Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Sheikh Harith al-Dari
Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat- Head of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, Harith al-Dari, has many objections regarding the current political situation in Iraq. Al-Dari was interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat in Amman, where he has been residing with the members of his association since 2006. He said that Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of Al-Dawa Party and the head of the Iraqi Government “is striving to establish a State of one man, one party, and one denomination”. He said that the option of “the launching of a popular revolution in Iraq as is happening in the rest of the other Arab countries” was one of the solutions to what is going on in Iraq. He said that “the resistance remains until Iraq is liberated from the occupation and those carrying out the role of the occupation”. He revealed that there were “five US bases in Iraq at present”.
The text of the interview is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Where do you stand on the proposal for convening a planned National Conference in Iraq? Will you take part in it if you are invited?
[Al-Dari] The Iraqis at home and abroad understand that this a general national conference comprising all nationalist Iraqi forces whereas it is a conference for the blocs taking part in the political process to settle the differences which have worsened among the parties to that process after the American Administration announced the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki, the present Prime Minister, has escalated the situation in all directions after that announcement. He launched a large-scale campaign of arrests all over Iraq targeting all its hues, women and men. Thousands were arrested, and after this he emerged to the Iraqis and the world with his announcement that there was a conspiracy or conspiracies pursued by some parties in the political process and that the first target was Tariq al-Hashimi. It is known that Al-Hashimi was one of the strongest supporters of the political process and the most sincere in his efforts to firm it up and entrench it. He supported Al-Maliki in many of his actions and steps in government. Al-Hashimi and his front which used to be called Al-Tawafuq [Accord] were the ones who supported Al-Maliki in his nomination as Prime Minister the first time and they were the ones who supported him and paved the way for him to approve the security agreement between Iraq and the US Administration. Al-Hashimi was also one of those who participated with Al-Maliki in the security plan and later in the issue of the Sahwat [Awakenings] which entrenched Al-Maliki and made him a hero in the eyes of the Americans. This is why they chose him to be the leader in this stage, both in the past and the present periods. Perhaps he will remain for more periods because they see him as the stronger man and the most prepared to provide what they want and meet their demands. He (Al-Maliki) is also favored by Iran. The interests of Iran and the United States in Iraq are close, to say the least, if they are not identical on everything. Consequently, if the National Conference is held it will not be a national conference in the general sense we understand but could be more precisely called a national conference for the forces participating in the political process with the aim of mending the fracture among them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]So achieving national conciliation is not among the objectives of that conference?
[Al-Dari] No, attaining national conciliation was not among its objectives.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]If national conciliation is one of the objectives of that conference or any other future conference, would you attend if invited?
[Al-Dari] We and those who support us will not attend such conferences. This is because the conference should be held among political parties with integrity, parties that did not carry out what they have done over nine years of repression, oppression, killings, corruption, and exclusion of Iraq’s sons, taking the country and its people to the brink of danger that has almost been reached by Iraq in the era of those people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Have you met with Iraqi figures taking part in the political process or been invited to participate in some conference or political parley?
[Al-Dari] This has not happened.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]And is that because you rejected it or because they did not ask to meet with you?
[Al-Dari] There are quarters that asked to meet us. But how can we meet those who want to divide Iraq through calls for a federation? How can we meet with those who harm Iraq and the Iraqis? We meet those who want to admit their mistake and say that they took part in the political process against their will or to give it a try but have now reached a dead-end, or those who appear in the media and say that I made a mistake in trying and was unable to achieve anything so I apologize to the Iraqi people. There are those who have admitted their mistake but have not announced this in the media. There are those who have written to us that they have made a mistake. But what is the use in meeting somebody who has made a mistake and continues in it without heeding our advice?
[Asharq Al-Awsat]You have spoken about Al-Maliki’s statements that there were conspiracies and arrests, as well as his accusations of terrorism against Al-Hashimi. Do you believe that the target of this is the Sunni, Arab constituent [of Iraq]?
