17 October 2005, 15:58
Religion has never played a leading role in Iraq; confrontation between Sunnites and Shiites is imposed from outside for political ends
How can the state of Iraq be characterized at present? What is the role of religious factor in the life of the country? What can one expect from the adoption of the Iraqi Constitution? The answers to these and other questions were given to Interfax-Religion by Andrei Okhotkin, a businessman, deputy chairman of the National Conservative Party of Russia and member of the Presidium of the World Russian Peoples' Council.
- Your experience of work in Iraq is rich. What is your assessment of the present state of the country?
- As a whole, the situation in Iraq can be described as sad from the point of view of security and provision of its population with the essentials. There is almost no electricity there. According to very approximate estimation, Iraq must earn some one hundred million dollars on oil shipment daily, but experiences acute budgetary deficit. Power industry today is not even a matter of economics, but a political question. During the war in Iraq no single large object of the industry had been restored.
Iraq has undergone aggression and as a state is on the brink of chaos. Its domestic political situation is hardly manageable. The main flash point of tension is certainly linked with the religious ingredient of social and political life of the country. However, I assume that confrontation between the sunnites and shiites is injected also from outside. We all know about the almost every day explosions in Iraq. Yet, the shiites do not take revenge on the sunnites. I have met the shiite and sunnite leaders many times. The shiites say: 'We know that this is not the sunnites' doing', and the sunnites say: 'They know that this is not our doing'. Therefore it would be erroneous to assume that civil war between these two groups is being waged in the country. When terrible and premeditated explosions are set off at the mosques and market places, which damage civilians, rather than foreign troops, a question is asked: Quid prodest?
Such confrontation and unstable development are imposed for the following: in case a regime unwelcome to the West or neighboring Israel comes to power in Iraq, it will always be a leverage for managing the situation.
The main thing is that the shiites do not succumb to hysteria and do not yield to provocations engineered for their confrontation with the sunnites. They realize that there will be no winners in this war. As much as is said about them as people closely connected with Teheran, this is an exaggeration. Indeed, many of them hided in Iran, but the Iraqi shiits honour and distinguish themselves as mainly Iraqis and Arabs. One should not forget that the Arabs and Persians have competed for a long time.
The Kurds keep by themselves, as they have been long prepared for autonomy, which is their national dream. But at the same time it is a delayed-action mine, as neither Iraqi Arabs, nor Iranians or Syrians, and the more so the Turks will never tolerate the independent Kurdistan.
- What do you think about the role of religious factor in the domestic political life of Iraq?
- I believe that Iraq can not be called a country in which religious factor has been traditionally prevailing. Iraq has long been considered a secular state, though the majority of the population is believers who go to the mosques and churches. This is a tradition of the East, which has kept its adherence to the faith that accompanies people during their life. However, if we compare Iraq with other Muslim states, in particular, with Iran or Saudi Arabia, Iraq is more secularized. Religion has never played a leading role in Iraq, Even Saddam Hussein, who built grand mosques did it mainly for gaining popularity. He is a very secular man. At present, religious factor has certainly increased.
- How will political life in Iraq change after a new Constitution is adopted?
- I believe that it will make acting authorities more legitimate. Both acting government and American and British troops are interested in last Saturday's referendum as it gives an opportunity to stabilize the situation and make it more predictable. Iraq is threatened with collapse. Watching the Iraqis I can say that they, as a much-suffered nation, managed to preserve unity and dialogue between confessions and political authorities. It seems to me that having survived this slaughter they have chances not to be torn apart and gradually form a state system.
- What are the prospects of Russian business in Iraq? What would you advice to Russian businessmen who will run risks entering the Iraqi market?
- One can work in Iraq today. Many companies are seeking advice on how to do it better. The situation is favourable, as competition has considerably decreased. Russian companies have good record and enjoy preferences in Iraq. Their strengthening guarantees that we shall be able to keep at least a certain share of business in future. We do not face any impediments and opposition from the authorities. They treat us with great respect. We can take up power and oil-refining industry, municipal economy, water-purifying industry, roads and houses construction, and equipment shipment. The problem is in the Iraqi lack of money rather than in security. The sooner Iraq gains real sovereignty and the income from the shipped oil goes directly to the budget, the sooner we shall have a chance to work there more actively.
I can advise Russian businessmen not to take risks for the sake of earning, to study the situation very carefully and take practical steps. It is also important to influence the Russian government so that Russia takes a more active position on Iraq and intensifies contacts with it.