PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. And in the days following the Iraqi elections, the fight over who will be prime minister continues. Now joining us to help us understand the struggle further his Amjad Ali. He’s the international representative for the Iraqi Freedom Congress. Thanks for joining us.
AMJAD ALI, IRAQ FREEDOM CONGRESS: Thank you.
JAY: And you also represent a coalition of Iraqi unions abroad as well.
ALI: That’s right.
JAY: So tell us about the Iraqi Freedom Congress, first of all. What is it and how did it come into being?
ALI: Iraq Freedom Congress is an organization, it’s an umbrella organization, formed in 2005 because of the issues in Iraq. The religious groups and religious parties and nationalist parties were fighting over power, who wanted to divide people according to their national or ethnic background or religious background. We decided in Iraq Freedom Congress to establish an organization, an umbrella organization that bring people together to be another part of the society that denounce all ethnic divisions and religious divisions.
JAY: It’s nonsectarian? It’s Shia, it’s Kurdish, it’s Sunni?
ALI: It’s nonsectarian. We have everyone involved into Iraq Freedom Congress—Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, [inaudible] These are the minority religions there. We do have Shiites, Sunnis, we have Kurds, we have Arabs, we have Turks, and all these [inaudible]
JAY: And what are some of the organizations that are members?
ALI: We do have the General Federation of Worker Councils. This is a major part of the backbone of it. We have the—.
JAY: Which involves which unions?ALI: Unions of rail workers, part of oil workers, part of electricity workers, construction workers, teacher unions, all these people, they are involved into Iraq Freedom Congress.JAY: And roughly the numbers of the Freedom Congress, total numbers of people involved.
ALI: We don’t have a fixed or an exact number, but it goes from 50,0000 to 60,000 members.
JAY: So in the recent elections, what did the Freedom Congress think of the elections, and what does the Freedom Congress think of the results?
ALI: We have issued our statement prior to the election, and we said this election is not going to bring anyone else but the same people who are in power today. They are militias, or they still have their own militia. The Kurds do have their own militias. The Dawa party have one, which is the government. And the Islamic Supreme Council, they do have their own militias, or they say [inaudible]
JAY: People have often said the government’s militia includes the U.S. army.
ALI: This is part of it. And we do have, like, a lot of special security forces there who are coming from Blackwater and whatnot. So these are part—each one has his own armed groups. And we said right in the beginning or right—prior to that election we said the same people who are now in power, they are going to be back in power. And that’s why we saw, like, the decline of the number of voters who cast a ballot from the first one. That was 68 percent, as they said, back then in 2005, but today they say almost 50 percent. But even to certain areas it has not reached to that number, actually, and some ballots there were even zero percent participants in that election.
JAY: Now, there also were some participants who didn’t know they had participated. What’s your story?
ALI: I’ve been living here in Canada since ’95. And prior to the election, two months prior to the election, I called my brother, who lives in Kirkuk, and he told me that he received my election card, which—this is the card, you bring it to the—when you cast a ballot, you bring it to the monitors, and, you know, you vote. And I said, well, how did they find my name? It’s been 15 years, or almost 15 years. And he said, well, I got your card, and anyone can vote for you. And I said—and instead of me. And I said, well, this is crazy. He said, well, there’s a lot—a lot of cards were distributed to those people who are not here. And it happened. It happened. They tick off your name.
JAY: So it raises the participant level, but also means you can have some fraud because people can use those cards any way they please.
ALI: Absolutely. I have my sister-in-law. She’s one of the monitors in Baghdad, and particularly in Adhamiyah district, which is a Sunni-dominated district. And she was telling me she had those people who represent a number of factions participate in that election, and she said they were ticking off the names even if they were not there. They are putting, like, fake names there. If you are not there, they tick off your name and they put you as voted to this faction or that faction.
JAY: Now, Maliki’s been accusing his opponents of doing this, but is there any reason to think they did it more than he did?
ALI: You know what? They’re all part of this game. Maliki himself, prior to election results, that was interesting when he said, well, there are some frauds, but it will not—or he doesn’t think, he didn’t think back then it would affect the election result. This is what he said exactly.
