Al-Yawir on the Chalabi Affair
The LBC Arab satellite channel ran an extended interview Sunday afternoon EST with interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir. The interviewer asked him at one point if Ahmad Chalabi would be arrested. He adopted a stern visage and said “Why would Chalabi be arrested?” The interviewer recalled for him that interim Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan had said late last week that Chalabi would be turned over to Interpol. She also pointed out that Shaalan is running on Yawir’s slate, al-Iraqiyyun.
Yawir replied that in contemporary Iraq, there is a separation of powers. The judiciary is independent, and the executive does not have the authority to have people arrested. He insisted that the bad old days of personal rule in Iraq [exemplified in Saddam] were over.
He said that Hazem Shaalan is an Iraqi patriot, but has a tendency to express sharp opinions in public that do not represent those of the al-Iraqiyyun Party slate, nor even the interim Iraqi government. He pointed out that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had distanced his government from some of Shaalan’s statements.
Shaalan directed his threat against Chalabi after the latter revealed that Shaalan had sent $300 million in cash to a Beirut Bank. Shaalan says it was to buy tanks and other weapons for the Iraqi government. The United States is investigating the transfer of funds.
Yawir also revealed that he had initially hoped to have a joint slate with Iyad Allawi, since the politicians on both lists are dedicated to “civil” (i.e. non-theocratic) governance. He said he did not like the word “secular” (`almani) to describe their stance, but preferred “civil” (madani). He said he believed that religion is too sublime and pure to be mixed into the nitty-gritty of day to day politics. He also expressed doubt that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had openly endorsed the United Iraqi Alliance, the largely Shiite list, saying that it was incumbent on a religious authority to stand above the fray and wish well to all Iraqis.
He admitted that the reason for which he decided to run a separate list had to do with a dispute over who would occupy the number 1 position. Al-Yawir said he felt that the president could hardly be the number two candidate on the list. He said that Allawi had inisted that the number one position had to be occupied by a Shiite [to appeal to Iraq’s Shiite majority.] He expressed confidence that everything had worked out for the best, and speculated that the two parties might attract more Iraqis to vote than if they had been just one.
Actually, the logic of this election would have favored a single list, and al-Yawir was unwise not to compromise with Allawi on this issue. Parties will be seated by their proportion of the national vote, so it is in the interests of a party coalition to put together a list that will attract the biggest percentage of votes. This is why it was such a stroke of genius for Sistani and his people to insist that all the major Shiite parties be part of one coalition slate, the United Iraqi Alliance.
On the issue of postponing the elections, al-Yawir (a Sunni Arab) said he is a realistic man, and that it is not possible to stand against the majority of Iraqis who want the elections to go forward on January 30.
Al-Yawir also complained that although he had good relations with interim PM Allawi, he did not feel that the president was kept informed of all important decisions or that there was a satisfactory division of duties between the president and prime minister.
The anchor suggested that the interim constitution was vague and that this issue could be addressed when parliament took up the permanent constitution after the elections.