompli policy on Iraq. This is why part of the issue of alliances was linked to these circumstances.
In terms of the conception of political ideology, if this is the correct way to put it, the closest to us is the Kurdistan Alliance with all its elements. This means that it is a non-sectarian, liberal, and democratic alliance. However, the formula has now changed with part of the Kurdistan Alliance believing in the democratic process and another part not doing so. We have all seen the silence toward the confiscation of the Al-Iraqiya's List's right. We are not talking about political centers; rather, we are saying that there was a clear entitlement: the Al-Iraqiya List has won 91 seats in the House of Representatives. This case is known throughout the democracies of the world, where any party gaining the largest number of seats in parliament is asked to form a government. This is an existing general trend, a general rule that exists in all democratic practices, and even in the Iraqi Constitution. When they introduced the paragraph related to this case, it was a case of a clear legislation saying that the ones that have electoral entitlement, meaning the winners of the election, should be asked to form the next government. However, the Iraqi parties have remained silent toward this issue and dealt with what was called the largest bloc, which did not exist officially or legally. The largest bloc called the National Alliance does not exist anywhere. It was imposed by force; as a result, democracy was confiscated.
The international community, which still has direct responsibility in Iraq given that Iraq is still under obligations to Chapter VII of the UN Charter and that has brought us democracy, has failed to protect it in Iraq. The question is whether this failure is deliberate or not, but it has failed and the matter ended the way it did. Even the Iraqi judiciary has been largely politicized with the adoption of these decisions and measures. This is why we are of the view that it does not befit the Iraqi people that the situation should remain pending in this way. Out of respect toward our people and in order to avoid bloodletting, we have preferred to refrain from asking for the major posts in government. A government will perhaps be formed as soon as possible, and will discharge its duties toward the Iraqis. This is everything that has happened.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What prompted you to relinquish your entitlements and to go back on your statements in which you said that you will not be part of a government headed by Al-Maliki?
[Allawi] We have conceded the position of prime minister and that of president of the republic, but there is something that it is difficult to concede, and I do not believe that we will concede it; this is political decision-making. I have personally sent a letter to the leaders of the Al-Iraqiya List, in which I said that it seems to me that we cannot secure the post of prime minister and the major executive posts in the country because of the regional and international positions, especially the Iranian position. I said we are faced with a major and difficult problem, namely serving and ensuring the safety and security of the Iraqi people, and, therefore, we should abandon the demands we have made and move on to the issue of political decision-making. This is in order to be real partners in it, irrespective of our functions. We have to formulate clear mechanisms of how to be efficient partners in Iraqi political decision-making. We have not abandoned our efforts, but the fact is that we have been confronted with these international positions, particularly the Iranian position. We believe that what matters is the interest of Iraq. The reason is that positions and posts do not interest us as much as getting what we want by changing the parameters of the equation in Iraq in favor of those who have elected us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are reports true that competition between the leaders of the Al-Iraqiya List has weakened its position toward the allocation of posts?
[Allawi] No, such a competition does not exist. I tell you frankly that the Al-Iraqiya List leading figures have always been, and still are, unanimously baking the nomination of Iyad Allawi for the post of prime minister. When asked, members of the Al-Iraqiya List, both Sunnis and Shia, reply: We are not interested in sectarianism, we just trust this man to assume the post of prime minister; we are the winning bloc, and we want this man to form a government. There was a full and strong mobilization, without exception, within the Al-Iraqiya List for my nomination. This trend continues. But, now that our demand for the premiership has been abandoned, we insist on participation in political decision-making, not just as ministers. Hence the idea of what is called the National Council for Higher Policies, which I already suggested in 2005. The Americans returned to the idea precisely after reviewing the archives. They realized that, had such a council been formed at that time, we would be in a different situation at this moment. However, problems arose about the prerogatives of this council. Some want it to have an executive role, while others want it to be consultative.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that it is still possible to implement the initiative of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi monarch?
[Allawi] Naturally, this is possible because this initiative is generous. At any rate, the Saudi initiative is part of national reconciliation; it does not concern just the formation of the next government. This is an important subject. Additionally, it is an Arab initiative that comes under the umbrella of the Arab League. This is what distinguishes it. The other advantage is that it has come from an important Arab country: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What is more important than all this is that the initiative came from the custodian of the two holy mosques in person, namely King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who has a deep affection for Iraq and has close links with Iraq and the Iraqis. In addition to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he has personally tried to help the Iraqis to overcome this trial. During our continuous meetings with his majesty, I and the other Iraqi politicians have felt that this man is very committed toward the region and Iraq in particular. This is why I believe that this initiative should not disappear. It should be adopted and nurtured, and interest should be attached to it whether a government is formed or not, and whether national reconciliation materializes or not. This is because I believe that the only national reconciliation conference that we may call a real conference is the one that was held in Cairo, under the patronage of the Arab league.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] US Vice President Joe Biden has suggested that you get the presidency of the republic while Al-Maliki gets the post of prime minister. Why have you refused?
[Allawi] We have not refused; however, frankly, Biden and others came with a range of ideas concerning posts and other ideas about the need to rapidly form a government. They carried also ideas saying that the prevailing situation is good and should continue with the introduction of a few changes. Our views were different. During an official meeting, I told them that the issue is not that of posts, and that it should be debated with a focus on three points, to be able to lay the foundations of a transitional stage that leads us to a genuine democracy.
