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 Iraq's Deputy PM Barham Salih on Provincial Council Election Law

 Source : Al-Iraqiyah TV | BBC
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Iraq's Deputy PM Barham Salih on Provincial Council Election Law  31.7.2008 

Baghdad Al-Iraqiyah Television in Arabic on 29 July interviews Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih.

July 31, 2008

Asked about the Provincial Council Election Law and the rejection it faced because Article 24 was passed secretly, Salih says: "There were real problems with the procedures, especially with voting on a single article of the law and attaining the legal quorum in the Council of Representatives. Khalid al-Atiyah and Arif Tayfur, the two deputy speakers, objected to this procedure. The management of the parliament must be on clear bases and enjoy the confidence of the people and the members. What was passed on that day did not strengthen the confidence between the parliamentary blocs or the confidence of the citizens in the Iraqi Parliament."

Salih says that the Provincial Council Election Law is important. But the Kirkuk issue, sensitive as it, should have been handled separately and not thrust into this law.   

Dr. Barham Saleh Iraq's deputy premier
However, Salih says, what happened on that day proved our sound constitution. The constitution, he adds, was applied and the problem was tackled by its mechanisms, which means, he says, there are guarantees in running the country and no side can force others to follow its whims.

Defending President Talabani's position on Iraqi issues, Salih says: "Of course, President Jalal Talabani is a Kurd. But he is the president of the Republic of Iraq and everyone far and near testifies that he tackles all issues, including Kirkuk, with a sense of patriotism and national responsibility. His position on this issue is not just because he is a Kurd. I hope that in discussing Kirkuk or any of these issues people will not view them as if they concern the Kurds only and not others as well. We have agreed on the constitution, which is the guarantor of Iraqi unity."

"In my opinion," he says, "Arabs, Turkmen, Shi'is, Sunnis, Christians, Muslims, and Kurds are called upon to respect this constitution. This law was rejected by the presidency, and I am not a spokesman for the presidency, but my reading of the clarification given to the Council of representatives is that it was based on a realistic interpretation of the constitution."

"Let us now come to the political aspect. In my opinion, we have a big problem in Kirkuk and this problem is well-known. It represents, in my opinion, a basic issue that must be determined according to the mechanisms in the constitution. Kirkuk is important for Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and in fact the whole of Iraq."

Continuing, Salih says: "We as Iraqis, and I as a Kurd, also say that we must reach a solution. We must not maintain a situation that has continued for 40 years. Whoever recalls the recent past will know that Saddam Husayn used racist tactics to change the demographic structure of Kirkuk through an operation he falsely called Arabization. I expect my Arab brothers to come forth even before the Kurds to defend Kurdish rights and demand the restoration of justice and normalcy in Kirkuk. The issue should not be presented as if it is the Kurds who demands justice in Kirkuk and the Arabs want to maintain Saddam Husayn's violations. This does not mean that the Kurds can exploit the injustice they suffered in the past to hurt the other components living in Kirkuk. We must have a concept based on mutual understanding and accord to resolve the Kirkuk problem. But it must be on a clear basis, which is the constitution and Article 140 we agreed upon."

Asked how the Kurdistan Coalition views the Kirkuk issue, Salih says: "I have been in constant touch with my brothers in Kurdistan; in Arbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah. I have also been following public opinion trends there. What concerns me in my post in Baghdad is that what happened was not good for strengthening the concepts of accord and the Iraqi national plan.

"What is more serious is the trend in the Kurdish leadership towards merger in the Iraqi national plan. This trend faced a great deal of questioning and doubts from the Kurdish public. They ask: Are our Arab allies really serious about the concepts of national accord and national unity based on accord and respect of the constitution? "What [Vice President] Adil Abd-al-Mahdi did and what I expect [Vice President] Tariq al-Hashimi will do also is to transform the issue from a Kurdish-Arab issue to a national issue. The objection to the law did not just come from the Kurdish president of the republic. Hopefully, sensible and wise Arab voices that are concerned about the future of this country will be able to address the Kurdish public and offer guarantees. In the end, there are also guarantees in the constitution. I hope that we will not dig deep as Kurds or other Iraqi opponents into our own national or sectarian trenches, since this will be a big disaster. There is the national margin, and I mean that the Kurds have an interest in the success of the democratic national plan in Iraq. This plan ensures a special place for the Kurds, just as it ensures it for the other components. We must benefit from that experience and it must not be repeated. And in the end, God be praised, the constitution has proven its feasibility and that there are guarantees in it that prevent unilateral action or ignoring a basic part of the Iraqi social and political equation.

Following a short interval, anchorman Hammadi asks members of the audience in the studio to pose their questions.

An unidentified member wonders about the staunch Kurdish stand on the Kirkuk issue and says why don't the Kurds make a concession on this issue by joining the national plan? I believe like many others that this is an initial step towards the independence of Kurdistan, he says. Another member says why isn't there a political accord on the Kirkuk issue? Responding, Salih says: "I will begin with the second question. Certainly, there must be an accord on these issues. This is the basic principle. This is why I said earlier that there cannot be a Kurdish, Arab, or Tukrmen solution to Kirkuk. There can only be an Iraqi solution, which we agree on.

"We agreed on a mechanism in the constitution to normalize the situation and settle this issue on the basis of a consensual, legal, and legitimate mechanism. What happened that day was contrary to the concept of accord, although there was an agreed upon provision that was followed. This is a violation of the spirit of the constitution, because the constitution is based on accord and the principle of democratic consensus.

