By Hoda al-Jasim
In the following interview Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to Iraq’s Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi about his veto of the election law, the recent Iraq bombings and his new political bloc.
The interview proceeded as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You announced that there are many loopholes in the election law, but why was emphasis placed upon Iraqis living abroad and Iraqi minorities, rather than other issues?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] The election law has not reached the desired level of the Iraqi people; however the country is in a state of development and in my opinion achieving modest gains is better than achieving nothing at all. I am fully aware that the political confusion and the complexity in the political process, as well as the lack of trust between political factions is not at a level where it is possible to close all these loopholes, and therefore we have focused upon the most important paragraphs [of the election law] where there are clear breaches and flagrant violations of the constitution, and the occurrence of nearly five breaches of [Iraqi] law. However time constraints and the general situation did not allow all of these to be resolved. In the paragraph on Iraqis living abroad there is a clear contradiction in Article 49 of the constitution that states that there should be one parliamentary representative for every 100,000 people. It was also our duty to ensure that the minorities have a fair number of seats according to the standards of justice.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been said that your veto [of the election law] was part of an electoral propaganda campaign. Do you expect to see an increase in the number of people who vote for you at the forthcoming elections as a result of this?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] There were a lot of developments during the election law crisis but God knows that I did not do this to obtain internal or external support. Up until the final moments prior to the veto I attempted to persuade parliament to reconsider the loopholes in the law, and my message to the head of the Council of Representatives aimed to make amendments to the law through the issuance of instructions by the Electoral Commission to do justice to the Iraqis living abroad. This was before light was shed [on this issue] and before it was announced in the media. I also tried to end the controversy, but the Council of Representatives responded negatively to this message. Our interest in the Iraqis living abroad did not occur [just] when this law was being deliberated; we have offices in regional states such as in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and European countries as well. Since 2006, we have had a record of helping Iraqis living abroad, and there has been a dedicated budget to this since that time, there are [Iraqi] students abroad who we are responsible for and whose higher education we support…we also communicate with other Iraqis living abroad via e-mail. Therefore I say that my concern for [Iraqi] immigrants did not come about the moment that the election law was being voted on.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did the Council of Representatives deal with your veto? Were you put under pressure to rescind this? Were you subject to any personal threats?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] The Council of Representatives dealt with the veto professionally, and [parliament] Speaker (Ayad al Samarrai) approved the constitutionality of the veto, and the Presidency Council was supportive and admitted the presence of loopholes in the [election] law. One of the rights of the Presidency Council given in the constitution is the right of veto, however unfortunately statements and speeches by prominent state figures resulted in media hysteria, with such statements reaching the level of personal threats [against me]. I am sorry that they resorted to using such language [especially] when they are in high [official] positions, but this exposed to the public who these officials really are, and what they think of the Iraqi citizens. An Iraqi differentiates between talk and action, between what an official says and what an official does, and so the election law crisis revealed that some officials who oversee the public should have been more virtuous and revealed the truth, and I did not exceed the constitution.
As for the smear campaigns against me, this reached the stage of personal threats, and this has revealed to the Iraqi people that those behind this are doing this for political parties while I am trying to prevent them [the Iraqis] from violating the constitution. Today the news has revealed the truth with regards to who is trying to protect the Iraqi people, and I am happy at the outcome of these events because it revealed the true nature of these state figures to the Iraqi people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your joy did not last long, as less than 36 hours later the Tuesday bombings took place. What is your explanation of the timing of these attacks? In your opinion, who is responsible for this security crisis?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] I have a theory with regards to these operations, as there is more than one party being targeted. I am very saddened by what happened and I feel embarrassed as although I am in a high ranking [governmental] position I am unable to reduce the internal casualties. The problem is that the security file is in the hands of one party, and the Presidency Council is marginalized and excluded from any consultation or participation [in this]. We have not received any information on the Bloody Wednesday attacks [19 August 2009], or the Bloody Sunday attack [25 October 2009] and the Tuesday attack [8 December 2009; all [the information] that we have is the same information that reaches any Iraqi citizen through the media. The Presidency Council does not know what is happening, and we do not have the capabilities that will allow us to find out what is happening or whether the official in charge of the security file had learnt from previous lessons and saved Iraqi lives. I hope that Iraqi Prime Minister and commander-in-chief (Nouri al-Maliki), who is exclusively responsible for this security file, is fair and courageous and shoulders the responsibility and gives justice to all the lives lost and blood shed by saying that the security challenges are greater than his ability, and that he admits default and failure, and hands the security file to professional security experts. When he does this, I will stand strongly beside the Iraqi Prime Minister and support him, when he admits failure in managing the security file, and makes the decision to hand responsibility of this over to someone else.
