Iyad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, is the leader of Iraqiya, a cross-sectarian, Sunni-backed alliance. Exactly one year to date, Iraq held landmark parliamentary elections that were supposed to usher the country's first-ever inclusive government.
Iraqiya narrowly won the largest number of seats, but Allawi failed to secure his spot as prime minister and after a drawn-out political stalemate, a power-sharing deal was reached and an incomplete cabinet was announced in December 2010.
Under that deal, Allawi was offered a position especially created to include him as the head of a strategic policies council which was meant to counterweight the prime minister's powers. But Allawi has backed away from the position just as protests against corruption and poor services have gripped the country.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh spoke to Allawi about his latest move and the status of Iraq's political process.
Rageh: Why have you once again turned down the position to lead the proposed national council on strategic policies? Is this final?
Definitely it’s final. The reason is two fold. One, is this National Council is part and parcel of the power-sharing agreement between us and the rest of the groups, including the Prime Minister himself. And all the agreements, which were nine agreements, none of them were implemented, not even the beginning of implementation.
So, we see, and I saw this as really a gross failure in living up to the promises and honouring the signatures on the various agreements. The second side is frankly what the Iraqi people are feeling.
The Iraqi people are feeling that they have been neglected, that they’re being oppressed. The freedom of information, of expression is shrinking all the time, poverty is still prevailing, unemployment is still very high and in the presence of the absence of power sharing we cannot be false witnesses to history.
That’s why I decided that this is nothing I look forward to. It does not Honor me at all because after all we were brought to the parliament by the Iraqi people and our responsibility is towards them. And we have to do whatever we can to make sure that they live in a good life that they deserve.
Rageh: How do you think this move will affect the power-sharing deal?
Well let me tell you there’s no power-sharing. The power-sharing is something that is fake. It’s not true. Nothing is happening. Because the nine agreements have not been fulfilled including this national council. It’s not only the national council, but it’s the other part of the agreements, which as I said are nine agreements.. collectively they form the basis for the power-sharing agreement.
Also, there is you know the story when it started, we thought that we have democracy and we won the largest (number of) seats. But because of regional powers, because (of the) international community we after months of interferences and trying to undermine the results of the political, democratic process, we decided to reconcile and to accept giving (up) our rights and our constitutional and democratic rights.. but we (were) going to respect the power-sharing and not accept not having power-sharing for all of the groups that got into the elections and won some seats.
So, when we embarked on this course and we got into an agreement and we signed nine of these agreements on the power-sharing basis, nothing happened. So I thought this is not worth it since there is no trust anymore, and there is no willingness to go into the power-sharing area in a constructive way. I thought it’s worthless to be part of the set up.
Rageh: You mentioned how there is a growing dissatisfaction amongst the Iraqi people, that they are unhappy. What is your take on the ongoing protests across the country and how do you think this can affect Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s government?
It’s a reflection of the failure of the political groups in addressing the issues that the Iraqi people need them to be addressed. Including ourselves, we failed really in responding to the demands and desires of the Iraqi people and we failed miserably all of us in getting the country moving forward - sectarianism, politicising religion, unemployment, no services, the third of the Iraqi people are living under the poverty line, we have millions of orphans, widows. it’s a messy situation.
So when we have to move the country forward we have to address their problems and their plights and their demands. That’s why because of this failure and because of the failure of the government and because of the failure of Mr. Maliki we see the people have gone to the streets and you see what they’re demanding are very basic demands: the bread.. the basket of the bread, the employment, to find jobs, equality, to stop the corruption. These are very normal and very natural realistic demands.
Rageh: How do you think these protests could affect the government?
I don’t know.. you know, it’s an irony to see the international community not talking about what’s happening in Iraq, while talking about what’s happening in other places in the region. And, I don’t know, maybe because they believe there is democracy here? Which is not there. We don’t have a democracy. Last night, I was watching the news and I saw that two parties headquarters were confiscated, were taken.
The Communist Party and Al Umma Party. Regardless of what I believe in these parties, this is a gross act of intimidation, let alone the arrests and intimidation that went on with the demonstrators. I called, according to the constitution, to support the peaceful demonstrations. So did Mr. Ammar Al Hakim. I also did a press conference with Sayyed Muqtada Al Sadr to support the peaceful demonstration and the demands of the Iraqi people. Because after all, we fought tyranny to bring democracy, we end up having a sort of similar tyranny - not similar exactly, but moving towards tyranny again. It’s not acceptable.
Rageh: Let me ask you about your meeting with (Shia cleric) Sayyid Muqtada Al Sadr, once a sworn enemy of yours. What exactly went on in that meeting, and was this an attempt to pressure Prime Minister Nouri Maliki?
