Iraq ‘moving towards secularism’

Secularist politician Iyad Allawi and veteran diplomat Adnan Pachachi talk to Al Jazeera.

Iyad Allawi and Adnan Pachachi
Iraqiya coalition partners say they will seek to make nationalism the country’s mantra

Millions of Iraqis will head to the polls on March 7 for the country’s third national elections since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Hopes are running high that the election will prove to be a milestone for the stability and unity of the country, after years of violence and sectarian strife.

Politicians were making a final push on March 4 – the last day of the country’s short official campaign season.

The Iraqiya Coalition, also known as the Iraqi National Movement, held one of the largest rallies in Baghdad in recent memory on March 3, with hundreds of potential voters turning out to support the opposition bloc.

After the rally, Iyad Allawi, the head of Iraqiya, and Adnan Pachachi, a senior Iraqi politician and coalition partner, answered some of Al Jazeera’s questions.

Al Jazeera: Mr Allawi, how confident are you in this campaign?

Iyad Allawi: Well, [I’m] very confident that the Iraqi people want to see change. They are with us, they are supporting us, but we are not confident about what the government may do.

Yesterday there were helicopters circling – army helicopters – distributing pamphlets against us, against me personally. Yesterday we [also] heard, unfortunately, [that] there is an arrest warrant against Muqtada al-Sadr. So really, the current atmosphere is not encouraging … free elections in Iraq.

At the same time, it seems that secular politics is a necessity. No coalition can come to power unless it is secular-based – do you believe that?

Allawi: Well, the trend in Iraq is moving away from sectarianism, towards secularism. And we believe very strongly that … we [must] create a real partnership in Iraq, and we respect all sects, we respect all religions. But the way forward for Iraq is definitely secular-rooted.

Much has been made of your visit to Riyadh. How important is it that Iraq’s problems are solved by Iraqis, cutting out external forces, such as the US, such as Iran, such as the Saudis?

Allawi: It is very important. You know the first of my visits [was] because there is, of course, a failure of the Iraqi foreign policy. Iraq accuses all neighbouring countries of damaging Iraq, damaging its stability, damaging its security. 

As citizens in this part of the world, we have to work as hard as possible to ensure that all moderate forces are working together, co-operating together. 

I visited most of the countries – I visited Syria, I visited President Bashar al-Assad, I visited Turkey, I visited Saudi Arabia and met with his majesty the king, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar. 

We believe that all these countries, all these leaders, are leaders of moderation and we need to discuss and talk amongst each other because ultimately the stability and protection of this region is our responsibility. It’s not the responsibility of the United States, or China or Russia, as a matter of fact, although we want very good relations with these countries. 

But once we see the failure of the government of Iraq to conduct its foreign policy to the best interests of the region and the Iraqi people, we have to take things into our own hands.

That’s why I went [and] that’s why I think they were angry with my visits.

They should be supportive, because I went to talk about Iraq, about the future of Iraq, about the stability of Iraq, about the stability of the region, and how all of us in this region should fight extremism and terrorism. But unfortunately, they were fighting us by rumours and media and propaganda, to the extent that they sent helicopters yesterday to drop pamphlets against me and against the Iraqiya [Coalition], which all of us represent here.

Has foreign policy been conducted on a sectarian basis?

Allawi: Adnan [Pachachi] – he is the foreign-policy architect, [although] not of this government.

Mr Pachachi, has foreign policy been a sectarian issue?

Pachachi: Well … I have a few points to make if you don’t mind.

I think Iraq is returning to its traditional secularism. And I think the values of democracy are getting gradually entrenched in Iraqi society, and that makes us really encouraged … that the voters will reflect this change and support our group.

Now your question – whether foreign policy has been motivated by sectarianism. I think probably there was at the beginning. But I think there has been a retreat from that. And we hope that it will never again be dictated by sectarian considerations.

Is that possible though, given Iraq’s position in the region? Is it possible for Iraq to remain untouched by those who people say would interfere?

Pachachi: Well, we’ll try, really, to stop their interference. And if their interference is based on sectarian affiliation, then I think they will fail. Because if you are thinking of Iran, I would say the overwhelming majority of the Shia reject Iranian intervention, and will really support any government that will stand against such intervention.

Is this young democracy ripe for nationalism now? Is it possible to create that sense of nation, rather than …

Pachachi: I think it’s there, [but] unfortunately it has been blurred.

And I believe, as Dr Allawi was saying, perhaps these elections will confirm and strengthen the Iraqi identity, [strengthen] two things – the Iraqi identity and secularism.

Source: Al Jazeera