Below is another translation of an interview by Iraqi journalist Methaq al-Fayyadh, this time with female Iraqi MP Shirouk al-Abayachi. The interview deals with her role in the Civil Democratic Alliance (CDA), an attempt to bring civil trend actors together behind a unified political platform to contest parliamentary elections.
A dialogue with MP Shirouk al-Abayachi on the Civil Democratic Alliance (CDA) – Methaq al-Fayyadh
Khabaar.net – 19 August, 2014
Why was the Civil Democratic Alliance (CDA) formed? Will a civil state support the Iraqi army? Does the CDA support compulsory military service? What is the CDA’s stance on Sayyid al-Sistani’s call for jihad and volunteers in defence of Iraq? Does the CDA aspire to obtain government ministries? What is the position of the CDA vis-à-vis Kurdish independence, and the legitimacy of the [Kurdish] region exporting oil without central agreement [from Baghdad]? What are the salaries are bonuses that the new MPs will receive? What is a sufficient salary for a member of the Iraqi parliament?
There are many questions for Shirouk Tawfiq al-‘Abayachi, an engineer and MP for the CDA in the Iraqi Parliament.
Who is Shirouk al-Abayachi? Al-Abayachi was born in Baghdad in 1958 and obtained a Master’s degree in engineering sciences from Prague University of Technology in 1986. She returned to Iraq in 2003. She participated in most of the activities that accompanied the establishment of the political process and the writing of the constitution until she was nominated to represent the CDA and entered the Iraqi parliament in 2014.
Methaq al-Fayyadh: Is Sharouk al-Abayachi a communist?
Shirouk al-Abayachi: I am not a communist, but I come from a communist family so I have communist roots. I hold socialist ideas and believe in the principles of social justice and freedom of expression, but I don’t frame my convictions within a particular ideology. I am open to all ideas and ideologies and positions that cohere with my convictions and principles and my faith in humanity and Iraqi nationalism. I agree with what coheres with these convictions and any party that holds them.
Al-Fayyadh: Why did you collectively decide to form the CDA?
Al-Abayachi: The CDA was formed to advocate for the principles of a civil state in Iraq and for a true civil society capable of raising up the country from this deteriorating situation of entrenched sectarianism which has led us to the loss of parts of our country, of our lands, our sovereignty and human dignity. Iraqi women are now bought and sold in the markets, this is the worst that Iraq has been through in all its history, so the civil solution, the civil alternative, is that which is capable of saving Iraq from this crisis afflicted reality. We have a conviction that our current presence on the political scene and in the democratic process as members of parliament is having a significant impact in correcting the path of the political process which has deviated in recent times.
Al-Fayyadh: Will the civil state support the army and military institutions? Is the army qualified to defend Iraq?
Al-Abayachi: The civil state situates each institutional body in its correct place so that there is no intervention or interference between them. The Iraqi army should not intervene in the political process, and the government should not interfere with the military. The Iraqi military must be built on a professional and nationalistic basis, it must be inclusive of all Iraqis without exclusion and without external components influencing the army as is found in other countries. The army must be a tool for protecting the country. However, the Iraqi army has not been qualified to defend Iraq in recent years, and the best evidence for this is what we saw with the fall of Mosul, and what we are witnessing now with the fight against the gangs that have come from outside the country and have, in a short period, come to control over 40% of the land.
We support the return of military service without any distinction made with respect to joining the army on the basis of sect, party, or any other basis.
Al-Fayyadh: Does the CDA aspire to obtain the ‘sovereign ministries’ [wazara siyadiya, term used in Iraq to refer to the Defence, Interior, Oil, Finance, and Foreign Affairs ministries] or the services ministries?
