Interview with Iraqi Speaker of the House

The USG Open Source Center translates an important interview with Iraq's Sunni Arab speaker of the parliament.

'Speaker On Government Formation, Security, Sectariansim, Militias, Other Issues
Interview by Amir Ali al-Hassun with Representative Council Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani


Thursday, June 8, 2006 T06:57:47Z

For the first time in Iraq's contemporary history, a parliament consisting of 275 members has been elected through free and honest elections. The parliament will be chaired by Dr Mahmud al-Mashhadani for the next four years. In this interview, we present a quick review of the ideas of this man and what is going on in his mind regarding expectations for the future of the political process in Iraq.

(Al-Hassun) First of all doctor, let us start with what happened in the parliament's recent session. Proceedings were delayed because of some articles in the Iraqi constitution which a number of political sides want amended while they are busy forming the national unity government. What is your comment on this delay and the government formation?

(Al-Mashhadani) Praise Allah, and peace be upon His prophet. The program and work paper that were presented were balanced. First we formed a temporal committee to draft the parliament's bylaw because without this law the performance of the parliament would be inefficient, as actually happened. The formation of the second committee was in fact not included in the timetable, but discussion was opened to revise the articles of the constitution. Most sides, or rather all sides, think that the present situation of confusion, security disorder, and delay in government formation, is conducive to delay the formation of this government. Others believe that unless the security file is solved and tensions are removed, we should not get into disputes that might kindle a new strife. This is a political and not a constitutional view. The constitutional view is that we should form a standing committee for four months to revise the articles of the constitution and agree on disputes. I believe that when the confusion is over, especially since we are at the beginning of solving the security file and have given chance to all sides for the first time after the fall of the former regime and the beginning of occupation, there will be many points raised and they will not take us a long time to agree upon.

(Al-Hassun) But all sides are demanding a solution to the security file. What are the steps that the new Iraqi Parliament will follow? What is the first action by Dr Mahmud al-Mashhadani in parliament to solve the security issue?

(Al-Mashhadani) In fact we support the formation of the national unity government, and we have already agreed upon its program and set its priorities. The first point, then, as parliamentarians and as parliament speaker, is to help accelerate the formation of the government, since without this there will be no use in talking about the fate of Iraq. I think that if we do not succeed in forming the government quickly and bind it with the agreed upon principles, there will be a disaster. The first point is that I should be active and positive towards the acceleration of the national unity government formation. The second point is that I should prepare the parliament and organize it from within and prepare the necessary requirements for members to be able to perform their supervisory and executive roles. I may concentrate on the most important standing committee that will re-draft the bylaw, for without accomplishing this job we will have no constitutional right to form other important committees. Therefore, I have requested them to finish the council's bylaw within a week. Why? Because I feel the pressure of the security file on me and on all Iraqis. Once we do with the bylaw, we will form a standing committee, the so-called Security and Defense Committee, and I will be keen on making this committee a sleepless eye and a sound ear to supervise the beginning of a solution to the security file, since this file starts with forming the ministerial committee for security affairs. Who is responsible for monitoring this committee and supervising its performance? It is the Security and Defense Committee, and I will be directly concerned with this issue as Representatives Council speaker.

(Al-Hassun) But there are criticisms by figures within parliament about how Dr Al-Mashhadani and the Iraqi Parliament can solve the problem of sectarianism while the leading positions have been distributed on a sectarian basis. How do you comment?

(Al-Mashhadani) This idea is inaccurate. It has become "One Arab nation with an immortal message" (Ba'th Party slogan) which we all love and respect but do not apply.

(Al-Hassun) Was the distribution not according to Sunni and Shiite affiliations?

