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Iraq: Talabani Might Not 'Prohibit' Hussein Death Penalty --> Talabani during his interview with Radio Free Iraq In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI), Iraqi President Jalal Talabani spoke about relations among the four bodies of government, the upcoming referendum, and the trial of Saddam Hussein.

RFI: In the last few days, there have been media reports about a joint note that you and Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani have addressed to Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari in protest against what you called "violations." The prime minister, for his part, has publicly confirmed that he has received the message. His reply, though, has not shed light on the situation has rather led to more speculations. The National Assembly has held a session to discuss the problem. Can you explain what those "violations" are and shed more light on the relations between the four bodies of government?

Jalal Talabani: The note that has been presented, signed by Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani and by me, includes some remarks that can be summarized in a single point: the implementation of law and of agreement. Regarding the implementation of a law, we mean the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period [of 8 March 2004]. Regarding the agreement, we mean the agreement made between the Kurdish Unity List and the United Iraqi Alliance concerning the composition of the cabinet.

The note consists of 15 points and has been published in the [London-based Arabic] "Al-Hayat" daily. The Kurdish Unity List regards [the acts listed in the note] as violations of the law and of the agreement. It demands that the policy be changed and that the cabinet returned to the agreement, to implement and respect the agreement. The crucial points can be summarized now: the cabinet has been ignoring the government. According to the Law of Administration for the State [of Iraq for the Transitional Period], Iraq has a special status, with the government not being identical with the cabinet. According to Article 24 of the Law of Administration for the State [of Iraq] for the Transitional Period, the government consists of the National Assembly speaker, the Presidency Council of the Republic, the Council of Ministers, and a judiciary supervisor. This quartet makes up the government and is granted the competences specified in Article 25 of the Law of Administration for the State [of Iraq] for the Transitional Period. The Council of Ministers, or the prime minister, takes all these competences within the cabinet, although the cabinet is only one of the government segments. Another issue is that the cabinet has issued decisions that are not within its competences. I do not mean all the ministers; I mean the prime minister who has sometimes taken decisions even without the knowledge of the ministers.
"I also have an agreement with the International [Committee of the] Red Cross on not applying the death penalty [to Saddam Hussein]. That is why I cannot break my moral obligations after I became the president of the Republic of Iraq. This does not mean, however, that I will prohibit the death sentence from being carried out."

There are also some important issues in the [coalition] agreement. For instance, according to the agreement made between the two parties, the administration of the cabinet has to be based on consultations and consensus between the [Kurdish] Unity List and the [United Iraqi] Alliance. Yet the prime minister has been issuing decisions without taking any consultations and consensus into account.

There is a point concerning Kirkuk. According to the [coalition] agreement, the cabinet was obliged to launch the necessary measures for the naturalization of the situation in Kirkuk and the implementation of Article 58 [of the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period] one month after its coming to the office. Five months have passed since the cabinet was formed and no such measures have been taken, despite repeated notices.

There are many other issues that have made the Kurdistan leadership come forward with this note, demanding that the situation be set right and hoping to bring things back to their initial state based on law and a coalition [agreement].

RFI: As you have explained, the arrangement [of the government] has led to the violations. But even the new constitution draft preserves the same arrangement for the next four years without giving the parliament a right to enact any changes on that. Why will this continue?

Talabani: This is necessary because the power in Iraq must not go to a single [political] party, or a single social, ethnic, or religious group. Iraq must be governed by representatives of Shi'ite Arabs and Sunni Arabs and representatives of Kurdistan, including representatives of Turkomans and Chaldo-Assyrians. This arrangement has been laid down for a specific period because it offers a large space for some consensus between the segments of the Iraqi people -- before a permanent constitution is established and before Iraq is transformed into a democratic and parliamentary system. At that time, the conclusions and proceedings coming out from the parliament will govern.

RFI: So it means that the [current arrangement of the government] is a kind of guarantee.

Talabani: For the next four years, this is a guarantee [in order] to reach the necessary national consensus between the three basic segments of the Iraqi people.

RFI: Let us turn now to the referendum and the constitution draft. After the final draft was handed over to the UN, you announced that amendments would be introduced to the text as a result of negotiations with Arab representatives. What are these amendments? Will they be introduced to satisfy opponents of the text, or have there been other guarantees [envisioned]?

Talabani: I do not know who has spoken about amendments. We will not accept any amendments. There are some additions but not amendments. What has been agreed on is the final draft. But if someone wanted to add some formulations in order to calm the opposing party down, there is nothing bad in doing that. What has been agreed on is not liable to change but can be added to.

RFI: Does that mean that a change is not regarded as an amendment?

Talabani: No, this is not possible. An addition cannot change the articles that have been agreed on. I will give you an example of an addition: Some have called for respect for the Arabic language [to be anchored in the constitution]. We already had an article [in the constitution draft] saying that the Arabic and Kurdish languages are the two official languages in all parts of Iraq. Those [opponents], seeking assurances, have said: The Arabic language shall be used as an official language also in Kurdistan. All right, you are welcome. Who objects to using Arabic as an official language in Kurdistan?

There are some opponents who, in fact, have been looking for pretexts and arguments. Here is, for instance, another issue: We said that Iraq should be a federal democratic pluralistic independent unitary republic and its national unity would be guaranteed by the constitution. Someone then comes along saying: I want another paragraph to state that Iraq shall be one single country and the constitution shall be the guarantee of its unity. All right, you are welcome. In fact, these issues are rather formal.

RFI:You may have been recently asked most often about Saddam Hussein's trial. You have previously declared that Saddam, for what he has done, deserves to be executed 20 times a day. Will Saddam Hussein indeed be tried on 19 October as announced before? Has there been any international pressure -- from the United States, the European Union, or elsewhere -- that Saddam not be tried or that his trial be postponed, especially when some have disputed the fairness of the trial? Will international observers be allowed at the court sessions?

Talabani: I have no information on a specific date set for the trial. The only thing I know is that an inquiry judge frequently goes to the prison to conduct the investigation with Saddam Hussein. Once, when the judge visited me, he informed me that Saddam Hussein has accepted his responsibility for a number of crimes committed against Iraqis.

Concerning the question of pressure, I can confirm there have been no pressures. No one, be it the European Union or the United States, has demanded that Saddam Hussein not be tried or that his trial be postponed or cancelled. These are only rumors, not based on truth.

RFI: Will you sign a death sentence if it is issued over Saddam Hussein?

Talabani: No. I am a man who feels obliged by his signature and his morals. I am one of the lawyers who has signed an international document against the death penalty throughout the world. I also have an agreement with the International [Committee of the] Red Cross on not applying the death penalty. That is why I cannot break my moral obligations after I became the president of the Republic of Iraq. This does not mean, however, that I will prohibit the death sentence from being carried out. It is possible that I will be absent [from the office] on a particular day and the remaining colleagues in the Presidency Council [referring to Vice Presidents Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar and Adil Abd al-Mahdi] will be able to decide. The decision [on the death penalty] is not in the hands of the president of the republic. It is in the hands of the Presidency Council, of its three members. But it happens sometimes that one of them is absent.

(Translation by Petr Kubalek)

For an extensive interview with Talabani conducted by our Iraq analyst and a senior RFE/RL correspondent, click here.

See also:

RFE/RL Special: Iraqi President At RFE/RL