Published Saturday, January 21, 2012
Unlike Muqtada al-Sadr, Qais al-Khazaili and his role in Iraqi resistance to occupation and politics are little known in Western circles. In his first interview with a media outlet outside Iraq, al-Khazali, leader of the Iraqi movement Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), or League of the Righteous, speaks to Al-Akhbar about the US occupation’s legacy, the current crisis among Iraq’s political leadership, as well as the achievements and political outlook of his organization.
Elie Chalhoub (EC): After years of what you describe as armed resistance, you decided to join the political process. What is the nature of the resistance you engaged in and your accomplishments from your perspective?
Qais al-Khazali (QK): We can clearly say that AAH is a nationalist Islamic resistance group that participated with other resistance groups in fighting the US occupation and forcing the US administration to set a timeline for its withdrawal, even though it used to say setting a timeline is an admission of defeat. The Iraqi resistance forced the US to withdraw its forces and commit to this timeline to save face after its shameful defeat in Iraq.
As for the participation of AAH, we are talking about numbers that we can back up with evidence. We engaged in 6035 operations during the years of the US occupation, including tens of qualitative operations that were acknowledged by the enemy and caused its defeat, broke it morally and psychologically, and killed hundreds in its ranks.
Some of the most famous of these operations were the downing of a British helicopter in Basra province in May 2006, bombing the Falcon Base on 10 October 2006 in Baghdad and destroying it completely, raiding the fortified security headquarters in Karbala province and capturing and detaining five US officers and soldiers, as well as bombing a Hercules aircraft in Maysan province, destroying it and killing those on board.
Our fighters also managed to capture a British financial expert and four of his security guards and exchange them for 285 prisoners from different resistance groups. AAH operations were carried out across 15 Iraqi provinces. Ours is the only group with this kind of reach.
Perhaps the best credit came from the mouth of the enemy when US General [Raymond] Odierno declared at an official hearing that 73% of his forces’ losses were caused by what he termed hard-line Shia militias.
EC: Your dispute with Muqtada al-Sadr dominated AAH media coverage during the past few years. How did this dispute come about and what are the reasons behind it? Also, how do you describe your current relationship with al-Sadr and how do you foresee the evolution of this relationship?
QK: One of the major reasons for our disagreement is al-Sadr’s clerical authority and the way he leads the Sadrist movement. As far as we are concerned, we do not have a problem with al-Sadr and we believe that the Iraqi scene is big enough for both of us and many more.
I think the brothers in the leadership of the Sadrist movement however need more time to come to terms with this idea and we are willing to give them this time. As far as we are concerned, we will not allow this disagreement to be blown out of proportion.
EC: In addition to the US withdrawal from Iraq, what other reasons led you to take part in the political process, given what the crisis it is going through? And how do you intend to translate your participation?
QK: We believe that the political process in Iraq has a major flaw and that is the absence of a real political opposition whose job is to monitor the government, criticize it when it makes mistakes, represent the needs of the Iraqi people, and work to achieve their rightful demands, not partisan demands.
We said the political process in Iraq is crippled because all the major political parties are in the government. We decided, out of concern for what we perceive as Iraq’s national interest, not to be part of the government, but rather to take on the role of the political opposition.
We gave up all the political offers we were given for the sake of reforming what can be reformed in a bad situation. Therefore, we will take a clear position regarding all the political events taking place in the country, we will monitor government actions in detail, and we will work on becoming a healthy and constructive political opposition.
EC: How do you describe the nature of the crisis with the Iraqiya bloc? What do you think of its demands? And what is the formula that you would propose as a solution to this crisis?
QK: We believe that the real problem is not between the [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s] State of Law Coalition (SLC) and the Iraqiya List. The real problem is in the political process itself which is built on what the United States called “democracy,” when in fact it boils down to a detestable political and sectarian quota system.
