A Policy Debate with Ammar Al-Hakim on State-Building in Iraq

The Political System and State-Building in Iraq

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen began the dialogue by referring to the visit of Sayyed Ammar Al-Hakim and his accompanying delegation to Lalish and their meeting with the leaders of the Yazidi community, and asked about his impression of the issues and challenges facing this important and deprived component of Iraq.

  • Ammar Al-Hakim, Leader of the Al-Hikma Movement
  • Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, President of MERI, Moderator

Ammar Al-Hakim: The honourable Yazidi component is one of the important community components in our country, and they were subjected to a great ordeal, the captivity of our free women from our Yazidi daughters and sisters, the injustice that befell this component, the ordeal they experienced, and alongside them were our Shiite Turkmen sisters who faced the same fate on the same path. It has always represented a great pain in our souls, and it was an honour to stand alongside the Yazidi component during the past years, by participating in the conferences held in this regard. Also at Al-Hakim International Foundation, I had the honour to host many survivors at United Nations meetings, repeatedly, and to hold special workshops to raise the issue of Yazidi women survivors at the United Nations. But I had never been able to visit this temple and see the rituals and practices they practice during their holidays. The ‘Jama Day’ was a good and favourable opportunity for me to join our dear Yazidi people and learn about their temple and their rituals. We spent an enjoyable time in that environment and entering the temple to learn about the nature of this. rituals. We also talked about our feelings and visions and joint action to address their problems, and we encouraged them to follow the approach of justice instead of vengeful justice, which means restoring rights while focusing on pursuing perpetrators and criminals, but vengeance as a hospital takes us down wrong negative paths that can reverberate on everyone and we. We represent the need to put an end to our previous suffering and open a new page in which we can coexist with each other.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen: There are more than two hundred and fifty thousand displaced Yazidis who are still in displacement, and many of them are heading to emigrate. It is the responsibility of the state, including the Iraqi government, the local government in Nineveh, and the Kurdistan Regional government, to create a conducive environment for their return, and there are agreements and dialogues between the parties concerned. There is the Sinjar Agreement, which has passed for three years without any progress. The prevailing view among the Yazidis is that they are convinced that there is no political will to solve the Sinjar problem and push the Sinjar Agreement into implementation. Since you are an prominent member of the coordination framework, how can we create this will, which must be from the top down?

Ammar Al-Hakim: As you know, the Sinjar Agreement did not come out of nowhere, but it came as a result of long dialogues conducted by the political forces active in the issue and file of Sinjar, federally, in the region and elsewhere, and UNAMI had a fundamental and influential role in this process. Thereafter, long discussions led to this agreement. The problem does not concern the Yazidis, but rather concerns Sinjar, which has become intertwined with ambitions, local, regional and international events, and complexities known to everyone. In this agreement, everyone found a clause that they favour, therefore agreed to it, but when it came to implementation, each party began clinging to the clauses that were appropriate and suitable for them, and did not agree with the other clauses. This led to disruption. It is difficult for me to place all responsibilities on any one party alone, and in my opinion, the issue of management of this district and the nature of choosing who runs this district represents one of the basic nodes in dealing with this file in general. We hope that the provincial council elections, which are imminent, will create a realistic equation and represent the political demographic reality of Nineveh Governorate, in light of which it will facilitate the process of selecting the mayor of this district and be a good start for implementing the agreement.

Dilawar Ala’Aldeen: We rely on your efforts to advance this matter because this has become a priority for stability in Iraq as a whole. The instability of Nineveh, which is a reduced version of Iraq, means the instability of Iraq. Let us return to the Coordination Framework. The title of the session is state-building, that is, strengthening state institutions and institutionalizing Iraq, which has not occurred in a hundred years in a complete manner. During the monarchy, there were the separation of powers and democratic foundations for governance, and we were on our way to building the state, but these were demolished by those who established a central, dictatorial system. We lived like this for decades. Twenty years ago, we adopted a new Constitution in order to build a modern state on this basis. But after twenty years, this is what we have. The members of the Framework and its components were the same leaders who are leading the political process now. After twenty years, we still have a structural defect and a dysfunctionality in the governance system in Baghdad. The Federal Council is absent, the Federal Court is controversial, and there is also the absence of governance mechanisms in the legislative executive branch and the judiciary as well. We want to know, after a year of rule, your vision in the Coordination Framework and your vision regarding the issue of building the state, and will you accelerate this construction and fill the gaps that you see?