"I return to the first question by the brother who says that Kurds are only concerned about their personal interests and do not cooperate within the Iraqi national plan. I disagree with you on this. We might differ in defining the Iraqi national plan. If your definition of the Iraqi national plan and Iraqi patriotism is ignoring the Kurdish peculiarity and Kurdish affiliation, I tell you right now that no Kurd will join this Iraqi national plan. If Iraqi patriotism means the genocide, deportation, and Arabization campaigns carried out by Saddam Husayn, certainly no Kurd will not join this concept of the Iraqi national plan."

He adds: "Second, the Kurds have the right to self-determination like all peoples of the world, including the establishment of a state." He adds: "Through their elected parliament, the Kurdish people agreed that the exercise of this right lies in a democratic federal Iraq."

Continuing, Salih says: "I here in Baghdad as Iraqi deputy prime minister have a duty to serve Basra, Al-Anbar, Madinat al-Sadr, Al- Kazimiyah, and Al-A'zamiyah, just as I serve Al-Sulaymaniyah. But, if by serving Al-Sulaymaniyah you say that I give priority to Kurdish interests over Iraqi interests, this is wrong. There is an inherent link. The interests of the Kurds lie in the advancement, stability, and security of Iraq. This is because we live in this environment and the events have proven that Kurdish leaders have dealt with the Iraqi national plan on the basis of this logic."

Replying to a question, Salih denies the charges that the Kurds want to secede from Iraq and says: "The Kurds have made the decision to be part of democratic federal Iraq and to be among the builders of this state."

Salih reiterates that the Kirkuk problem was created by Saddam's ethnic cleansing policies and it is up to the Arabs in Iraq to reassure their Kurdish brethren, especially in Kirkuk, that new Iraq will not go back to those policies.

Following another short interval, anchorman Hammadi says that Kurds are said to be behind the disruption of the Oil and Gas Law by concluding oil contracts in the Kurdistan region. Salih says: "Certainly, there are problems between the Iraqi Kurdistan region and the Iraqi Oil Ministry. We agreed in February 2007 on a draft law, which was passed in the cabinet with the approval of the Kurdistan Coalition. But this draft law also depended on the approval of the National Oil Company Law, the Oil Ministry Law and other essential supplements."

Salih says that all the Kurdish leaders are now in Baghdad to resolve this issue. He also says: "The entire country needs the Oil Law and I will tell you why. Iraq has large oil resources. We are still exporting only 2 million barrels a day. We want to greatly improve the oil sector. If we managed it to develop it through new modern methods we could increase production to 6 million barrels a day. In light of the high oil prices, this will be a source of big revenue for the country. Every province and district in Iraq will have a share from the augmented revenues."

He adds: "As I said, the Kurdish leaders are in Baghdad now. We will enter into serious talks and discussions with the other parties, not just on the Oil Law. In my opinion, we also need to discuss the methods of running the country. It is clear that we have inherited many problems from the previous period. In that period, we faced security challenges. God be praised, all indications are the security situation has improved and we have overcome the most dangerous phase of these challenges. This does not mean that we do not still have problems in some areas. But, by overcoming these security problems, the country will open up to a chain of other economic and political challenges. It is time the national leaders met and discussed all issues: Our oil relations, the method of running the country and how to prevent the recurrence of the problems that occurred last week. In my opinion, the country is heading for transformations that call for dialogue."

Asked by an audience member if the US-Iraqi Security agreement would be signed as submitted or would the observations made on it in parliament and elsewhere be considered, Salih says: "I was among those who took part in preparing the first draft. I say to you and to history that the US side did not present any draft or proposals." "Portraying the situation as if it is a US demand, pressure, or proposal is contrary to the truth," he says, adding: "Please accept these words as the truth. The agreement was based on Iraqi national concepts."

Asked about government performance, Salih says: "Of course we need to ponder government performance. As deputy prime minister, I will speak frankly about this issue. Government performance must be better than it is now. We may have had good excuses in the past pertaining to the security situation and the security challenges that prevented us from fulfilling our duty as required. But, now with the improvement of the security situation, the Iraqi citizen expects his government to do better." Salih admits that the quota system may have led to the appointment of incompetent ministers. But it is hoped that performance will improve with time, he says...

Salih concludes with the following optimistic note: "Actually, after the recent incidents and the dialogues that took place between the political blocs, a new situation has been created calling for optimism. The return of Al-Tawafuq Front brothers [to the cabinet] was also important. Hopefully, this spring will be a lasting one, because in light of the challenges we are facing, Iraq is in need for real understandings. We have differences - and I am not voicing slogans or anything of the sort - we have problems and we have differences, but the challenges awaiting us are also opportunities. We must get together.

"I say, in light of the national plan that embraces the Kurds, Arabs, Shi'is, Sunnis and others Iraq is perhaps the only country in the world that can give the Kurds more than they want and give the Arabs, Shi'is, and Sunnis, more than they want. God has endowed this country with resources that do not exist in any other country - Natural resources, holy shrines, agriculture, water, nature, and a giving people. But I seriously say that it is time we rose above our disputes, which could be important, but the opportunities and scopes for progress that await us are vast. This is closely linked to the method of leadership and administration. I do not doubt that the team that is ruling this country is doing its best to serve this homeland."

Originally published by Al-Iraqiyah TV, Baghdad, in Arabic 1905 29 July, 2008.

Copyright, respective author or news agency, Al-Iraqiyah TV, Baghdad | BBC Monitoring 


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