Egypt Today with the Iraqi Parliament's President Salim a-Jabouri.
BAGHDAD, Iraq – 12 February 2018: Iraq has not crossed over to a post-sectarian phase – yet. It requires risk-taking and decisive steps to end sectarianism, and after years of partisan conflicts, political camps are now willing to do what it takes, according to the President of the Iraqi Parliament Salim a-Jabouri.
Jabouri spoke to Egypt Today in utmost clarity and transparency about the upcoming elections, the stance taken by the Sunni powers, as well as the recent crisis between the Federal Government of Iraq and officials in the Kurdistan region.
Professor Jabouri talked about the recent hearsay regarding trans-sectarian alliances in Iraq, and he stressed that Iraq has not yet crossed over to a post-sectarian phase as in reality this has not yet been realized. He added that the political camps are concerned of taking the risk and the decisive steps to end sectarianism.
The president of the Iraqi Parliament also disclosed details about his meeting with Egyptian President’s Deputy for National and Strategic Projects Ibrahim Mahlab. He expressed gratitude for Egypt’s constant interaction and prompt reactions to Iraqi issues, and praised Egypt for its profound regional and Arab roles despite the challenges it has been facing.
Jabouri also stressed the fact that they are trying to unite efforts for the sustenance of Iraq in the coming period and amass international cooperation for this purpose; he further asserted that Egypt’s support in the present phase is crucial for Iraq as it contributes to its reconstruction and investment nourishment, stressing that Egypt’s role in the energy sector is going to be huge.
Below is the full interview.
How can we take definite practical steps in the upcoming elections to realize political stability in Iraq?
In fact, a lot has been said about trans-sectarian bodies and formations which transcend all affiliations; yet from a practical point of view, it’s difficult to overstep boundaries of sectarianism in Iraq. We have only taken a few steps in that direction, and that’s all we were hoping for. However, some people still believe that the recent changes mean that Iraq has crossed over to a trans-sectarian phase, which, in reality, is not true. There is also much concern felt by political camps regarding taking the risk of ending sectarianism, and some might actually refuse it so as not to come out as the ones who are calling for what the people don’t favor.
Coalitions, which were preceded by talks, were formed between several parties; however, till this very moment, we couldn’t finalize a project that we can present to the people as the expected trans-sectarian national project. I guess the reason is that all the coalitions formed were short-term, and that had they lasted longer, a project could’ve been crystallized under different headlines. It is also true that Sunni sects are apprehensive about grouping together in one listing which could lead to the creation of formations with an ideological nature, let alone Sunni parties with beliefs that differ from the rest. For all these reasons, political camps and parties decided to join the elections individually.
What about the fragmentation of Sunni camps' power in Iraq? Can you cause them to get united in the coming period?
I’ve actually been hoping to unite all Sunni factions, not so that our side could rule and impose its will on their side or vice versa; on the contrary, we have a desire to change the Sunni mentality as far as the Iraqi state is concerned. Recently, a state of mutual trust has been established between Sunnis and the state, and they have even developed a consideration to the state’s referentiality and are calling others to respect the law as it protects both the citizens and the state, acknowledging the state as the backbone of all Iraqi people's security.
What are the reasons behind the fragmentation of Sunni powers and the reciprocal accusations? I’m referring here to the crisis with former Iraqi Minister of Defense Khalid al-Obaidi, and his accusations against you on grounds of corruption?
It has been two years since the issue with Obaidi and his accusations against me on grounds of corruption; right now I only look at it from a professional perspective. There has been an interpellation for Obaidi in the Parliament, and this is a positive sign because an interpellation of a Sunni minister means that we are not targeting people on accounts of their affiliations.
What are your views on the coalitions being formed from different Iraqi bodies?
The dialogue that’s going on now can briefly be put as follows: some parties have joined coalitions that can be included in a political front for building the post-elections phase; the main objective of this phase is to create a bloc which embraces everyone but not necessarily include everyone.
Right now, we are working on creating a bloc that comprises the majority of parties in order to be non-dependent on the interests of a particular party or parties. If this bloc is successfully established; then the most important step to go past the present state of affairs is achieved. It requires months of negotiations and talks though, and that’s what we’re going to focus on in the coming period.
Can you talk to us about how you see the path of the Egyptian-Iraqi relations in the coming period?