Ammar Al-Hakim: As you know, the Coordination Framework today was the National Alliance yesterday and the United Iraqi Alliance the day before yesterday. This means that they all represent the largest component [Shiite] and its representation in the political scene. There is no doubt that the largest component bears the greatest responsibility and is the largest partner in the process, but it is not the only one who bears this responsibility. All partners, regardless of size and role, bear responsibility for building the state, its institutions, and its paths. We must not ignore that we have not been in normal circumstances over the past two decades. Terrorism in all its forms and titles took a great toll on the problems and clashes between the sectarian, national, and social components, and the nature of the political and sectarian political agenda that wanted to push people to confront each other, also had a great intention of disrupting this process. Political conflicts, the absence of a clear balanced equation for governance, according to which everyone feels that they are seriously participating in the decision-making process and in the management of the country, in light of the great diversity of components and politics within each component. We know that the regional and international vision towards Iraq, an important, large and influential country in regional and international equations, was also different. There were concerns and fears that left their mark on the policies of these countries towards the situation in Iraq, which increased its complexity. If we want to be fair and evaluate the Iraqi scene in general, we must remember that we were facing two decades full of security, political, social and international challenges. Today, thanks to God, Iraq has been able, with wisdom, calm, and great sacrifices, to overcome those stages. We are facing a reality that has moved away from those provocative and difficult climates. We are facing acceptable and logical security stability, facing societal harmony, community partnership, and understanding between people in a logical and reasonable manner, and also facing political understandings to form the first cross-component coalition to administer the state, which is in the hands of the State Administration Coalition. We know that the largest component represented the ruling coalition and entered into partnerships and alliances representing other national components. This is the first cross-component coalition representing the ruling coalition, which is a coalition to administer the state.

There are already good understandings, coordination, and regular and organized meetings, in which matters are discussed comfortably and with great frankness. There is no doubt that when we talk about structural laws, the Federal Court Law, the Federal Council Law, the Oil and Gas Law, and others, all of them are laws that require two-thirds of the votes of the Council of Representatives in order to be adopted. One component alone cannot achieve two-thirds, and it requires national consensus. We believe in the State Administration Coalition that we are in a better situation than previous stages to reach such understandings. There is political will from all parties, and this issue was discussed in several meetings. Yesterday, in my meeting with His Excellency President Masoud Barzani, His Excellency Mr. Masrour Barzani, and today we had a lengthy meeting with His Excellency President Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Region, and we found political will in the Region in the direction of forming these laws. This will is available among other forces in Baghdad as well, and we hope that the State Administration Coalition bocomes the incubator for passing draft laws that have been stalled for many years due to the circumstances that the country has gone through.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen: We agree, but we need a road map and a practical program. Currently, the State Coalition constitutes an absolute majority in Parliament, and if they agree on an agenda, they can pass it. If there is a political will to form the Federal Council, this will be possible. After the next elections, no one guarantees this. Now what generates or complicates political crises is the fragility of the state and the fragility of state institutions. We need the will and a road map to implement the Constitution, which contains at least sixty incomplete laws. Now there is an opportunity to eliminate one of the major crises, that is, the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil, by institutionalizing the relationship on the basis of the Constitution and by regulating the laws. Is this possible?

Ammar Al-Hakim: As you know, the State Administration Coalition was built in light of a political agreement paper that represented the road map and an action plan for the forces participating in this government and in this process. This paper included all these basics and urgent issues that the country needs, and it is a source of acceptance and agreement for these parties. We spend a long time discussing, for example, salaries in the Kurdistan Region, when we look at what is the reason for their disruption, delay, payment or non-payment. This issue concerns the budget. When we see why there is a problem in the budget and formulations that lead to complexity in salary payments, benefits, or the like, it is because we do not have an oil and gas law to regulate the oil relationship between the centre and the Region. There is more than one jurisprudence to interpret constitutional articles in this regard.

Therefore, even our daily problems are based on the absence of a compass and clear laws that regulate the relationship and make things move in their correct context. Therefore, going to implement the political agreement paper, including legislation and laws, including other steps, is very important. Fortunately, today we are having a prime minister who is very serious about implementing these agreements, employing government agencies in this direction, and who has the courage to make decisions, take the required steps, and sometimes bear their burden. We are have the State Administration Coalition, which represents a great force, which is aware of this political agreement and is determined to proceed within the contexts of the constitution and the law and implement these agreements. Within less than a year, more than fifty-five percent of the political agreement paper was implemented, with schedules presented by the government and the Prime Minister to the leaders of the State Administration Coalition, in detail and signed by seven ministers from all the various political parties, which reveals that we are moving in the right direction and taking steps. Confident to implement these agreements.

