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Iraq: Kurdish Politician Discusses Political Standoff

There is increasing resistance among the other parties to the nimonation of Ibrahim al-Ja'fari to stay on as prime minister (epa) RFE/RL interviewed Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmud Uthman on March 2 to ask about political developments in Iraq following a decision by Sunni, Kurdish, and secular political groups to ask the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) to withdraw Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's nomination as prime minister.

RFE/RL: What is the situation now in Iraq? We heard that the Sunnis and the Kurds will ask the Shi'a to nominate another candidate to the premiership.

MahmudUthman: That's right. We, the Kurdistan Coalition List, and the Sunni list [Iraqi Accordance Front] and Dr. [Iyad] Allawi's list, the Iraqi National List, we have asked the Shi'ite alliance list to nominate another candidate because we think it's not easy to have another few years with Mr. al-Ja'fari. And with our past experience and with all the...we have no reservations. That's right, we have asked officially, all three of us, and also the list of Salih al-Mutlaq [Iraqi Front for National Dialogue] is also supporting this.

So, almost all the lists except the Shi'ite list have asked for this, not because they have anything personal with [al-Ja'fari]. They think that he will continue the same policy as he had before, and before as the prime minister he failed to solve the country's problems, and now again, when the other lists don't agree [with him], then I think it will be difficult for him to succeed and for us to work with him.

We think the Shi'ite list has the right to -- of course -- appoint someone to be prime minister [because] they are the biggest list. But, they should consult; they should have consulted other lists when doing this. Last year, when Mr. al-Ja'fari was a candidate for prime minister, all the UIA list...they supported him. This year, it's not the same -- half have supported him, half have supported another one [Adil Abd al-Mahdi]. So, [al-Ja'fari] doesn't have a strong position within his own list also.

RFE/RL: Did you have any response yet from the UIA, either formally or informally?

Uthman: We are waiting. We just presented this today, so we don't expect on the same day to have an official response. We are waiting, and we will see what will happen.

RFE/RL: If they disagree, and Mr. al-Ja'fari's nomination is put to a vote in parliament, do you think that some of the Shi'a will vote against his nomination?

Uthman: I am sure of that because already within his own list, half of the list voted against him [in an internal UIA vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, 2006)] that's quite possible. And there's another possibility; if they insist on [al-Ja'fari] and they bring him, then the other lists, all of them together could form a bloc which is bigger than the UIA. They could then have their own prime minister.

RFE/RL: Some media reported today that the Sunnis, the Kurds, and perhaps Mr. Allawi's list were considering forming a bloc in the parliament. Is this true?

Uthman: No, we in the Kurdistan Coalition List, we are not having a bloc, against the UIA or with the UIA against the others and...that if things develop in a way that [the UIA] insists on Mr. al-Ja'fari, then we may have a parliamentarian bloc just to vote on a new prime minister and vote against al-Ja'fari. So it's possible, but I think, I hope that the UIA will be cooperative and take into consideration the role of all these lists [objecting to al-Ja'fari] and revise their decision. That's the best way to do it, that's democratic. Anyway, [al-Ja'fari] has now 64 MP votes out of 275, so he couldn't make a good prime minister...

RFE/RL: As a Kurd and a parliamentarian, do you feel that the Shi'ite list could retaliate against the Kurds later because of this?

Uthman: No, I don't think so. Maybe some people; I suppose al-Ja'fari would not be happy about it. But many within his own list are not supporting him.... Besides, we in Kurdistan are unhappy, especially now after [al-Ja'fari's] visit to Turkey [on February 28]. We are very unhappy about this because he made this visit without telling the president, without telling the assembly, without telling even the foreign minister, which is just unbelievable.

And, whatever discussions between Turkey and the Iraqi government without the Kurds being in it...we are suspicious because the Turkish policies are negative towards the Kurdish issue. That's why this has raised a lot of dissatisfaction [among] the population in Kurdistan. And [Kurds] think that if [al-Ja'fari] is going this way, than he will not implement Article 58 [of the constitution pertaining to Kirkuk] and the same old story will start again.

RFE/RL: Mr. al-Ja'fari, when he was in Turkey said that he will implement the articles of the constitution pertaining to Kirkuk to the letter.

Uthman: No, we don't believe him. It's a matter of faith and belief. If it's true, why didn't he take any Kurd with him [to Turkey]? Even the Foreign Minister [Hoshyar al-Zebari] wasn't with him. What does he have to hide from us? He took some [Iraqi] Turkomans with him, and some others. He didn't take any Kurdish minister with him, which is amazing, really -- as if he has something very important between him and Turkey to hide from the Kurds. We are suspicious about...we don't believe what he says. He could say anything but whether he will implement it or not, we are suspicious.

RFE/RL: President Jalal Talabani's response to this trip was to say that any agreements concluded by al-Ja'fari would not be legally binding under Iraqi law.

Uthman: That's right, because his government is a caretaker government. Usually, a caretaker government is not authorized to do these things. Secondly, the country is in blood -- every day we have tens of people who are killed. The security situation is very much deteriorating. At this stage instead of...being responsible for security, [al-Ja'fari's] leaving the country like this and going abroad -- [it] is not appropriate. I think none of these responsible [leaders] should go abroad now. They should be here solving the security and political problems inside.

RFE/RL: Muqtada al-Sadr's support was one of the key reasons that Mr. al-Ja'fari was nominated by the UIA. As you know, he holds a lot of power as far as the street. Do you think that these tensions are going to spill over more than they have in the past week? Do you expect a big reaction on the streets?

Uthman: No, I don't think so. Even if there is a reaction it will know the people on the streets...may be a bit dissatisfied with all politicians, including the president, the prime minister, all of us because we haven't solved their problems. [Iraqis] are suffering from every sort of problem, the security situation is very bad, and they think that...for the politicians to just work out their government, or solve their I think maybe there are people who will show their feelings against this delay in the political process...not for any particular one or against any particular one but maybe they are unhappy about all these delays.

RFE/RL: Do you expect that it will take much longer now to form the government?

Uthman: Unfortunately, sometimes things come up and they take more time. For example, [the February 22 bombing of the Shi'ite] shrine in Samarra, when it was destroyed, and then the reactions came in attacks on mosques here and there.... This has delayed the political process of course...but that's what's going on in Iraq, the reality. As far as the political things are concerned, I think it's better to have a little delay and then have a decent prime minister and a government than going into a government where the prime minister is under threat and their will be problems in between [parties], they don't trust each other...because maybe then the results will be more negative if you just go in with all the problems without solving them. It's better to wait a bit...than going into [a government] in which you don't believe in. That's the problem that one has to talk about and think about.

RFE/RL: Because of the structure of the parliament, in order to approve any nominee in parliament, they need 184 votes [two-thirds majority].

Uthman: But, it's not two-thirds for everything. When you choose the president and his two vice presidents, we need [a] two-thirds vote. But that's only in the first round. If in the first round you don't get [a] two-thirds vote, then in the [next] round, you [only need] an absolute majority -- that's the constitution. The same goes for the prime minister.... So, I think those things are not a big obstacle.

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)

For more reactions, click here and here.

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