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Iraq: Parliament Speaker Says Progress Being Made

October 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani visited RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on October 5 and spoke with RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo about regional interference in Iraq, the insurgency, and the possibilities for national reconciliation.

RFE/RL: What can you say about Iran's role and the Iranian support for Shi'ite militias in Iraq? We see many reports about arms dealing and we want to ask: Do you think the Iraqi government is doing enough, and is there something the Iraqi parliament can do to push the Iraqi government to take more action in dealing with Iranians?

Mahmud al-Mashhadani: In fact, the Iranian influence is clear and present. As parliamentarians, we cannot do anything but open dialogue with the Iranians and urge them not to interfere, and insist on our demands that they should not interfere.

Concerning the security level, there are the executive bodies -- the ministries of Defense and Interior. These have some kind of agreements on reducing the arms smuggling. The ideal solution is an Iraqi solution -- dismantling of the militias and their canceling.

Then, how can Iran or anybody else other than Iran be able to interfere in our affairs if there is no platform for the interference? If all rivals are brought to the parliament and to the political arena, and all the militia-like or terrorist groups that reject the political process are decapitated, then no one will be able to interfere in our internal affairs. We act in terms of this philosophy and agenda.

RFE/RL: Let me ask you about the national resistance, the Sunni resistance. You have said on many occasions that the national resistance is carrying out its obligations and its duties to support Iraq. Do you think that the talks reportedly taking place between some groups and the U.S. government is a positive development? Will there be some kind of reconciliation coming?

Al-Mashhadani: In fact, we have reached a really great achievement in the separation of the resistance from Al-Qaeda. This separation is something really great. We have succeeded in that. Now, we are on the way to opening talks with them [the resistance] so that they can join the political process. As a result, the issues should fall within the democratic arena.

There are some obstacles. There are some people from the resistance who have got involved in certain crimes similar to Al-Qaeda. There is dialogue on how we should deal with this group whose majority -- we believe -- can be drawn in the political process. Through that, we would put an end to military operations, for instance by setting a timetable for a real withdrawal, sovereignty, and a full independence. We see that their demands are reasonable and Iraqi [reflect Iraq's interests].

Moreover, they have representatives in the parliament. [Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam] Al-Mahdi Army has its representatives in the parliament, the Islamic Army has its representatives in the parliament -- all of them have their representatives in the parliament. But, their representatives in the parliament work hard to persuade them [to lay down arms in support of] the political process. In the beginning, they said: "If you succeed, the goal will be reached. If you fail, we will stay on our positions."

Our situation now is that the political approach has succeeded and prevailed over the language of a military approach. And this is a really great achievement.

RFE/RL: The deposed Ba'ath Party of says that it is working to liberate Iraq. We see many developments in recent weeks: statements coming from the Ba'ath Party -- Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. What is their role on the ground in Iraq? Are they there, and are they as big in presence as they claim to be?

Al-Mashhadani: A part of the Ba'ath Party has fled from Iraq, another part is imprisoned, another part is fighting, and another part has quietly and peacefully infiltrated government institutions to work there and make a living. The part that has fled from Iraq does not interest us. It does not have any influence. As for the part that has stayed in Iraq fighting, we have started to get closer to them in slow steps and we understand what they want.

We have the law on responsibility and justice [that has replaced the old de-Ba'athification law], which they, I think, are now somewhat rejecting. We can persuade them that this is the best we can offer them.

Also, they resist the occupation. Well, if we get full sovereignty and our genuine forces are built up, and if real democracy is established through the Iraqi parliament, which is now close to succeeding in the democratic process, then they will no longer have any justification for saying, "We are convinced in the democratic process, but we believe that the foreign presence has caused problems to us."

We are now close to solving the obstacle of the foreign presence in Iraq. By agreement of the parties involved, we try to foster the role of the United Nations; there is a wish that a schedule for the withdrawal is set; there is a wish that the [foreign forces] do not stay. All this will depend on whether we manage to control the security in Iraq."

RFE/RL: Let me ask you about Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, because he has made some statements in recent days that he is in talks with some other political parties in the parliament to push a new national compact, a national-unity agreement. Is this agreement going to take hold? Al-Hashimi said they would announce it soon, but we have heard this for many weeks. Is there enough support for his plan, and will it be very different from what the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition are offering?

Al-Mashhadani: To begin with, I am not convinced about writing programs for others. And, when you mention it, I am not acquainted with this program, in fact. But it is definitely a good program because all programs nowadays must be good if they want to succeed.

But I do not know it in detail. I do not know it in detail because we held an official meeting with all political blocs in the Iraqi parliament two weeks ago. Leaders of the political blocs in the parliament [gathered], and we as the presidency [of the parliament] urged them to prepare their programs for reform. Then we formed a small commission to study those programs that were presented in written form. We will select joint points and transform them into a program, and the parliament will demand that the government implement it.

We will leave the points of difference for a continuous discussion and for ongoing sessions between the presidency [of the parliament] and leaders of the blocs. I think that this initiative is the same. In fact, it was expected that some results should come out on Tuesday [October 2], but I was then outside Iraq and I still am. Of course, when I go back, I will study whatever has been accomplished.

Judging from the proposals presented, it seems that the national compact was already made when we agreed on the political program, on the basis of which we formed the government. And that is a successful program. But the problem is in implementation, not in written programs. I can write programs that you will like. But who will implement the program? And what is the will for its implementation? What is the mechanism for making decisions on the implementation? That is where the disagreement is.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek.)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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