These laws that were referred to are included in the political agreement paper. There is no doubt that it is not an easy process when we reach the enactment of the law. There is a political will to pass the law, but in each of these laws there is more than one vision. When we enter into the formulation of the articles and paragraphs of the law, each will seek to proote the direction of the vision that he finds and his interpretation of his understanding of these articles in the constitution. This requires serious dialogues and a climate of trust and positivity. I think we are indeed facing an opportunity that is difficult to replace in this way with a broad and large parliamentary coalition, political stability, acceptable understandings between political parties, acceptable logic and mutual trust between the parties, a Prime Minister who has provided the trust of these parties in his seriousness, steps and courage in making decisions in all matters. Societally, those who are optimistic about the possibility of achieving something at this stage have not been achieved in many years.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen: We are optimistic. There is pressure on the government to hold early elections. I don’t know for whose benefit, but what is your personal and the Coordination Framework’s opinion?

Ammar Al-Hakim: First, optimism is something necessary for a person to experience the moral momentum to move forward. A state of pessimism, frustration, despair, and a feeling of brokenness does not build nations, does not build society, and does not help people advance. Secondly, this optimism is not optimism for the sake of optimism, but rather it is based on the data I mentioned. Therefore, I believe it is optimism built on sound foundations, and it is possible for us to achieve many things, and what has been achieved so far is not a small matter, and we can move further forward. Regarding the Coordination Framework, I see it as coherent, possessing complete seriousness, and taking serious steps forward, with other national partners, and we do not face serious obstacles that prevent us from moving forward and making courageous decisions.

The prevailing atmosphere today is that governments are not run by tweets on social media. A democratic country like Iraq is not rosy. There will always be another opinion regarding any steps taken. If the decision maker wants to link and bet his decision to a tweet on social media or a word issued by a young man or his point of view, it is a matter of concern and respect. But the state is not run this way. If the country’s interest is in certain steps, we must explain it to the people and explain to our people where their interest is in this step, then we take a position and move on. Whoever has an objection has the right to make it clear in this conciliatory environment and in the freedoms he has. And to express his point of view. The right decision and the interests that come in light of this decision to the people, and the people realize that the step is in their real interest, is what will make the popular base of the governments expand and the political system gain increasing strength, and the opposing voices also gradually begin to deal with the reality. We need a clear decision and move on.

As for early elections, why do they call them early? Because it is an exceptional and unusual case, it must be justified. The Tishreen (October) movement, the magnitude of the transformations that took place, and the desire of the young Iraqi public who came out in Tishreen for early elections to be held, to participate in the electoral process after having been reluctant to do so, made most of the political forces support this approach and we proceed to early elections, and give an opportunity for a wider area of society to participate in Self-determination. Today, the situation is stable and the government is taking confident steps forward, and we need to prolong the period of stability until we achieve results, because results do not come all at once and in one moment. Therefore, I believe that there is no justification for early elections at this time, and the right thing is for this session to continue until its end. And anyone who wants to participate will have a new opportunity in the provincial councils to participate, and those who do not, we have a year and a few months for the normal time of the elections.

What does early mean, the Commission itself needs eight months to hold elections. Is the whole problem lies in four or six months? So, we are in favour of this session continuing to its end normally, and elections being held on their constitutional dates. In fact, there are also fears in a diverse country like Iraq, if such early elections become a pattern every time, we may reach a moment in which we lose sustainable political stability. Any government that is formed will always have those who object, and the easiest option will be to request the holding of early elections. Then, there will be no demand for any full session or any government that will carry out its responsibilities in a specific constitutional period. We are not in favour of turning the exception into a normal state, but rather that we return to a normality. Every session takes its full term, and whoever has a point of view will prepare himself for the elections on the specified date.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen: So, there will be no early elections, if the decision is up to the Coordination Framework. We remain with the Framework. There is a view that the government is the product of the Framework, and most of its members are known for their loyalty to Iran, and within the components of the Framework there are parties known for their leadership of the Popular Mobilization Forces, including what is called the Fasail, the Coordinating Body of the Islamic Resistance Groups. It was not easy for any government to deal with the Fasail. But now Iraq is dealing with the international community on the basis of interests and on the basis of partnership, and the impression still remains that the Fasail have the independence of decision-making, and after a year of calm, what guarantees that under the next governments we will not return to the same square, especially that the region is now in turmoil, and internally little has been achieved? Building state institutions, and command and control of the armed forces were not fully achieved. We would love your comment on this matter.

