Trump, Abadi still testing the waters
On the sidelines of the Fifth Annual Sulaimani Forum, he talked with Rudaw English about Iraq’s relationship with the US, elections and the democratic process in Iraq, and the landmark recent visit by the Saudi Foreign Minister to Baghdad.
Rudaw: Since leaving your post as ambassador in June 2016, what have you been doing, and what will your role be going forward?
Lukman Faily: I've been traveling to a few conferences, still going between Washington and Baghdad and the UK, just trying to discover the politics and find the world for myself and for future politics in here, in Iraq. [I see my role] mainly as an executive. I don't see myself as a parliamentarian. There's a need for management, there's a need for more robust effectiveness in the administrative aspect of it, and I'll be happy to play my part in it.
Do you see yourself getting back into politics soon?
Why not? I'm exploring options and I also want to get the understanding of how I can be most effective. I don't want to jump ship without knowing what's required. As you know, the politics in Iraq is a bit messy, so you need to go above the view have a more realistic view of what's going on.”
How do you think Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi handled new US President Donald Trump's new policies especially regarding his executive order that halted most visas for Iraqi nationals?
At this moment the Iraqi administration is trying to test the waters to see what the key priorities for the US administration are. From the US perspective, they are dealing with Iraq from a legacy perspective… They want to know their investment, overall, how much rewarding it is for them. So at the same time, we have a common threat that is ISIS, regional challenges, tensions in the region. So there are urgent issues that I think we need to address, but I don't think the relationship will be that affected as long as there is ISIS. The administration in the US is still new, it hasn't been tested. There are still key personnel not in place. We are still in the very early stage of a transition for the administration and for the Iraqis to comprehend what are the ramifications for this new narrative which is being promoted in DC.
How is the government of Iraq handling protests regarding election commission reform?
Regarding the elections, we are still allies in democracy. This is just a small page in a large book of democracy. I think maybe we are just finishing the first chapter and these elections are part of that. For the elections, a high turnout is very important. The accountability of the parliament needs to be improved significantly. The elections need to be a beacon of development, instead of at the moment, inner-fighting. We need to do better overall as a government and be a more efficient producer of legislation. These are essential requirements for our democratic systems. It does depend on an effective parliament; you can't just have an effective executive – it can't work. It requires a reverse parliament change.
Do you expect elections in Iraq to happen in 2017?
[In] 2018, I would imagine… I would think they will merge them. I don't know if there will be two elections. I see a merger, and I also see the pace of the election needs to give a message to the people that elections, democracy means better services, better governance. If people don't associate elections with better governance and services, people will not feel they are not democratic by their nature at this moment. So that's important for people to embrace democracy.
What does the visit by the Saudi foreign minister signal to the people of Iraq?
It's a sign that the Saudi's are trying to rethink about their relationship with Iraq. It signals that the Iraqis are serious in having good relations with them. But it's also a message to the Gulf countries: Iraqis will go their own way. You need to appreciate that, that democracy has a cost associated with it. To the Saudis and the Gulf countries they need to appreciate that they cannot go back to the pre-2003 paradigm; there has been a significant shift in democratic processes [in Iraq] and others, so you can't by-pass that.
People associate democracy with Shiite ruling, but that's the reality of it. That's the majority. That's the numbers game of democracy. So to that effect, there has to be a mental shift by the Saudi Arabians and other countries, that they have to learn to work with Iraq. And Iraqis need to appreciate it. They can't be on an island by themselves. Maybe now they get it – maybe we all need to get it now – at a very high cost by the way, a decade of ill-relationships based on perceptions rather than realities, and based on a zero-sum game. And we need to move away from that.