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Iraq: Official Says Parliament Improving, But Parties Hold Up Progress

PRAGUE, November 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, says he expects the Council of Representatives to vote on key legislation, including the draft oil law, in the near future. Speaking with RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on November 9, al-Attiyah also commented on political fissures, saying they stand in the way of national reconciliation, and said that there has been a noticeable improvement in the security situation.

RFE/RL: There are several draft laws yet to be ratified by parliament, including the draft oil law, the law on de-Ba'athification, and the draft law on federalism. How will these issues be resolved? We've heard many times that the drafts were going to be put to a vote, but that has yet to happen.

Khalid al-Attiyah: The four laws to which you have referred are in fact important and strategic, and need to be enacted at the earliest possible opportunity. Political leaders have been discussing these laws for some time, but there are regrettably some limited points of disagreement and contention between the political leaders that are still pending and have yet to be resolved.

That is why I am calling -- I called a few days ago -- for a new political initiative that depends on [convening] meetings between the political leaders, to engage in discussions [aimed at] identifying the pending matters with regard to these laws, in addition to other political issues, in an attempt at finding an understanding. Fortunately, these points are actually few and limited, although some are very important and fundamental.

With regard to the "Accountability and Justice Law," some major political blocs that are involved in the political process -- I mean the two Kurdish parties, in addition to the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council that are major partners in the United Iraqi Alliance, and the Iraqi Islamic Party and the [Sunni-led Iraqi] Accordance Front -- have agreed on an understanding regarding the articles of this law.

And now this law -- I think it will be presented for its first reading at the end of next week in the Iraqi parliament -- and I believe that its enactment is imminent. [It is hoped] that this law will play a part in the national-reconciliation process that we need at this time.

The oil law also involves some pending issues -- especially from the Kurdish side that is still steadfast in some of its positions on this law -- while at the opposite side there is the Accordance Front that has some negative positions with regard to this law. In fact, there are efforts under way now to seek an understanding and a solution to the points of contention. These are basically focused on the authority of the regions in signing investment contracts with foreign companies.

This law is important to Iraq because it guarantees a necessary legal basis for dealing with Iraq's oil wealth, which is a crucial and fundamental wealth that provides 95 percent of Iraq's income. The equitable distribution of this wealth between the various areas that comprise the Iraqi people provides a fundamental guarantee for the unity of Iraq. Thus the enactment of this law in its correct form will guarantee the unity of the Iraqi people and will, as a result, guarantee peace and coexistence between the various components of the people.

There is also the law pertaining to the governorates that are unattached to any region. It is also an important law that needs to be enacted, in order to delineate the authority delegated to the governorates -- to the governorate councils -- and define their responsibilities and commitments, while also defining the relationships between the seats of the governorates and the various local authorities within these governorates.

The agreement in principle in accordance with the constitution is to grant these governorates the broad authority that would enable their self-administration and to improve conditions [within them]. That would play its part in resolving the Iraqi crisis and in "clearing the air" between the various parts of Iraq and their inhabitants. There is also the need for a law that sets out the manner in which elections are to be held in the governorates. It is essential for new councils to assume responsibility in these governorates -- councils that are elected by the people of these governorates.

This law would be complementary to the law of the governorates that are unattached to any region. There is also a law relating to the distribution of incomes and oil revenues, in a manner that guarantees fairness in the distribution of financial allocations to all the areas and regions of Iraq in an equitable manner that is proportionate to the degree of deprivation in these areas.

I am very optimistic that there will be an accord with regard to these laws before the end of this legislative session, and that they will be enacted by the required time. Of course after that there will still be budget law -- the 2008 budget -- that must be approved by the Iraqi parliament before the end of this year. The budget -- as a result of the increase in oil income and the big increase in oil prices during the past months -- will be a huge one, which will include financial appropriations exceeding those of last year by about $7 billion.

This will certainly provide Iraq with an opportunity to carry out reconstruction and launch the investment process. The Iraqi parliament has [already] enacted an investment law that regulates investment in Iraq and encourages foreign companies to take part in investments in Iraq, while guaranteeing their interests and rights.

I believe that these are the most important laws that are awaiting [action in] the Iraqi parliament during this month and next month, in addition to some important decisions that need to be taken by the Iraqi parliament, especially with regard to the completion of the government's formation and filling the empty ministerial posts. These portfolios and ministries have for months been vacant and blocked, and they are related to providing essential services to the Iraqi public. Bringing in competent, independent, and honest technocrats who are anxious to do their duty is very important for the improvement of these ministries' performance toward the Iraqi people.

That is the overall picture of what awaits us now in the Iraqi parliament, with regard to the decisions and legislation of the coming phase.

RFE/RL: Do you think the parliament is as effective as it could be? We see many sessions where there is a lack of a quorum, which obstructs the parliament's ability to function. As a leader in the parliament, is there any plan to sanction parliamentarians who don't attend sessions?

Al-Attiyah: The fact is that I admit that a significant number of parliamentarians are not performing their duties and responsibilities in the required proper way. Despite that, and as a result of enforcing some disciplinary measures on the members, and also as a result of the awareness campaign that was conducted by the Council [of Representatives] leadership with the representatives of the various political blocs to emphasize the need for attendance and the avoidance of absenteeism except in extreme cases, there has been a resulting improvement in the level of attendance. Thus, from the beginning of this parliamentary session, there has not been a cancellation of any meeting due to the lack of a quorum; there has always been at least the minimum number of attendees to realize a quorum.

