Ninawa province lies at the centre of a growing conflict between Arabs and Kurds over a 300 mile strip of disputed territory that some fear may lead to civil war. On the back of the recent provincial elections
Niqash met Atheel al-Najafi, the head of the Hadba movement who expects to become Ninawa's new governor, to discuss the tensions and the province’s future.
Niqash: Following your provincial election victory what are your plans for Ninawa?
Al-Najafi: I would firstly like to point out that Ninawa province has not undergone any strategic development in recent years. There were some small service projects and the maintenance, repair and rehabilitation of buildings, but even these were conducted on a very limited scale. What we want to do is launch a long-term development project taking into account the province’s financial and technical capabilities.
Towards this end we will develop the private sector, which we expect to play a big role in Ninawa’s economy in the coming period. We believe that this sector in Ninawa in general, and in Mosul city in particular, is capable of shouldering the responsibility because it possesses the necessary commercial and economic resources and also the necessary capital. But before that there should be a transitional period to enable the sector in Ninawa to integrate with the Iraqi and global private sector. Afterwards, we will seek to implement an advanced executive phase.
Niqash: Do you expect to form an alliance with Ninawa’s Kurdish Brotherly List which won 12 provincial seats?
Al-Najafi: We have some reservations regarding some local leaders of Ninawa’s Brotherly List. If these leaders continue to dominate the political scene in Mosul I don’t foresee any possibility of building an alliance between the two lists. I believe that Kurdish party leaders should come up with a new concept. They should change the old leaders who previously served the province because their names are associated with the many troubles of the past years. They should introduce new leaders acceptable to the people; it is then that we can initiate a dialogue with the Brotherly list. It must be noted that the different power centers were a major reason behind the suffering and ordeals of people in Ninawa. This allowed armed groups to ally themselves with one or other of these centers or to survive in the vacuum created by their absence. We believe that stability cannot be achieved in Ninawa unless there is a joint administration and firm decisions taken by the province’s administration and its council.
Generally speaking, this is not a personal issue as some observers may say. The issue is that some people didn’t perform well and perhaps in the future we will accuse them of violating the law when they held posts in Ninawa’s council. Some of them will be taken to court; so how can we reach an understanding with people we are going to prosecute?
Niqash: How will you deal with security in Ninawa province?
Al-Najafi: We have to deal with this issue by distinguishing between the motivations of different groups and dealing with each case separately. We characterize violence in Ninawa in three categories: the first is political violence, exclusively practiced to resist the U.S. occupation. This violence is practiced by certain political forces because they are unable, or unwilling, to join the political process; they resort to violence to achieve political gains. We believe that we should open dialogue with these groups, offer them what we can, and persuade the perpetrators to spare people and society the damage caused by such violence. As long as these groups claim that they have noble and political goals, they must cooperate in order to spare citizens any harm. The second kind of violence is criminal, practiced by individuals and groups in Ninawa. These are stealing, kidnapping and murdering gangs fighting each other and they should be isolated. Citizens and political and security forces should all cooperate to combat this kind of violence. The third type of violence is the imported violence and it is based on external international agendas. Iraq is an open space for such a kind of violence which obviously has nothing to do with the political conditions in the country. It is a war between international intelligence forces and organizations. To combat this violence, political decisions should be taken and it should be directly tackled by special security apparatuses.
Niqash: How will the issue of the province’s disputed administrative borders be resolved?
Al-Najafi: We will help any party that seeks to preserve Ninawa’s administrative borders as they are. Efforts in this regard will be purely political because we do not have militias nor do we have armed groups. We believe that the army, the police, and all other related apparatuses should come under the control of the central government. The issue of Ninawa’s administrative borders should be resolved soon. I believe that finally resolving this matter will require sovereign decisions to be taken by Iraq’s central government and parliament. However, the local authority should first take full control of Ninawa’s lands and districts regardless of the results. Ninawa’s administrative borders have been officially acknowledged. The existence of disputed areas in the province does not imply that the Kurdish Region can put them under its control until a resolution is reached. These areas should be under one authority, that of Ninawa province, which is controlled by the central authority in the capital city of Baghdad.
Niqash: There was talk in the previous council of creating an independent Ninawa region. Where does the Hadba list stand on this issue?
Al-Najafi: We are against the creation of any region, not only in Ninawa, but in any other part of Iraq. This country will not survive without a strong central government. We have lived such an experience. When the local authority in Ninawa became weak the province was infiltrated by many forces from neighboring and regional locations. People paid a heavy price because of this. The presence of a strong central government is an asset to us because it will rescue us from internal or external threats.
Niqash: Ninawa is full of unemployed former Iraqi army officers. How are you going to tackle this issue?
Al-Najafi: This issue should be resolved centrally in Baghdad but we have a work methodology to resolve it based on two principles. We will attempt to communicate with the central government and exert political pressure to grant these officers their rights. The other method that we will adopt is rehabilitating a large number of these officers and integrating them into civil life.
Niqash: Are your personal ambitions limited to Ninawa’s provincial council or do you aspire to a parliamentary or government role?
Al-Najafi: From the beginning, I have chosen to work in Ninawa’s council to have a solid base. I have no other alternative but to stay in the province because I want to initiate a national project from here. I think in terms of political leadership not in terms of government posts. I believe that having a political program and achieving political goals is much more important than holding a post that will, sooner or later, end.