Iraqi VP Osama al-Nujaifi spoke with Rudaw anchor Dildar Herki in a televised interview over the weekend. They covered a wide range of issues including the Baghdad-Erbil stalemate, the possibility of a Sunni alliance with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the future of Hashd al-Shaabi, politics and rebuilding in Mosul.
'I believe Baghdad and Erbil will start to hold talks in the coming days. I am optimistic a preliminary agreement will be made soon on how to resolve these problems,' he said.
Nujaifi believes an investigation should be conducted into the government’s role during the rise of ISIS in his home city of Mosul. Regarding the general elections scheduled for May 12, the VP is hopeful that conditions in war-torn parts of the country will improve so elections can be held on time.
Rudaw: Let’s start with your recent visit to Washington. You have declared you will be supporting Haider al-Abadi for a second term as prime minister. Why do you support him?
VP Osama al-Nujaifi:
The perspectives of His Excellency Abadi are close to those of the public. In addition, he has achieved many
Hashd should be integrated with the Iraqi army and police forces and should be completely distanced from political processes.
victories. However, our support for him will be conditional.
What are your conditions?
There should be negotiations on how the country should be run after elections are held – ensuring security and stability, preventing the bearing of weapons by groups, giving rights to all communities, armed groups intending to impose themselves on people should be prevented and balance should be made in foreign relations.
Whose weapons are you referring to, those of the Hashd al-Shaabi? Is one of your conditions the dissolution of the Hashd?
We stood against the designing of a law for the Hashd al-Shaabi forces right from the beginning because we think the formation of
[Hashd] meddle in elections a lot and try to impose their will in some places.
any force other than the Iraqi army will cause instability in the future. The law was finally passed but was not implemented properly. There still are relations between some political leaders and some armed groups and they have registered themselves as official parties in order to participate in elections. That is why the Hashd should be integrated with the Iraqi army and police forces and should be completely distanced from political processes.
The problem is most of these groups are faith-based and have been working as organized groups for 30 to 40 years. This is one of the problems. They meddle in elections a lot and try to impose their will in some places. They can even change the outcome of elections.
Do you have any plans to form a political alliance with Haider al-Abadi?
I received a message from Abadi, delivered by some important people, in which he had expressed his willingness to hold talks on elections. And I communicated to him that negotiations and discussions should be held on this matter. But no negotiations have been held so far.
Some Sunni leaders have called for elections to be delayed because of the presence of the Hashd al-Shaabi in Sunni areas. Is this your request too?
Elections should be held on time. This is a constitutional matter. However, I think it is a mistake to insist on holding elections in the
In general, the [political] conditions of the Sunnis are currently much better than before...
presence of these kinds of problems and if the situation is not apt. The Council of Ministers has decided that internally displaced persons should return to their hometowns.
A decision was also made on normalizing the situation and ensuring stability. And this means the withdrawal of the Hashd al-Shaabi forces that entered our areas because of the operations. Thus, elections will be a joke if this is not done. The present time is not suitable for elections, but we have been promised that these situations will change in the next few months.
Do you think the Sunni alliance with its current form can last and continue working with the prime minister?
All Sunni parties have gathered under the umbrella of an alliance of Iraqi national parties. His Excellency [Speaker] Salim al-Jabouri
The US is concerned because of certain behaviors, such as Iranian meddling... And we too concur with them in some matters.
and I too are part of this alliance which has its own internal criteria. There currently are efforts underway to find a mechanism for elections, i.e. should they participate in elections with one list or multiple lists gathered within one framework later? There will be intensive meetings in the coming days on the form of this mechanism. In general, the conditions of the Sunnis are currently much better than before, in that there nowadays are rules and an organized framework that gathers them.
Is barring the Hashd al-Shaabi forces from participating in elections one of your conditions to enter an alliance with Haider al-Abadi?
This is not only our condition. It is a constitutional one too. Even Abadi has discussed this question on different occasions. He is
The recent decision by the US president is a disaster for the region
committed to this matter, which is why it isn’t appropriate for us to make this a condition on him.
Has the international community or the United States given you any guarantees for this matter?
There are no guarantees. The United States is concerned because of certain behaviors, such as Iranian meddling and some strange
I visited Mosul two days ago... It is calm and there are trade activities.
agendas that have imposed their hegemony on Iraq. And we too concur with them in some matters. However, that being said, we differ on some other issues.