No. no no. We, I, met with Muqtada Al Sadr, my first meeting, and this was the second meeting. I went to Najaf to pay my respect and sympathy to Al Hakim family, we have links to them and we know them quite well family wise.. and he (Al Sadr) was there and we spoke to him and we decided to meet.
And we discussed various issues, including, of course the current situation, and Iraq and the region, and the need for everyone to cooperate to get Iraq out of this mess. And we also discussed the legitimate right of the demonstrators, that they should be allowed to express their views peacefully, according to the constitution.. and that we, as political players, should support these (rights).
So it has nothing to do with Mr. Maliki at all. In fact, Sayyid Muqtada Al Sadr is part and parcel of the alliance which has also Maliki in it. I am not in this alliance. But we need to talk to the various (players). We tried of course to speak to his Excellency the Prime Minister. But he doesn’t want power-sharing, so of course we need to talk to others. Because after all, all of us are in the same boat and we are trying to make this country worthy of its people.
Rageh: So do you feel that you’ve exerted all possible measures with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki?
As far as I’m concerned, yes. I don’t trust any word anymore, because this agreement had been ongoing for months now, that we should come to this power-sharing issue.. and unfortunately it’s not happening. I am not looking for a job. I am not looking for a position. Frankly speaking, If I was, I would have joined the sectarian alliance from the beginning. But I rejected all this.
I rejected politicising religion and I believe in a democratic civil government that comes up of the will of the people and respects the constitution and respects the law and the unity of this country.. and most importantly, respect the people and to give them whatever they want in terms of security, stability, jobs, economy and indeed services.
Rageh: It’s been exactly one year since parliamentary elections. It took months to form the government that until now does not have a minister of interior or defence. What is your assessment of the political process over the past year and the performance of Iraqi politicians?
This is why I say we don’t have really a democratic process. And it’s a big lie if we say we do have a democratic (process). We don’t. We have a political process, yes, we have a political process which is not inclusive. And we in Iraqiya want this political process to be inclusive. We wanted to have a power-sharing agreement to transition this period in time to get into a full-blown democracy. This also has been denied.
Really we don’t have democracy. It’s a joke that we have democracy. And I think if we want to fool ourselves we’ll say we have a democracy. If you call now and say I want to support the demonstrators, you are a suspect as what happened to the Communist party yesterday and what happened to the Umma Part yesterday and the accusations levelled against my political group that we are supporting the demonstrators. I can’t remember the article in the constitution which calls for the right of the Iraqi people to demonstrate peacefully.. there you are.
Rageh: You mentioned on more than one occasion that you are not looking for a job, neither are you after any kind of position. If we put aside the head of National Council on Strategic Policies post, what role do you see for yourself in Iraqi politics? How hard of a hit do you think your political career has taken when anger from the protesters is being directed at all Iraqi politicians, not just the prime minister?
They (the protesters) are right. We failed, I said. We failed grossly. We were arguing amongst ourselves what is right and what is wrong and the people of Iraq have gone much faster than us. I said in this interview that I am part of what’s happening and I believe, frankly, that the Iraqi people.. that’s why I say there’s no political process.. and that’s why I say there is no democracy because if we had democracy and a real political process things would not happen in the way they are happening now.
The demonstrators are presenting the will of the Iraqi people. They have a very just cause and my role is going to be as far as I am elected.. and will be elected in the future, I don’t know.. part and parcel of the parliament. I head a political organisation, I am the leader of this political organisation, I am also the leader of a parliamentary bloc and I’ll work within these parameters to make and rectify the political process.
Rageh: So what is your emphasis going to be now?
There are two issues now. One is to rectify the political process, to make it an inclusive process and not based on sectarianism, based on reconciliation.. it’s not based on politicising religion.. it’s based on real democracy and real inclusivity.
Based on this political process, we go into building the state on professional basis, on non-sectarian basis.. a state with institutions capable of providing for the people, securing the people and providing services for the people, regardless of your sect, your religion, your creed, your whatever. This is where I believe my role is and this is what I believe in.. and this is why I fought tyranny for over 30 years in Iraq. And I am not going to give way for not having democracy in this country.
Rageh: What tools do you have to achieve these goals?
I have my conviction. I have a lot of people who believe in this. We are members of parliament. We can have our voices clear. We have links with various players in the region and in the world. We try to explain to them that what’s happening in Iraq is wrong, and that as they’re putting pressure on other countries in the area, they should put pressure on Iraq to make things work for the benefit of the Iraqi people.
My fear is that, if this does not happen, and given the fact the whole region is tense and boiling and problematic, that things will blow up and, God forbid, violence, atrocities and tyrannical regimes would emerge out of this, and this would be a huge failure. So, inshallah, we will do what we can to make things work.