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Iraq: Parliamentarian Discusses Al-Sadrist View Of Government

Muqtada al-Sadr's influence in Iraq only seems to grow (epa) RFE/RL interviewed Iraqi parliamentarian Qusay al-Suhail on February 27 to ask about rising political tensions in Iraq following the February 22 bombing of Samarra's Golden Mosque. Al-Suhail also discussed the al-Sadrist perspective in negotiations over the composition of the incoming Iraqi government. Al-Suhail is a Shi'ite parliamentarian and supporter of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

RFE/RL: Can you tell us about yesterday's meeting between Muqtada al-Sadr's representatives and the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association?

Al-Suhail: At this moment, we have a very extensive meeting with the Sunni association, but now there is a very intense battle in Nahrawan in the Diyala province.... Some Sunni tribesmen are attacking some Shi'ite houses.

RFE/RL: Is the Mahdi Army [al-Sadr's militia] involved in these battles?

Al-Suhail: No. We made a very extensive connection with the Muslim Scholars Association and the Iraqi Islamic Party to stop these battles. We are still in consultations with them.

RFE/RL: Muqtada al-Sadr in his February 26 speech in Al-Basrah spoke about fighting multinational forces to force the U.S. military and foreign military forces out of Iraq.

Al-Suhail: Yes. He [called on] both Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims to make a unified prayer [service] and to clean all of the destroyed and damaged mosques. Sunnis and Shi'ites are taking the role of cleaning the mosques, and they will attend a common prayer [service].

Now I have just received an order to invite all political parties and political leaders to participate in a big demonstration in Iraq to express the unification of the Iraqi people. This demonstration will be in the next week.

RFE/RL: We saw some reports in the Western media over the weekend that Mahdi militiamen were protecting Sunni mosques, but in some cases the militiamen were claiming the mosques for themselves.

Al-Suhail: Yes I read these reports.... These reports are full of mistakes.... During Saddam's regime, some Shi'ite mosques and Shi'ite husayniyah [Shi'ite house of prayer] were captured by the government and made into Sunni mosques. Some Shi'ite people remember this -- which they regard as criminal -- and they would like to recover these mosques. But, Muqtada al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah [Ali] al-Sistani ordered people to evacuate these mosques and [end] this problem.

RFE/RL: So this is not happening anymore?

Al-Suhail: Partially. Most of the mosques were evacuated and most of them are protected by Shi'a. And you have to know that people who were wearing black clothes did not necessarily belong to the Mahdi militia. Anyone can wear black clothes [note: Western news media have reported that Mahdi militiamen dressed in their traditional black uniforms were controlling mosques and whole neighborhoods of Baghdad]

RFE/RL: We saw a report that Mr. al-Sadr was asking the Mahdi Army not to wear black clothes.

Al-Suhail: Yes. And also he [asked] the Iraqi government to arrest anyone wearing black clothes. Some terrorists are now wearing black clothes.

RFE/RL: Regarding the talks surrounding the next government, when will the parliament convene?

Al-Suhail: We have a new interpretation for the constitution. In our conversations with the Kurdish list, Mr. Fu'ad Ma'sum, who is the head of the National Assembly, said that the government formation should be under the control or under the condition of the new constitution, whereas the invitation for the opening ceremony of the Chamber of Deputies will be according to the Transitional Administrative Law [TAL]. Therefore, we have two interpretations for this. I think the opening of the Chamber of Deputies will be according to the TAL.

RFE/RL: Which means what?

Al-Suhail: It means the president and the head of the National Assembly would have a sufficient time or would like to invite the members at the time [of their choosing]. It will be maybe one month.

RFE/RL: But the constitution calls for a two-week period, which ended on Saturday [February 25].

Al-Suhail: Yes, but the constitution is not applicable at this stage.... The constitution will be applicable [after] the opening ceremony of the Chamber of Deputies. In this stage we are still under the application of the TAL.

RFE/RL: Do you agree with this?

Al-Suhail: Partially. I think most political parties agree that they need some time to complete their negotiations and their common meetings [before] declaring the opening ceremony. And I think this is useful. In the previous [transitional government], we had the National Assembly for 10 months and we [took] two months to form the government. And [now] we have a four-year [term] and we think that one or two months will not affect the final results of the government.

RFE/RL: About Muqtada al-Sadr's regional tour: He was in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria...what is the purpose of these visits?

Al-Suhail: His purpose was to assist in political efforts to enhance the Iraqi situation. There was a great [strain in relations] between Iraq and Syria. It appeared that most of the terrorists coming to Iraq came through Syria, and after [a period] there were no diplomatic relations between Iraq and Syria; there was a great blockage between them. Therefore, Muqtada al-Sadr's effort was to enhance the relationship between Iraq and Syria -- to open or clean the causes of the [poor] relations.

RFE/RL: What about Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists coming from Syria to Iraq?

Al-Suhail: I think it was discussed but Syria insists that they prevent Al-Qaeda from passing through Iraq and we are still unsatisfied with their interpretations. Our evidence suggests that many terrorists are still coming from Syria. The border is some 400 kilometers long and this area is completely a Sunni area and the Sunnis may facilitate the passing of Al-Qaeda and [Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Mus'ab] al-Zarqawi followers into Iraq.

RFE/RL: Do you think that there will be a closer relationship between the supporters of al-Sadr and Sunni Arabs in the new parliament?

Al-Suhail: We have a great understanding and continuous cooperation with Sunni groups and you can say that the al-Sadr group that belongs to the United Iraqi Alliance is the main connection [between] Sunni and Shi'ite groups. We are still in continuous cooperation with them.

RFE/RL: What about Iyad Allawi and his relationship with the Sunni groups? As I understand it, al-Sadr supporters do not approve of Mr. Allawi and his participation in the next government.