Al-Abayachi: We have stated many times that we will not participate in a government based on sectarian quotas because we believe that the sectarian quotas are what have brought the country to this ruin. Therefore, this is a red line for our participation in the government. However, in the situation of a new mechanism to work on the formation of a technocratic national government with standards of integrity, independence, professionalism, and specialism, and if there were a need to resort to the CDA to support this government, we would do this. There is no truth in the rumours that Mr Faiq al-Sheikh will take the Ministry of Culture or that al-Abayachi will take the Ministry of Migration or Women or Science and Technology. These are all just rumours without truth. We have not participated in any negotiations over the formation of the government up to this point, and if a particular bloc, or Dr. Haider al-‘Abadi, invited us to participate in negotiations, we would participate but we would be very clear in our demands and in the standards we insist on adhering to, and we will not haggle over these.
Al-Fayyadh: How have you found the Iraqi parliament to begin with? Does the MP live an extremely busy life? Does the average voter believe that the MP can do everything on their behalf?
Al-Abayachi: Of course, as you noticed, I am depended on as an MP, we constitute a large number (328 MPs) and its assumed that the MPs divide up the tasks according to their competencies and the body they represent so that they can work effectively to satisfy the demands of the citizens. It is the right of the citizen to demand that officials solve problems. The reality that the Iraqi citizen lives in has many burdens and implications that require that everyone comes together to improve that reality. Every day I receive requests on various matters, from support for the private sector, to releasing imprisoned citizens, to support for studies or the standard of living. Any issue the reader can think of I receive on a daily basis. Of course, I do not possess the capability to satisfy all these demands, but I work to deliver the voice of the Iraqi citizen to the relevant party. Right now, the biggest part of my work is focused on the issue of the internally displaced and the huge dilemma that Iraqi society faces in this regard. I believe that every Iraqi MP, and official, must work day and night because the country is going through a very hard period. I hope that we can rise above personal politics and that there will be institutions capable of absorbing the demands of the citizens and solving them expeditiously.
Al-Fayyadh: Do you think that the new Iraqi parliament will achieve anything for the Iraqi people?
Al-Abayachi: I believe that the entire political process, and all the institutions and administrative and legal bodies, and even the judiciary, failed to meet the level of challenge that Iraq has faced, and the results are clear and well-known. This new round of government formation must be the start of a comprehensive process correcting the path of parliament’s performance (which really wasn’t agreed in the previous rounds), and correcting the work of government on the correct basis and standards, and for the judicial authorities too which must prove to Iraqis that they are an independent authority with integrity distance from political influences. Iraqi society too, with its civil, media, and academic institutions all must deal with these changes and take the initiative to participate in the process of correcting the path and providing oversight and controls not just in terms of criticism and attack and searching for tiny details.
The disastrous reality which Iraq lives through, in terms of some terrorist groups, and the suffering of some regions from bombing, arbitrary arrest and other things, necessitates that all cooperate in reform, especially the cooperation of three offices of state and the civil society institutions, and the media. Every Iraqi is concerned with improving the reality in Iraq, all that have a position based in nationalism, professionalism and a desire to serve the country in this difficult circumstance.
Al-Fayyadh: Do the new MPs receive salaries and benefits? And how many are the parliamentary protections?
Al-Abayachi: We have not received any benefits, allocations, or holidays, I have only taken my salary for a single month. While with respect to the protections, each MP has the right to have with them 30 persons for the purposes of protection. I don’t need this number, nor do I want this as the citizens can see I walk around without protection. However, I do need people to work with me on the various issues serving the citizens, so I announced my donation to found a legal clinic to deliver services and legal advice to people in need and particularly women because of what Iraqi women have been subjected to in terms of injustice and social oppression. Even the law does not provide for them, so in these are issues requiring specialists, not for gender issues only, we have placed lawyers, journalists, activists, and people working on the services for displaced people in this legal clinic, and all of these people, with huge regret, because of what is in the measures put forward by the parliament, come under the label of ‘protection’.
Al-Fayyadh: Is it possible for the reader to know the amount of the MP’s monthly salary?
