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Ayad Allawi Discusses the Path Forward Post-Elections in Iraq

Aired April 6, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, seven bombs rock Baghdad, killing dozens of people, as the violent insurgency rushes to fill Iraq's political vacuum a month after the election.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Insurgents today blasted Baghdad, killing at least 34 people and wounding 140 others. It was the latest in a series of attacks that have killed more than 100 people in five days. This extraordinary string of bombings comes a month after parliamentary elections in Iraq that left Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki two seats behind his main rival, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who's struggling now to form a coalition government.


And with the deadlock showing no signs of being resolved anytime soon, Ayad Allawi joins me now from Baghdad.

Mr. Allawi, thank you for being with us.


AMANPOUR: Are you surprised and how do you account for this extraordinary violence that is rocking Baghdad and other parts of Iraq?

ALLAWI: Frankly, this is expected. I have expected this violence, especially after the elections, because there will be a vacuum, there is a vacuum, and there is indeed a constitutional vacuum at the same time. And, indeed, the terrorists and groups who are linked to terrorism would find the political environment useful for them to start damaging and inflicting more damage on the Iraqi people...


ALLAWI: ... and on the political process, unfortunately.

AMANPOUR: How is this political process going to be resolved? How long do you think before you or your rival, Mr. al-Maliki, can form a coalition?

ALLAWI: Well, first of all, of course, it is our constitutional rights so far. We are waiting for the supreme court to verify and ratify the results of the elections. This should take days, within the next week or so. Then, within two weeks, the first session of the parliament should start.

However, I think, given the current conditions and circumstances, the political groups in Iraq should expedite the formation of a government as soon as possible to safeguard the interest and regards (ph) of the Iraqi people.

AMANPOUR: What do you mean by that? Are you calling for, for instance, the Sadrist party to put their votes behind you? Or are you calling for a national unity government?

ALLAWI: No, we are calling for an expediting the formation of a government based on the constitution, based on the results of the elections, and for all of us (ph) to take the lead in the formation of a coalition government. We need a government which can and should be inclusive, but a government that can operate, that can do whatever is necessary, the field of security, stability, and also in the field of services and reducing unemployment.

AMANPOUR: Well, in...

ALLAWI: However, we need to start working. We need the government and the judiciary to expedite and start signing and ratifying the names of the candidates who have won in the elections, so we can -- we can get cracking and get the job done as soon as we can.

AMANPOUR: Well, very quickly, you have just a two-point lead ahead of Mr. al-Maliki. He a couple of -- shortly after the election, a couple of weeks ago, has said that basically he would like to see a recount. Do you think that that is going to happen? Would you agree with that?

ALLAWI: Well, I think the -- and the Security Council report was very, very clear that they support the elections. We, indeed, have our grievances on the elections, the intimidation, the banning and the threats that accompanied the elections before the elections and are still continuing until now.

However, the U.N., which supervised the elections here, have said that it was good elections by and large and that the various partners should accept the results.


I think we should -- we should move along. I think we can't just lay (ph) with the fate of the Iraqi people. We need to put and get our act together and start negotiating the formation of a government.

AMANPOUR: Everybody outside is wondering how -- you mentioned security -- security is going to be maintained and, of course, looking at the agreement between Iraq and the United States to withdraw all forces by the end of 2011, and more importantly, to reduce them to about 50,000 by this summer. Do you think that's going to be possible, to reduce U.S. forces by this summer to that level?

ALLAWI: I think it's possible. I think it should be done. However, the security does not depend on the number of troops available here. The security depends on getting out in the way of (ph) sectarianism, of embarking on a course, a real course of reconciliation, and the reconstructing the institutions, security institutions to get them based on a professional basis and to get them in tact, loyal to the -- to the -- to the country as a whole, not loyal to the sect. And this is the way to improve and get the security improved in this country.

We likewise need to have a very candid foreign policy, very clear, by inviting the region to take part and -- politically speaking -- and trying to secure Iraq and to safeguard the borders of Iraq, and based on the concepts of the first Sharm el-Sheikh meeting which occurred in December 2004.

AMANPOUR: Mister...

ALLAWI: I think these are all instruments that would help security ultimately in the country.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Allawi, you know that many in the Shiite community -- they make up a majority of the country, 60 percent -- and they notice that you have a huge amount of Sunni support in this election, and many are suspicious, and they say, well, this is just a vote for a return to the old days of Sunni domination of Saddam Hussein. What do you say to them about that?

