By Ahmed Essa
Bagdad, Asharq Al-Awsat-Iraqi Parliament Speaker Iyad al-Samarrai has revealed that some troublesome elements in Kuwaiti and Iraqi parliaments are pressurizing both governments to take intransigent stands instead of pressurizing them for a solution; but he denied any knowledge of anybody bribing Iraqi legislators to speak for or against Kuwait.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the Speaker said that his latest visit to Kuwait was within a framework of attempts to build positive relations between the two countries. Solving the crisis between the two peoples he said, is a matter for the two governments; the role of members of parliament on both sides is confined to creating a positive environment. However, he expected the solution of the crisis to take years.
The Iraqi Speaker called on Iraqi and Kuwaiti citizens to focus on the future and turn over a new page. He gave the European Union as a good example to follow in dealing with issues of borders and differences and expanding horizons of cooperation. "We say the same thing to the Iraqi and Kuwaiti peoples and we hope to build strong relations between the two and work together to solve all problems."
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of a solution to the Kuwait-Iraq crisis and outstanding problems between the two countries?
[Samarrai] This is for the governments of the two countries to deal with; our role is to try to create a positive environment by building relations between the Iraqi and Kuwaiti parliaments. We have noticed some provocation and opposition within the two parliaments and we thought we should deal with those elements and transform them into pressure groups for, not against solving problems, and this is what we are trying to achieve.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When do you expect the crisis to be solved?
[Samarrai] In my view it will take years to reach a final solution; but it would be helpful in the meantime if we manage to strengthen relations between Iraq and Kuwait.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do Iraqis still regard Kuwait as part of Iraq – given that this concept was part of school curricula and that some statements are still being made to this effect?
[Samarrai] Let us be clear about this issue. Under the former regime, in the days of Abdul-Karim Kassem [1960s], and even in the days of the monarchy, a culture to this effect was widespread. The people are usually influenced by the culture of their times and what they have been taught. So let us not blame the Iraqis if some of them still feel that way. Most Iraqis are now saying let us not talk about the problems of the past, let us talk about the present and future.
Moreover, there have been changes effected by international agreements and United Nations resolutions, which from a legal point of view are becoming almost definitive and difficult to change.
However, I believe that most Iraqis today have a feeling that such claims, regardless of their legality, have been disastrous for Iraq, and therefore they should not be discussing such matters. Rather, they should be discussing the future and how to build relations with Kuwait. Look at Europe; they have dealt with all their differences in an innovative manner and developed their relations to an extent where Europe's interest has become every state's interest. They found that their interests are better served within the framework of the European Union and the European Economic Union. In other words they found their present and future interests more important than past imaginary or real geographical changes. It is well known that many border changes took place after the Second World War, but no one at present is talking about these borders or changing them; because they are regarded as settled and that is it. They are dealing with future problems in a spirit of cooperation and unity and are expanding economic relations. We have to learn this lesson from Europe and learn that a problem can be solved by looking to the future, not to the past.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What message would you like to send to the Iraqi people through this visit [to Kuwait]?
[Samarrai] Our message is also directed to the Iraqi and Kuwaiti citizens. I am addressing you all and I am saying that we are keen -God willing - to build fraternal relations. We are saying the same things to the Kuwaitis that we say to the Iraqis and we hope that we will build strong relations between the two peoples and cooperate in solving problems, as this is the fraternal spirit that should prevail in relations between the two countries and peoples. When such a spirit prevails, the future will be brighter for both.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been said that some Iraqi legislators have received bribes to make statements against Kuwait and that some have received bribes to keep quiet about the troubled relations between Iraq and Kuwait What do you think?
[Samarrai] It is too easy for the media to make such allegations; but this issue needs evidence. I am stating unequivocally that I have no knowledge of such things. I know of no one paying an Iraqi member of parliament to speak for or against Kuwait. I feel there is a desire in the Iraqi Parliament as a whole to have positive relations with Kuwait, and I don't believe that members of parliament have been paid by anybody to form this general opinion in parliament.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that as soon as the Iraqi Parliament starts to deal with corruption in his government, he will open the corruption file of members of parliament. What is the extent of corruption in parliament that would make the prime minister make such a threat?
[Samarrai] Yes this is true, but I believe that it is the view of the Iraqi parliament that democracy requires that government and ministers should be open to questioning and no one should obstruct the exercise of this right of parliament. Any such obstruction would be against the democratic process in Iraq and against the constitution.
