NEAL CONAN, host:
From NPR News in Washington, D.C., I'm Neal Conan. And this is TALK OF THE NATION. After months of political stalemate in Baghdad, Ibrahim al-Jaafari withdraws, and Jawad al-Malaki takes over as prime minister of Iraq.
Mr. JAWAD AL-MALAKI (Prime Minister, Iraq): (Through Translator) I do not see a reason why we shouldn't continue what has been built by Dr. Jaafari. Iraq is undergoing a sensitive, serious stage. We will continue the march that he started to achieve all we aspire to.
CONAN: The role of religion, militias, inclusiveness, and competence are all big issues. Two Iraqi politicians join us for a look at the new man in Baghdad. Plus, on our Opinion Page this week, an argument in favor of attack ads. It's the TALK OF THE NATION after the news.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Over the weekend, Iraq's parliament achieved a major breakthrough. After four months of political paralysis, Jawad al-Malaki was nominated to become the new prime minister of Iraq. Unlike his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Malaki is a conservative Shiia, but he won the support of Kurdish and Sunni politicians. In many ways, the real work of creating a new Iraqi government is just beginning now. Malaki has 30 days to form a new cabinet, and will have to balance ethnic and religious factions, and try to find good administrators. The hope is that an effective and inclusive government will gradually undermine support for an insurgency that shows no signs of abating. Seven car bombs exploded in Baghdad today, killing at least eight people, while the bodies of more than 20 people were found, many apparently victims of torture and execution.
At this point, there are far more questions than answers for the future government of Iraq. Security is right at the top, along with the troubling increase in sectarian violence, the role of militias, the economy, and the role of the United States. Today, we'll talk with veteran Sunni and Shiia politicians, and we want to hear from you, as well. If you have questions about Iraq's new prime minister and the challenges he faces, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The email address is email@example.com. Later on in the program, political attack ads are on the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page, we'll hear an argument that negative ads are more useful and informative. But first, who can lead Iraq? Our first guest is Adnan Pachachi who recently served as acting speaker of the Iraqi parliament. Earlier, he served as president of the governing council and chairman of the committee for drafting the transitional administrative law. He was also foreign minister of Iraq before Saddam Hussein took power. He joins us now by phone from Baghdad. Good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION, sir.
Mr. ADNAN PACHACHI (Former Speaker, Iraqi Parliament): Hello, how are you?
CONAN: Very well, thank you. Can you tell us what makes Jawad al-Malaki different from Ibrahim al-Jaafari?
Mr. PACHACHI: I think he is probably more decisive. And he says that he's prepared to consult with others and try not to take unilateral decisions. Because these are the main problems we had with Jaafari. Anyway, we shall see what kind of cabinet he's going to put together. We hope that the main criteria for the choice of ministers would be honesty and integrity, competence and experience, rather than party loyalty, or ethnic and religious affiliation.
Mr. PACHACHI: That's what he said, himself. And we hope that he's going to implement his words.
CONAN: Yes, but many groups in Iraq will look first to ethnic and religious identification. Say, well, so and so many Kurds, so and so many Shiias, so and so many Sunnis.
Mr. PACHACHI: Yes. I mean, this is something that, as far as we are concerned, I mean, our group, we have rejected the sectarian division as the method of selecting ministers and of really running the whole political process. I think maybe the time has come to choose people, not because of their religious or sectarian affiliation, but we should get really competent, and honest, and experienced people to run the government, because Iraq needs a lot of service. All the public services are in shambles. The situation, the security situation, is very bad. And I think we need competent people to run the affairs of country, but not the party faithful, necessarily.
CONAN: If you'd like to join our conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's turn to Dave. And Dave is calling us from Menominee in Michigan.
DAVE (Caller): Hi. Good day. I was alarmed when I had seen on one of the news stations about the militias that are there. The militias there have their own jails and have their own courts. And my question is, how will the government, the new government, bring in these militias, try to rein them in, and actually make them part of the security in Iraq?
CONAN: Adnan Pachachi, this is a big issue.