Al-Suhail: This is not completely correct. Someone belonging to al-Sadr's group said there is a red line that Allawi should not cross. This is not true. We say that we are going with the United Iraqi Alliance, and if the alliance chooses to open a dialogue with all Iraqi lists, then we will accept [that].

RFE/RL: Some people are saying that the nomination of Ibrahim al-Ja'fari to remain prime minister is problematic. The supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr supported this nomination. Do you think this will change now, and perhaps Adil Abd al-Mahdi or someone else will be nominated to the position?

Al-Suhail: Absolutely not. Mr. al-Ja'fari won a vote in the United Iraqi Alliance and it is very important to note that the prime minister's nomination is an internal matter for the United Iraqi Alliance. As we accept Mr. Jalal Talabani to the nomination of the presidency, others should accept who the United Iraqi Alliance selects [for prime minister].... Al-Sadr greatly supported al-Ja'fari. We think that Mr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari will manage the problems in a good way, especially those problems dealing with Sunnis and Kurds.

RFE/RL: Do you support Jalal Talabani to stay on as president?

Al-Suhail: It is not our concern. The problem of the presidential selection is a matter for the Sunni Arabs and the Kurdistan [Coalition] List. Personally, I think that the presidency should go to a Sunni Arab.... As you know, the face of Iraq is Kurd and the foreign minister is Kurd; this is not representative of the Iraqi case. I think the presidency is better to go to the Sunni Arabs.

RFE/RL: Muqtada al-Sadr has also said believed the president of Iraq should be an Arab.

Al-Suhail: Yes, because Iraq is a part of the Arab homeland.

RFE/RL: Kurdish leaders have never tried to take Iraq away from its role in the Arab world.

Al-Suhail: They have their own opinions, but I think it's very important to express our tendencies to the Arab people, to the Arab leaders...we are convinced that we, as Shi'a, are a minority in the Islamic world, and a minority in the Arab is better for us that the president of Iraq is a Sunni Arab. This is my personal opinion.

RFE/RL: What about Talabani's performance in the transitional government?

Al-Suhail: Mr. Talabani is a very ambitious man. He would like to make an important amendment to the constitution. He would like to extend his authority as president. Our governmental system is parliamentarian. The prime minister and the head of the National Assembly are the most effective political leaders in Iraq. Mr. Jalal Talabani would like to make a significant amendment to the constitution to extend his authority. This is a very difficult task and I think this will be rejected by the Chamber of Deputies.

RFE/RL: If this were a Sunni president or a Shi'ite president, would you not change the constitution to give them more power?

Al-Suhail: It depends. As I said previously, the face of Iraq should be Arab, because Iraq belongs to the Arab homeland. We do not reject the Kurds but it's unsatisfactory for us that the president, the minister of foreign affairs, and the minister of planning are all Kurds. This is not representative of the Iraqi case.

RFE/RL: Muqtada al-Sadr has said that he would be willing to fight multinational forces in Iraq. Can we expect some kind of armed conflict from al-Sadr?

Al-Suhail: Not in that way. He said that the multinational forces [do not take] responsibility for the events now happening in Iraq. American [forces] handicap the Iraqi troops. Some of the Iraqi troops have very simple machine guns. Most of them have only AK[-47]s whereas the terrorists have very developed guns, RPG-7s, explosives, dynamite, and sometimes they have Katushya rockets. Americans should enhance the ability of the Iraqi army, should effectively assist in supplying the Iraqi forces with modern or developed [weapons] and military equipment, assist them in facing the terrorists.

RFE/RL: But the Americans are helping the Iraqi forces, so why do you want the Americans to leave?

Al-Suhail: Their assistance is not enough. We are on the ground. We have seen what the policemen are carrying.

RFE/RL: If the Americans leave, what will happen to the Iraqis, with all this terrorism?

Al-Suhail: This is a very difficult question.... There should be a balance between the rebuilding of the Iraqi security forces and the gradual leaving of American troops.

RFE/RL: Is Muqtada al-Sadr seeking a position in the new Iraqi government?

Al-Suhail: No, he wouldn't like to participate in the government. He has 14 [sic] followers in the parliament, and I think according to the present situation, at least three or four of them will be ministers.

RFE/RL: Which ministries are they seeking?

Al-Suhail: We are going to the service ministries: Transportation, Municipalities, Electricity, Agriculture, Education, and not prominent ministries. We have very simple ambitions. We would also like to concentrate our efforts on the Ministry of Civil Society.

Reactions To The Samarra Attack

Reactions To The Samarra Attack
Demonstrators in Baghdad on February 23 (epa)

Iraqi religious and government leaders, as well as international officials, condemned the February 22 bomb attack that wrecked the Golden Mosque, a major Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Samarra. Below is a selection of statements on the incident.

"This new ugly crime comes as a warning that there is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers. God willing, we will not allow this.... We must cooperate and work together against this danger, the danger of civil war. This is the fiercest danger because it threatens our unity and our country with a devastating civil war." -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

"The timing of this crime indicates that one of its aims is to stall the political process and to hamper the negotiations on the formation of a national-unity government." -- President Talabani

"I announce on this occasion three days of mourning. I hope our heroic people will take more care on this occasion to bolster Islamic unity and protect Islamic brotherhood and Iraqi national brotherhood." -- Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari

"Oh honorable people of Samarra! We should stand as one, united in confronting terrorism.... This assault is an assault on all Muslims." -- Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabur

"They will fail to draw the Iraqi people into civil war as they have failed in the past." -- Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i

"If the security systems are unable to secure necessary protection, the believers are able to do so with the might of God." -- Shi'ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

"We will not only condemn and protest but we will act against those militants. If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so." -- Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, speaking through spokesman Abdel Hadi al-Darajee

(compiled by Reuters)

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