I have stood by the Iraqi Prime Minister during difficult times, and I will stand beside him [again] on the condition that he gives justice to the Iraqi people, and implements urgent mechanisms, opening the security file and setting up a structure for the security services to consult with specialists, [as well as] opening relations with neighbouring countries and implementing the national reconciliation file, and formalizing the professionalism of the [Iraqi] armed forces. It would be in the interests of Iraq and its Prime Minister for all of this to happen.
I am very concerned that the government has kept silent about the outcome of the Bloody Wednesday and Bloody Sunday investigations, as what happened happened because the dark forces had the freedom to pick the time and location [of the attacks], which not only targeted the institutions of the state, but also innocent people. Therefore the time has come to admit defeat and hand over this file to those who possess [security] expertise and skill. We must admit failure and hand over this investigation to specialist committees, the security services should not conduct this investigation as they themselves stand accused, rather this investigation should be handed over to high level committees to study what happened and hold those involved accountable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your expectations with regards to the outcome of the parliamentary session that the Prime Minister and the security chiefs will address?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] I am not optimistic about this; there must be an admission of failure with the security file being given to other impartial parties; we must seek the opinions of others, and open the [security] file from the ground up. This parliamentary address [by the Prime Minister] should be professional, and not an operation of political overthrowing. The whole of Iraq is under threat, from one end of the country to the other, and we must put our differences aside and – along with the administration – take up a different position in order to save Iraq from bloodshed; it is up to us to know the prerequisites of success and not divide our opinion, and not deal with this [security] file and other state files in an unprecedented and irrational manner. It is up to the Prime Minister to say that he is responsible for the failure because he is the one in charge of handling this responsibility [national security]. I am prepared to hand in my resignation on the condition of the resignation of other state officials after they have declared their innocence with regards to the security file, and if they find this awkward I am prepared to hand in my resignation on the condition that they do the same as I myself feel embarrassed in the face of the Iraqi people, even though I was not allowed to participate in managing this [security] file.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the death sentence given to those involved in the bombings? It is said that the Presidency Council does not agree with this?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] That is a big lie that aims to overthrow others for well-known goals. The Presidency Council does not possess any information on the results of the investigations into the explosions, such as who was involved in this, and we have no information about the criminal sentences handed down to one of those involved [in the explosions]. This is a lie that is intended to mislead public opinion; the government hushed up the results of the investigation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Presidency Council work in isolation of the Prime Minister or vice versa?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] The Prime Minister had the opportunity to work with a united team, but he preferred to work away from the Presidency Council. According to the constitution the Presidency Council is assigned to supervise foreign, economic and security relations, but today the Presidency Council is not being consulted on key issues. The issue with the Council of Ministers, in its entirety, is over constitutional differences, and we hoped that the Prime Minister would join the country's Presidency Council for the management of the state, so that we could become a support structure for the Prime Minister and along with him bear the outcome of everything that is happening, but the Presidency Council has been marginalized and so it is up to the Prime Minister to bear [the responsibility] of the outcome of the situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a disagreement between the Presidency Council and the Prime Minister? During the election law crisis, it was noticeable that the Prime Minister discussed the situation with the President Jalal al-Talabani, his deputy Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iraqi parliamentary speaker Ayad al-Samarrai, but he did not discuss this issue with you even though you were the one to veto the law.
