After Iraqi army forces raided a camp filled with Sunni Muslim protestors in Hawija, a town near the troubled northern city of Kirkuk, there’s been a wave of unrest and violence in Iraq. The Iraqi army is seen to support the Shiite Muslim-led government while the protestors, mainly Sunni Muslim, were calling for justice and demonstrating against the fact they feel they have been sidelined by the current government.
Protestors in Ninawa have continued to demonstrate and the ensuing chaos has led to fears that Iraq might be seeing a resurgence of the deadly sectarian violence that plagued the country between 2005 and 2008.
The controversial Sunni Muslim governor of Ninawa, Atheel al-Nujaifi, has plenty of criticism for the government forces currently overseeing his troubled state. He believes they are not respecting the Iraqi Constitution and that mostly, what they’re doing is simply about carrying out agendas set by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who heads a fragile, mainly Shiite Muslim coalition government.
Al-Nujaifi has his own ideas on how the current security crisis in one of Iraq’s most restless areas, can be solved and he told NIQASH all about them.
NIQASH: The events in Hawija, where the Iraqi army attacked a camp full of Sunni Muslim protestors and killed many, have led to a rise in violent incidents around the country. Mosul is still one of Iraq’s most dangerous cities and it is of particular concern because it has such diverse ethnic makeup. Is the city heading toward security chaos?
Atheel al-Nujaifi: The recent violence is a natural reaction from anyone who’s angry about what happened in Hawija. Our priority here is to keep citizens safe and to protect state institutions and private property. We’d also like to see tensions eased and a reduction in the level of anger. We definitely do not want to see security forces clashing with civilians and repeating what happened in Hawija.
NIQASH: So do you think that government forces can maintain security here?
Al-Nujaifi: Most of the leaders of these forces, as well as those belonging to them, are from other places around Iraq because Baghdad doesn’t allow locals to take part in local security. That’s causing tensions and that’s why I’m not sure that the forces here can maintain security. Additionally the security staff is still taking orders from Baghdad and they won’t accept any advice or guidance from us, despite Ninawa’s unique social and ethnic mix.
NIQASH: So what is the solution, in your opinion?
Al-Nujaifi: The only thing that would work is the withdrawal of the army and federal police back to their barracks outside Ninawa. The security file should then be handed over to the local police, who are best suited to deal with the people here.
NIQASH: Some of your critics have accused you of being overly sympathetic to the protestors’ demands because one of these involves the withdrawal of federal security forces from the area. And you have already said you want locals to handle security here. But isn’t that risky?
Al-Nujaifi: There are those who say that all members of our society here and all of our security forces, who are obviously part of that society, cooperate with terrorists. So they say that troops should be brought in from other areas to impose security in our region. That kind of talk is dangerous and unacceptable.
NIQASH: Apparently there have been some people’s committees formed in various neighbourhoods around Mosul.
Al-Nujaifi: Yes, I ordered them formed. Their mission is support the local police force and to involve citizens in protecting themselves against crime.
We’re confident that all of the society here rejects aggression and is against the terrorization of its citizens. We also want the local police to be credible and highly professional, we don’t want them to target any particular party just because they hold views that are other than the majority view.
We don’t think that any one sector of society or tribe can be accused of certain violent or criminal actions. Crimes are conducted by individuals. And only the perpetrators of those crimes should be held responsible and punished, not a whole society. That’s how the local police should be dealing with this situation.
NIQASH: And what are your thoughts on the postponement of Ninawa’s provincial elections, when almost all of the rest of the country went to vote last week?
Al-Nujaifi: The decision to postpone elections in Ninawa was based on false information that came from the heads of security here. These people take orders directly from the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They informed him that the security conditions in Mosul made it impossible to hold elections here – even though in reality the security situation is much better than it was four years ago. But the Prime Minister knows that he won’t make a lot of progress here if elections are held, so he’s deliberately postponed them.
NIQASH: Was your local government informed about this decision , about postponing the elections?
Al-Nujaifi: I’ve already filed suit against the Cabinet in Baghdad and against al-Maliki. I also urged other political blocs in Ninawa to take similar steps. After all the federal government simply made this unilateral decision and didn’t even ask us our opinion.