Mr. PACHACHI: Yes. It is certainly a very big issue, an important one. And this, I think, should be one of the priorities of the next government, is to dismantle and disarm the militias, and incorporate some of them into the armed forces, and provide jobs for others. Because, you know, under the constitution, it is prohibited to have militant militias outside the official armed forces. So, we have to implement that provision of the constitution. And really, no country can survive if it allows militant militias to roam around the country, and having their own fiefdoms, and their own warlords. This is something that has to be addressed, and addressed very quickly and drastically.
CONAN: Dave, thanks very much for the call.
DAVE: Thank you.
CONAN: Yet, these militias, many groups feel that they are protecting them. Whichever group the militia represents, it's going to be very difficult to convince people to lay down their arms, and to either join a national police force or a national military.
Mr. PACHACHI: Yes. It won't be easy. I realize that. But I think it's very important that the armed services and the security services -- the armed forces, rather, and the security services -- should be perceived by the people as having one loyalty. And that is towards the nation and the state, and not to have divided loyalties and affiliations with the political parties.
Mr. PACHACHI: It won't be easy. It will probably take some time. But we have to start. And we have to go about it in a very serious and determined way.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Rich. Rich on the line with us from Walnut Creek in California.
RICH (Caller): Yeah. Hi. Thanks for the opportunity here.
RICH: You've given that the, you know, the political situation has been so difficult over the last, you know, few months, while the Iraqi military has been built up. Who's been controlling that military, both politically and militarily, you know, over the last few months? And then how does the new guy, you know, take charge?
CONAN: Yes, particularly the interior ministry, Adnan Pachachi, has been seen as a very important appointment.
Mr. PACHACHI: Yes. Well, of course, there has been, sorry...
CONAN: Yes. Go ahead, please.
Mr. PACHACHI: Go ahead.
CONAN: Yes, we...
Mr. PACHACHI: I mean, there has been really concerns and worries that the ministry of interior has been infiltrated by some of these militias. And that they have been acting on their own by putting on official police uniforms. And many of the death squads, in fact, come from these militias that have infiltrated the security services, and then put on uniforms and go in police cars, and arrest people, and shoot them outside. This is something that has to stop, obviously. And the prime minister designate promised that he will make sure that this will not continue -- not happen again. I think what we should do, really, is to make sure that the ministries of interior and defense, which should be given to people who are neutral, who are not connected to any of the political parties, and who have had some experience in these matters, and who are known for their competence and integrity. I think there are people like that, and the people at large would feel much more comfortable if they see neutral ministers in the defense and interior ministry, rather than ministers that belong to political parties.
CONAN: And that ties into the broader question of how you convince your fellow Sunnis that this is the time to trust this new government, run by a Shiia prime minister, as opposed to the other governments, which they didn't trust.
Mr. PACHACHI: Well, frankly, you know, we don't look at it from this point of view -- Shiia, Sunni -- because we believe eventually the people of Iraq will vote their political inclinations and beliefs rather than their sectarian or religious inclination, rather than belonging to whatever religious or sectarian group -- affiliations, I think.
Mr. PACHACHI: People would vote for their political beliefs rather than their religious affiliations. I think this is a matter that will come with time.
CONAN: Adnan Pachachi, thank you so much for your time this evening. We appreciate you speaking with us.
Mr. PACHACHI: Thank you.
CONAN: Adnan Pachachi, most recently acting speaker of the Iraqi parliament, also served as president of the governing council and chairman of the committee for drafting the transitional administrative law. And he joined us today on the line from Baghdad. Now let me introduce Saad Jawad, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of Iraq's most powerful Shiite political parties. He joins us also on the line from Baghdad. And good evening to you, sir. Thanks very much for being with us tonight.
Mr. SAAD JAWAD (Member, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq): Good evening to you.
CONAN: Can you tell us, briefly, the new prime minister designate is also a Shiia from the major Shiia group, but from a different party, the Dawa party. What's the difference between SCIRI and Dawa?
