Ghazi al-Yawar on Iraqi Politics

Some flavor of the new president can be gathered from this recent FNS interview.

Federal News Service
May 27, 2004
(Note: The following was translated from Arabic)

QUESTION: Would you be willing to intervene personally in trying to stop the fighting at Annajaf al Ashraf [Najaf]?

GHAZI AL YAWAR: I think that the issue of Annajaf al Ashraf is more difficult than that of al-Fallujah. Mr. Muqtada al Sadr has a large following. I am present on behalf of the Governing Council, and on my social standing to deal with this issue. But any work should be a part of group work for the sons of the region to pave the way for any involvement, and not a one person’s involvement.

But it will honor me to undertake such an initiative in order to end the bloodshed of our dear families in this sacred city. Annajaf, al-Fallujah, Zakho, Basra, al Moussil, and Kirkuk are all like parts of a beautiful face. If one of these parts is disfigured, the entire face would be disfigured.

QUESTION: Once the authority is given to the new provisional government, who will be in charge of the new multinational forces in Iraq?

GHAZI AL YAWAR: I would assume that the leader of these forces, who will work with the Iraqis, would probably be American. Battalions of the Iraqi army will participate alongside this multinational force once the UN resolution is issued.

The important thing is not who will be in command of this force. The Iraqi armed forces will be under Iraqi command, but some battalions have to be under some foreign leadership irrelevant of who that leadership is.

QUESTION: Would you call for an Arab participation in these forces?

GHAZI AL YAWAR: We would welcome the Arab countries participation in these forces, as a part of the multinational forces in Iraq.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea as to the schedule or the time that these forces should stay in Iraq?

GHAZI AL YAWAR: There is no schedule, and we can’t put a time limit because there are some bad elements who would wait for this date to come to restart their attacks. That’s the reason why we did not have a time limit for the multinational forces.

But when the Iraqi leadership is ready to take the responsibility, we will not hesitate to thank our friend and request from them to leave Iraq. This, however, won’t be any soon because its presence is a necessity.

QUESTION: There are some reports that after the transfer of power, the new American Embassy will relocate to the Republican Palace. Is this true?

GHAZI AL YAWAR: The Republican Palace, which was built in the 1950s is a symbol of sovereignty of Iraq, and many Iraqi leaderships used it. We will not accept the embassy relocating there and they have not asked.

QUESTION: Could you comment on President Bush’s decision to raze the Abu Ghraib prison?

GHAZI AL YAWAR: President Bush was very clear in what he said. He asked if the Iraqis wanted it destroyed, and we, in the Governing Council said no. But the decision will be left for the new provisional government to make.

QUESTION: Thank you Mr. Ghazi al-Yawar, current President of the Governing Council.

UPI, May 25, on al-Yawar’s reaction to the UN resolution submitted by the U.S. and the UK:

Rotating President Ghazi al-Yawar said Tuesday the draft disregarded Iraqi demands for granting the transitional government control over a national development fund and a multinational peacekeeping force that might be deployed under a United Nations’ resolution.

April 10, on al-Jazeera, via BBC world monitoring:

Text of live telephone interview with Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council in charge of negotiations with the representatives of the al-Fallujah residents, in Baghdad, by al-Jazeera TV presenter Fayruz Zayyani in the Doha studio, broadcast by Qatari al-Jazeera satellite TV on April 10

Zayyani: Are there any details about the negotiations which you held in al-Fallujah?

Al-Yawar: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. The negotiating delegation is still in al-Fallujah city. It has concluded a round of negotiations and it is holding now another round, but the most serious thing present there is the fact that the cease-fire has not been respected by both sides the U.S. forces and the al-Fallujah residents. The most serious issue is the intervention of the U.S. Air Force and the F-16 jet fighters, which are raiding the city. We called the coalition parties and informed them about our condemnation and we expressed our surprise at these acts. We held them responsible for what they are doing and also for the safety of the delegation. We informed them that this situation would not allow calm negotiations to proceed.

Zayyani: We heard that the al-Fallujah residents were rejecting the arrival of any delegation that represented the Iraqi Governing Council IGC in the city. What changed these conditions and let you enter al-Fallujah?

Al-Yawar: This is not true. They did not reject us, but they blamed us for not making any moves towards them. We are moving as parties and in our capacity as having acquaintances and being well-known inside al-Fallujah within tribal, religious and political circles. We are acceptable parties and we have with us the Muslim Ulema Council and many other benevolent parties. The situation is very serious and should come to an end peacefully.

