Iraq’s eagerly anticipated provincial elections will take place this Saturday, April 20. While the elections for parliament and the post of prime minister will happen next year, the upcoming poll will nevertheless be a key test for the current prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, and his Islamic Da’wa Party.
Led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, the Al-Iraqiya list was formed in the run up to the 2010 parliamentary elections. It attempted promote a united, non-sectarian Iraq, a future that many in the country have longed for. In 2010, Allawi’s secular coalition won two seats more than Maliki, his fierce opponent. However, Allawi failed to gather sufficient support to form a coalition government against Iraq’s current prime minister.
Since the 2010 elections, the Iraqiya bloc has gone through a rather difficult period, marked by intimidation from pro-government forces and constant feuds with its rival, the ruling Shi’a State of Law coalition led by Maliki. Yet Allawi remains determined in his political project. The Majalla spoke with him to discuss the upcoming provincial elections, the challenges his coalition is facing, and his expectations for the outcome of Saturday’s vote.
The Majalla: What are the main challenges your party is facing in the run up to the elections?
Iyad Allawi: We have been losing individuals for the past five weeks through assassinations using explosives or sniper shots. So far, seven candidates and twenty activists from Iraqiya have been killed. The pro-governmental forces are intimidating and threatening many individuals from the Iraqiya bloc, which clearly shows the magnitude of pressure we are facing. Those who have lost their lives, who were injured, and who have been intimated are all from Iraqiya.
There are institutions that are supposed to serve the country, such as Al-Sabah newspaper and the Iraqiya news channel. However, we in the Iraqiya coalition do not have access to them. Another challenge that my party is facing is the pressure from Iran. We have had continuous attacks through the media and other institutions belonging to the Iranian government, which have been very influential.
Q: Do you feel like you are under pressure to withdraw from these elections?
No, we are only threatened; they do not want us to win. They learned a lesson last time, when Iraqiya won the elections on a national scale, but unfortunately because of Iran’s attitude and position Iraqiya was denied its victory. A government was formed without Iraqiya, which was unconstitutional and undemocratic. It was a big blow to democracy in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Iranians insisted and the international community accepted it, either because they did not have influence or because they were overwhelmed by the Iranian position.
Q: What do you hope to gain out of Saturday’s vote?
We want to start building institutions in the provinces, since the political process failed to do so on the national level. Our programme calls for institutionalising reconstruction, water, environment programs, planning, safety and security. Provincial elections are very important; they can be useful for building civil society and creating the necessary foundations for a better understanding of democracy. We are struggling at the moment to gain democracy in Iraq. We hope to achieve balanced elections in the absence of US forces and international observers, but Iran is weighing heavily on all levels of political and economic life. We also hope that these elections will be a step towards implementing democracy more effectively; until now we have not had true democracy in Iraq.
The Iraqiya coalition is not happy with the way things are going, and as a group we are losing many members, both candidates and activists, through assassinations, intimidation and injuries.
Q: What will the election results mean for Iraq’s political landscape?
We hope that the elections will result in establishing civic society throughout the provinces. We also hope that the provinces will get the resources allocated to them by the constitution—for example, their budgetary allocations—so they can begin to work through Iraqi institutions rather than the local councils. This is what the Iraqiya bloc hopes to see in these elections.
Q: Kirkuk is not included in the elections due to the previous violence that erupted between various political parties within the city. Do you believe that the broader Kirkuk issue can be resolved?
I do not think that there will be any changes in the foreseeable future, as there have been no concrete steps taken to resolve the issue of Kirkuk. The situation over Kirkuk will not change at the provincial level. Maybe there can be change in the national level, but there has been no work towards this.
Over and above Kirkuk now, there are Mosul and Anbar [Ed: These two provinces are not participating in the local elections on Saturday]. There may be other cities where there will be no elections.
Q: Identity politics in Iraq have seriously undermined prospects of solving core issues, such as the division of political powers and sharing of oil revenues. To what extent do you believe that this will affect the outcome of the elections?
There will be no impact. The central government has failed, because it has not issued laws like a hydrocarbons law, an electoral law or revenue-sharing laws. It also needs to enact laws that interpret and clarify the constitution, for example, there is a need to give a clear perspective on the relationship between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil. Again, I do not think that the provincial elections will be a venue for solving the troubling issues the country is facing.
Q: Will the elections be held on time this year? Do you feel that the unrest in southern Iraq will affect this in any way?
Yes the elections will happen on time; however, Mr. Maliki does not want the elections to happen in two provinces. His decision [to delay elections in Anbar and Mosul] is not accepted by all. This decision can cement and deepen sectarianism in the country.
Q: What is your personal opinion on what is going on in southern Iraq at the present time? Has the so-called Arab Spring reached Iraq, or is this just a phase?
What is happening in Iraq is not just a phase. I refer here to the actions of the Kurds, the Sadrists, the Iraqiya bloc, and various demonstrators around the country—our actions all indicate that people are sick of sectarianism, lack of good governance, unemployment, insecurity, violations of human rights, and prisons filled with detainees who are being tortured. This is leading to unrest in the country. The Iraqiya bloc, the Sadrists and the Kurds have boycotted the meetings of the Council of Ministers because of these issues.
Q: You have recently called on Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to resign from his position and for Iraq to hold national elections early. Can you elaborate on this issue?
I also called for this two years ago. Iraq needs to recover from the problems from which it is suffering. Mr. Maliki has been running the country single-handedly, without consulting others. He is the head of a number of organisations, such as the National Intelligence Service, the Ministry of National Security, the State of Law coalition, and the Islamic Da’wa Party. He is also the prime minister. This is unheard of in any democracy, let alone any democracy based on power sharing.
Maliki has failed to provide and maintain services for the country, in particular security. He has also failed to unify the country. He has violated the constitution and the human rights of Iraqis. This is why he is not fit to run the country. We hope that he will respect the vote of parliament and not put his name up for candidacy as the next president.
Q: The treatment of female prisoners has been the subject of several recent protests. Sunni cleric Sheikh Harith Al-Dari has claimed that there are 5,000 female prisoners in Iraq, while the Iraqi government claims that there were only 400 prisoners. What are your views on this issue?
It is irrelevant whether we have one or ten female prisoners—what is relevant is the oppression of the Iraqi people, and women in particular. We are not talking about prisoners but detainees. A prisoner is someone who gets convicted by a court of law and then sentenced to prison for however many years.
I am talking about the violation of the rights of women detained by the government. The attorney-general of Iraq himself stated that they have proof of four women being raped in detention stations in Iraq. He was forced to resign and leave his position after this statement, which indicates two things: that the judiciary is unfortunately highly politicized, and that there is no respect for human rights and integrity for the female prisoners. With great sadness, we can say that women are treated in a very bad way in detention camps.
Q: What is Al-Iraqiya’s vision for the future of Iraq?
We hope the next elections will be held in a secure and fraud-free environment. We hope the elections will be transparent, and the results should be respected according to the constitution and not abolished like the past. A government should be formed within a month to forty-five days.