ALLAWI: No, Saddam Hussein is part of history now. It's finished. The Baath as a practice (ph) are finished. It's ended. We are in a new era.

We have got the -- the vote of the secular Shiites. They are strong supporters of the Iraqi (inaudible) we did get the votes of the Sunnis. And this is really a declaration by the Iraqis that the Iraqis are fed up completely with sectarianism, and they want to see a secular country with a professional, functional government, and they want to get out of the bottleneck that we are in now.

The voting was very clear. The Iraqi people in a very brave way went to the ballot boxes and cast their votes to say no for sectarianism, we don't want sectarianism any more in this country...


ALLAWI: ... and this is the only road (ph) that Iraq can survive.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play something that you said about sectarianism and, in fact, about terrorism five years ago when you were the interim prime minister. Let me play this for you. Listen.


ALLAWI (through translator): I promise you that we will break the backbone of these terrorist groups and we will bring peace and prosperity to our people.


AMANPOUR: So there you were speaking in Arabic, obviously, to an Iraqi audience some five years ago saying that you were going to break the back of these terrorists. And all of a sudden, look at the disaster and the mayhem and the chaos they're causing five years later. I mean, what chance do you stand of breaking this cycle of violence?


ALLAWI: Well, we -- we broke the violence in my time. We broke the back of Zarqawi and Al Qaida in Fallujah. We did also have a big impact on the militias. And we regained the formation of the army and the police and the intelligence.

But, you know, we didn't have time. It was a very short time, very limited time. My task clearly was to get the elections going. And I got the elections going on the prescribed date. I never changed the date. And I (inaudible) that the -- the power peacefully to the successor.

Unfortunately, the sectarianism prevailed afterwards. And this sectarianism in the country created the right atmosphere for terrorism to - - to flourish again.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we're going to...

ALLAWI: This is what happened in Iraq. Now...

AMANPOUR: We're going to -- we're going to hold it there for a moment. We're going to go to a break and continue on this. And we're going to talk about militias -- you just raised that point -- and you're hoping to get the vote of what was a militia, the Sadrist party. We'll talk about that when we come back. We'll have more from Dr. Ayad Allawi in a moment. And we'll also ask him about Iran's role in Iraq.



AMANPOUR: Former Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Ayad Allawi joins me again from Baghdad.

Dr. Allawi, when we broke off, we were talking about militias. Now, one of the biggest ones was the Sadrist militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. And yet today, today, he has emerged and his group has emerged as the potential kingmakers. Does that surprise you, that political strength in these democratic elections?

ALLAWI: No. In fact, the Sadrists as a political current, if you like, is very much acceptable. This is their views. This is politically acceptable.

We have -- we have been talking about the militias, Jaish al-Mahdi, which is a separate entity. And Jaish al-Mahdi is something, and the Sadrists are something else.

However, my constituency and the silent majority are the secular Shiites.


That's why there was a lot of intimidation in Central Euphrates, in the south of Iraq against the secular Shiites in these elections. And despite this fact, we got substantial numbers in the southern parts of Iraq and Central Euphrates.

And I think that we can -- we can reason with the Sadrists now. We can reason with them...

AMANPOUR: And do you think you can get their vote?

ALLAWI: ... because -- well, since the vote have finished, it's finished, the voting have ended. Now we are talking about coalitions. And we need to form a coalition. And based on the constitution, we have been the winners, although in two seats (ph), but still we are the winners, and we need to work with the rest and to create an inclusive government, but a functional one.

The Sadrists are welcome to join it, and we'll definitely -- we are talking to them already. And the discussions are progressing well. We are talking to Hakim, to SCIRI, and this is, again, progressing well. And we are talking to our Kurdish friends, and this is progressing satisfactorily.

AMANPOUR: Well, how long do you think before you get a result?

ALLAWI: So we think that -- we don't know, because we need the results to be officially announced...


ALLAWI: ... by the court, by the supreme court, and then I guess it will take us in the range of within two months to form -- I hope to form a government.

AMANPOUR: In the meantime...

ALLAWI: We need to work very hard, and we need to expedite -- yes?

AMANPOUR: In the meantime, you have also talked about Iran's role and Iran's influence, and you have been quoted as saying that Iran is interfering quite heavily and that is worrying. What do you mean by that?

ALLAWI: We were quite worried when a group of winners (inaudible) are winning -- you know, four -- four groups (ph) won in the elections. And we were number one, and then the government, Kanun (ph) (inaudible) Maliki, and then Hakim and the Kurds.