Zayyani: What about the humanitarian conditions in al-Fallujah? You we were able to see the situation for yourself there. What is going on in the al-Fallujah and what about your efforts there from the humanitarian viewpoint, in addition to the political efforts you are exerting now?

Al-Yawar: The humanitarian situation is very bad and heartbreaking. We, with the benevolent forces, are doing a lot in collecting donations, but we hold the occupation forces, which are occupying Iraq – and according to the UN resolution – completely responsible for Iraq and responsible for allowing humanitarian and medical aid to enter into al-Fallujah. These are Iraqi people and they the U.S. forces are responsible, before international law, for their safety and for delivering the food stuff and aid to them.

Zayyani: Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, IGC member in charge of negotiations with the representatives of the Al-Fallujah residents, thank you.

In February al-Yawar spoke out about the weakness of the Sunni Arabs on the Interim Governing Council to ash-Sharq al-Awsat (via BBC world monitoring):

In their statements, Al-Yawar and Al-Chadirchi talked about the weakness of the Sunni voice in the political arena and in the Governing Council and the strength of the Shi’i and Kurdish voice.

Al-Yawar said that this went back to the period that accompanied the change of regime. During that period, he said, the Kurdish and Shi’i figures were closer to the coalition authority while the Sunnis were the weak link in this relationship. In several instances, he said, several Sunni figures were brought closer to the coalition authority following nominations or consultations with the other sides. He added that the interim Governing Council is not the only body that has political weight in the Iraqi arena. There are other Sunni religious and political parties and movements that should be relied upon and with whom alliances should be formed to strengthen the position of the Sunnis. We should blame ourselves for not coordinating our positions among ourselves both inside and outside the Governing Council, he said.

“Suspicions” about federation

Al-Yawar added, “The Iraqi Kurds have unified their voices and efforts and they are in agreement on their stands and demands. That is why we see them these days insisting on federal rule for their regions. This demand is something new and strange to Iraqi politics and to politics in the whole region. It is a vague demand that is subject to rumors and that entails doubts, suspicions and vagueness and that denotes a hard-line stand by the brother Kurds. They want to impose a federation on the Iraqi people despite the lack of census statistics and before any elections or general elections are held. They want to consecrate an ethnic federation whether the Iraqi people like it or not.”

Al-Yawar said: “The Shi’is and Sunnis should work together to salvage what can be salvaged. They should not ignore the big issues, such as the issue of a federation. We have to sit with the brother Kurds and come to a frank understanding. This is a major problem; it is not an easy one. We have to understand what they really want and what they are planning for the future. Even Lakhdar Brahimi sensed this Iraqi problem and said that if the Iraqis did not wish to save their own country, no power on earth could help them. This is a fact.” Al-Yawar added: “The Kurds are insisting on a federal rule while the brother Shi’is are insisting on elections although all the other forces insist that such elections are not feasible at present. The United Nations will adopt a similar stand; in other words, the current conditions are not suitable to hold such elections. What worries us most is the sectarian problem in Iraq. The issue of nationality between Arabs and Kurds is simple and can be surmounted. Sectarian sedition, however, is extremely dangerous, particularly since some neighboring countries or some regional and international forces are encouraging such sedition.”

“Misperception” of Sunni ties to former regime

Al-Yawar stated: “There is a misunderstanding that is lumping the Arab Sunnis in Iraq with Saddam Hussein. The misperception is that the Arab Sunnis were in the service of the former regime and that they enjoyed huge privileges under Saddam’s rule. However, we all know that Saddam did not believe in any religion or sect. His injustices were inflicted on Sunnis, Shi’is, Kurds and all other national groups and sects. He did not differentiate between one Iraqi and another. Moreover, the Arab Sunnis of Iraq are the last people to think of sectarianism. All our ideas are purely Iraqi and nationalist ones. We can become a link between the Kurds and the Shi’is since we have nationalist links with both the Sunni and Shi’i Kurds. The Kurds are the most successful in coordinating their stands while the Shi’is understand one another the most. They hold periodic meetings called the ‘Al-Bayt Al-Shi’i.’ The Shi’i House whereas we have failed to hold such meetings due to personal or other reasons.”