[Al-Dari] What Al-Maliki has done against Al-Hashimi is a link in a chain added to the arrests and assassinations he carried out and the exclusion process that has targeted all the constituents of the Iraqi people. Today he has an available chance to liquidate from the arena those whose real loyalty to him and to his party’s policy in Iraq he suspects. He wants to remain Iraq’s absolute ruler for the coming decades and to implement the agenda and approach of his party in order to establish in Iraq the State he and his likes want. This is why he must try to exploit this opportunity to carry out everything he wants and to get the absolute power he wants and then enforce the ideology of his party, Al-Dawa Party. Consequently he feels he must get rid of those his full support he doubts in order to bring others and get rid of them again after a while. He wants to cancel all the parties that oppose him, whether Sunni or Shiite. But at the present the Sunnis are the first in line because Al-Dawa Party’s quest is to impose the unilateral concept Al-Maliki and his party advocate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]What is this State or concept that Al-Maliki and his party want to impose?
[Al-Dari] He wants to impose the State of one man, one party, and one denomination.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]But the State of the one man and the one party existed in Iraq under the former regime. So what has changed?
[Al-Dari] The change is that the one-denomination State has been added. This is clear from the conduct, actions, and proposals of the Iraqi Prime Minister. He is now moving to exclude a segment of the Iraqis and issue arrest warrants and orders to remove immunity from officials in the State who belong to one constituent, whether we are talking about Al-Hashimi or Saleh al-Mutlak. This has become clear to everybody near and far.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Do you mean by this “constituent” the Sunni Arabs?
[Al-Dari] This is what appears because those he wants to arrest, strip of immunity, or exclude from position, or whose dossiers he wants to publish are from one constituent. This and all his actions since he took over power prove that this man (Al-Maliki) seeks to bring about what we have mentioned in the State of the one man, one party, and one denomination.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]But there are leaders in Al-Dawa Party including the party’s historian who have told Asharq Al-Awsat that this was not Al-Dawa Party or its policy but that it was Al-Maliki’s. What is your comment?
[Al-Dari] We are certain that this is the approach of Al-Dawa Party and that its leaders believe in it, including Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Islah [Reform] Bloc which has one seat in the Iraqi House of Deputies (parliament) who speaks about himself as a nationalist but who is today one of the prominent aides and closer advisers of Al-Maliki. This applies to him and those who used to work for him. It means that the leaders of Al-Dawa Party support the policy of the leader of Al-Dawa Party. If there are some nationalists in the party they do not represent it but represent the proper nationalist and humanitarian approach in al-Dawa [Arabic for religious advocacy]. They do not enjoy an effective power in the party.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the exclusion of Sunni leaders from the political process and seeking to bring about a one-denomination State, do you believe this would lead to the eruption of a sectarian war?
[Al-Dari] I do not think this will take the Iraqis to a sectarian, denominational war in this sense. But there might be a political war covered by some sectarianism because is in the interest of Al-Maliki and his likes to cover their practices with some sectarianism in order to attract some simple-minded or ignorant people and some beneficiaries from our Shiite brothers to support them. I say this even though I am sure most of the Iraqi Shiites are not with Al-Maliki and his party and are not with the other parties. Definitely they are not with Iran and the Iranian design in Iraq. There is a major and strong rejection by the pro-Arab Iraqi Shiite line in south Iraq of Iran, its allies, and its schemes in Iraq. We are not surprised at this because our brothers in the south hate Iran today more than at any time in the past after its intentions and schemes became clear to them and after the way it regarded the Iraqi Arab Shiite after the occupation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Do you have any ties with Shiite clan chiefs or clergymen, whether as an association or Muslim scholars or personally?
