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Iraq: Former Official Says Political Parties 'Failing' To Work Together

(RFE/RL) PRAGUE, October 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kamran al-Karadaghi, a former chief of staff for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, says that Iraq's political climate will not improve until the country's leaders find the political determination to make "very hard decisions." He also discussed the current tensions between Turkey and Iraq's Kurds, as well as the issue of "normalizing" the disputed region of Kirkuk.

Al-Karadaghi, also a former editor in chief of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, talked to RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on October 15.

RFE/RL: Many in the West are concerned with the Iraqi parliament's performance and its failure to pass outstanding legislation. Can you talk about this failure and whether the prospects for passing legislation are good?

Kamran al-Karadaghi: The problem with the parliament is the way the parliament acts and the procedure of the parliament. The parliament consists of representatives of different political groups, who were elected not individually by the electorate, but they were elected as part of lists. In a way, there is really no free member of the parliament. [Parliamentarians] cannot really decide [anything] on their own, it's all political maneuvering, it's all [based on the] positions of their political groups. So, you can't talk about the failure of the parliament, but you have to talk about the failure of the political groups who have representatives in the parliament.

RFE/RL: The Shi'ite and Kurdish alliances in parliament formed the "moderates' front" a couple of months ago, and it seemed the idea was to join together and try to constitute a majority so that legislation would be pushed through. That didn't appear to play out the way they had hoped.

Al-Karadaghi: My opinion, my own observation in Iraq...[is] this was not the only reason or the main reason was not to establish a majority in parliament to pass laws and things. But I think it was also part of the political process in Iraq, part of the struggle between the political was an attempt to get out of the bottle by breaking the existing status quo of the political alliances in Iraq.

These parties, the two main Kurdish parties, the Shi'a alliance, and Al-Da'wah Party -- and one cannot say the entire Al-Da'wah Party, it was more the Prime Minister [Nuri al-Maliki], who is the official leader of the Al-Da'wah Party -- and the Islamic Party.... There was an alliance between the two main Kurdish parties [known as the Kurdistan Coalition], SCIRI [a reference to the Shi'ite party led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, now known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC] and the Islamic Party. The hope was that the Islamic Party would join, but they didn't.

This is the way now how the Iraqis work. They always try to find something alternative or something parallel [to keep their options open]. So, when this didn't work and the Islamic Party didn't join this new [moderates' front], they [instead] invented this so-called three-plus-one, the three members of the Presidency Council plus the prime minister....

So I don't think there was a direct attempt to try and secure a majority in the parliament, because they all know, the political parties, that there is always [going to be] a shift in the political groups. One day the political groups side with an alliance, the next day they side with another party.

Some people think that the four parties which tried to establish [the moderates' front, that this] was a mistake because it alienated the Sunnis. Some think that it was a good step and that the Sunnis failed to join them. But this is all part of the failure of the political leadership in Iraq.

RFE/RL: Since the moderates' front was formed, Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni Arab leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party and Iraqi vice president, has since gone into talks with other parties, such as the Shi'ite Al-Fadilah Party and several other smaller parties. The idea was that these groups together would try to form a counteralliance in parliament. What are the prospects that this will actually happen, given the diverse positions of these parties?

Al-Karadaghi: I don't think it will work.... All the political parties and groups in Iraq have different interests. It is very difficult for all of them to agree on one target, [one issue] like for example before the regime change in Iraq. There was one purpose: to topple the regime. But now...they are in power. So they have different [views,] whether it is Al-Fadilah Party, or Sadrists, or others, the Islamic Party....

The Islamic Party, maybe they have an interest [shared position] with Al-Fadilah on one issue, but they cannot afford to lose the Kurds as allies on other issues. So, it is really very difficult [to move forward] unless all the main political leaderships of different parties find the determination within take very hard decisions, nothing will work.

Shi'ite Parties' Agreement Fragile

RFE/RL: There was an agreement forged last week between Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the SIIC. It was described in the press as an agreement that will bring peace to the southern region. Again, given the diverse positions of the two groups, what is the likelihood that that would happen, and if you know, what is the real motivation for this agreement being forged?

Al-Karadaghi: Of course [SIIC] and the Sadrists have a history of rivalry, especially between the two clans of al-Hakim and al-Sadr. And it still exists. But, there were some reasons for this [agreement].

First, now you have Ammar al-Hakim [son of ailing leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim,] who is in charge of [SIIC]. He is young, he is energetic, and he has some ideas and he wanted to show leadership. And the same thing with Muqtada. But we should not forget also that Iran played a major role in this. The Iranians have an interest to keep the Shi'a together and these two groups are powerful among the Shi'a. So, there are some domestic and some outside reasons for this alliance.

And I would say also the marja'a, [Shi'ite clerical leadership, headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and others, feel the rivalry and the differences between the Shi'a groups have gone too far, and they want to keep it under control.

Maybe it will work for awhile but I don't think this will [have] a real significant development in the future.

RFE/RL: Ammar al-Hakim came out in favor of the establishment of federal regions over the weekend and al-Sadr's office reacted very strongly against al-Hakim's statement.

Al-Karadaghi: So, here you are, yes. This is also a problem within the Shi'a alliance, the approach to the position regarding federalism. [SIIC] is for, Ammar al-Hakim especially...even more than his father, I would say. And we all know that for the Kurds this is essential. But other groups, Fadilah are against it, the Sadrists are against it. These will always be reasons to weaken any new alliance of the kind between Ammar al-Hakim [and al-Sadr].... It's not an alliance really. They made an agreement [and] I think it will have an effect for the short term but not for the long term.

