Al-Nujaifi is secretary general of the Iraqiyoun Gathering, which won 20 seats in parliamentary elections in March. Niqash met with him to discuss the political crisis, its possible resolution and his views on the Kurdistan Region and Iran.
Niqash: Let us begin by asking about the results of your continuous meetings with Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Nujaifi: Several meetings took place between Mr. Maliki and members of the Iraqiya list. We all attempted to arrange a meeting between the leaders of the two largest parliamentary blocs to discuss forming a government. Our efforts eventually resulted in a meeting between delegations from both sides but no compromise was achieved. Despite that, the meetings were positive.
Niqash: What prevented you from reaching a deal with Maliki?
Al-Nujaifi: The rush of the State of Law Coalition to form a majority bloc with the National Alliance and their allegation that Iraqiya has no right to form a government.
Niqash: How do you describe these meetings?
Al-Nujaifi: The major success was breaking the psychological barrier between the two blocs and especially between the two leaders. There have been important meetings and discussions of major issues and programmes but we cannot talk about successes while negotiations are ongoing. It was obvious that the psychological barrier between Dr. Allawi and Mr. Maliki has hindered several attempts to solve the political crisis. A number of meetings were adjourned or stopped completely. The debate and criticism in the media also hindered the two sides’ negotiations.
Niqash: So what complicates the issue?
Al-Nujaifi: The major question is who will be the upcoming prime minister. Maliki’s party says “We are willing to give you whatever you want if you gave us the Prime Ministry.” We have said that post is ours as the winning list.
Niqash: What is your vision for a way out of the political crisis in the coutry?
Al-Nujaifi: We believe that the best coalition government is one that includes Iraqiya and the State of Law Coalition. With such a coalition, which would hold a majority, we could form a strong government in the presence of a third partner, which would be the Kurdish coalition. We can only do this under reasonable conditions, however.
Niqash: But a coalition that can govern already exists between the State of Law and the Iraqi National Coalition.
Al-Nujaifi: This alliance was not completed. There are deep differences between the two parties and we believe that they will be unable to agree on certain policy issues and on a joint choice for the post of Prime Minister. There is also the legal problem. They did not register the new entity before the elections They recently tried to register the coalition with the Federal Court but the court denied their request because such a measure does not fall under its jurisdiction. So the National Alliance does not exist practically or legally, only in the media. Each of the two coalitions is negotiating with us separately; the State of Law Coalition is negotiating with us alone and so is the National Coalition.
Niqash: A member of the National Coalition announced that the Sunni Accord Front has joined their bloc. Does this affect your ability to form a government?
Al-Nujaifi: This does not change anything because the new bloc does not legally exist. They are capable of foiling Iraqiya's efforts by not joining its coalition to form a government. After that we will accept this reality, which is something we have told them several times. But they do not want to admit that Iraqiya was the winner in the elelctions and this is due to their fears, in addition to a sectarian aspect of the issue.
Niqash: What do you mean by “sectarian aspect”?
Al-Nujaifi: The National Alliance has a clear sectarian flavour, while Iraqiya has a mixed flavour. As they told us in previous meetings, they want to represent the Shia while we respresent the Sunnis. For us, this classification is unacceptable because we do not want to go back to the sectarian period. It is very dangerous.
Niqash: What can you tell us about US attempts to broker negotiations between Maliki and Allawi?
Al-Nujaifi: There is no US mediation. The Americans are more spectators than actors now. They did not suggest any initiatives, nor have they attended any meetings. They meet with the various blocs to find out their points of view just so they can try to predict what will happen. There is little US involvement at the moment, as I see it. Iranian influence, meanwhile, is continuous and deep concerning the formation of the new government. We should either be left alone to solve our problems or there should be international intervention to form a government and ensure we stay committed to a democratic approach. Whoever inside Iraq seeks to override the Constitution has to understand that this will cause severe problems for the future of Iraq.
Niqash: Your call for international intervention to solve an internal affair has been widely criticised. How do you respond to that?
Al-Nujaifi: This issue has been tackled frequently. Iraq still does not have complete sovereignty. Official interference still exists through, for example, the UN intervention. International rulings oblige Iraq to cooperate with and talk to the UN mission. Iraq receives money and political help from the international community and there is also the presence of foreign troops on our soil. We hope that this intervention, coming from the east or from the west, comes to an end. But at the moment it is something that exists.
Niqash: How far does Iranian pressure influence the formaion of the government?
Al-Nujaifi: Iran puts pressure on big political parties to prevent Iraqiya from forming a government, as our list represents a liberal project away from politicising religion and away from the Iranian influence. Iran accuses us of being close to the west, the American influence and pro-US Arab states. It also believes that that if we lead the government this would threaten its influence in Iraq. They are trying all possible ways to prevent this from happening.
Niqash: News reports talk of an Iranian-Syrian-Turkish deal to choose a Prime Minister.
Al-Nujaifi: This is possible. These countries seek to have an Iraqi premier who is close to them and who does not make policy against them. We in Iraqiya have sent delegations to these countries. When we met Iran, we promised them that our territory would never be used to launch an attack against them, while also demanding the cessation of Iranian interference with the will of the Iraqi people. This is a message that we have delivered to Iran and other countries which seek similar deals. Contrary to rumours, the delegation did not meet with Muqtadr al-Sadr.
Niqash: You have referred on several occasions to certain parties attempting to dismantle the Iraqiya coalition. Who are these parties?
Al-Nujaifi: Several figures inside Iraqiya received offers to depart the bloc and weaken it. Iraqiya has remained strong. Myself and Saleh al-Mutlaq were approached by the State of Law Coalition. We refused because we want dialogue to take place as Iraqiya and not as individual parties or figures.
Niqash: If this political situation remained the same, where do you think the Iraqi compass will point?
Al-Nujaifi: If the situation continues, there will be an international conference under the auspices of the UN, including all the local political factions, to come up with a solution.
Niqash: If an offer stipulated that another figure of your list becomes Prime Minister, would you accept such an offer?
Al-Nujaifi: First of all, we need them to recognise our win and right to form a government. Then it is for Iraqiya to decide on the suitable person for the post of the Prime Minister. We have chosen Mr. Allawi but if he fails, Iraqiya can offer alternatives. But we stick with Allawi and think there is no excuse to refuse such a national figure.
Niqash: Certain Kurdish voices oppose a coalition with Iraqiya saying your list consists of anti-Kurdish figures. Do they mean you?
Al-Nujaifi: In politics there are no closed doors. There is always chance for dialogue according the interests of each party. It is true that we and the Kurds were opponents concerning national issues and we hold our beliefs. But Iraqiya's victory in the elelctions and the responsibility in that made us change our discourse to deliver a message of reassurance and a promise of dialogue and problem-solving. The aim is not to abandon issues that are related to our principles. I personally represent a large area of Iraq, which has a certain opinion. The Kurdish coalition is not larger than ours, so we want to cooperate and surpass the issue. The Kurds are well aware of the changes in our stance and they do not oppose working together with us.