What are the questions on which you disagree with the US?
There are problems with US public policy. For example, the recent decision by the US president is a disaster for the region. It further strengthened the role of Iran and spread widespread violence. This is something we strongly reject.
How is the situation in Nineveh Province now?
I visited Mosul two days ago. Life has gone back to normal on the left bank of the city. It is calm and there are trade activities. But the services are very weak and cumbersome. There is a complete humanitarian catastrophe. There are some areas that have been
It is unacceptable for security forces or legal parties to kill people without trying them.
completely ruined and have no services, but a weak administration.
No steps have been taken to bring the city back to normal. The local government is very careless. They could have started services there. The federal government is also negligent too in this regard. There are some disorganized efforts that have not led to solutions for the problems of Mosul. These problems should be resolved as soon as possible otherwise a big disaster will occur.
Reports by international newspapers show human rights violations, indicating that there have been tens of civilian killings in Nineveh. To what extent do you think these reports are accurate?
There certainly are many reports on murders, some of which are committed with prejudice, especially revenges by civilians on people suspected of having been ISIS members or were ISIS members. But these incidents are being investigated. It is unacceptable for
There are Nineveh Guards who are from Mosul, registered with the Hashd al-Shaabi forces...
security forces or legal parties to kill people without trying them.
Who is responsible for these violations?
The army does surely not commit planned and organized violations. Some Hashd al-Shaabi officers and members, tribal people and even civilians have perpetrated violations.
Which armed forces are in Mosul? Are Hashd al-Shaabi forces there?
There are Nineveh Guards who are from Mosul, registered with the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, but under the command of Iraqi armed
Mosul is a lot greater than being turned into a Shiite city.
forces. There are also some small Hashd groups there that belong to Mosul. The Iraqi army, federal police and internal police forces are also present. The Hashd al-Shaabi forces are outside Mosul city. Southern and central Hashd are in towns and sub-districts too.
Some people from Mosul complain that there are forced demographic changes [a shift to majority Shiites] in the city. Is this true?
This might have been somehow overstated. Most people to whom situations were suitable have returned. But most people who haven’t returned haven’t done so because they don’t have houses there. On the right bank of the city alone, 11,000 houses have been
I think another decision to remove the governor will be made.
ruined. This means that at least 11,000 families cannot return. There are, however, some violations too. Security situations are not 100 percent. But the propaganda that Mosul is facing forced demographic change is groundless. Mosul is a lot greater than being turned into a Shiite city.
Has any budget been dedicated for the reconstruction of Mosul?
There hasn’t been anything important done so far. Secondary things have been done. Livelihood services haven’t been dedicated to the city.
Was the lack of a good budget for Mosul the reason behind returning the budget draft to the Iraqi Presidency’s Council of Ministers?
Yes, our lawmakers rejected the budget bill because it didn’t contain adequate funds for the reconstruction of Mosul. This is in
Who do you think is responsible for the situation of Mosul remaining the same?
addition to the employees’ salaries and other essentials related to the development of our region and its service sectors. That is why we boycotted it in the first session held for it.
Were there any joint plans by the Kurds and Sunnis to reject the budget bill?
Yes, the budget bill was rejected jointly. But the reasons for doing so were different [for each].
Who do you think is responsible for the situation of Mosul remaining the same?
We think the previous government was the reason for the fall and invasion of Mosul.
The lack of a plan by the governmental to develop the province, not dedicating funds in the general budget or by the international community, and much corruption in the local government with respect to the funds dedicated to the city. This was the reason why much of the international assistance was halted.
Nineveh’s Provincial Council ousted the Governor Nofal Hammadi. But the Federal Court dismissed the decision made by the Provincial Council. What do you think of the governor’s performance?
The rejection of the decision was superficial. It wasn’t an investigation. I think another decision to remove the governor will be made.
In addition, some military commanders deliberately paved the way to hand over the province.
We are in no way satisfied with the performance of the governor, and think that he is not fit for purpose as governor of Nineveh.
Haider al-Abadi has spoken of trying Nouri al-Maliki for handing over the province of Nineveh as ISIS came to power. Do you think he will do this? Would you support him if he does that?
He has on no occasions and in no way mentioned the name of his Excellency al-Maliki. However, he did say they would support an honest and real investigation by permitted parties into whoever was the reason behind the invasion of Mosul – all relevant people.