JAY: ‘Cause he thought he was going to win.ALI: Yeah, exactly. But after the election, he decided, no, this election is a fraud, and he has to do a recount, a hand recount.
JAY: Just for people, in case, who haven’t followed it, Maliki actually lost to his opposition by—what? Three or four seats, I think.
ALI: Actually, Allawi himself got 91 seats, and he himself got 89 seats, and they decided [inaudible] recount. The recount started Monday, last Monday. And right after they were started, they said, well, there is an irregularity there, and the reason why, because they had to match the names with the list.
JAY: Now, one of the most controversial things that happened before the election—and it’s been happening afterwards—is this attack on candidates that had something to do with the Ba’ath party in the past, Saddam’s party. I believe a couple or two, or a few, at least, who were actually elected are now—they’re trying to disqualify, and there were many candidates they wouldn’t let run. What’s the attitude of the Freedom Congress towards this?
ALI: You know what? We always say that those who committed crimes must be prosecuted. There is no way around that. But in order to form a government, in order to form a secular, non-ethnic government, you need all these factions to participate. But these factions must not discriminate against others, must not have committed any crime. And we don’t mind if Ba’athist, non-Ba’athists, if they want to come with a real intention to, or a sincere intention to form a society that free of discrimination, free of racism, free of killings and crimes and corruption and all these things. So Iraq Freedom Congress does not discriminate against those. There are former Ba’athists—most of the Iraqis were—must have had to be Ba’athist. I am one of the people who, when I was in university back in 1984 and I was in the College of Education, in order to finish my college I had to be a Ba’ath member. There is no way around it. You are not—if you don’t want to be a Ba’ath member, okay, you have to leave the college. And there is—if you leave college, there is another way you have to go: you have to be in the army. Back then, between ’80 and ’88 we had a war in Iraq, between Iraq and Iran. So if I had to leave the college back then, I had to go to army and I could have been killed. That was possible. One million casualties were in that war. So I am one example in millions of examples back in the ’80s.
JAY: Maliki knows that by going after these candidates it helps facilitate and create the conditions for more conflict with the Sunnis, and potentially, you know, the grounds for a kind of civil war. So what is Maliki’s objective here?
ALI: Well, here the thing is, when we talk about Maliki and if he cares about the election, if he doesn’t care about the people, if he cares about what—the entire government, those people who are in power today, they don’t really care about people. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen that since 2003. We’ve seen that in this kind of sectarian war in 2005. They did not care about people. Thousands and hundreds of thousands were killed, were displaced, were kidnapped. The government back then did not do anything about it, did not even move one step towards reconciliation. That wasn’t the—the attitude of the government, we know, in Iraq, that these are not pro-people, that each one has his own agenda, and that’s why they’re—.
JAY: Iraq has enormous oil reserves. The leaders of all these various ethnic factions are sections of the Iraqi elite who are fighting over who’s going to divide up this enormous wealth. There’s a lot to fight over, and it has been very violent in the last few years. What are the possibilities—or how serious is the threat of civil war in Iraq?
ALI: Civil war is always on the verge. Iraqi people are always on the verge—not the people, actually; those factions. As I mentioned earlier, the issue of armed groups, it’s still there. Each faction has its own armed group and wants to get to a point that they cannot resolve their problem, their disputes, they resort to weapons, they resort to killing each other. And it happened just prior to the election—a number of candidates were assassinated in Mosul. It happened in Baghdad prior to the election, when the government security forces went to Adhamiyah district, which is a Sunni-dominated area. They arrested a number of people there for no apparent reason. They were jailed, and they were released after the election. The election result right now, nobody got the majority. Nobody can form a government by himself. They are in the face of each other. Just yesterday there was a meeting between the Islamic Supreme Council group or faction with [Ayad] Allawi faction, Allawi who had 91 seats, who had the highest number of seats in the Parliament today. He said, I must—and this is what—I’m quoting—he said, I must form the government because I do have the highest seats in the Parliament. The other faction, which is the Islamic Supreme Council, who formed another faction with al-Maliki, they are trying to be a mediator as to who’s going to form what and what sort of government it’s going to be, who’s going to be the prime minister. There are a number of ministries or posts they are going to fight over, just like happened in 2005. The Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, they call it, the Ministry of Oil, the Ministry of Finance, these are the ministries that there will be major issues among these factions.