Mr. JAWAD: Well, SCIRI and Dawa, they both belong to one parliamentary block, which is the United Iraqi Alliance, and I think that's what's important. They both represent the same parliamentary block. Two different organizations with a little bit different background, but more or less, they share the same principles, the share similar (unintelligible), they share the same political aims. So, really, they are more or less colored by the parliamentary group rather than their...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Mr. JAWAD: ...political parties.
CONAN: We have to take a short break. Please stay with us and we'll take more calls when we get back. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join our conversation about the future of the government of Iraq. I'm Neal Conan, we'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Over the weekend, Jawad al-Maliki was nominated as Iraq's next prime minister after months of political wrangling. It's a major breakthrough, but of course, questions remain. Our guest is Saad Jawad. He's a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. And, of course, you're invited to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, email@example.com. And, Saad Jawad, just a few minutes ago, we were speaking with Adnan Pachachi and he was saying, at this point, that it matters more that cabinet ministers be competent and seen to be fair rather than which particular party or group they belong to. Would you agree with him, or do you think it's important that Shiia groups get the important ministries, oil, defense, interior?
Mr. JAWAD: Well, I would agree with him (unintelligible) that ministers must be competent, so that they take up the challenges that is testing the country at the moment. But being competent doesn't mean that they don't belong to political parties. I think belonging to a political party is part of the competence because the political party is a reality in life. And those who have won the elections are the political party. And, therefore, if we choose from outside the political party, or exclude political parties, we will exclude representatives of the people. And, therefore, that would put them in a weak position. So, what we need is a (unintelligible) technocrats, that are supported by political party. And in this case, that would make them competent to do their jobs, and supported by the infrastructure, political infrastructure, supported by the people, and it would make them a better position to perform well in their responsibility.
CONAN: Other people will also say that the four months involved in political wrangling and, finally, Mr. Jaafari has decided to step aside and make way for a new nomination. Yet, over this four months, a precious opportunity has been lost and the insurgency has not waited.
Mr. JAWAD: I think that's a bit of exaggeration. What has been a lot of, (unintelligible) say it, the two months really, because the election has taken two months to be certified and announced. And the process of forming the government can only start after certifying the election results. And, therefore, that's only two months back. And bear in mind that what we are forming is not a majority government. It's a government of national unity. And this is happening for the first time in Iraq. This is the first constitutional government. And I think you will find, even worldwide, very little experience that other countries in the world have been through such experience, bringing all the winning political parties inside the parliament to form a government of national unity. There is no opposition. Everybody is in the government.
Mr. JAWAD: So, you have got very wide spectrum of political agenda. You've got lots of differences in terms of national backgrounds, religious backgrounds, sectarian backgrounds. All these differences, you put them together and you form one government. That is not an easy task to do.
Mr. JAWAD: So, taking two months of negotiation is not a big deal.
CONAN: Here's a question, and we know you're focused at the moment on the formation of the new Iraqi government, which, as you say, will not be easy. This, looking a little bit further down the road, an e-mail question from Carol in Newton, New Jersey. It's often said, she writes, that if American troops leave Iraq now there will be terrible consequences, such as a civil war or a more extensive civil war, than the one that exists already. What is it that American troops actually do each day in Iraq that prevents the terrible consequences that would supposedly occur if they left?
Mr. JAWAD: Well, I think this is also a little bit of exaggerated statement. I think there is a consensus among the political parties in Iraq that it is not the right time for the American troops in Iraq to leave. For simple reason, because the Iraqi security forces are not yet completely built up and they're not yet ready to take up the full security portfolio on their shoulder. And therefore, if the Americans troops leave, the state of the Iraqi security forces, then you might expect some deterioration in security situation, in terms of the activities of terrorism. But I wouldn't think the problems arise in terms of sectarian conflicts between the different components of Iraqi people. So, what the American troops are doing is to help the Iraqi security forces to combat terrorism. That's what they are doing. And, therefore, if they do leave now, I wouldn't expect civil war to erupt. But yes, I would expect more terrorist operation would take place.
CONAN: Saad Jawad, thanks very much for staying up to speak with us. We appreciate your time.
Mr. JAWAD: Thank you.