Will the reach of this investigation include Nouri al-Maliki?
Even [former Nineveh Governor] Atheel al-Nujaifi; we have no objections to this. We think the previous government was the reason
I believe Baghdad and Erbil will start to hold talks in the coming days. I am optimistic...
for the fall and invasion of Mosul. In addition, some military commanders deliberately paved the way to hand over the province. We support an investigation into this matter, and think that all the people complicit in this matter should be tried and given fair punishment at the earliest convenience.
Why do you think these investigations have stopped?
The political situation in Baghdad is an impediment. There is some kind of rivalry – they prevent the prime minister, parliament and courts to settle this question. We think a strong, independent, and impartial party should resolve this very complex question.
There are claims that Haider al-Abadi will not win if elections are held on time. Rather, al-Maliki is said to win because of his being supported by the Hashd al-Shaabi. What do you make of this?
His Excellency al-Abadi is at the peak of his strength currently and his victories in countering terrorism are obvious. There are,
We surely are against the referendum because disputed areas were trespassed and annexed to the Kurdistan Region.
however, many problems in the country, which might end in the next few months and be exploited by al-Abadi’s rivals. These problems range from economy, services and other relevant ones. He is a strong contender now, but might be weak in the coming days. I think many problems will be created for al-Maliki too because of different cases.
You recently visited his Excellency Masoud Barzani. Did you have any letters or initiatives from Baghdad to deliver to Barzani?
My visit to his Excellency Barzani was political. I had no letters to deliver. As vice president and leader of Al-Hadba party, I wanted to discuss with Barzani the situation of Kurdistan, its relations with Baghdad, and possible ways to reach a solution.
Haider al-Abadi rejected the joint initiative by you and Ayad Allawi, which argued for a solution reached with the federal government. The Iraqi government says they need no mediators to talk to the Kurdistan Region. If that is the case, then why have negotiations not been held with Erbil yet?
Both parties certainly have many friends who are trying to create appropriate conditions in order for these negotiations to be held. The latest attempt was an initiative presented recently by France. There are talks between both, especially on military matters. There
We support dialogue with the Kurdish nation, not sanctions on the nation.
are also meetings between commanders of the Iraqi army and Peshmerga on border ports. Abadi has set some conditions for negotiations and the Kurdistan Region has stuck to some stances and is not accepting that they be altered. Its decision to accept the decision made by the federal court was positive, though. I think it will open the door for dialogue, too. I believe Baghdad and Erbil will start to hold talks in the coming days. I am optimistic a preliminary agreement will be made soon on how to resolve these problems.
Do you support Haider al-Abadi’s condition of revoking the result of the referendum?
We surely are against the referendum because disputed areas were trespassed and annexed to the Kurdistan Region. There was a decision to declare a state that included all these territories, and this is contrary to the Iraqi constitution. We are against this cause. And the federal court’s decision is decisive and everyone should abide by it.
Why do you support the decision made by the federal court on this case alone, while there are other cases like banning flights from and to the Kurdistan Region’s airports, yet the federal court has not met to address this issue?
We support dialogue with the Kurdish nation, not sanctions on the nation. This was our position even before the referendum was
There is assistance to stop the activities of [the PKK] and distance it from Iraqi territory.
held. We think there is an opportunity to solve the problems in a friendly manner. We are one nation. The federal court annulled the referendum and its results. And the federal government should now solve the problem of border ports.
There is a Turkish force in Bashiqa. What is the latest on this question? The federal government asked for the removal of these forces, but Turkey insisted on staying and was against the Hashd al-Shaabi to enter Tal Afar and Mosul. What do you think of Turkish forces being there? Have Baghdad and Ankara reached an agreement on this issue?
I think negotiations between the Iraqi and Turkish governments were held. There were important visits too. I think this question has been deferred due to current situations, such as the question of the Kurdistan Workers Party, Kurdistan’s referendum, and the question of destroying the remnants of terrorism that has not ended yet. Hence, there is silence on this matter.
What is the content of the agreement reached between Baghdad and Ankara on the presence of the PKK in Shingal and Makhmur?
I don’t know the specifics of this agreement because I am not part of the Council of Ministers. This question is related to the National Security Council. But there could be special agreements. There is assistance to stop the activities of this party and distance it from Iraqi territory.