As for the opening of files, I know for a fact that many members of parliament are saying they are ready for the opening of files, and if the government or the judicial authorities want to do that they are welcome to do so. For when we demand that corruption be dealt with, we do not only mean corruption in government, but we also mean corruption in parliament and everywhere else. The one thing we fear is the abuse of power; but if the issues are kept within the rule of law and normal procedure, I do not believe that any member of parliament would object, because all of them are required to deal with corruption.
On our part, we would like to assure the government that making ministers accountable does not mean that we aim to bring down the government or the prime minister. What we are trying to do is to create a supervision mechanism and hence prevent corruption. Whatever corruption there is would be dealt with case by case and no more, because the situation at present is not suitable for government change or for bringing down the government or even withdrawing confidence from the government or a minister. This is the general view.
Some members of parliament have interpreted the prime minister's statement as implying a mutual threat, but in my view, the message that we wanted to convey by all means and through direct contacts with members of parliament, political parties or the prime minister, was the view that I have just explained - that the government is not targeted, but that there is corruption that should be dealt with.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] To what extent the divisions and conflicts within Iraqi society reflect on the performance of parliament, and how do you evaluate that performance?
[Samarrai] No doubt that there are positive and negative aspects in Iraqi society. In the beginning all political parties agreed on the formation of a government of national unity. This gave the government the impetus and ability to go ahead with its work and helped in dealing with the security situation. But after that opinions varied on the assessment of government performance, assessment of the prevailing situation, and what needs to be done. Consequently differences appeared on the issue of fairness and accountability; the issue of national reconciliation; the issue of building the armed forces; the issue of building the state, and so forth. Opinions also differed on the powers to be granted to the top positions - [president, prime minister, parliament speaker]. Moreover, differences and divisions started to appear within political groupings. All this culminated in more discussion and debate, but it also cleared the way for parliament to play a bigger role that it did before.
Furthermore, the commitment to coalition and party, whether in government or opposition, is not like it was before, and so members of parliament started to feel more freedom of action. You find this sort of conflict and differences in every democracy where there is opposition and government, and alliances formed and broken for various reasons. We are no different from other democracies.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you intend to stand for election in the next parliamentary elections?
[Samarrai] It is too early to talk about this issue; but I am going to be absolutely frank and tell you that my position will depend on two issues, but when we discuss the position to be taken by the party I belong to, that would be different matter. We have not discussed this issue in our party. We know that our party would like me to stand for election, but the question has not been discussed with me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been said that Tariq al-Hashimi [Vice President of Iraq, Secretary General of the Iraqi Islamic Party] resigned from the Islamic Party because he wanted to stand as presidential candidate against Jalal Talabani. Is this true?
[Samarrai] This interpretation is absolutely wrong. I believe the issue of who becomes prime minister and parliament speaker is usually decided as a transaction between the various political parties after the parliamentary elections. Therefore it is early to talk about this issue. Tariq al-Hashimi is popular with the general public and he has much to offer. I hope we will not be too far apart from each other in whatever future political group we happen to be. He has a vision which he can express and represent as vice president and his political performance has influenced many people. As I belong to the Islamic Party and the Accord Front, the chance of Mr. Hashemi and I meeting and agreeing remains as good as ever.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the entitlements the members of Parliament are getting the reason and motivation for standing for election?
[Samarrai] First, I would like to point out that the media over exaggerates the entitlements which members of parliament actually receive. The entitlements which a member of parliament receives reflect the legal status of members of parliament. From a legal and constitutional point of view, a member of parliament and a minister are on equal footing and have the same job entitlements. The entitlements reflect the political situation in Iraq, the difficult circumstances and the expenses which a member of parliament incurs. They are not really privileges, but rather a consideration for his security position and the difficult circumstances in which he lives. I believe when the security situation improves the entitlements will be reviewed. After all, it was the Iraqi parliament, who took the initiative to reduce the salaries of the president of the republic, the prime minister and ministers, even though such a reduction was not foreseen in the budget.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you comfortable with the security situation after the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraqi cities?
[Samarrai] Generally speaking yes I am; the withdrawal is one step forward in the direction of strengthening Iraqi sovereignty, but it is a step fraught with anxiety to some, but not all, as far as the extent of its success is concerned. Iraq is still combating terrorism and has not yet completely stamped it out. Accordingly we are in a state of apprehension, especially as the terrorist groups, in the last days of June 2009 [prior to the withdrawal], intensified their operations in an attempt to make Iraqi security forces look weak and incapable, but the coming days will show whether the Iraqi forces are ready for the job or not. My personal assessment is that Iraqi forces, army and police, are capable of preserving and consolidating internal security in Iraq.