Al-Abayachi: I have not yet received my salary, but I am told that the list of salaries for the current month has been issued, and I believe it is in the region of 10 million dinar.
Al-Fayyadh: What is the message that you wanted to be delivered via the nomination of the heads of the parliament amidst the big aligned blocs?
Al-Abayachi: The objective it to work to improve the Iraqi situation in all its dimensions. The CDA, despite being a humble bloc in terms of numbers has a very significant and distinct impact, even inside the parliament where most of the MPs from different blocs, some from quite different trends, really trust us to be the alternative, to correct the defects that previously afflicted the performance parliament.
Al-Fayyadh: How do you find the call of Sayyid al-Sistani for volunteers and jihad, are there negative effects of the militarisation of the Iraqi street?
Al-Abayachi: Of course, we are working to end militarisation and the manifestations of militarisation, and we know very well that these manifestations of militarisation, checkpoints, and militias etc. have damaged and not served the security situation. Therefore, we call for a return to professionalism and restoring matters to how they should be, that is the competent forces working in accordance with a correct national basis, not on the basis of sect, and not as it is now with checkpoints belonging to one group or sect. As we see, the citizens suffer as much from the presence as from the absence of checkpoints, as happened in al-Kadhimiya and al-Karadah and checkpoints in other areas where because of the gathering of the people amidst this hot weather a suicide bomber comes and blows himself up causing a disaster, and there is no change in the way the matters are dealt with. Consequently, we reject the militarisation of society call for a complete security plan that draws on modern methods, intelligence, and surveillance of suspicious persons. The way security is currently planned citizens suffer while the terrorists do not. The terrorist can carry out explosions at any time and nothing stops him from carrying out his terrorist actions.
However, the call of al-Marja’ al-Sistani for jihad and volunteers was, of course, coming in a specific context. We were all shocked when Mosul, the second city in Iraq, fell in a matter of hours and the gangs of Daesh creeped into Iraqi cities and seized them with ease and without any resistance. This was truly shocking. Consequently, this call got the attention of society, for if the army fails to protect the country then the people must defend themselves, but not through random means, for anyone who carries weapons for the purpose of the call of al-Marja’ al-Sistani defending the country and defending the citizens and Iraqi cities, but there are groups exploiting the vacuum, not the call, the chaos and the shock which we were subjected to. The matter has begun to be remedied, but we still call for there to be no armed groups outside the framework of the state.
Al-Fayyadh: Will Dr Haider al-‘Abadi succeed in leading Iraq?
Al-Abayachi: We welcomed the process of entrusting Dr Haider al-‘Abadi with the formation of the government and we consider this the first step to getting out of the impasse. However, there is much that he must do to administer Iraq in this difficult condition. Our position towards him is that we will be truthful and supportive partners for him, so that he benefits from recent experience and doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and works to form a government of nationalist technocrats, and that his governmental programme is inclusive not exclusive of any party, that it be based on the principle of citizenship for all. This work depends on the principle of separation between the authorities and the independent bodies that can practice their specialisations impartially and professionally, the media carrying out its role, and civil society its role, that women can have a clear part in the formation of the government, and that we really be participants and observers sharing in the process of building and observing any defects which afflict this path.
Al-Fayyadh: The constitution states that Iraq is a federal state, does the CDA support the division of Iraq into provinces as some are calling for?
