Session 7: Dialogue and reconciliation, the start of nation-building in Iraq
Part 1: Intervention of Fuad Masum (President of Iraq)
Part 2: Intervention of Salim al-Jubouri (Speaker of Parliament)
Part 3: Intervention of Bayan Jabr al-Zubaidi (Minister of Transport)
Part 4: Questions & Answers Session
Transcription of Fuad Masum (President of Iraq)
Firstly, I would like to congratulate MERI and I hope that the institute continues in holding such important activities that tackle most of the problems we are suffering from. Secondly, I want to say something off the topic. Dr. Dlawer sounded confused to me about using the words “his Majesty” and “his Excellency”. These expressions were all used during the Ottoman Empire and they were used during the monarchy reign. “His Majesty, the King”, “His Highness the Crown Prince”, “His Excellency Mr. Prime minister”, and the poor people were not even called by their names. There was no expression used to call them. As for the Arabic countries, the first country who abandoned the usage of such terms, was Egypt. Instead of using these terms, Mr. President is to be used just like the other countries.
At the beginning of the political process we used to use, jokingly, His Majesty and His Excellency, etc. But it sounded strange to us. I personally, for a long period of time, was giving this matter importance, but my friend Dr. Heider Al-Abadi, announced in a press conference that he does not want such expressions to be used while he is addressed, and thus he preceded me and registered it in his name. I should have started announcing this earlier but since he has done so before me, I don’t have the right to contest that. In the presidency, these titles are not used, only Mr. President. This is to avoid class differences since when a person takes a position of importance, all of these sumptuous and great titles are attached to them. I now turn back to the topic.
From the very beginning of the recent government formation process in this current round, focus was directed to the process of the reconciliation. Reconciliation has been functional for the last 6-7 years. But unfortunately, this process centered around employing a number of people to pay some visits, conduct meetings with certain tribal and community leaders and politicians. This has not produced anything. Reconciliation in itself is not a goal but a means to reach civil peace. Civil peace is the essential part.
The title reconciliation, or any other, only serves as a preliminary to accomplish the aim, which is peace. Civil peace is of critical importance because countries of the world now and under the current situation are willing to support Iraq against ISIS. Even those countries who have not participated in supporting Iraq through the coalition in practice, did not stand against the operation. They did not oppose the support, but only had technical remarks.
However, are we as Iraqis ready for the fight? I think that the society is not ready yet because there are divisions and certain sensitive issues which go back to the past. Surely, these issues do not exist neither within the Iraqi families, nor the diverse ethnicities, but they are used to achieve vested political interests. Otherwise, Iraqi society is a social one. For instance, the number of the Kurdish population in Baghdad was about 1 million. In my view, sometimes the biggest Kurdish group was in Baghdad and not in Sulaimaniah, Erbil or Dohuk. However, the number has dramatically decreased.
Moreover, the society enjoyed a good relationship amongst its denominations; there were intersect and interethnic marriages. What is more, there was a good relationship among the different religions. I think it was 1948 in the little town of Koya where there was a protest. It was held against the treaty of Portsmouth. A number of protest were organized against the treaty. My father was a clergyman. He invited the rabbi and priest to the mosque who delivered their speeches. Similarly, my father went to the church and the synagogue. And for doing so, we were not troubled at all, and we heard no complaints about what happened.
However, this is not happening anymore; disagreement is sharpening and thus should be tackled by those who care about coexistence of the Iraqi society. When I took charge of the presidency, in my first speech I focused on the subject of reconciliation. However, reconciliation cannot be done through an initiation from a person or a body, rather the fundamental government institutions need to agree to endorse the process. With greet regret, many of the politicians focus on these disagreements, which are rather shallow, especially in during the elections. Besides, there are still laws and procedures which need reconsiderations.
A case in point is the constitution. it states that the people of Iraq are equal. Practically, however, we don’t find that principle. Therefore, I call for taking advantage of the experience of the nations such as South of Africa and Ireland. In Ireland, I met many of parties who were in the conflict in Ireland. At the beginning, the two sides used to have bullet-proof glass in the meetings. This was the case at the beginning, but they overcame this and agreed on a policy that aimed at eliminating the conflict and the severe relationships among themselves. Why shall we give examples of those far countries?
Lets provide the example of Kurdistan. While the preparations were made for the uprising in 1992, there were about 250000 armed people with Iraqi government. After we started communicating with them, a substantial number of them participated in the uprising. The Kurdish Front that was the official body in Kurdistan granted amnesty to all of them. The current coexistence in Kurdistan is the result of that wise decision. Therefore, we are in need to bring together all the sides especially those represent components of Iraq such as Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Yazeedes, Mandeans and the rest of the religions. There are in fact no disagreements among these religions from the societal point of view.
Is it reasonable to go back to the ages of the past where all the disagreements took place? Surly not. The situation now is different. We are now living in a different era in which we need to live. We should not go back to the far centuries and believe that there is only a certain group or a person who can impose their control over the world. For example, I believe that ISIS is adopting the ideology of previous religious-extremist groups as well as Bathists because when we study the past of those who lead ISIS now, we find out that the majority of them were actually prisoners when the Americans were in Iraq. The ideologies of the Bathists and the extremists’ merged and lead to the eruption of the current ideology. The previous radical nationalist groups used to say “there is no border between the Levant and Iraq, may God destroy the borders created.” As if Iraq and the Levant are one country, and that is what actually ISIS aiming for. They want to do this in their own ways, and started with the inhumane attacks on the Yazeedes, Christians, Shiites, Sunnis and lately Albo Namir tribe through the mass executions. This means that they represent no one.
Therefore, we need to stand against these extremist ideologies whatever were the motives, whether they were religious, nationalist, sectarian, and political or any other. Thus, we should start from ourselves and this requires from us to reconcile as a preliminary step for the accomplishment of civil peace which we hope to prevail in Iraq. We want Iraq to be a similitude of a tent which covers and protects all without any differentiation, we don’t want some to be granted key positions and others marginalised.