In spite of that, I believe that the level of parliamentary performance by the members is below what is required, and there are many who do not participate in the committees and who make no effort alongside their colleagues and brothers in the various committees to study the laws, observe the government's performance, or other duties required of council members.

This phenomenon can be justified in part by the security complications being faced by Iraq, and the circumstances that force parliamentarians to travel outside Iraq to meet with their families. Another aspect of the situation is that there are training and development programs for parliamentarians that are conducted by some international agencies and the UN, in addition to the invitations received by some council members from various world parliaments to acquaint them with their parliamentary experiences. As a result, some of those members are absent from some council sessions, since they are abroad in response to such invitations or to participate in the training and development courses.

Overall, however, I believe that this phenomenon is no longer having a negative effect at this time, given that the parliamentary sessions are ongoing. The real problem that obstructs the council's work is not from within the council, but is a result of the political differences between the blocs' leaderships over positions, decisions, and the legislation that must be enacted by the council. If we are to be fair, while looking at the overall view of the situation, we need to take note of all these elements together.

RFE/RL: Can I ask you about the Dead Sea national-reconciliation meeting that ended on November 8?

Al-Attiyah: The truth is that I did not attend that conference. When I came to the Czech Republic, the conference was still under way in Jordan, so I cannot talk about this conference or what was discussed there.

RFE/RL: There was a statement that came out of that meeting that said it is not suitable to talk about reconciliation until the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq. Is this a reasonable demand or is it an excuse used by some parties to the talks? Why is national reconciliation dependant upon the setting of a date for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq?

Al-Attiyah: Assuming that such a statement was issued by some of the parties attending the conference, I believe that this does not represent the fact of the matter. It is rather, as you described it, an excuse for these parties to obstruct the national-reconciliation process. Of course, no Iraqi wants the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil.

Everybody considers the occupation to be over, and that Iraq regained its national sovereignty some time ago, and the remaining forces are there with the concurrence of the Iraqi government, and based on the wishes of the Iraqi government, because security has not yet been achieved and it is still unstable in Iraq. Hence we need the international community to cooperate with us to rectify matters and to train and supply the security and armed forces so that they can take hold of the security file in a capable and efficient manner.

Therefore I don't believe that it is right for anybody to upstage the government or the existing blocs in the political process through such false nationalistic slogans. I also don't believe that the government and the leaders of the important political blocs are less caring than these parties with regard to the sovereignty of Iraq, and with regard to their wish that their country should be independent, enjoying calm and stability.

It is strange that these others -- instead of cooperating with the government and with the other political blocs in the national-reconciliation process, and helping the armed groups to join the political process, to renounce terror, and to renounce violence -- are fueling these groups and providing them with excuses to continue terrorizing the Iraqi people, in spilling the blood of the Iraqi people. I therefore believe that such statements do not serve Iraqi national interests nor do they enhance the reconciliation process. Rather, they fuel the conflict and keep it going, and I believe that what was said at that conference -- assuming that this was the case -- can be described at upstaging.

RFE/RL: How would you compare the level of sectarian violence in Iraq today to that of six months ago?

Al-Attiyah: I would say that there is no basis for comparison at all. There has been a tangible improvement. I don't feel that the conflict that went on -- especially during last year -- was really a sectarian conflict, or a religious conflict. It was, rather a political conflict in its entirety.

Despite that, the intensity of the conflict -- regardless of its description -- has decreased in intensity to a large extent, as witnessed by the fact that forced displacements have decreased immensely; on the contrary, many of the families displaced from some areas have returned. Kidnappings, assassinations, killings, explosions, have also in fact declined in their intensity, and the security situation has improved overall.

By the way, I must stress that component parts of the Iraqi people are brotherly and blend well among each other; the ties and relationships between the people of Iraq are very strong. That is why the people have lived for long centuries without the appearance of such phenomena; other political regimes have been replaced without resulting in what has taken place since the last [regime] change.

This most recent change has shaken Iraq and has overturned the political system by its roots, and the previous equations and balances have all changed, which is why the reaction has actually been a result of the political change, and the transformation of Iraq from dictatorship, from terror, from the suppression of freedoms, to democracy, freedom, respect for the principles of human rights, stressing the rights of minorities, and that every component of the Iraqi people has the right to participate in government.

This system is not liked by many of the political blocs, or by some of the regional parties: they would like to sabotage the political process, and it is they who have given rise to these sensitivities and sectarian conflicts, by providing them with fuel and encouragement. But, thank God, the Iraqi people have demonstrated that they are aware of the need for their national unity, and has listened to the voices of the authorities and the wise, who have called for the avoidance of being drawn into sectarian turbulence.

The truth is that it was possible for the acts committed by the terrorists -- especially the bombing of the twin shrine at Samarra -- to escalate into a most violent sectarian war in Iraq, had it not been for the intervention of our religious sources and scholars. The holding on of the Iraqi people to the principles of brotherhood, mutual love, and their readiness to reason to coexist indicates, in my view, that many of these phenomena did not originate with the Iraqi people, but rather with the political agencies -- whether from within, from without, or regional and international -- who have been behind the stoking of this phenomenon.

(Translated by Ayad al-Gailani)

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