Al-Abayachi: When the constitution mentions that Iraq is a federal state, it means federalism for unity, the mechanism which prevents division. A country like Iraq is very complex and has many components, and because the practices of the previous regime focused on the Shi’a and the Kurds as Shi’a and as Kurds, and there were also the communists who were oppressed by the regime, and Sunnis who were oppressed, and even some of the Ba’thists were oppressed by the Saddam regime, it was clear after the fall of the previous regime that these accumulations were leading to the splintering of the country. Federalism, if applied properly, protects the unity of Iraq by preserving its particularities and preserving the possibility of self-administration in a way that accommodates these particularities. The Kurds have the right to organise their own affairs, as they have a very clear character in Iraqi society. Now, regrettably, because of some of the exclusionary and marginalising policies towards the other components it has become clear that the Sunnis want some degree of self-administration so that they can protect themselves and have a share in this country, and even the Christians and Yazidis want the same. Regrettably, all this is because of the exclusionary politics and the defects that occurred in dealing with the components of the Iraqi people, so we must revise the principles which organise the relationship between the federal and local government, the distribution of powers amongst them, so that they are truly capable of taking advantage of this and administering their affairs without intense centralization and this failed process whereby power is concentrated in the hands of one person. Federalism is exactly the opposite of this centralization process, therefore we call for the implementation of the principles of federalism in the right way which includes the unity of Iraq, includes every component, province, local administration obtaining their rights and prerogatives without marginalisation from the central government.
Al-Fayyadh: How do you read the situation of achieving a Kurdish state?
Al-Abayachi: The first principles of the doctrine of human rights speaks of the right of a people to self-determination, and the right of any people to decide their own fate, and this right cannot be given or granted to anyone, since, as a consequence of the experience of the entire world, this is considered one of the fundamental rights. The Kurdish people have the right to decide on separation or remaining with Iraqis, and this is their right. Iraq also has the right to compensate its citizens for the previous injustices, as we saw when they practiced a little independence in the administration of their affairs, but were not separate from Iraq, they gave their citizens services that the Baghdad government was unable to provide to its citizens, or the other governments in Basra, Anbar etc, while they had the right to build their cities, institutions, economy in a way that served the region. Nobody is preventing them from announcing a state but if they say that they are part of Iraq they must be included in a federal Iraq, bound by its constitution and within the working mechanisms of genuine federalism. Meanwhile, if they break away there must be international intervention over the contested areas such as Kirkuk and elsewhere, for we Iraqis are not capable find resolution on these matters.
Al-Fayyadh: Must the mandate of Masoud Barzani be determined if the Kurds remain within Iraq?
Al-Abayachi: This is an internal issue for the province. If the governor of Basra was in the same situation nothing would happen, this is not a federal issue.
Al-Fayyadh: What is your view on the exportation of oil directly from Kurdistan without any return to the centre?
Al-Abayachi: The reason is that there is fault compounding a fault. The number of officials in the region is approximately 800,000 and they have not received a salary for a period of 6 months, and the economy depends on the federal government. There is a fault in the relationship between the region and the central government as there is no dialogue and no channels of cooperation and each cheats the other. How can they support these citizens in the region, how can they manage the affairs of three provinces in which there are residents and institutions? I do not justify or legitimise the smuggling of oil which is illegal, but there are things prompting them to take these measures. The fault must be corrected, and matters returned to their correct state, there must be a correct and constructive relationship on clear issues distanced from the political mood.
Al-Fayyadh: Has the CDA, or will it in the future, act as mediators between Baghdad and Erbil?
Al-Abayachi: We did not previously act as mediators to bring the views of the parties together because the previous Prime Minister would not listen to anything in this regard. However, of course, we will in the future act as mediators to solve the crisis and bring the parties together.
Al-Fayyadh: Do you think there is intervention from neighbouring countries?
Al-Abayachi: Of course, because of the fragility of Iraq all these countries intervene and interfere in the Iraqi situation, negatively and positively, but mostly negatively. We want a positive relationship with neighbouring countries, built on mutual respect, respect for sovereignty, respect for relationships, and that there be economic, cultural and political cooperation with all, according to the possibilities of each. What Iran provides us in terms of a good neighbour might differ from what Saudi, Turkey, or Syria can provide. We want positive relationships with all our neighbours, Iraq must be a source of stability for the region, for strong relationships, and we work for the interest of Iraq, the sovereignty of Iraq and respect for the particular characteristics of Iraq. The interventions since 2003 and up until today from neighbouring countries has brought us to this reality.