[Al-Dari] With Allah’s Grace, our relationship with our Shiite brothers in south and central Iraq are very strong today, stronger than at any time in the past, after they found out that the official and partisan propaganda against us was false. They used to tell them that the Association of Muslim Scholars was sectarian and that we support terrorism; that the Association of Muslim Scholars supports Al-Qaeda and is asking it to do this and that. Now our brothers in the south know that our association is one thing and Al-Qaeda is a different thing; that our road is not the road of terrorism. Consequently our relations with our Shiite brothers are extensive and strong. They have great trust in us and we trust that they are genuine Iraqis, Arabs, and nationalists who do not sell Iraq to any quarter whatsoever no matter what claims and efforts it makes. It should be noted that the boycott of Iranian goods in the south, especially in Al-Basra and Al-Nasiriyyah provinces, is stronger than it is in the center and the north. It has reached 100 percent [in the South] and the goods of other States are preferred. There is a boycott of its establishments there also. Our Iraqi people today realize the trick that was played on them in the first three years of the occupation, especially in 2005 and 2006 when the politicians drove the people into a sectarian sedition in which the ignorant, the hirelings, and those who do not know the real objectives of that sedition fell. But with Allah’s Grace and the awareness of the Iraqis, our people were spared a civil war. I assure our Arab folks and Muslim brothers that there is no civil war in Iraq. There might be a political sedition ignited by some politicians to serve their personal objectives but they try to cover up by calling it a civil war. I urge all intellectuals and media people to desist from promoting the claims by the rulers of the Green Z one about the possibilities of a civil or sectarian war. The relations today among the constituents of the Iraqi people–Shiites, Sunnis, and non-Muslims–are as strong as they can be. Even our relations with our Kurdish brothers are continuing after these relations were forbidden to them by the two ruling parties in the North (Iraqi Kurdistan). So I assure all those who care about Iraq and the Iraqis that our people have become aware of the dimensions of the deception and realize who their enemies are. Those who remain on the arena are the beneficiaries, the opportunists, and the agents of foreigners in Iraq. By foreigners, I mean all those who are not Iraqi and who harbour evil for Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Do you accept that the description “Sunni” should be added to the name of the Association of Muslim Scholars?
[Al-Dari] By Allah we do not. But this description is pinned on our association when they want to raise doubts about it. We gave it the name the Association of Muslim Scholars so that it would comprise the Shiites and the Sunnis from among the Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen. But there are circumstances which prevented some from announcing their relationship with us. We understand this and find justification for them, even though there are Shiite leaders who consistently speak about the depth of their relations with us, like brother Jawad al-Khalisi and all the Khalisis. Our relations with them are more than good. The same goes for Sheikh Al-Hasan al-Baghdadi. There are other religious leaders in Basra, Nejev, Karbala, and Al-Diwaniyah. Some of them contact us but do not want to make this public because of the present circumstances. We understand this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]But by its name as an Association of Muslim Scholars it should have comprised Shiite scholars. Why was it limited to the Sunnis?
[Al-Dari] The door is open to all Muslims from all groups in Iraq. There are brothers among our Shiite scholars who have contacted us and who have the desire to join us but the circumstances, as I told you, prevent them from making this desire public. The proof of this is that our positions are identical to theirs, especially when the nation and the citizens are facing harm. We find that our brothers endorse what we issue but in their own ways and methods. When we were in Iraq until 2006 we used to hold monthly conferences and seminars attended by all opponents of the occupation whether Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, or Sabi’a from the Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomen. They were also attended by communists, seculars, independents, and Islamists. Our relations with all of them continue even after we left Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]What is the relationship of your Association to “Al-Rashidin Army” and “Muhammad’s Army”? Are these two armed groups affiliated to you?
[Al-Dari] We support resistance in general. We have supported morally and in the media the resistance that has resisted and is resisting the occupation, and we defended it and refuted the suspicions raised about it. It is known that there was a huge media army inside and outside Iraq that defames the resistance, makes allegations about it, and accuses it of terrorism and the like. This is even though we said from the beginning that terrorism exists in Iraq and is led by the occupation forces. We still remember their practices in the Abu-Ghurayb Prison, the Buka Prison, the Airport Camp, and Al-Sa’a prison in the Green Zone. Terrorism was practiced by the American occupation forces, the Government and its militias, and the political parties and their militias. It is also practiced by the influential powers that intervene in Iraqi affairs including Israel and its intelligence and Iran and its intelligence and security bodies, other organized crime gangs, and some quarters that call themselves resistance. All of these were playing in the Iraqi arena to defame the reputation of the resistance.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Does this mean that you have no armed group that belongs to you or is linked to you, even from the resistance?
[Al-Dari] We support the resistance that resisted the occupation only. This resistance has several factions some of which support our inclinations and some of which do not support us. They include Islamic factions that have specific frames of reference but the majority is moderate Islamic resistance. There are nationalist factions that support the orientation of the Association of Muslim Scholars and its blueprint that has been adopted by the nationalist forces since the first years of Iraq’s occupation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]What is the summary of that blueprint?