(Al-Mashhadani) I will explain this to you in a realistic manner. I am realistic; I am not a traditional politician; I have been a struggler all my life, and do not know the etiquette and protocols of stereotypical politicians, who think they can solve our problems by sitting in front of a camera and speaking. The one who has not gone to the market even once in his life, can you tell me how he can solve our problems? We have the opportunity. All the sides, even the smallest bloc, which is the Kurdistan Islamic Party that consists of five members sat down and agreed. What did we do over the last four months? We agreed upon a political program for the new government according to national entitlement, how we will implement this program, and how we will support this entitlement with a working mechanism that can achieve 80 to 90 percent of the set goals. We should depend on electoral entitlement, or else the electoral process, the peaceful transition of power, and other issues that Iraqis have worked on would be useless. When we set the project, we should set it according to national specifications as soon as we finish with the sharing of project and visions, and then form a political council for national security, in which, all leaders, even from small blocs, take part. In this case, the top leadership is in the hands of all Iraqis. It is illogical and unrealistic to have 200 members in one ministry as people want. The first regulator, then, is this council. The second regulator is the political program on which all sides agree, including those who claim that this government is based on sectarian partnership, since they took part in preparing the council. The third regulator is electoral entitlement, which represents the idealism of the goal and the realism of the method. The fourth regulator is that the parliament does not accept any inefficient minister, or one who we think will not be able to achieve the political program of the ministry. Anyone who thinks he knows more than this, we invite him to give us the solution.

(Al-Hassun) Some people gave their visions or solutions. It is said that Al-Sayyid Ali al-Sistani welcomes technocratic ministers. Do you not think that this is a part of the solution to get rid of some differences dividing the ministries or party dogmatism that has surfaced previously?

(Al-Mashhadani) There is no party dogmatism. If we succeed in the coming four years in the political process, we will be able to turn the sectarian struggle into sectarian interaction. They should help in this process. What is the solution if we fail? It is to go to a bloc of three members and ask them to save Iraq. Is this logical? If one hundred and thirty people fail, will three succeed? So, why do some sides want to send us back us to ideal slogans that have wasted the life and efforts of a whole nation? Where are unity, freedom, and socialism? (Ba'th Party's objectives) Now we have a single ideal goal, which is the unity and identity of Iraq, and before them, the achievement of complete independence and sovereignty and making Iraq a civilized minaret for the world. But how can we achieve this?

(Al-Hassun) What is the way to achieve this? All people are waiting for this.

(Al-Mashhadani) First we should have a parliament with a strict bylaw.

(Al-Hassun) But many Iraqis and observers of Iraqi affairs criticize Iraqi political leaders for having more differences than agreements. Leaders in the parliament must find solutions and create harmony to implement what is within them into reality.

(Al-Mashhadani) I say the glorious Arab nation must unite, the Arab people must unite and rise, and the Muslim nation must unite. All these are bogus slogans. I say that your words are ideal, and they touch my heart, but my mind is working in reality. I want to achieve what you want. Let me start with this: you want me to reach you across the expansive deserts between us, and you want to cross them in one leap. Most people who call for a solution to this issue and criticize it are the ones who frequently appear on satellite TV channels and tell lies. Let us be true to ourselves first and to our people next. Let us be transparent. Allah bless the one who fails, and we say to him that his intentions were good but his work did not succeed. I think that the real opportunity is available now, which is the activation of the role of the parliament, the acceleration of forming a strong government, and the acceleration of forming the security committee. Let us stop bloodshed first and then look at other issues. Iraq is about to die and disintegrate, so let me stop the bleeding in reality and not on satellite TV channels, and then you can come after four years and take Iraq, but you should not work from now based on a conspiracy theory and call names. You charge us with fragmentation, clashes, and the security issue, but what have you done? Why do not I charge you with the responsibility? You are a journalist, what is the responsibility that you should undertake? Can you say that you do not have any responsibility? When you charge others with the responsibility, what is your role then? What is your action? You come to me with a bogus slogan that you cannot achieve in reality.

(Al-Hassun) Doctor, the Iraqi people now possess enough cultural awareness to distinguish the tendencies that you mentioned.

(Al-Mashhadani) We should give real opportunity for the experience to succeed or fail in order to correct ourselves. When we fail in the parliament, we are as courageous as we have always been. But I wish that satellite TV channels give prominence always to the idealism of the goal and treat things realistically. I bear considerable respect for the constants of the Association of Muslim Scholars. In fact they are the very constants which I aspire to achieve, but I would like the association to let me work to achieve them. If it does nothing and I do nothing, how can we reach our goals?

(Al-Hassun) We are looking for the actual steps that you will present, the political program to solve the political differences and confusion, and the actual program to solve the security issue. There was the emergency law in the former governments. The security file is a difficult issue, in addition to another file that has tired the Iraqi people, namely, the file of electricity and services. What is the program that Al-Mashhadani and his brothers in the parliament have set to find a quick solution for the security file?