[Tariq al-Hashimi] There is no personal dispute [with the Prime Minister], even if we are in need of holding a meeting official operations have been interrupted, and the Executive Council (the Political Council for National Security) whose formation the Prime Minister had agreed upon for state administration has stopped meeting, even though in the beginning the Prime Minister called for it to be supported, and this Council was formed with the support of the government, but he [the Prime Minister] no longer attends or initiates the Council's meetings.
The dispute is not between al-Hashimi and al-Maliki; it is between the Presidency Council and the Prime Minister, and I hope that the media does not reduce this to a personal dispute. I am not pushing him away from authority and power, but the Iraqi Presidency Council is assigned to oversee the Iraqi state in its various aspects, and the Presidency is represented by the Iraqi President and his deputies, who have observations and are dissatisfied by the government's performance.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the political bloc [the Tajdid bloc] that you have formed with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Saleh al-Mutlaq [leader of Iraqi Front for National Dialogue], and Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi, and other political parties and groups, will form the nucleus of the next government? Do you expect to be strong candidates at the forthcoming elections?
[Tarik al-Hashemi] The objective of forming this [political] front is to reform the situation, either through participating in the future government or forming a solid opposition bloc in the future parliament. We would like to transform Iraq in the next four years with a quantum leap forward that alleviates its suffering and injuries. We have a political project, and this [political] front will be the hallmark of the political structure [in Iraq] because the front has credible leadership with regards to the national principles agreed upon by everybody.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] All political blocs are saying that the political system will move away from the quota system that is inclusive to the entire spectrum of the Iraqi public. What do you think of this?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] In the previous phase, the talk of sectarianism reached a shameful level with regards to the number of those who were talking about this or were entrenched beneath it, and the reason for this was the embarrassment of others. Today what is being put forward away from sectarian discourse goes back to the extent of the credibility of those talking about this issue, and some of them are also in power; therefore sectarian discourse does not aid many of them, therefore they avoid talking about this and they must do whatever serves these interests. However the citizen judges what is said by what is done, and there are issues that we must consider in order to know the extent of the credibility of their slogans and discourse; files such as national reconciliation, the reformation of the security forces, the [security] violations, the interests of the state, financial and administrative corruption, and human rights. This is in order to examine the credibility of the intentions even if the intentions of the slogans are believed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You left the Iraqi Islamic Party for the Tajdid [renewal] bloc, is this due to a renewal in your viewpoint or because you believe that religious [political] groups no longer have a place on the Iraqi street?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] I have left the confines of party politics to join a national project, and since the first moment that I joined this national project – along with my presence in the party – I have not distinguished between one Iraqi and another on the basis of race, religion, or creed. Since 2005, neither the Iraqi Islamic Party nor the Iraqi Accord Front carried a sectarian spirit, and this project remains and has not changed, but I believe that standing for election as part of a national list is more acceptable to the people. A distinction must also be made [at this point] as all Islamic parties do not attempt to Islamize the state or society through their projects. They do not [all] put forward religious projects with regards to state-building, and some work under a purely liberal principle. There are some parties that made a mistake in the management of the state, but Islam is a religion that is built upon justice, and should not in any way be connected to the mistakes by the religious or Islamic parties [in Iraq].
We assert that we will not be a replica of old regimes, and we must focus on national reconciliation, and that Iraq is for all Iraqis. As for those who commit crimes, they will be dealt with by the law, but we do not hold people accountable solely for their beliefs or philosophies, and they should not be prosecuted according to this. This is the standard of the new Iraq; we must respect human rights and women's rights, we are not a copy of an old regime, and we are confident in the success of our project in the new Iraq.