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Iraqi Vice President Discusses Political Crisis in Baghdad

December 14, 2006 at 3:05 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: President Bush has been busy the past two weeks, reaching out to key Iraqi political leaders. Last week at the White House, the visitor was Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Iran-backed Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Hakim is a rival of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls a militia known as the Mahdi Army. Sadr’s allies are a major part of the current Iraq government.

Hakim’s visit came amid reports that several Iraqi factions were maneuvering to reduce Sadr’s political clout and the role of the Mahdi Army, which has been accused of deepening sectarian violence and killing Sunni Arabs. In an interview with the NewsHour, I asked Hakim about Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Would you like to see them disarm?

ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM, Iraqi Shiite Cleric (through translator): I want to see all committed with the political process, with the law, with order. This is the will of all the Iraqis.

RAY SUAREZ: Tuesday, the president hosted Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi at the White House. Hashemi heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni group in parliament.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: And I thank you for being a leader of one aspect of Iraqi society. You’re the leader of the many Sunnis. And you’re committed to a government that is Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and everybody else in your country, every other group in your country, that will help achieve peace.

A unity government

Tariq Al-Hashemi
Iraqi Vice President
One side, in fact, I would like to get rid and to try to challenge the militias, which they introduce themselves that they are -- they are the Mahdi Army. The Mahdi Army is part of the Sadrist organization.

RAY SUAREZ: I spoke with Hashemi earlier today.

Mr. Vice President, welcome to the program.

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI, Iraqi Vice President: Thank you very much.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you among those Iraqi politicians who are supporting factions, who want to reorganize the governing coalition in Iraq?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: We do have current dialogue, in fact, between the majority of the political entities that are already in the government to strengthening the political ties, on the assumption that this might lead, in fact, to mitigate the current violence in Iraq in general, and Baghdad in particular.

RAY SUAREZ: When you say a majority of entities are being consulted, would this result in a government that would not need Muqtada al-Sadr's deputies or his cabinet ministers to govern?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: Well, this is the hard decision that has to be taken, in fact, by the prime minister himself. So, if we have to break up this coalition, in fact, and to have a unique coalition dedicated for what could be described as a moderate political entities, this automatically means that somebody else, in fact, would be out of this coalition. And, yes, Sadrists, in fact, should be out of that.

RAY SUAREZ: I understand it's not your call, but you think it's a desirable thing to form a government that still keeps the same platform, that still is a government of national unity, but doesn't include the Sadrists?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: Well, I am just reading the consequences of this sort of a proposal. I am really, in fact, very, very worried on that.

One side, in fact, I would like to get rid and to try to challenge the militias, which they introduce themselves that they are Jaish al Mahdi -- they are the Mahdi Army. Al Mahdi Army is part of the Sadrist organization. This is part of the current dilemma in Baghdad, in fact, and we have to stop that.

If Muqtada al-Sadr is going to tackle this problem, it's well and fair, in fact. I would be very happy, in fact, and if Sadrists should continue their representation in the cabinet, as well as in the parliament, as well, and to continue being a major player in the political process.

I don't want, in fact, to be Sadrists out of the political process and without studying carefully, in fact, the consequences and the reaction from the Sadrists that they are becoming isolated from the political process.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Tariq Al-Hashemi
Iraqi Vice President
That national security should be in charge of all security matters in Iraq. Again, the mission of this counsel being aborted deliberately, in fact, and not being taken seriously, in fact, no even significant decision taken.

RAY SUAREZ: Would you say that the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is doing a good job and doing a good enough job to remain in his post for the future?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: I do have reservation about his performances so far. And we were very frank with him, in fact, in tackling various issues that are still pending.

First of all, we should have, in fact, for all what we could describe, in fact, or categorize as a strategic and quite important national issues that has to be addressed and agreed upon on consensus basis. This has not been honored. Many, many decisions taken on the ground of non-consultation with us, for instance. This is one.

Second, we should have what we call it, political council for national security. That national security should be in charge of all security matters in Iraq. Again, the mission of this council being aborted deliberately, in fact, and not being taken seriously, in fact, no even significant decision taken. After five months of continuous meetings, in fact, the result of this council, in fact, is meaningless.