(Al-Mashhadani) The security file was not listed in the government program. It was included as part of the negotiations between political entities. We agreed upon the government's future program and the formation of a ministerial committee chaired by the prime minister, deputy prime minister, defense minister, interior minister, and the intelligence service chairman. These people should agree on any decision and work with transparency. Our role as parliamentarians is to supervise the performance of the government, take it to account when it is neglectful, and encourage it when it acts well, according to the principle: "We advise and never scandalize each other." Iraqis are waiting for us to work and not talk on satellite TV channels. The goal cannot be achieved by talking, and there should be a means. Let me start with what is available, and then interact to give the Iraqi production which I think will need four or more years to be achieved.

(Al-Hassun) A statement by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says that it is necessary to dismember militias in Iraq, adding that they are a reason for the security tension in some areas. What are these militias, and what is their number?

(Al-Mashhadani) There are well known Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish militias. The Kurdish militias have been transformed into an active part of the existing regime in Kurdistan. We are done. As for Badr Organization, it has been declared as a civic political organization, or am I mistaken? It has declared this, and therefore there is no need to go into this. Regarding Al-Mahdi Army, it has been formed basically to defend Ahl-al-Bayt (the Shiites), but Ahl-al-Bayt are now leading the country and will have a strong army under the command of Nuri al-Maliki, the general commander of the armed forces. So, the general commander of the armed forces is a follower of Ahl-al-Bayt and the lovers of Ahl-al-Bayt, and we are all lovers of Ahl-al-Bayt, but not all of us are followers of Ahl-al-Bayt, since nobody practices their code of conduct nowadays. If we apply the rules of Ahl-al-Bayt, we would have become followers of Al-Husayn and never accepted Bremer. Not all Sunnis are Sunnis and not all Shiites are Shiites. By the way, not all Iraqis are Iraqis. However, we have prepared a mechanism to solve these issues. We do not want to hurt anybody, and do not want anybody to hurt others.

(Al-Hassun) But doctor it is a fact that the Iraqi police and army do not have sufficient military capabilities and technology or even experience to control security. There have been recent confessions by officials in the former government that the occupation forces have been hindering the improvement of Iraqi security forces. Will you mend this defect, or will this issue remain as it is?

(Al-Mashhadani) Here we go back to the idealism of the goal and the realism of the means to get there. I have had a meeting with the European Union to discuss our need for proficient security organs. The notorious Bremer caused a disaster with his agenda, and he said that dissolving Iraqi Army was Sharon's suggestion and not his own. It was possible to reform the Iraqi Army from within by removing some non-proficient figures or those who harmed Iraqi people in general. Look at what he has done to us. Rebuilding the security organs is the true key to the solution, and any delay in this will be highlighted by the Representative Council with a red light of danger.

(Al-Hassun) There are associations, institutions, or sides that have adopted certain stances, such as the De-Ba'thification Commission and the Integrity Commission, which has caused disputes between political sides in parliament. What is your personal opinion about such institutions, and how will you deal with them?

(Al-Mashhadani) We have reached certain agreements that we are against those who wrong the Iraqi people, whether in the past, present, or future. We will take all those who wronged the Iraqis to account, those who shed Iraqi blood in the past are criminals, and those who do so in the present or the future are criminals based on one criteria, namely, that he is a true criminal who sheds the blood of an innocent Iraqi without any legal justification. Let those who descend to the streets daily to kill our people from among Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, and Kurds, know, that I will go with them to the grave, and they will not escape punishment even if this leads to my death. Why this indiscriminate killing? Why are these dead bodies thrown in streets and cesspits? Who is killing whom? What are these gangs? What is this agenda? We are suffering from a serious problem. Are we really Iraqis? Who are we then? These matters must stop at once, and we should strike the hand of the wrongdoer, or we will not be faithful to our people, ourselves, our religion, and our nation, and we will lay the foundation for a tattered society and a weak regime. I advice those who will assume the security portfolios, the interior, defense, and national security ministries and the intelligence service, to think a hundred times before accepting these positions because we will not have mercy on them. At the same time we will support them and encourage them towards the right national path of duty, but if they do wrong, as others previously did, we will never have mercy on them.

(Al-Hassun) Thank you, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Dr Mahmud Al-Mashhadani, for this interview.

(Description of Source: Baghdad Al-Bayyinah al-Jadidah -- Independent daily political and general newspaper. Chief Editor Sattar Jabbar) '


Juan Cole Home Page