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Interview: Iraqi VP Adel Abdul Mahdi

Dr. Mahdi talked to Monitor correspondent Jane Arraf about upcoming national elections, Iraq's security and economic issues, and relations with Iraq's neighbors.

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Is one of those lessons what was widely perceived to be voters rejecting religious-based parties in the provincial elections?

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I don't think they rejected it. They rejected all of us - secular, religious. The rate of participation was low and if religious parties lost some votes, other parties also lost votes, and maybe more than the religious parties. Allawi, for example, had [in the] last elections 900,000; [this time] he [received] only 250,000. [Sunni leader Saleh al-] Mutlaq lost two-thirds of his forces. Tuwafaq [the main Sunni alliance] went from 1 million-and-a-half to 400,000, so there was no real progress on the numbers - neither the secular nor the religious parties. Take the Communist party, for example. They lost more votes, so there was a very important message coming from the people of a high rate of abstaining - which shows that people are not satisfied with our policies, neither the local policies nor the federal policies nor the central policies.

Was it the policies themselves or more basic things, such as lack of services?

They are the same thing....

How will you change that then? How can you promise to improve that?

I think most of our energy was given to security issues - maybe to political issues. The [composition] of the cabinet was full of contradictions, which blocked real action. We need this time a government - a government united in its views. You can't have a very centralized view within a cabinet with a very de-centralized view. You can't have socialist ideas on how to see the economy, and a market economy. This time we have to be united on a real program that can take the country forward, especially in services and economic issues. I think in the coming four years, two major issues should emerge...security and economic issues. We still have other problems - disputed areas, constitution, reconciliation, but this should be built on achievement of security and economics. Without achieving real progress on security and economics, we will always have problems.... That's why we have to concentrate on good governance in economy, in [fighting] corruption in such issues that people can see the difference between the new Iraq and the old Iraq.

How popular do you think Prime Minister Maliki is these days?

Well, it is not for me to answer this question - it's for the polls.

But that must be part of the political calculation in inviting him into your coalition?

Well if I say he's popular, I'll make publicity for him. If I say he doesn't have popularity, I would be unjust.

Do you think he was hurt politically by the bombings in Baghdad?

Yes, I think so, but he is still a very good candidate and he still has popularity.

How much of a setback were the suicide truck bombings of Aug. 19?

For those of us on the outside, it seemed to indicate there are serious problems with security and serious problems with ministries fighting.

We were always arguing that we still have a security problem, while others were saying that we were finished with that. We thought, we have to see the security issue as attack and counterattack - they [insurgents] had the initiative, they had the control the first three or four years the government took the control, and the initiative starting from the end of 2007, but we should not minimize their action or their power. We should still see that they will find our weaknesses here and there, and that they will hit once again, more attacks. So minimizing their importance was a big mistake, and advocating that everything is now well, that was a false message given to the people. We should have kept institutions on alert, in the security ministries especially, and within the people.

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