Kirkuk Referendum To Be Delayed

RFE/RL: Kirkuk is a big topic right now because of the upcoming planned resolution. From Kurdish officials we hear that plans for a December referendum to determine whether Kirkuk will join the Kurdistan region is still on target, but we hear from other sources that it has already been agreed that the referendum will be delayed due to the tension the issue is causing between the Kurds and Arab parties in Iraq.

From the beginning it was obvious that it was very difficult to keep within the timetable [outlined in the constitution] for practical reasons at least. You cannot have a referendum without solving several other issues. Article 140 [of the constitution, which applies to Kirkuk] says there must be a process of normalization. Normalization is different than referendum. Normalization means first you have to solve the problem of the deportees, and of the settlers, the Arab settlers.

Second, you have to solve the problem of the borders between provinces -- the administrative issues -- because the Kurds have claims on some territories they say were part of the Kurdish autonomous region but under Saddam Hussein they deliberately took these territories and attached them to [other governorates like] Tikrit, Diyala, and others.

So, you have to solve all these problems. The problem of the Arab settlers is also not that easy [to solve]. Even within [Article] 140, the Kurds themselves have always said there is a difference between the Arabs who originally lived in Kirkuk and the Arabs who were brought by Saddam Hussein for the reason of ethnic cleansing and to change the demography of Kurdistan. The process now [has] started to give compensation. There are Arabs who signed petitions that they want to leave. But it's not an easy process, it's difficult. For practical reasons, it will not happen by the end of this year.

Maybe some Kurds also were not very careful [in making] these statements insisting either by the end of the year or it will be doomsday.... They should be more practical about these issues. But, I don't think the tensions or the opposition from Arabs against Article 140 will change the view of the Kurds. The Kurds are committed to implementing, they want Article 140 to be implemented, but they will also show some flexibility on the process of implementing 140, and they will [allow] some time for it to happen.

Turkey, Iraq, Kurds Must Communicate

RFE/RL: We have to ask you about Turkey. The Turkish government is seeking permission from parliament to possibly launch a large-scale incursion into Iraq. What do you think the ramifications of such an incursion will be? We saw statements from Jabar Yawar, the Kurdish regional minister for peshmerga affairs, saying that peshmerga militia forces will be ready to respond to any incursion. Will peshmerga who have joined the army and are based south of the Kurdistan region be called back to the region, and what would be the ramifications of such a move?

First of all, the Turkish government say that getting a permission from parliament does not mean automatically that they will go inside [Iraq]. They want to secure the permission, especially with the military, to have a free hand to do whatever, whenever they decide to do something.

At the same time, some people who know the situation well think maybe the Turks won't launch a wide-scale [incursion] into Iraq. [Rather], this is part of putting a strong pressure on the Kurds, really, not on the Iraqi government. Ankara knows the Iraqi government does not have the means of doing anything militarily in Kurdistan. It's the Kurdish peshmerga.

If you follow the Turkish press, commentators, you feel [that] the Turkish government and the military think they will have this experience like they had with Syria. They put a lot of pressure on Syria, they employed their army on a huge scale along Syria's borders, and Syria caved in [and] kicked [Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah] Ocalan [out] from Syria....

The Kurds of course, are also obliged to make these kinds of statements, to be on the alert. There are Kurdish peshmerga who are part of the Iraqi Army, but the main [peshmerga] forces are still in the Kurdistan area. There are some units outside Kurdistan, but in territories and provinces attached to Kurdistan -- in Diyala, they don't have a lot now in Baghdad -- they were there for a while in Baghdad and now they've [left]. But, now what they are doing outside the Kurdish provinces is to secure roads, secure oil pipelines, and these kinds of things.

I am sure that, God forbid it comes to a confrontation, they will of course abide by the Kurdish leadership, by the leadership of the Kurdistan administration. But, as I said, there are a lot of political activities [talks] still going on. The Kurds sometimes don't show flexibility regarding their relationship with Ankara.

It's true, the Turks are very difficult to deal with. Since the regime change in Iraq, and especially after the constitution [was approved], and the fact that now you have a legal administration in Iraqi Kurdistan which is recognized by the Iraqi Constitution, to pretend now that [Kurds] don't exist is wrong. But this is now how Ankara is behaving.

And I think Baghdad also has very limited options. The fact that they signed a [security] agreement with Turkey recently has two sides. One, Baghdad knows that they can't do anything in Kurdistan. On the other hand, this agreement can also put Ankara in an embarrassing position because if they go into Iraq, according to the agreement, they cannot go into Iraq without permission from Baghdad. And Baghdad is not ready to give such a permission.

So, things are still balanced. But if there will be a large-scale interference, it will have very bad consequences for the Kurds, first, and also for relations between Ankara and Baghdad, the United States,'s very unpredictable. There can be [many] different complications.

RFE/RL: If the Kurdish peshmerga serving in the national army are called back to Kurdistan, how will it impact the security situation south of the region, because now they are helping secure areas where Al-Qaeda is active in Iraq. Will it have a huge impact on the security situation?

Al-Karadaghi: No, I don't think it will have a huge impact on the security situation in Arab areas. Because [participation] is still limited in some areas. They are securing roads...even if these units stay where they are, it will not have a big effect on the capability of the Kurdish forces. Because the Kurds have now really a huge army of fighters.

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