To begin with, we are very grateful for Egypt’s constant interaction and prompt reactions to Iraqi issues because Egypt has always played profound regional and Arab roles despite the challenges it has faced. The most important aspect of cooperation now is the economic one; we are very keen on reinforcing economic cooperation with Egypt. The exchange of visits and the constant diplomatic efforts exerted by both countries are an indication of such keenness and of the fact that Egypt shares such ambition with us.
How did it go with Ibrahim Mahlab in his recent meeting with you? Have you agreed on the sectors in whose reconstruction Egypt is going to partake?
Iraq is trying to unite efforts for its sustenance in the coming period for amassing international cooperation for this purpose; Egypt’s support for Iraq in the present phase is crucial as it contributes to the rebuilding of the country and its investment. In addition, Egypt’s role in the energy sector is going to be huge, and there are bilateral committees working on this aspect. Moreover, knowledge and experience exchange between both countries on all levels is extremely important. All of these aspects were discussed and outlined with Mahlab in our recent meeting.
How do you see your alliance with Ayad Allawi, former vice president of Iraq?
When Sunnis started joining the alliances being formed, some of them had the conviction that joining alone was better than joining in groups, on account of their disagreements with other groups. The same approach is taken by the Kurds and the National Alliance of Iraq, for if Sunni factions had grouped into one listing, they would have encouraged others to take the same approach. I think that the National Alliance of Iraq led by Ayad Allawi and classified as being of a particular class and color, has moved beyond the state of entrenchment of other Iraqi powers and beyond their considerations.
What about Iraqi immigrants in other countries, how will they vote in the elections?
I sent a letter to the Higher Commissariat of Elections requesting the necessary action of opening voting centers in countries where Iraqi immigrants live, both in the centers and in peripheral regions, and the commissariat somehow responded to our request with positive affirmation. We have concerns about the integrity and transparency of the upcoming elections because voting might not be among the priorities of an Iraqi immigrant, but we believe that their participation is what would realize the country’s stability.
Has the Parliament devised a mechanism for overseeing and supervising the elections?
We trust that the commissariat will play its role within a framework of parliamentary supervision. Besides, the upcoming elections are going to be electronic as per the recent decree which put the biometric system of voting into use.
What about the political money spent on elections?
What happens in the streets reflects on the Parliament; we will work on curbing the role of political money and forbidding people, who seek parliamentary immunity, from taking part in the elections. Consequently, we have issued an amendment but it was appealed. The amendment, which stirred legal controversy, added the condition that a candidate has to be a bachelor degree holder as a minimum education requirement, and it would deny the return of 100 parliamentarians to the new Parliament, where another 100 would be chosen in their places by the people. Some parties, however, appealed the amendment on grounds of the constitution which stipulates that one of the rights of citizenship is that any citizen is eligible to stand for election. However, there are many other considerations that should be taken into account, and right now the case is pending in Iraqi courts.
When could an actual and complete national reconciliation be realized in Iraq?
National reconciliation in theory could not be realized; yet, societal reconciliation was practically realized. The elites could not come up with a well-defined national project because, in reality, problematic issues required swift measures that could stop bloodshed, not elitist political figures who take their time pondering before they come up with what they call a project.
You’ve paid a recent visit to Iran as part of the prime minister’s comprehensive plan for containing conflicts in the region. Is Iraq preparing to mediate a talk between conflicting parties of the region?
My visit to Iran was like any other visit to any other country. The purpose of the visit was to attend the meetings of the Islamic countries' parliament presidents in Tehran, during which we had a chance to talk to Iranian officials. Our policy throughout the recent years was to avoid having Iraq to pay for the ongoing conflicts in the region. We build our relations on a basis of common interests, and we advocate the common regional security project and the economic collaboration project with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. Relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are developing, and we have recently held a coordinating committee with the Kingdom. Finally, we are hoping that the conflicts of the region get resolved, so that stability and security are established in the region.
Who bears the responsibility of the Iraqi army’s breakdown in the face of ISIS in 2014?
We have made a thorough report via an investigation committee which questioned a large number of army leaders. Grave mistakes were found out and files were open for further investigation.
When does the crisis of Iraqi Kurdistan end?
It has already ended, relations with the region have been restored, and Kurdish parliamentarians have resumed their jobs in the Parliament. Relations between the two governments are intact, the authority of the Federal Government on entry points is intact, a roadmap for the future has been laid down, and salaries of the employees of the region will be out very soon.
Has the crisis been settled through a mediator from your side?
No, but there was a desire from the Kurds' side to settle the matter, and it was received with positive responses from our side and things developed from there.