The first point is partnership. National partnership should be identified and explained, and its foundations should be laid down. This implies a national unity government based on the principle of a clear and genuine partnership where partners are equal, especially concerning political decision-making. The second point we raised with Mr. Biden was that the constitution contains a few mistakes, one of which is the fact that it gives the prime minister almost full power. This is not correct, whether the prime minister is Al-Maliki, or Allawi, or Adel Abdel-Mahdi, or any other. I have told them there must be what is called a distribution of prerogatives. As for the third point, it is the need to agree on the main stages of the road map. This means answers about what we want Iraq to become. Do we want an Iraq based on political sectarianism? Do we want an Iraq built on the foundations of national reconciliation or not? Do we want to retrieve the Arab, Islamic identity of Iraq, or do we want it to remain without an identity? Do we want state institutions based on competence and professionalism, or rather on the quota system and regionalism? In fact, all these are important elements of the road map that we said should be discussed and agreed.
When these points were raised before Biden, and in the presence of a large US delegation and several members of the Al-Iraqiya List, they liked this opinion and said that it was a mature view that should be adopted. They said that dialogue should focus on these points. Since then, dialogue started to focus on these ideas, and we prepared papers. However, the first rejection of the allocation of prerogatives and of the road map provisions concerning national reconciliation came from the SLC. In fact, we began negotiating with it, but when we reached the issue of prerogatives and national reconciliation, there was a clear rejection on the part of the brothers in the SLC. Negotiations then stopped, and we tried to form an alliance with the Iraqi National Alliance. However, it had a candidate, namely brother Adel Abdel-Mahdi. We tried to find a sort of balance in such an alliance, but it did not have a definitive determination to leave the National Alliance. Thus, it remained part of the coalition.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the Iraqi National Alliance refuse to leave the National Alliance because of Iranian influence?
[Allawi] I do not know and I cannot be categorical on this issue. However, what I know from the beginning is that Iran invited three parties to Tehran after the publication of the election results. It invited the Iraqi National Alliance, the SLC, and brother Jalal Talabani to Tehran. They discussed what is called the National Alliance, on the basis that it was the largest bloc. Iran then leveled a series of false accusations against the Al-Iraqiya List.
We sent a delegation to Tehran under the leadership of brother Rafi al-Issawi and comprising Hussein al-Shalan, Muhammad Allawi, and Al-Yawar. Iran's answer was that we are a Sunni list; then it said that we are a Baathist list. The reality is that the Al-Iraqiya List is neither Sunni nor Baathist. It is a national Iraqi list, and within the latter it does not matter to us who is Sunni and who is Shiite. It is a list that represents the Iraqi population spectrum. It was clear that from that moment Iran wanted to isolate and discard us. We had applied to visit Iran, not me personally but an Al-Iraqiya List delegation, but were surprised to see them invite the others. We had applied for a visit, but they did not invite us. Then, we realized from state leaders and Iraqi political leaders that Iran says that it has set a red line in relation to the Al-Iraqiya List and Iyad Allawi. Obviously, we believe that Iran is right to set a red line in relation to the Al-Iraqiya List and me personally, because we call for Iraq to have a clear-cut Arab identity, and we do not call for Iraq to be built on sectarian political bases. Third, we call for Iraq to be unified, powerful, capable, and strong. However we call also for a peaceful Iraq, founded on efficient institutions and being an indivisible part of regional security.
I believe that this position does not tally with what Iran wants. It wants the [Iraqi] people to be divided on sectarian and ethnic lines. Iran is against the national Iraqi project, because it fears to see Iraq return strongly to its previous position. This is even though this fear is groundless, I believe, because we are not warmongers. Quite the contrary, we want to build the best relations with Iran.
A new stage has arrived now that Al-Iraqiya List has abandoned its electoral entitlement and remains attached to its right to participation in political decision-making. Moreover, a president of the republic has been elected, who declared that he will ask Al-Maliki to form a government. We have accepted this, despite the fact that it is an abuse. We accepted it in honor of the Iraqi people. But, there is an important stage ahead. We want to see whether or not there will be a commitment to the issue of partnership in political decision-making. We have realized that the number of ministers is not important, but what really matters is that we become genuine partners on an equal footing, not marginalized with regard to political decision-making. With the current government, we have seen many ministers without any power. We have seen that any counselor at the prime minister's office can manage a ministry, while a minister cannot appoint a civil servant. This is not reasonable in a new institutional regime. It is not reasonable to be part of a machine that believes in political sectarianism, and it is not reasonable for one to accept to be a minister while millions of Iraqis are driven out of their homes and made refugees. All these problems will not be solved if we are not genuine partners in political decision-making.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The next battle is that of forming a government; do you not believe that it will be acute?
[Allawi] I personally expect it to be intense. After the formation of a government, it will be difficult for it to make decisions, because it will be a flawed, divided, fragmented, unclear government. It will be a government of contradictions, not built on clear bases. This is why, when we talk about partnership, prerogatives, and a road map, it is not dabbling in philosophy but out of our attachment to reality. We want to prove whether or not we will follow a sectarian line. These things are not clear at this moment, which is why when a government emerges in this unclear atmosphere it will be weak, because it will be based on an unclear mandate, on arm twisting, and on regional interventions. This is a source of concern. It is not important that forming a government has taken a long time. However, we fear that, once formed, the government will not be able to meet its duties toward the people. The people are afflicted with disaster and suffering from the killings, massacres, poverty, ignorance, and homelessness. The simplest example of this is that of the Salvation Church, where innocent people who went to pray have been massacred in such a criminal manner. There has been a blackout concerning the investigations into what happened. In fact, we do not know to date who was behind this aggression.