The Vice President of Iraq, Tareq Al-Hashemi, has been the focus of a political storm in Iraq for more than a month. Accusations—made by his political rivals—that Hashemi orchestrated a series of attempted assassinations have forced the politician into hiding in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Only a few days ago government forces detained more than a dozen members of Hashemi’s bodyguard, and the Ministry of Interior made further accusations that Hashemi’s employees were “practicing assassinations.”
The Vice President has continued to deny what he considers to be politically motivated attacks based on fabrications and unconvincing propaganda. He remains in the northern Kurdistan region, where The Majalla caught up with him to discuss his case, the vagaries of Iraqi politics, external influence in the country and his hopes for the future.
The Majalla: Your assets have been seized and the Iraqi Judiciary is going ahead with the procedures in regards to persecutions against you. How do you relate to this matter?
This information is not accurate. The case is still undergoing preliminary investigation and has not reached the relevant courts yet. I hope that you seek your information from the reliable direct sources and avoid dependency on and promotion of media propaganda without verifying the facts.
Q: It is said that you are to be referred, as an absentee, to the Criminal Court, according to the amended Article 121 of the Code of Criminal Procedure law of 1971. What is the worst you expect to happen during the investigation procedures and how intense would the measures to be taken against you be?
I am optimistic and have full trust is that a fair court will vindicate me. Thus, I have appealed for the proceedings to be transferred from Baghdad to Kirkuk.
Q: Do you have any suspicions that certain trade-offs would be made in regards to your case towards achieving political interests—given the complicity of the political situation in Iraq?
I ought to be expectant of such incidents, especially when my case is solely, and extremely, political and not criminal in nature.
Q: To what extent does the Iraqi leadership in other respective parties support your appeal for a trial subject to Arab and international supervision?
The issue concerns me personally. The fact that the Judiciary is being politicized and its independence jeopardized leads me to seek necessary Arab and international involvement. I was obliged to make this decision. If an impartial investigation and a fair trial were an option, I would have preferred to have my case contained internally.
Q: If the respective parties were to agree to send you to Baghdad, would you agree to go ahead? What would be the guarantees that you would demand if this were to happen?
I decided to file a request to transfer my case to Kirkuk. I submitted a request of preliminary procedure to the President of the Judicial Council and I hope to gain an approval. This matter concerns me and I would not be awaiting anyone’s agreement. It is highly likely that opinions would vary in regards to justice and security requirements.
Q: Do you have a legal representative who follows up on the proceedings of your case? How do you review the judicial board that assumes the investigation in your case?
Yes, I have appointed a panel of Iraqi lawyers. I am also studying proposals by Arab and international lawyers who have offered to join the defense.
I have many doubts concerning the preliminary investigation. Several individuals amongst my security team were exposed to oppression and terror at the hands of security services, nationally known for their shameful conduct and violations of human rights.
Q: There are those who suggest that your political bloc, Al-Iraqiya, is collapsing. What say you on the matter?
This is an exaggeration. Al-Iraqiya is in a fine state and its members are steadfast in spite of the terror practiced against them by the authorities. The cohesion found in Al-Iraqiya is owed to the unity amongst its various leaders. In fact, the current crisis has a positive role in increasing this cohesion, as everyone senses the danger and feels targeted equally.
Q: A number of your party’s representatives have withdrawn from parliament. Do you regret your party’s decision to not side with the opposition and to pursue a partnership in government?
No other political entity has been exposed, as yet, to the challenges Al-Iraqiya has been facing. Under such situations—which persevered since even before the elections, mishaps occur and mistakes are made. I do not praise or justify our performance. We have done what we could under the circumstances. I hope that those who had criticized us are able to demonstrate a better performance.
Q: Al-Iraqiya is an alliance represented by Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and secular leadership. However, in one incident, you have linked the targeting of Al-Iraqiya to that of the Sunnis in Iraq, yet in another, you stood against the federalism. To what extent do you agree with this as a description of your party?
Al-Iraqiya represents the Iraqi spectrum, as it remains a project of a national nature where national identity, not party affiliation, is the criterion. I have not issued that statement, but said that before tending to target Al-Hashemi, as a person, what he stands for should have been taken into account, as well as what the alliance represents and its national project, which is adopted by millions of Iraqis and supporters of the alliance and of Al-Hashemi. Those supporters would feel as targeted as Al-Hashemi.
Q: Has Al-Iraqiya been plunged into the middle of a sectarian conflict?
The current crisis had a clear sectarian spark and has subsisted on reviving sectarian friction through targeting particular symbols. This reality cannot be concealed.
Q: Do you consider yourself a representative of the Sunni component of the Iraqi society? Why have you made a link between targeting you and targeting the Sunnis of Iraq?
I am an Iraqi national in the first instance. I have links with all Iraqis and I will defend the oppressed amongst them regardless of their country of residence or affiliation.
To date, the Arab Sunnis in Iraq have unjustly carried the burdens of sins and wrong doings, they are subject to unjustifiable oppression. This is a fact and the consequences of ill-management and corruption are inflicted upon everyone, but with varying degrees.
Q: How do you evaluate motions and efforts by both Iyad Alawi and Osama Al-Njifi towards your case?