The member of the Governing Council added that it never crossed his mind that the configuration of the council would be formed on ethnic or sectarian bases and quotas. He said, “one week after the council was formed, I understood this was a process that the brothers had agreed upon in the London conference of the Iraqi opposition. I do not understand how a conference held in London two years ago could impose its will on 25 million Iraqis. I do not know how the quotas were determined. I believe that an accurate, scientific and neutral census under the supervision of the United Nations will reveal the real figures and ratios on condition that it is a fair census without armed militias.”

January 22 in ash-Sharq al-Awsat via BBC world monitoring, on elections and Sistani:

Ghazi Ujayl al-Yawar said Ayatollah al-Sistani’s view “is very important. He is the source of authority for a broad sector of the Iraqis. I am not saying Shi’is and Sunnis because we are all Muslims and the authority is the authority for Sunnis as it is for the Shi’is.”

He added: “This religious leader is searching for the ideal solution for the issue of handing power over to the Iraqis. I do not believe there is any Iraqi who rejects holding free and honest elections. But how can these elections be free and honest when there are five armed militias affiliated to parties and political movements? Who will ensure the people’s safety and how can the elections be held when there are the militias of the two Kurdish parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Al-Da’wah Party, National Congress and the Accord? How can the elections be free and honest when there are irregular armed forces? Security should be provided for the voter and we must ensure that no pressures are exerted on him. The presence of these militias sends a bad message to the Iraqi people confirming that the security situation in the country is out of control …”

Al-Yawar called for “amalgamating these militias in the Iraqi army and for their loyalty to be for Iraq and not a party, a political movement or a specific person” …

Al-Yawar went on to say … "Some want to stoke up the fire of sectarian sedition between the Shi’is and Sunnis. I say that there is not such a division in Iraq. We must say that the Iraqis are Arabs and Kurds and not Sunnis and Shi’is. It is odd that we do not hear anyone who says Iraq and demands Iraq’s unification.”

He concluded his statement by saying: “The important thing now is to restore Iraq’s sovereignty and take over power from the occupiers. Any party delaying this causes us pain. The occupation is a wound to our dignity, at least morally. If we delay the hand-over of power, then everything will be delayed and this is not in the country’s interest. The calls to rush the elections does not reflect the true image of what Iraqis want.”

On December 10 al-Yawar gave an interview with a Kurdish newspaper, Hawlati, opposing decentralization and purely religious law (via BBC world monitoring):

In an interview with Hawlati, the chief of Shammar tribe and member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ghazi Ujayl al-Yawar, said he does not support the devolvement of governorates into a federal system because he fears that in place of one dictator we would get 25 in Iraq one for each of the 25 governorates. In the interview, he rejected religious governing system for Iraq. He said: “The Iraqi people are made up of a number of diverse national and religious groups. They should be taken into consideration. Our era is not the era of religious states.” He expressed his support for federal status for Iraqi Kurdistan region …

Last December when a short-lived U.S. plan was announced to retain several militias and meld them under Iyad Allawi into a new security force, al-Yawar went ballistic, according to Ed Wong of the NYT:

The composition of the militia has raised concerns among some council members. Ghazi Yawar, a council member who does not represent any political parties, said forming a militia of soldiers from different parties could lead to violent factionalism. He added that the Governing Council was not consulted about this, and that only council members representing the five largest parties – ones that would contribute soldiers – took part in talks on the matter with General John Abizaid, the senior American military commander. “I am very outraged; this is stupid,” Yawar said. “How many people are running Iraq? I’m very upset. This can lead to warlords and civil war. Should I form my own militia? I can have 20,000 people or more here. But that is not what I want to do.” Yawar said the council members not involved in planning the creation of the militia had only learned about it on Saturday, after Talabani informed them of the proposal. His understanding of the militia differed somewhat from that of Mustafa’s. Yawar said only five parties would contribute to the militia, with 160 to 200 people picked by each party.

On November 25, Joel Brinkley of the NYT reported Yawar’s opposition to a plan to retain the IGC as a sort of senate even after a caretaker government was elected. One gets a sense that a lot of al-Yawar’s complaints really had to do with Ahmad Chalabi and his clique.

“This is from people who have a fear of losing a grip on things,” said council member Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, an important tribal sheik. “If we do this, we will be another Yasser Arafat,” the Palestinian leader whose enemies accuse him of routinely reneging on agreements. Among the proponents of keeping the council intact in some manner are leaders of its most important factions, including the two major Kurdish parties, powerful Shi’ite clerics and prominent exile leaders including Ahmed Chalabi.