Recently the post of the governor of the tumultuous northern Iraqi state of Ninawa has been in danger. First his fellow MPs wanted to get rid of governor Atheel al-Nujaifi. Now the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
On June 21, al-Maliki suggested that al-Nujaifi be dismissed because he had violated the Iraqi Constitution and abused his position. Allegedly he did so by conducting talks with authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan about oil contracts that Baghdad considered illegitimate. In particular, al-Maliki was referring to contracts relating to land outside of Iraqi Kurdistan in disputed border territories that officially belong to Ninawa – that is, land that the Kurdish legally have no control over but where, in practice, they do.
Al-Nujaifi is also a leading member of Iraqiya, the major opposition bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. Al-Nujaifi spoke to NIQASH about accusations that he traded oil contracts for financial and real estate rewards and why he thinks the Iraqi PM really wants him gone.
NIQASH: Tell us about these attempts to remove you from your post?
Al-Nujaifi: Earlier this year, a number of rogue MPs from the Iraqiya list tried to remove me by starting a petition, as it says they may do in the Iraqi Constitution. But they failed to collect enough signatures so now they are re-trying using another method. That is, to submit a request to the [Iraqi] Prime Minister to remove me.
According to the legislation on provincial councils, Law 21 of 2008, the Prime Minister can submit a proposal to Parliament to ask them to dismiss me. Then Parliament votes on that proposal.
Al-Maliki has tried to remove me several times before. But I will deal with this very calmly. The Prime Minister has the legal right to try to remove me. But it’s also my right to defend myself.
NIQASH: And what do you think is motivating this desire to remove you?
Al-Nujaifi: The Prime Minister has justified all this by saying that Ninawa’s governor has violated the Iraqi Constitution by having talks with the government of [the semi autonomous region of] Iraqi Kurdistan about oil exploration in the Ninawa province. He claims that by doing this, I have exceeded my powers.
But everybody knows the real reason for his actions. Ninawa doesn’t want to be left out when it comes to oil investment in this area. It wants to be involved in the contracts that the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan have been negotiating with international oil companies.
And it just seems that the PM and his supporters don’t want us to ask questions about the oil contracts that the Iraqi Kurds have signed, that relates to areas inside the [official] borders of Ninawa. The Iraqi government wants to use these contracts as a bargaining chip, something that will hang over the heads of those in Iraqi Kurdistan, whenever any dispute between Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government arises.
The second reason behind the Prime Minister’s actions is the fact that politicians from Ninawa have been actively involved in the current plan to have Parliament question the Prime Minister. Trying to dismiss Ninawa’s governor is nothing more than a defensive tactic.
NIQASH: So tell us more about Ninawa’s negotiations with the Iraqi Kurdish over oil contracts.
Al-Nujaifi: This hasn’t happened. We didn’t even get as far as the first phase, to look into the basics of these contracts – the number of them, their nature and the reasons for them.
The findings of these inquiries were to be reviewed so that Ninawa council could decide on a course of action. Whether Ninawa took over contract negotiations where contracts involved land that was actually, officially in Ninawa? Whether there should be negotiations between all three parties – Ninawa, Iraqi Kurdistan and the federal government in Baghdad? Or whether to let the central government handle everything without any interference from us?
We needed to base that decision on solid grounds so that we could protect the province’s interests. And before doing anything like negotiating with Iraqi Kurdistan, I needed the council to make that decision.
NIQASH: Where do you think Baghdad currently stands with regard to contracts negotiated with oil companies that appear to involve Ninawa’s land?
Al-Nujaifi: The central government is only complaining about the oil contract that Iraqi Kurdistan signed with the US firm, Exxon Mobil. It doesn’t have a problem with any other contracts signed by the Iraqi Kurdish – even though some of these may well involve land that belongs to Ninawa.
I’ve asked myself why this might be and I’ve wondered why the central government seems to want to play this down. There are rumours in the local press that contracts involving areas in the north of Ninawa have been signed and that oil production has even started there. So we want to know why the Iraqi government opposes the Exxon Mobil contract yet they accept other contracts there, from the Hunt Oil Company, for instance.
Basically we want to protect Ninawa’s rights and we want to know the facts about all the contracts.
NIQASH: In the past your policies have been anti-Kurdish. Yet recently you managed to bring Kurdish politicians in Ninawa back to work after a three year boycott. And you’ve also expressed support for the Exxon Mobil deal that the Kurdish did, but which Baghdad describes as illegitimate. Some critics have said you’re abandoning your basic platforms?
Al-Nujaifi: We’ve been hearing these baseless and naive accusations for months now – that we “sold” Mosul to Iraqi Kurdistan and that we were rewarded for that. They also say that we gave away a border strip and sold Ninawa’s oil to Iraqi Kurdistan – but we have no idea what they are talking about.
The whole issue has no basis in reality and there’s no evidence against us. The people who are saying these kinds of things only want to create confusion here – and nothing else matters.