The leadership is coherent and united and there is a consensus that resolving my case is a priority and stands before any other political dialogue.
Q: Would your party undergo an alliance with the Sadrists? How likely is the occurrence of such an alliance?
The relations between Al-Iraqiya and the Sadrist Movement are positive. We consult them in matters from time to time. However, I feel that the currently existing alliances will be maintained, at least, for the foreseeable future.
Q: Do you think that your being hosted in Iraqi Kurdistan has caused problems between the Kurds and the Shi’ites? Is it true that the Kurds are trying to exploit your case for political gains?
The Kurds are our brothers. They are bold and have solid principals. They will not be affected by some reprehensible claims, from here and there, that thrive on extortion and psychological turmoil. I have not been—and I do not expect that I will be—subject to blackmail or exploitation. There is nothing between me and our Kurdish brothers but goodwill. I understand their aspirations and I attempt to resolve remaining disputes, which have been suspended for long years, the best way possible.
Q: What are the reasons behind the Kurdish region holding on to you?
Chivalry, aiding the oppressed, fear of the unknown … Now, everyone realizes that if the untruth were to succeed to break down Al-Hashemi, as planned, then the other leaders would have to prepare for their share of the crises. They will all be targeted, sooner or later. Thus, standing by Al-Hashemi in his crises is but self-preservation and impunity for the future.
Q: Why does President Talabani support your defense, in spite of your opposition to matters related to the presidency in Iraq—where you called for an Arab Sunni President to head the republic—and when you ran for presidency as an opponent to Talabani?
This matter is history and it has not affected my strong relationship with the Kurdish people. I would like to point out at this stage that I personally supported the appointment of Talabani as President of the Republic back in 2006, which was a decisive factor at the time. This should also be remembered.
Q: How does Al-Iraqiya perceive the Kurdish region’s stances towards your case and its refusal to respond to Al-Maliki’s calls to hand you over?
The stance of Iraqi Kurdistan, as expressed by President Talabani and by Massoud Barzani, President of the region, is highly praised and appreciated by all leaders and members of Al-Iraqiya.
Q: A statement issued by the President’s office, quoted from Talabani, declared that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki did not abide by the agreement. Was the President informed of the court’s decision before your house was raided?
Al-Maliki has twice broken his own pledges to President Talabani and the President of the Judicial Council in breaching my immunity. Firstly by raiding my residence and secondly in not being discrete concerning confessions made by defendants during the preliminary stage of the investigation.
Q: You have requested an Arab observation, represented by the Arab League, to the proceedings of the investigation in your case. Has any country particularly expressed readiness to intervene?
Yes, many. However, I still prefer to resolve this crisis internally. The choice of an Arab—and perhaps an International—intervention should be reserved for when required.
Q: You have accused Iran, a number of times, of meddling in Iraqi affairs. In spite of this stance, a delegation from Al-Iraqiya paid a visit to Iran. What were the reasons of this visit, especially at this moment in time?
As far as I know, this visit had been planned for a while and was made recently, but has nothing to do with the current crises. Not to mention, one important purpose of the visit was to meet with Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr, who currently resides in Iran.
Q: How do you interpret the latest diplomatic moves of Turkey towards Iran? How do you assess the role of Turkey in Iraq?
We welcome any regional and international efforts towards achieving settlement in Iraq. Turkey is treating Iraq as an equal on the basis of common interest. Turkey is also supporting Iraq with a number of services, which aid to reduce the suffering of Iraqis in these critical times. It is for this reason that Iraq had signed over 48 agreements with Turkey that cover the various aspects of relations between the two countries.
Q: What is your analysis in regards to the Iraqi Government stance towards the current events in Syria?
I have certain objective reservations on the foreign policy adopted by the Iraqi Government, especially on the sudden shift in attitude towards the Syrian file. Of course, no one wishes to see Syria slide into chaos or a major shift due to foreign military intervention. We hope for a national self-reform in accordance to popular demand and with no bloodshed. Systematic killing of unarmed protesters is unacceptable and must cease.
Q: Is Iraq due for a sectarian war? Also, would Iraq be excluded from the threat, declared by both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, aimed at the region in the event of the collapse of the Syrian regime?
The current Iraqi crisis is a reaction uncalled-for, which is based on unfounded fears of local implications following a shift in Syrian current affairs. This feels like a pre-emptive strike and an indication to possible future mishaps in Iraq if a Syrian shift is realized. However, I hope that the situation in Iraq is not affected in the future. In my opinion, the best protection is to achieve a national partnership in government and to establish a just and institutional state.
Then, Iraq will never witness another spark of sectarian strife no matter how hard some people stoke the ashes.
Q: How important is the conference called for by President Jalal Talabani to discuss the Iraqi crises?
It is important and necessary to resolve the sensitive issues that have remained unsettled for the past eight years and have caused a state of instability.
Q: Are you optimistic concerning your political future in Iraq?
Yes, thanks to this blessing in disguise. I will walk out from this crisis with a lot of good will, God willing. This crisis has elevated my share of popularity to immeasurable and unexpected degrees. After this level of acceptance and widespread support, I cannot but become politically active to serve the people who stood by my side in times of distress.