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Interview: 'Next To Their Duties, They Also Have Their Rights.'

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) spoke to a Turkoman and a Chaldo-Assyrian candidate to find out how minorities are faring in today's elections. The interview was broadcast on 27 January.

RFI: What are the representatives of Iraqi minorities striving for in the upcoming elections and in drafting the constitution? This was our question to Songul Chabuk, a candidate on the list of the Civil Society Movement. She previously served as a Turkoman representative on the Iraqi Governing Council and currently holds a seat on the interim National Assembly.

Songul Chabuk: There should be no discrimination between one and another religious denomination and all should be given their freedoms, too. It should not happen that the majority or anyone is granted first-class rights while others would have only second-class rights. This is something we will never accept. Minorities have to be granted opportunities as well. We do not see ourselves as something minor. I think that in the world, minority is a category of people who are less than fifty thousand. So this is not our case. There are 3 million Turkomans [in Iraq]. There are more than 1 million Chaldo-Assyrians. So why should they not be given freedom and why could even the president of republic or the prime minister not be elected from among them? This would not be democracy [if it is impossible]. If there is democracy, we can achieve this in the new constitution [to be drafted].
One must be seen only as an Iraqi.

Iraqis who have Iraqi citizenship should take their role in the leadership of Iraq. Why do we pay attention to whether someone is an Arab or a Kurd, a Sunni or a Shi'a? This is not correct. One must be seen only as an Iraqi. In the future, we must deal with this and make [equality in Iraqi politics] possible....

RFI: Khoshaba Sulaqa, a Chaldo-Assyrian candidate for the Al-Rafidayn National List, is pushing for a draft constitution that would guarantee the rights of minorities.

Khoshaba Sulaqa: In fact, the guidelines will be specified in the constitution itself. Currently, if we refer to the interim [constitution known as the] Transitional Administration Law, we see that the definition of the president of the republic does not stipulate that the person be from a specific ethnic or religious group. The president is defined only as an Iraqi. So if any person of any ethnic origin fulfills the conditions, he or she can become candidate [for president of the country]. Whether the vote [for president] takes place in the parliament, or if it is decided one day that Iraq will follow a presidential system of rule and the president would then be elected by a direct nationwide poll, anyone could become candidate. But the lack of consciousness among the people and their reluctance to abandon their traditional allegiances as well as, for instance, the way their private identity takes precedence over national identity, makes them favor a candidate from their own ethnic background over a presidential candidate of a different ethnicity.

Our task is to draft a permanent constitution of the country. This constitution must guarantee the rights of all Iraqis -- from all ethnic, religious, and sectarian backgrounds. Everyone in the country deserves it, as they should. Next to their duties, they also have their rights.

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