[Al-Dari] Liberating Iraq and protecting its unity, identity, stability, security, resources, and borders, and that Iraq should belong to all its sons in all their denominations after its liberation. Many Iraqi resistance factions have agreed with us on these points.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]When you say Islamic resistance, do you mean the Sunni Islamic resistance or does it have Shiite Muslims in its ranks?
[Al-Dari] If there is a Shiite resistance, whether it is Islamic or non-Islamic, and if it resists the occupation and was not involved in spilling Iraqi blood, then it is participating in the resistance to liberate Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Now the American forces have departed from Iraq. Against whom is the resistance being mounted now? Why does it remain and who will it resist?
[Al-Dari] The Americans have not departed in a complete way from Iraq. Nearly a quarter of their forces were kept in Iraq since two years. They have at present more than 30,000 soldiers with various tasks.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Do you mean those present at the American Embassy?
[Al-Dari] I mean those in the American Embassy and outside it. There are five American military bases in Iraq today. These are the bases of Balad, Al-Taji (north of Baghdad), Al-Matar [the Airport] and the Green Zone (in Baghdad) and Al-Nasiriyyah (in southern Iraq).
[Asharq Al-Awsat]But these bases have been turned over to the Iraqi forces, as Baghdad and Washington have announced?
[Al-Dari] This is what was said in the media. They were turned over in front of the media only. Our precise information confirms that there are still American forces in these bases.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]This means that the resistance is continuing?
[Al-Dari] Yes, the resistance continues and remains until the occupation ends and its traces are erased–I mean the American occupation and those carrying out its role.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]There is talk in Iraq about occupation of another kind, namely the Iranian influence in the country. What is your opinion?
[Al-Dari] I do not call it occupation but total and indubitable hegemony over affairs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]When do you think the Association of Muslim Scholars will take part in the political process in Iraq?
[Al-Dari] The Association does not want to participate in the political process, not now or in the future. We want Iraq to be an independent country free of occupation. We want a religious president to rule Iraq. As long as he is Muslim he must be religious. This is his personal affair but [he must act] through a Constitution that the people accept. Otherwise, how can the people trust him with their lives, possessions, and country? If those ruling Iraq today were real Muslims who are sincere in claims to be sincere to Islam, and if they were close to Allah and fear Him as they assert, they would not have done what they did to the Iraqis and would not have caused tragedies and catastrophes for them. They would not have gone along and followed the enemies of Iraq to humiliate and oppress the Iraqi people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Do you believe that it is possible for Islamic rule to be established in Iraq?
[Al-Dari] Iraq is not qualified for the establishment of an Islamic rule now. Consequently we in the Association say that Iraq should be liberated first and then the people’s opinions and views are sounded on the type of rule they want. This comes after the country is liberated and after fair elections to choose a National Council that drafts the Constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]You have objections to the present Constitution?
[Al-Dari] Certainly. This is the Constitution Al-Maliki used. At times he criticizes it and at other times he says we are responsible for it, as if he was the one who drafted the Constitution. The Constitution was drafted and then specific wishes were added to it from the Kurdish politicians, Al-Dawa Party, and the Supreme Council according to certain specifications. So the federation was formulated at the desire of Jalal Talibani, the President of the Republic, and Masud Barazani, the head of the Kurdistan Province. The clause on the majority was formulated to dominate the rule according to the wishes of Al-Dawa Party and the Supreme Council.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Why do you say that the issue of the federation in the Constitution was at the wishes of Talibani and Barazani, not the desire of the Kurdish people to have a federal province they rule, which is their right?
[Al-Dari] The desire of the Kurdish people is not the desire of the Iraqi people. The Kurdish people account for no more than 10 percent or 12 percent of the Iraqis. The wishes of the minority should not be imposed on the majority. In any event, if they postpone this Constitution until fair elections are held for all the Iraqi people and the majority say that they want a federation–a federation governed by specific controls that do not jeopardize the unity of the Iraqi people and Iraq’s unity–it would be possible then to allow it. But it was placed in the Constitution before the elections and the Constitution was subsequently put to a referendum. The majority of five provinces rejected it. But they agreed, so all are participating in the political process and the Constitution was pushed through.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]This means that approval by more than 65 percent of the Iraqis of the Constitution in the referendum does not constitute a majority in your eyes?
