Iraqi Vice President Khodeir al-Khozaei affirmed that the health of President Jalal Talabani is improving and that he is no longer in critical condition after the stroke that he suffered. Khozaei said that the central government’s relationship with the Kurds is based on mutual understanding; recent skirmishes were a part of the state management. In an interview with Al-Hayat, Khozaei denied what his partners in government perceive as the predominance of the army and security agencies on the political scene and the imposition of their will. Khozaei considered the steps taken by Syrian Kurds to establish an autonomous rule in their regions along the Iraqi borders as normal and to be better than conflicts.
Below is the full text of the interview:
Al-Hayat: How is the presidency being managed during the absence of the president?
Khozaei: President Jalal Talabani is a balanced and positive man in his relationship with everyone. He played an important role in bringing everyone together and overcoming hardships. His sickness did not usher in a constitutional or legal vacuum. Article 75 of the constitution speaks of the vice president taking over the duties of the president; currently I am not wielding his powers in their entirety.
Al-Hayat: What can you tell us about the health of the president?
Khozaei: According to the reports and news that we secured, his health is a lot better than it was three months ago. Last spring, I went to his hospital but I could not directly meet with him due to his intensive care program. He had a stroke that affected the basal ganglia — a central part of the brain — which impeded the blood from flowing into other parts of the brain. Yet, he overcame this. The president can now move, stand up and sit, and he has also started to talk.
Al-Hayat: How do you perceive the position of the Kurds in the current Iraqi equation?
Khozaei: The Iraqi Kurdistan region is an important part of Iraq and our relationship with it is permanent. The Kurds are main partners in the struggle against dictatorships and we share the same fate. We are equal in terms of rights and duties, and we refer to the constitution to settle any disputes. Our relationship with the Kurds is based on mutual understanding; we haven’t and we will not cut off amicable ties with them and these feelings are reciprocal. We consensually agree on the concept of peaceful coexistence. The skirmishes that came to pass are a part of state management.
Al-Hayat: Where did the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil reach?
Khozaei: The crisis can be resolved through dialogue, positive understanding and a consensual solution. The last visits between the prime minister of the federal government and the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region has broken the ice.
Al-Hayat: Why don’t you issue a new draft for the law on oil and gas?
Khozaei: The draft law is there and the crafting of a new law will create a crisis. The dialogue between both parties to reach an agreement on the articles is ongoing.
Al-Hayat: What about Article 140 on the disputed regions?
Khozaei: The federal government has set new committees tasked with implementing the clauses of this article. The government dedicated money for this purpose, yet the issue is not free of complications. There are two important factors controlling the implementation of Article 140. The first is the political will, and everyone is showing will and persistence. The second factor is technical. Article 140 means that we have the responsibility to come up with a just social contract that reinforces the harmony between the minorities that have been living in the regions mentioned in this article for ages. Whatever the committees come up with will be binding to all parties.
Al-Hayat: Partners in the political process fear that the “military class” may be able to impose its will on the nation through militarizing political disputes?
Khozaei: There is no political class in Iraq. Military and security leaders do not dominate the political scene or the nation’s capabilities and they do not impose their will on any of the authorities. Politicians are the ones who run all affairs, including security. There is an understanding between the military and politicians.
Al-Hayat: In your opinion, what is the reason behind the deterioration of the security situation in the country?
Khozaei: There are many reasons, mainly the political crisis — which branched out into economic, social and other crises. Most importantly, one should not forget that following April 2003, Iraq did not have an army, because the actual formation of the army and other security forces started after the withdrawal of the US forces. The army was formed to face major challenges such as terrorism by al-Qaeda and the Baath party.
Al-Hayat: After the escape of hundreds of prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison in this way, has the security situation taken a serious turn?
Khozaei: Al-Qaeda will not return to the way it was and it cannot regain control. It is true that it continues to have activities, but they are limited. Today, terrorism is rife in all parts of the world. The Iraqi state possesses all necessary capabilities to impose security, no matter the security challenges.
Al-Hayat: Who stands behind al-Qaeda in Iraq?
Khozaei: Political money sustains the killing machine.
Al-Hayat: The constitution has granted you today the powers of the president of the republic. What is your stance on Syria’s Kurds, who are mobilizing towards the declaration of self-rule in their areas?
Khozaei: We do not interfere in others’ affairs and do not allow others to interfere in ours. We support the will of the people to self-determination, whatever their decision.
Al-Hayat: Are you not anxious about what is going on?
Khozaei: Autonomy for Kurds in Syria does not worry us. We see it as something normal as it serves as a sort of solution to the problems. It is better than fighting. From the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Iraq has had the same stance. Now, after all this destruction and losses suffered by the Syrian people, major countries reneged on their previous stance of supporting the option of arms. Today, all parties are calling for what we have been calling for from the first day of the Syrian crisis, which is a peaceful dialogue to end the problem. We called for a cease-fire, preventing the supply of arms, and forming a transitional government as happened in Iraq and Yemen until the organization of general elections.
Al-Hayat: But Iraq is accused of supporting the regime in Syria?
Khozaei: What kind of support?
Al-Hayat: Hasn’t your country turned into a conduit for weapons and militants?
Khozaei: We did not and will never allow Iraq to be a conduit for weapons to any party to the conflict in Syria. There are two types of militants in Syria. First, there are fighters who are affiliated with al-Qaeda. They joined terrorist groups that are fighting under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has been previously declared.
Second, there are the displaced Iraqis and those who left Iraq to join the fighting to defend shrines. The Iraqi government did not offer any facilities to these fighters. The Shiite fighters entered Syria through a third country. The state cannot ban Iraqis from traveling to any destination. It cannot prevent them based on intentions and speculations.
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