And the three were invited to Iran to go and discuss issues and how things should be formed in Iraq, and this was very worrying, as far as we are concerned. Although we asked and we wanted -- we wanted to send a delegation to Iran to discuss with Iran and with other neighboring countries, we did not get the response. Only today, in fact, we got a response from Iran that they welcome a delegation from the Iraqi List, which we'll be sending hopefully in the next two days.

But when this meeting occurred in Iran, it was obvious that it caused a bit of -- well, a significant amount of concern here in Baghdad to us.

AMANPOUR: And so if you look down the road in two months' time, how - - who do you think is going to form the government and with what coalition?

ALLAWI: Well, the government should be formed by the Iraqiya. This is according to our constitution, unless the constitution will be abolished. Then it is our right to form this. We are the winners. We have to form this.

And definitely we are talking to the three groups (inaudible) three groups, plus the smaller groups that have emerged in the -- in the elections, because we feel that we need two things. We need to do two things: an inclusive government and a functioning government.


We can't just have a national unity government, but a government which is stagnant, as the current government had been. We need to have a government that can function and can provide especially for the security of this country.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Dr. Allawi, thank you so much for joining us from Baghdad.

ALLAWI: Thank you. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And now for a closer look at the ethnic divisions in Iraq, we have a story about the last Jews of Baghdad, and that's at

And up next, we'll get reaction to Dr. Allawi's comments from America's former ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and former U.S. National Security Council official, Brett McGurk.



AMANPOUR: For an American perspective on what Dr. Allawi has been telling us and on the situation in Iraq overall, I'm joined by Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and he's now dean of the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University, and here in the studio, former U.S. National Security Council official Brett McGurk, who is an expert on Iraq and negotiated some of the military agreements between the U.S. and Iraq.

So let me ask you first. You're sitting here with me, Brett McGurk. Can the United States leave? I mean, we are stunned by the level of violence right now.

BRETT MCGURK, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: Well, we're in right now a period of highest risk. The 90 days after the election are always identified as a period of highest risk.

There are two timelines the White House is under. One is the security agreement, all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. That's a binding international agreement negotiated with the Iraqis. The second is a unilateral obligation, which President Obama said a month after coming into office at the end of August we'll be down to 50,000 troops.

AMANPOUR: Is that wise?

MCGURK: I think, to get (inaudible) right, you always have to be testing the assumptions. We have no idea what's going to happen day to day, and I think the assumptions underlying that withdrawal I think are called into question.

AMANPOUR: Would you agree with that, Ambassador Crocker, given the level of violence now? And it's not just since the election; it was because the election, as well.

RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: The violence clearly is a concern, but as Mr. Allawi said, it was also predictable. The Iraqis are tough people. I think they will withstand this. It's not the violence that concerns me so much as simply the tough politics of government formation.

I think Mr. Allawi was optimistic when he said a government could be formed in two months.


I think the more realistic deadline is the beginning of Ramadan at the -- at the start of August. So I -- I worry about a decision to have us down to 50,000 troops perhaps in the same month that a new government is formed.

AMANPOUR: And that's an extraordinary long time, four months, five months until that day that you just mentioned. I mean, can Iraq actually afford that amount of time in a political vacuum?

CROCKER: Well, first, it's not really a political vacuum. The Maliki cabinet is fully empowered. The command and control of the civilian leadership over the military is there. And we've seen that in their responses to this violence.

So I would not characterize it as a vacuum. Obviously, we would like to see this move quickly, but it is going to be extraordinarily complicated. Everybody will be talking to everybody else. And while Allawi may have 91 votes, he is still 72 votes short of the necessary majority to form a government, so this will not be easy, and it will not be quick.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, then, who do you both think is going to form the coalition with Mr. Allawi? Brett McGurk, do you think it could be the Sadrist group or is it going to be the Kurds or a combination?

MCGURK: Well, he's going to need the Kurds, and he's going to need a combination of the Shia. The Hakim group, ISCI, said we won't form a government without didn't say (ph) Allawi, without members of the Allawi bloc. That's encouraging.

The one thing I know for certain is we have no idea. It might be Allawi. It might be Maliki. It might be a name we've never heard. And that's, you know, what makes Iraq so interesting, what also makes it so uncertain. We don't know what's going to happen.

AMANPOUR: A name we've never heard of?

