Sami Al Askari, Adviser to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and Iraqi Parliament member, says water scarcity is one of the most serious problems facing the Arab region.
Iraq comes first on the list of countries that suffer from this problem for many reasons.
One of the main reasons is the policy of the riparian countries sharing with Iraq the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, which either originate from the territories of these countries or pass through.
Al Askari talks to Gulf News about the issue:
Gulf News: The dryness of river basins water is a problem facing Iraq in the future. No matter how our oil resources grow, there is no substitute for water, which the UN safeguarded for us through protocols of good neighbourliness. But the problem becomes compounded when neighbours do not care about Iraq’s suffering in this respect. Did the parliament set a plan for dealing with this problem?
Al Askari: The problem of water scarcity is one of the serious problems facing the Arab region. Iraq comes first on the list of countries that suffer from this problem for many reasons.
One of the main reasons is the policy of the riparian countries sharing with Iraq the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, which originate from the territories of these countries or pass through their territories.
The policy of building dams in Turkey, Syria and Iran without regard to Iraq’s interests poses a serious threat to Iraq, especially in light of Turkey’s refusal to sign binding agreements ensuring Iraq’s right to a fair share of water from the two rivers.
Iraq needs a diplomatic effort, and a clear policy in its relations with these countries to ensure a fair share of water should be the heart of any economic, security or political agreements with these countries.
The international community, through the United Nations, is required to force Iraq’s neighbouring countries to conclude agreements to regulate the distribution of water because the problem of water could in the future become one of the factors of instability in this vital region of the world.
Gulf News: What do you think about the proposals made by the Al Sadr movementg? There are four proposals for implementing the amnesty law, including a proposal for exonerating the crimes of “terrorism” with exceptions and another “loose” proposal. Is there really an agreement to decide on the amnesty law very soon?
Al Askari: The amnesty law was originally proposed by the Al Sadr bloc in the Iraqi parliament, but the substantive observations on the proposal were the reason behind the delay in its approval. It is in fact not different in its approach from the similar amnesty law passed by the former parliament.
That law led to the release of a large number of terrorists and thieves and also acquitted senior officials involved in cases of financial corruption. The idea of amnesty for criminals sends wrong and dangerous messages to terrorist groups that they can commit as many crimes as they want, and in every parliamentary session the arrested criminals would be released.
This leads to frustration in thesecurity services, which feel that it is useless to pursue terrorists as long as there are politicians ready to pass laws to acquit them. That law in its current drafting, despite some minor amendments, poses a disaster to the security situation. In addition, the law acquits forgers and looters of public money. I do not think the law will be passed during the current legislative session, unless significant amendments are made to it.
Gulf News: The law of provincial elections in 2008 and its application faced many objections from small parties. The law stipulates that every city in Iraq is a constituency, and the electoral process combines both systems of closed and open lists. In other words, each deputy is forced to choose a party list. Some say that the law failed while others say that the big parties swallowed the small parties like whales swallowing small fish. What do you say about that?
Al Askari: On the issue of elections and how to count the votes, there have always been two theories. The first speaks about the need to push for the formation of alliances or large electoral lists to put an end to divisions inside the elected bodies, such as parliament and provincial councils.
This view is adopted by major parties and parliamentary blocs, and supported by some UN experts working in Iraq. The second theory speaks about the need to make room for small parties and emerging entities and ensure that they get seats in the parliament or provincial councils.
Both theories have their supporters and justifications. However, since the major parties and parliamentary blocs dominate the legislative process in parliament, it is normal that the matter will go in the direction that promotes major blocs and deny small parties the opportunity of winning seats in the elected councils.
Gulf News: Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama Al Nujaifi said a parliamentary committee was formed to verify the procedures of the central bank and identify defects. He underlined complaints about the bank’s work, saying that the parliament was examining these complaints.
The question is: If violations are proved, does the parliament have enough power to follow up the issue of sanctions, or will it only prove the defects, and then the issue goes unresolved?
Al Askari: The law of the central bank, its performance and relationship with the executive and legislative authorities, have always been a bone of contention between politicians. The concept of the link between executive institutions with the legislative authority is one of the flaws in the current Iraqi constitution.
This flaw has led the central bank and its head acting as if they are not controlled by the Iraqi government. It explained the bank’s independence arbitrarily in a way that made the bank an accounting and controlling body acting away from the administrative procedures that prevent defects in the bank’s work.
The conflict between the legislative and executive authorities is a reflection of the political conflict between blocs. This conflict led to the fact that the central bank is working away from any control. It is an independent state within the state of Iraq.
Any attempt by the government, which is responsible for setting and implementing the financial and economic policies, was faced politically by opponents of the prime minister. These attempts were seen as an attempt to control and loot this vital institution, whose independence is stipulated in the law.