The other important issue is, in fact, we agreed, many ministries being closed, not only to sects, but a party in a sect. Like, for instance...

RAY SUAREZ: One particular Shiite faction would take over a ministry?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: It's already done, in fact. If you have -- what is the ministry of health is being closed for Sadrist. Ministry of transportation closed for Sadrists, for instance. The most striking issue of minister of interior and the minister of defense, as well, in fact. They are loyal to the sects and to the parties that they belong to.

RAY SUAREZ: Did you share your concerns with President Bush? Because he's called the prime minister the right man for the job.

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: Well, I don't want to talk anything on behalf of the president. In fact, I think it's better to ask him personally about that.

But I could say one thing, in fact, one, the president, I found him very, very concerned about the current situation. He's concerned about the government and their performances. And that revealed to me that he's indirectly unhappy about all in the cabinet time being.

Withdrawing American troops

Tariq Al-Hashemi
Iraqi Vice President
There are foreign troops on my territory. This in itself is damaging the sovereignty of the -- the dignity of the country, the dignity of the people, and the sovereignty of the country.

RAY SUAREZ: In the past, you've said publicly that you'd like American troops to leave Iraq. How do you feel about that now? And do you think a date is necessary?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: There are foreign troops on my territory. This in itself is damaging the sovereignty of the -- the dignity of the country, the dignity of the people, and the sovereignty of the country. This is one. So I would be very happy, in fact, to see my country, in fact, free from any sort of presence of any foreign troops.

On the other hand, I am a man of practicality. I am quite worried time being, because of the worsened situation in security. I am worried about this security vacuum.

So I am sincerely looking now for a plan that, one, gives the message to the Iraqis that the existence of the American troops will be temporary. This is one.

But there, whatever the time will take to restructure, retrain, supply equipment, armament for a newborn army, and the security forces of MOI. If it takes one-and-a-half years or two years, in fact, after the completion of this program -- and I am expecting the American administrations going to contribute and finance and offer their expertise -- and finals, and offer their expertise, in fact, to have a professional and patriotic security forces.

Once you complete that, there will be no need, in fact, to keep the American troops on the Iraqi territories. So what I am calling now is a timetable-conditional withdrawal, basically to have other national troops to replace the American army. Once you finish that, definitely there will be no need, in fact, for the Americans to stay in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: What have you been telling officials in Washington about your own plan to reformulate the Iraqi army?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: The solution for that, in fact, to have a reliable, well-experienced army, in fact, to call units of the ex-army of Saddam Hussein, for instance, kick out those who are loyal to Saddam Hussein, the higher ranks officer, and you could call units other than to individuals.

In calling units, in fact, back to service, this means that you will call a bunch of people, some of them Shiites, some of them Sunnis, some of them Christian, Muslim. So you will go automatically, in fact, get rid of this sectarian division and tension that's going on time being.

This is just a major ingredient in reforming the current national armed forces in Iraq.

Who are the perpetrators?

Tariq Al-Hashemi
Iraqi Vice President
Iraqis, unfortunately, are becoming just an instrument in the hand of foreigners to kill each other, like a few neighboring countries, they don't want, in fact, to see Iraq strong, healthy and prosperous.

RAY SUAREZ: Final question: Who is killing whom in Iraq? Americans turn on their television, and they see Iraqis killing Iraqis. Who are the attackers? Who are the victims? And what are they trying to accomplish?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: Iraqis, unfortunately, are becoming just an instrument in the hand of foreigners to kill each other, like a few neighboring countries, they don't want, in fact, to see Iraq strong, healthy and prosperous. They do want to, in fact, to make things difficult to Iraqis, to destroy this model that has been seen to be quite encouraging to the Iraqis after the collapse of Saddam Hussein. They don't want, in fact, to see a strong, democratic and modern Iraq in the Middle East.

RAY SUAREZ: Vice President al-Hashemi, thank you very much.

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: You are most welcome. Thank you very much.