[Al-Dari] The majority did not approve, especially in central and south Iraq. There are five provinces that rejected the Constitution, namely Al-Mosul, Diyali, Al-Anbar, Salah-al-Din, Al-Simmawa and Negev.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]These are six provinces, not five?
[Al-Dari] Yes, there are 45 percent who voted for the Constitution and 55 percent who voted against it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Let us return to the issue of the federations. Do you not think that the Kurdish people in Iraq with all their great sacrifices deserve to have federal rule and to govern themselves?
[Al-Dari] The Kurdish people are an important part of the Iraqi people. We in the Association of Muslim Scholars appreciate them. They have uniqueness and rights which can be agreed upon among the Iraqi people without external pressures. Further, this uniqueness does not entitle them to get more than their rights. But the Kurdish politicians, who are not the Kurdish people, want more than twice their rights. Thus their eyes are now focused on many neighboring provinces. They want about two-thirds of Al-Mosul (Nineveh) Province. They want all of the Kirkuk Province. They want nearly half the Diyali Province and part of the Province of Salah-al-Din. Accordingly, we say that the north is a dear part of Iraq and that the Kurdish brothers are dear to us. They are an integral part of the Iraqi people and they have their rights but should not take the rights of others.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]What about demands by some provinces to switch to federal rule?
[Al-Dari] Seeking to escape through the federal system from the oppression, exclusion, and marginalization perpetrated by the Prime Minister does not rid the people in these provinces from Al-Maliki and his oppression and marginalization. He is the one responsible for the army and the security and holds resources in his hands. Further, these provinces are open to seditions the extent of which only Allah knows. Who will rule them? Will they be ruled by the present failed and corrupt politicians? Will such politicians ensure for them security and food if they leave Iraq? Do you not see that such provinces would eventually lead to portioning of Iraq because they are sectarian provinces? Federal systems work in homogenous States and are administrative so there is no fear they would lead to dividing the country. These federations will have flags of their own, something which means that the Iraqi national flag which brings the Iraqi nation together will end. Partitioning, borders, and conflicts over borders will start. This would lead to the end of Iraq in the region, which is what the enemies want. The advocacy for the federal system is a menace to Iraq’s existence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Who among the Iraqi politicians in Baghdad do you believe is the most adequate to rule?
[Al-Dari] There is no one among the politicians who rule or who participate in the political process in Baghdad who is fit for running a hamlet or a village, let alone Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Have you supported certain Iraqi political figures?
[Al-Dari] We have not supported any political figures, not before or after the occupation and until the present day.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]When will you feel satisfied with the political process?
[Al-Dari] We would be satisfied about the political process when it is a really a nationalist process that seeks to liberate Iraq, rehabilitate and construct it in a real way and ensure justice to the Iraqis and equality among them; dealing with them as Iraqis not as Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomen, or Muslims and non-Muslims. We want a nationalistic, rational and wise government that serves Iraq and is concerned about its unity, freedom, and resources and that seeks to make the Iraqis happy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]In the light of this, how do you see the direction taken by matters in Iraq today?
[Al-Dari] Matters are heading toward the unknown. There is no intention for reform or benefiting from the past or from what is taking place today on the Arab arena.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]How do you see the future?
[Al-Dari] There are possibilities. These include continuation by Al-Maliki in his escalatory policy and in harming enemies and even partners, whether they are Shiites or Sunnis. His policy is based on increasing tensions, congestion, and quarrels among the constituents of all groups. For instance there is his present policy of getting closer to a certain militia even though he deals with a quarter which is against that militia. Is this not strange?
[Asharq Al-Awsat]Why do you not call things by their real names?
[Al-Dari] I mean he is now making an alliance with Asa’ib al-Haq and the Iraqi Hezbollah while knowing the hostility between Asa’ib and the Sadr current on whose support he relied in forming his present Government. There is also his targeting of Al-Hashimi and Al-Mutlak, and perhaps there will be others to follow. As the saying goes, he now wants to set fire in every quarter and every home. The other possibility is that the problems and differences will perhaps aggravate among the political factions, or that there will be a popular revolution on the pattern of what is happening in the Arab countries–and I do not think this is far-fetched.