JAY: It’s often said in the American press that it’s the American troops—and the U.S. says this quite officially as well, that they think it’s the U.S. troops that are preventing this civil war from breaking out. So to what extent is that true? And if in fact the U.S. does leave at the end of 2011, is that actually going to create the conditions for the beginnings of this kind of conflict?
ALI: Well, actually, no, that is not true. The American troops were in Iraq since 2003, and we saw a version of sectarian conflict and of kind of civil war in Iraq. The American troops did not participate, did not prevent that. They were just watching the whole issue. They wanted to know—this is what we think they wanted to know—who’s going to win in the end. They did not have a serious intervention as to be a mediator to solve this conflict. They never did that. And what happened, who settled that, and this is what we strongly believe who settled that, is the people themselves did not want to be part of the civil war. They did not want to be part of the killing and kidnapping. It is right that we saw a lot of people were displaced from their neighbourhood to somewhere else.
JAY: Millions of people.
ALI: Yeah, millions of people. But when it comes to if they were helping each other, yes, they still help each other.
JAY: Well, how much is that still the fact, then? If these elites with their militias want to have a fight to see who’s going to control the state, can they get the people to participate?
ALI: They tried, hardly. I think they failed miserably. They could not get the people involved into that killing, and it happened. We had al-Sadr militia. We had al-Maliki’s militia. He had his own militia. Islamic Supreme Council. Tariq al-Hashimi, he’s the vice president of Iraq; he had his own militia. They were fighting each other. They tried to bring the people on board of that civil war. People did not want to participate.
JAY: The Kurdish leader Barzani, who did fairly well in these elections and became, I think, the clear-cut leader of the Kurdish section, anyway, he says the only way to avoid an all-out civil war is to have a federated Iraq. What does the Freedom Congress that you represent, what do you think of this idea of a federated Iraq?
ALI: We believe that the federated Iraq is not going to be like Canada, as based on, like, a geographical area. What happened is they want to divide Iraq based on ethnic background and—.
JAY: So it’s more like a Lebanese type of situation.
ALI: Exactly. And it never worked out. The Lebanese had this issue since 1943, when they formed a government. They formed areas, like, this is Shiites’, this is Sunnis’, this is Muslims’, this is Christians’, and whatnot. It never worked out.
JAY: So you institutionalize the sectarian differences.ALI: Exactly. Well, this—they tried to do this in Iraq. It will never be successful, because once you divide people based on their ethnic bakground or religious background, you will always have tensions. And we’ve seen that. We’ve seen Yugoslavia, we’ve seen Lebanon, and whatnot.
JAY: Well, is part of this—and you can see this in Lebanon, too, for people watching our series on Lebanon—a lot of this is that they don’t want the society divided based on workers or class or economic interests. They’d far rather have it divided based on these religious and ethnic divisions. And does that play itself out in Iraq?
ALI: No. As I said, Iraq—.
JAY: No, I mean that the elites prefer the ethnic division.
ALI: Absolutely the elites prefer. And the Islamic Supreme Council had been calling for a Shiite federal—like, a southern federal region for the Shiites. And the Kurds wants that in the north. The Arabs themselves, they don’t want that to be, because they think this is the beginning of dividing Iraq into three separate geographic areas. They think that the Kurds will form their own state, the Shiite will join Iran, and Iraq will be smaller than before.
JAY: And what do the Americans seem to want? I mean, Joe Biden was always a big proponent of this federated [inaudible]
ALI: That’s right. Joe Biden had—he was the architect of that federalism in Iraq and the Shiite, Sunni, Kurds. But at this point what do the Americans want? They just want to pull out with less loss in Iraq. They have lost a lot, and they did not accomplish what they went for. They did not find the WMD. All these reasons they went for or pretexts they went for, they could not find it. Now Iraq is just a mess, as worse than before. They think that there is no war in Iraq and it’s stable. It is not stable.