The major reason behind these problems is the constitution, because of some of the catastrophic sections it entails. That is why we believe the real and radical solution for the problems that Iraq is facing lies in rewriting the constitution or at least amending the problematic sections.
EC: What is your position regarding the call for turning three of the Sunni provinces into autonomous regions?
QK: Although we support the idea of federalism, we are against the timing. Iraq has just come out from under US control, therefore it is still fragile and weak. Don’t forget that the Biden plan to divide Iraq into three regions – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish – was voted on as a non-binding resolution.
We fear that the movement for greater regional control at this time might lead to partitioning Iraq. That is why we caution our brothers, the politicians in these provinces, against inadvertently serving as a tool to divide Iraq.
EC: What is your position on the Kurdish demands regarding Kirkuk and the disputed areas? What is the formula you propose for dealing with the oil wealth in terms of allocating shares between the central government and the regions and in terms of the side authorized to sign oil deals?
QK: We think it is necessary that Kirkuk remains Iraqi and not belong to a specific region, because it represents a highly sensitive issue. As is well-known, its population is made up of all Iraqi ethnicities – Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens – and each group claims to be the majority.
That is why we believe that Kirkuk should have a special status that would reflect its ethnic pluralism and not be dominated by one group at the expense of others.
As for the oil wealth, we support what the constitution says about this issue, namely that the oil wealth belongs to all the Iraqi people so it should be controlled by the central government and not a regional government, which should not be allowed to sign deals without the knowledge of the central government.
EC: You are accused of being a militia loyal to Iran, which provides you with financial, technical, military, and political support. How do you respond?
QK: We are a nationalist Islamic resistance force that unequivocally stood up to the US occupation. A resistance movement of our size and power doubtlessly has the appropriate support needed to continue working to achieve its goals.
As to who are the entities supporting us and whether Iran is one of them, these issues are still a secret of the work of the resistance and cannot be divulged at this point.
We look at Iran in general as an Islamic republic that supports liberation movements in many areas of the world regardless of sectarian affiliations. For example, it simultaneously supports the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sunni Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine.
EC: How do you view Turkey and how do you assess the role it is playing in Iraq and the region?
QK: Lately it has become clear that Turkey is trying to strengthen its regional role. It has abandoned its desire to join the European Union and wants instead to take on a more prominent role in the Middle East and especially in the Arab world. It is also clear that Turkey has its own ambitions that it is trying to pursue unlike the Arab countries that do not have a project of their own.
We believe there is a Turkish ambition to restore the glories of the Ottoman Empire and its influence in the Arab world but this time not through military occupation but rather by finding governments close to it that share its Muslim Brotherhood ideology, which is feasible in most Arab countries since the majority of their populations are Sunni.
Turkey however is seeking to spread its influence in Iraq as well and therein lies the problem, particularly as the majority of Iraqis are Shia. That is why we view the announcements made by some Turkish officials about the possibility of a sectarian war negatively and we outright reject them.
EC: The same applies to Saudi Arabia and Qatar?
QK: Saudi Arabia and Qatar are part of the Arab countries that, as I said, don’t have a project of their own. Yes, they want to play a regional role and they want to protect their regimes from the wave of the Arab Spring, especially Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless, they still don’t have a project that they can offer to people. That is why we see the Saudi role restricted to the countries surrounding it and is not a regional one. Again, all Saudi Arabia cares about is maintaining its regime. It is concerned about developments in neighboring countries as they might affect its internal conditions.
As for Qatar, its role is often secondary or complimentary to the Turkish role, because Qatar is a small country with no regional significance and no democratic system. Yes, it has a lot of money and Al Jazeera, but that is not enough to play a significant role on its own.
Qatar has used the political void now present in the Arab world – in the absence of major countries like Egypt and Iraq – to its advantage in an attempt to carve out a regional role for itself and exert influence in the future.
Undated video (viewer discretion is advised) provided by Ahl il-Haqallegedly showing the sniping of US soldiers in Iraq.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.