Recently, some political parties, especially the speakership of parliament, realised the wrongful conduct of the central bank and how it poses real threats to the financial situationin Iraq. Many people talked about huge financial corruption, money laundering, the financing of terrorist groups, and other charges that need investigation and follow-up.
This situation led the government and parliament to reassess the way of dealing with this vital institution. The parliament, given its legislative role, can only monitor and identify failures, but bringing the corrupt to book and combating corruption is done by executive and judicial bodies.
There is a risk that many issues will be diluted because of political interference and because active political parties in the country are involved in some financial and administrative corruption cases, which the central bank is charged with.
Gulf News: The parliamentary integrity committee announced its intention to open the cases of corruption within the ministries of Interior and Defence after the parliament’s recess. These cases have to do with the Canadian aircraft and the explosives detector (ID). Does this mean that the parties, which will be proved to be involved in corruption, will be held accountable or will they be referred to other bodies? How can punishment be guaranteed in such cases? Do political agreements play a role in hushing such cases?
Al Askari: The parliamentary integrity committee is one of the important committees in the parliament. It is tasked with following up cases of corruption in various state institutions. If it discovers certain corruption cases it refers them to the integrity commission, which is the executive authority tasked with taking legal and administrative procedures on charges of corruption levelled at state employees.
The role of the parliament, represented in the parliamentary integrity committee, is limited to the detection of corruption cases and monitoring the performance of executive authorities. Determination of penalties for violators is an exclusive task of the judiciary. Neither the parliament nor the executive authority has the power to do that task.. The executive authority is just responsible for implementing the judicial rulings once they are issued against those convicted in corruption cases.
Gulf News: What is the story of a request for the allocation of a special budget for the intelligence service from the supplementary budget of the current year? Is it possible that they have not allocated a budget to the Iraqi intelligence service at a time when we are facing a significant growth in terrorist operations in the country?
Al Askari: The supplementary budget seeks to allocate additional funds for various ministries and institutions to ensure the delivery of services and implementation of projects, which the general budget could not provide adequate funds for. These additional funds are also meant to address the needs that emerge after the ratification of the public budget by parliament.
The intelligence service has its own budget, which is approved annually as part of the general budget. The reported allocation of funds from the supplementary budget to the intelligence service comes within the same context of allocating additional funds to education or housing sectors or others.
Anyhow, the parliament refused to approve the supplementary budget as the government has to prepare the 2013 budget and submit it to the parliament in October. This new budget can address the shortage in allocations, which the supplementary budget sought to provide.
Gulf News: Some people say that political deals still obstruct the work of the seven-member accountability and justice commission, which was approved by the parliament and the presidency last month. What do you say about that?
Al Askari: Political deals or quotas, which have become the basis for the construction of various state institutions, have been and will be a factor of obstruction of the Iraqi government’s work. As a temporary constitutional body, the accountability and justice commission is not an exception. Since these institutions need to be approved by the parliament, the approval cannot be made without political compromise and through pleasing the major parliamentary blocs, which insist on the policy of quotas.
Gulf News: Back to the law of political parties, which has been excessively debated since 2007 and has not been passed yet. Some people say major political parties fear that their sources of finance would be revealed, especially as the legislation prevents the misuse of public funds, which many of the existing parties exploit to serve their own interests.
What do you think about this issue, especially asthe State of Law Coalition ruled out the endorsement of the law in the coming period, being one of the controversial laws, not to mention the fact that it has not yet been finalised by the legal committee?
Al Askari: I do not think the current parliament is able to pass vital legislation like the Law of Parties. Most political blocs are unwilling to pass this law, contrary to what they say in public and to the media. If passed, this law would restrict the movement of these blocs and parties, especially with regard to foreign finance, upon which major blocs rely, or the exploitation of ministries and state institutions in funding their political and party activities.
The endorsement of the law in a compromising format — as is the case of all-important laws — poses a risk to the ratification of a law that does harm the political situation in Iraq and consolidates a reality that does not meet the aspirations of Iraqis in establishing a real democratic system in the country.
Gulf News: To date, Iraqi citizens do not know the content of the first convention of Arbil, and I do not think they will know it. The question is why is there a blackout regarding this issue?
Al Askari: The convention in Arbil has really turned into a mystery baffling the Iraqis. It seems that the convention has terms, which the signing parties do not want to reveal either because these provisions are inconsistent with the constitution or contradictory to what some parties say to the media. I hold all signing parties responsible. It seems to me that there is a tacit agreement, imposed by the interests, that no party shall reveal the real text of terms that have been agreed upon.
Gulf News: Lastly, when will we see the oil and gas law that will save the prestige of the central government and Iraq as a country?
Al Askari: The oil and gas law is one of the most important laws that has been carried over from the previous parliament for failing to approve it, and the current parliament also finds itself unable to proceed with the approval.
The difficulty lies in understanding the provisions of the constitution and also in the contradiction between some provisions, something which provides fertile ground for difference and conflict, especially between the government of the province and the federal government.