CONAN: Saad Jawad is a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, one of Iraq's most powerful Shiite political parties. He joined us today from Baghdad. As Iraqis gradually create their own government, the role of the United States in Iraq will change, and, the Bush Administration hopes at least, contract. For more on American involvement in Iraqi politics we're joined now by Jane Arraf, an Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former CNN Bureau chief in Baghdad. She joins us from the studios at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. Nice to have you with us on the program today.
Ms. JANE ARRAF, (Edward R. Murrow press fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations): Thanks very much, Neal.
CONAN: American diplomats pressured Ibrahim Al-Jaafari to step aside. Do you think that they regard Jawad al-Maliki as the solution?
Ms. ARRAF: You know, I think the thing is, this has gone on for so long and it's become so apparent to American and other diplomats that Al-Jaafari really didn't have the capability to pull things together and to halt what could have been really a downward slide further into civil war. That pretty well anyone was seen as better than him. This guy is seen as a hardliner. He's seen as someone who has more of an ability to play politics. We've got to understand, this is a brand new government, and a brand new process. So, these are not experienced politicians. But yes, he is thought to have a better shot.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Politically, when you ask Iraqis about the differences between al-Jaafari and Maliki, they seem to be talking about personality issues, rather than politics.
Ms. ARRAF: You know, this is a really interesting thing from covering elections, from covering the voting, from having lived in Iraq for years, it is very much personalities. Perhaps that's what happens when you're in the beginning stages of a form of democracy. It is focused on personalities. And I thought something that Adnan Pachachi, the interim speaker of the Iraqi parliament, who just spoke with you a few minutes ago...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Ms. ARRAF: ...was very interesting in saying that they needed people who voted, who were backed, who perhaps were led by political beliefs rather than religious affiliations. And he also indicated, as does everyone, that this is not going to happen for a long time. Adnan Pachachi is a perfect example. He was a technocrat. He's secular. He's someone who, by all accounts, would be someone who would be welcomed by a majority of Iraqis. He was not. He wasn't seen as strong enough...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Ms. ARRAF: ...he wasn't seen as connected enough, he wasn't seen as, essentially, tied enough to any particular faction.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. This is Brett(ph), Brett with us from West Point in Virginia.
BRETT (Caller): Yes. Hi, Neal, you have a fabulous show.
CONAN: Thank you.
BRETT: Yeah, I'm wondering, given the fact that he's not a straight secularist, to what extent his Shiite views are likely to guide his policy, and if he has connections with Iran.
CONAN: Jane Arraf?
Ms. ARRAF: Well, his Shiia views will quite certainly guide many of his policies. He is from the same party as Jaffry, and it's a party that has a substantial base of people who voted for them, who support them, because they are Shiite because they're in line with their religious and political beliefs. Is he affiliated with Iran? There is obviously a growing concern over growing Iranian influence in Iraq. But this is a government that is trying to stake out its claim as being independent, as being sovereign, and he's under a great deal of pressure to fulfill that.
CONAN: And of the two main factions within the Shiite alliance, the SCIRI, the party of Mr. Saad Jawad, who we just spoke to, SCIRI is more associated with Iran than Dawa, the new prime minister's party.
Ms. ARRAF: Dawa has the support of Molkdid al-Sutter(ph) who, you'll remember that Molkdid al-Sutter was someone whom the U.S. vowed the kill or capture just two years ago, and then lo and behold, he has reinvented himself. He was allowed to, essentially, given free reign after a ceasefire, and he has become the major political figure. His party, his backers, won a substantial number of seats in parliament and his support is really, this is a young guy who comes from a revered Shiia family who doesn't have much formal education himself. And his supporters tend to be less well educated, perhaps a little more strident, and they have their own militias, and we have to, I think we haven't talked about this yet, really, that the main challenge of the new prime minister is going to be to do what he says, which is to tackle the militias, many of whom are Shiia.
CONAN: Thank you, Brett.
BRETT: You're welcome. Thank you.
CONAN: And let's try now, Suzanne. Suzanne calling from South Bend in Indiana.