Ammar Al-Hakim: First, we must disentangle and distinguish between two things that are mixed in public opinion, which is between the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Fasail. The Popular Mobilization Forces is a military institution in the Iraqi defence system, with a law approved in the Council of Representatives like others, such as the army, police, and others. This institution is being worked diligently to institutionalize and organize its affairs and to operate within the contexts and orders of the Commander-in-Chief, as is the case in the rest of the military institutions. There is noticeable progress in this context day after day. There are the Fasails that stood up, sacrificed, struggled, and gave blood in order to regain the land from ISIS. These are not enemies, these are friends, but the battle has ended, and they have weapons and military capabilities, but they feel keen on Iraq, and they have their own opinions. I believe that dealing with these people should not be like dealing with enemies, but rather dealing with friends. How do we contain them, how do we embrace them, how do we convince them to gradually integrate with the political process and the public scene, so that they find their interests, vision and reading consistent with the public interests in the country. Such things take some time. Iraq is not the first country to face this phenomenon, and all countries that have entered into wars and confronted a revolutionary force in those countries and in those peoples have confronted the dangers facing this country and now have surplus power. After the war, dealing with these people becomes a controversial issue and an issue of interest. Iraq is no exception. We should look at other experiences. Some harsh looks, looking at them as enemies, and using negative language toward them deepen the problem and do not address its dismantling and solution.

If we want to be fair and look from 2017 to today, we have gone through several years. We find day after day that these noble Fasails have begun to organize more and develop in their vision, and as you mentioned, some of the Fasails have become convinced to engage in the political process and now have representatives in the Council of Representatives or in ministries and the like. We view all of this as steps in the right direction to contain this phenomenon and integrate it into the Iraqi reality in a way that befits their history, sacrifices, and blood on the one hand, and is also consistent with institutionalism and state building that we aspire to on the other hand. Dealing with such social phenomena requires patience, wisdom, and calm, and convincing them that it is in Iraq’s interest and their interest to go along with everyone in their respective contexts, is now clearly happening.

You noticed that in a previous situation, when they felt concerned about the Iraqi situation, they had viewpoints and expressed them in one way or another, but when they became part of this process and matters were discussed with them. They were partners in decision-making and consultations, they became well integrated and engaged appropriately, and we noticed the extent of the calm that prevails in the country is based on conviction, not pressure. Therefore, we are on a reassuring path that is moving towards containment and integration of these noble forces and factions within the general scene and state-building paths.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen: In the opening of the conference, I referred to gunpowder and fire. We have people in the Middle East region who are deprived of freedoms, human rights, and a decent life, and this continued until the situation reached the point of explosion. And this gunpowder. International conflicts between world powers and the regional conflicts between regional powers, along with the political and security conflicts and fragmentation within each fragile state in our region, generated a state of fire, next to gunpowder. What is your vision on this topic to end our program with today?

Ammar Al-Hakim: There is no doubt that the Palestine issue is a bleeding wound in the Islamic world in general, and an issue that has lasted eighty years, and the suffering of the Palestinian people has been great. Hundreds of Security Council resolutions were taken in favour of the Palestinian people, but none of them were implemented, and the people remained exposed and isolated in the face of the implementation of these agreements. In the recent period under the right-wing government in Israel, the pressure on the Palestinian people has increased significantly. The situation was alarming, warned of a violent reaction to express itself, and the international community did not take appropriate positions due to the extent of the provocations that the Palestinian people were subjected to. We noticed the amount of interaction of Arabs and Muslims in general with the oppression of the Palestinian people and with their attempts to defend themselves in one way or another.

The Israeli reaction now was to cut off water, electricity, and food. These are all matters related to life, and life is a guaranteed right in all circumstances. Even the enemy does not have the right to cut off their water, food, or anything like that. These steps have been taken, and I regret to say that some parties in the international community have begun to ignore the clearest humanitarian standards, and provide cover even for such steps that no fair person can accept in depriving two million and a few hundred thousand people in Gaza of food, drink, water, electricity, and other amenities. These are not the treatments that can put an end to the crisis. We are all concerned and working hard to end this matter in a way that guarantees the interests of the Palestinian people, puts an end to their suffering, and activates the multiple Security Council resolutions and initiatives that were launched to solve the problem of the Palestinian people, which, unfortunately, did not receive sufficient response from the international community.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen: I thank you for your valuable time, for your answers, and for coming to the MERI Forum.


MERI Forum 2023

Addressing Iraq’s Immediate Priorities
10 & 11 October, 2023

Session 5: The Political System and State-Building in Iraq (A)

Session Video

Comments are closed.