Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, leader of Iraq's Sahwa (Awakening) movement, discusses Sahwa, the election, Iran, and fighting al-Qaeda.
Al-Shorfa: Could you tell us about the formation of Sahwa in Iraq?
Ahmed Abu Risha: What we led in the past was a spontaneous popular uprising against al-Qaeda. As you know, al-Qaeda has killed our people and spilled the blood of innocent people without any mercy. Hence came that uprising from tribal people and Iraqis who reject the takfirist ideology and terrorism, not just in Anbar, but all over Iraq.
After we declared our victory against al-Qaeda and its destruction in the province of Anbar, we announced the laying down of arms and our entry into the political process -- to leave the security affairs in the hands of Iraqi armed forces personnel who had proved their courage and determination to fight the terrorists. Those personnel include the sons of Sahwa who joined the ranks of the police and army.
Now we are a secular political entity that respects all religions and freedoms and acts according to a liberal, non-Islamist perspective. Our most prominent goals are to put an end to terrorism once and for all in the country by supporting the army and police, to realise national reconciliation among all Iraqis, to start reconstruction as soon as possible, to give priority to water, sewage and electricity networks in the first year of the next government, and to draw up Iraq's internal and domestic policies in a way that allows Iraq to be a major regional power so that other regional countries can benefit from its democratic experience.
Al-Shorfa: Sahwa has candidates in the next election. What are your expectations for the next parliament?
Abu Risha: This will be decided at the ballot box, and the decision is for the citizens. However, I expect a drop in popularity for religious parties, and the success of secular and patriotic parties in winning the greatest number of seats. This is because Iraqis do not need anyone to tell them about their religious affairs as much as they need someone who can provide them with a good and stable life.
In addition, Iraqis now want to relinquish fanatic religious ideas and seek a decent life that respects the rights of religions and minorities. Therefore, I see the next parliament having a patriotic majority, rather than a religious majority, as is the case now. It will include good people who will serve the citizens.
Al-Shorfa: Do you expect a broad popular turnout in the next election?
Abu Risha: Absolutely. We expect that. I see the determination and will in the eyes of Iraqis to go to the ballot box and participate in the democratic process. Therefore, I say yes, there will be an electoral celebration. There are good and noble people that Iraqis can put their trust in.
Al-Shorfa: In your interviews and statements, you always accuse Iran of playing a negative role in Iraq. What can you say about that?
Abu Risha: Yes, Iran plays a dirty and negative role in Iraq, and we have proof of that. The Iranian embassy intervenes in Iraq's internal affairs in a way that serves their interests. In addition, the southern provinces have sustained a lot of damage because of Iran.
It must be noted here that Iran is acting out of an ideology of sabotage and does not discern between Shias or Sunnis in Iraq. Rather, it is acting according to its interests and ambitions.
The recent decisions of the so-called Accountability and Justice Commission stemmed from Iranian influence. However, thank God, we saw how Iraq has a strong and fair judiciary that will thwart all these attempts.
However, this does not mean that we have given in and surrendered. Rather, we will work to stop Iran's political and security intervention in Iraq. This will happen in the next election.
Al-Shorfa: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Abu Risha: Iraq will soon get rid of terrorism and financial corruption, will uproot Iran's influence and will have untouchable sovereignty. Iraq will soon see the return of its people from abroad. This is not an unlikely thing -- Iraq has people who are loyal to the country.