MCGURK: Probably likely, yes.

AMANPOUR: Really? Such as? I mean...

MCGURK: Oh, well, we don't know. Ibrahim Jaafari, the former prime minister, wants to run. You know, the Sadrists held their own little mini- referendum last week, where they had five names on the ballot for who they might choose as prime minister. We don't know how that's going to come out.

Again, it's uncertain. Nobody was predicting Maliki would be -- would be there at this time after the election in 2005.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Crocker, you were there all through the time when Muqtada al-Sadr was not exactly pro-American, still isn't. Does it surprise you, unsettle you that, in fact, this group could become the kingmaker?

CROCKER: I think it's just part of the political progression in Iraq. I don't find it terribly unsettling. The Sadrists have always had an appeal to the dispossessed urban Shia populations, and they finally found a way to get their act together sufficiently to garner a respectable number of seats.

But, clearly, they are not going to form a government. They may be instrumental in that government's formation, but they're going to have to be part of the give-and-take of Iraqi politics, as well.

And I agree with Mr. Allawi. Their militia days seem to be behind them. They seem to have recognized that, if they're going to have any appeal going forward, it has to be as a political movement, part of a political Iraq.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about -- a little bit about that. Muqtada al-Sadr has been in Iran for the last couple of years. And as you heard Mr. Allawi say, basically Iran has invited all the main winners, except for him, until just recently. What concerns you about Iran's role?

MCGURK: Well, Iran is going to be influential, but they're not going to be decisive. I don't agree with those who say they're decisive. Again, they invited a lot of parties to Tehran for talks. That's going to happen. Allawi's going to go. The Saudis are going to be there. We're (ph) going to be there.

But it's interesting, though, you know, the Sadrists' appeal is this Sunni-Arab nationalist Iraqi appeal, with strong roots in Iraq, you know, going back hundreds of years, and Muqtada al-Sadr being in Iran has kind of tainted that appeal a little bit.

He won 40 seats. That's good. But he had 30 seats in the last parliament, so which -- and this new parliament of 50 more seats. So he's always been a player; he'll continue to be a player.

I agree with what Ayad Allawi said. The Sadrists as a trend is not very threatening to the stability of Iraq.


It's the Jaish al-Mahdi and the militia, and I agree with Ambassador Crocker. The militia days seem to be behind us.

One thing that's positive -- you know, we've seen the bombings. We haven't seen the signposts of real deterioration. We haven't seen militias take the streets to protect neighborhoods. We've not seen the ministries stand down, things we started to see in 2006. We haven't seen that yet, and that's so far positive, but we've just got to watch it every day.

AMANPOUR: You know, I'm hearing you both talk about everything that's so positive, and I'm trying to sort of connect to the reality with your rhetoric. I know that things got much better after the surge in 2007, but we've all been stunned at the level of violence that has come up before the election and since the election, and just a string of suicide bombings, I mean, appearing to act with the same kind of impunity that they did before the surge.

How is it that you are still so positive about this? I'm going to ask you, Ambassador Crocker. You seem to be playing down this violence, which is taking so many lives right now.

CROCKER: We have seen, unfortunately, all too many episodes of this in the past. We saw it during my time in Iraq. We've seen it subsequently, as Al Qaida has shifted from attacks on civilian populations to attacks on Iraqi government ministries. Now they seem to be shifting back to attacks on the civilian population.

They are horrific. Clearly, it has to be an imperative for the Iraqis and ourselves to crack these networks and bring the violence down. But what we have seen repeatedly is that the attacks, as bloody and as vicious as they are, have not stopped the political process in Iraq...

AMANPOUR: All right.

CROCKER: ... and we don't expect them to stop it now.

AMANPOUR: OK. We've got about 20 seconds. They haven't stopped it, but they're certainly hampering it. How does this change?

MCGURK: Well, again, this is why I say we're in a period of very high risk. I think we have to look at our drawdown schedule. We have to make sure the Iraqi government is acting in a caretaker capacity.

People need to know that the state is protecting them. In 2006, the state was not protecting them; they turned to militias. Right now, the state is at least doing a decent job. We just have to make sure that they keep on doing that, but it's going to be very delicate and very -- very -- very challenging.

AMANPOUR: Brett McGurk, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, thank you both so much for being here with us.

And that's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with a preview of Sudan's first multi-party elections in more than two decades. They're due to begin on Sunday.

Until then, check out our podcasts on For all of us here, goodbye from New York.