SUZANNE (Caller): Yes, I'd like to bring up the topic of finances, and how this new government is going to finance its future. It's my understanding that the oil revenues aren't what they need to be, most of the people are unemployed, part of sovereignty, part of independence, part of autonomy, is being able to float your own government. And how do we support that end without in some way continuing to foment civil discord if those monies, those funds that we provide or other countries provide or any of those provide, are diverted?
CONAN: Well, I guess Jane Arraf, that goes to the broader political question of can this government win legitimacy, expectance among the majority of the people, certainly enough to keep its -- to generate more oil revenues.
Ms. ARRAF: That's really tricky. The whole thing about oil revenue, I think it's become accepted, that there are not going to be nearly what they would be for perhaps years to come. We're talking continued sabotage, major problems in the intra-structure, and one of the interesting things that I've found as I've traveled throughout Iraq and covered it from the ground, is that the further away you get from Baghdad, the less impact the Iraqi governments, or even the sense of a central government has. And much of that is because the money isn't getting out there. When you get further from Baghdad and further from those regional centers of power, people there see very little influence and very little effect of having taken this major step and elected a sovereign government. That's not going to change until not only the revenue starts flowing again, but this new government has actual functioning ministries. They've been paralyzed for the last four months. They've been unable to spend money, major projects haven't been undertaken, work hasn't been done. This is a major step forward and it should help.
CONAN: Suzanne, thanks very much.
CONAN: We're talking today about the new struggle to form another government in Iraq. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And why don't we go to John. John, calling us from Napa in California.
JOHN (Caller): Hi, thanks very much. I have kind of a related question to the last question and that is, what's the state of the banking and currency in Iraq that at some point in the future will have to be ready to undertake managing the economy, assuming the political situation resolves itself enough to do so?
CONAN: Hmm. Yeah, we think of the economy as the oil economy. Jane Arraf, obviously there's a bunch of other things that could get underway if the security situation would improve.
Ms. ARRAF: Absolutely, and they have taken major strides with banking. They're trying to get the banking sector back up, form links to other countries. We have to remember though what we're starting from. This is a country where up until very recently, everything has been done in cash. You would go to the supermarket, and before the fall of Baghdad, the Iraqi dinar was worth so little that they would actually weigh your money. You would buy your groceries, and you'd hand over a huge pile of money, and they'd weigh it because it was faster than counting it. Things are still done in cash here. For instance, the Iraqi army, part of the reason it's not as efficient as it could be is that once a month or so, the soldiers physically have to go home to other parts of the country to take money home to their families. There is not an efficient system of bank transfers. It's absolutely key. The currency itself is doing relatively well, even though there are a lot of economic problems. And it was actually unified between the center and the north shortly after the Americans began occupying Iraq. But it's still a key problem, along with a lot of other sectors.
CONAN: John, thanks...
JOHN: Is there a new dinar?
Mr. ARRAF: There is not a new dinar yet. Well, there was a new dinar just after Baghdad fell. Every piece of currency, of course, had Saddam Hussein's face on it, and that was very quickly replaced. There isn't one to replace that. That dinar will probably stay for some time, but it no longer has Saddam Hussein on it.
CONAN: John, thanks very much.
JOHN: Thank you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: And Jane Arraf, do you expect that within 30 days -- some people are even saying sooner -- that we are going to see a new Iraqi government?
Ms. ARRAF: You know, I think despite the fact that this is a major step forward, Jaffry stepping aside and allowing himself to be replaced, what we're talking about now is potentially even trickier and potentially, not even potentially, it is definitely much more vital to actually staving off a full scale civil war because what they have to do now is make sure that key ministries, like the interior ministry, like the defense ministry, are handed over to parties that are not going to run them as an adjunct to their own agenda. Essentially what that means on the ground is, they have to have the interior ministry run by a faction or run by a people who can make Iraqis believe that their own government will not be sending out death squads, which is the case now. So, that's going to be a very tough call.
CONAN: Jane Arraf, thanks very much for being with us today. Appreciate it.
Ms. ARRAF: Thank you so much.
CONAN: Good to talk to you. Jane Arraf is Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former CNN bureau chief in Baghdad. She joined us from the studios at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. I'm Neal Conan, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.