Also rejecting bribery accusations

Parliamentary speaker frontrunner defends involvement in Saddam’s funeral

BAGHDAD – In the midst of heightened competition for the parliamentary speaker position, Sunni politician Shaalan Al-Karim has defended his involvement in a 2006 video of a mourning ceremony for the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Al-Karim, head of the Progress Bloc, the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, explained to Al-Sumaria TV that despite facing disqualification from political life in 2014 due to the contentious video, he was reinstated through a judicial decision from a specialized appellate committee.

Clarifying the circumstances surrounding the mourning ceremony for Saddam Hussein, Al-Karim noted that it coincided with the first day of Eid al-Adha, a significant Muslim religious holiday. He emphasized that such funeral ceremonies were permitted by the Salah ad-Din provincial council at the time to ease tensions among Sunni populations angered by Hussein’s execution on a sacred religious holiday.

“The Salah ad-Din government authorized funeral ceremonies [for Saddam] to alleviate [sectarian] tensions [surrounding Saddam’s execution] … and the Governor’s administration organized the funeral at Tikrit’s Great Mosque,” Al-Karim stated.

He said that mourning councils were organized across various regions in Iraq and abroad, not as an expression of support for Saddam Hussein but rather as a reaction to the circumstances. The Sunni politician pointed out that even the law prohibits executions on Eid days.

Regarding the video’s release during his campaign for the Parliament Speaker’s office, Al-Karim acknowledged it was leaked by individuals within the Sunni community, including members of the Progress Party. Despite securing the most votes in an internal parliamentary vote in mid-January, with 152 votes, Al-Karim fell short of winning the speaker’s office in the initial round, leading to the postponement of further voting due to parliamentary disputes.

The schedule for a new round of voting remains uncertain. Al-Karim referenced parliamentary exceptions issued in 2010 for senior Sunni figures like Jamal al-Karbouli and Saleh al-Mutlaq, who were previously covered by Iraq’s de-Baathification laws, emphasizing the need for equal treatment.

Moreover, Al-Karim rejected claims by fellow parliamentarians that he attempted to bribe other members by offering them new vehicles in exchange for their votes for the speaker position.

The parliamentary speaker’s office has been vacant since November when the Federal Supreme Court removed then-speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, head of the Progress Party, on grounds of document forgery. Traditionally, the parliamentary speaker position is reserved for a Sunni Arab in Iraq, while the presidency is allocated to a Kurd, and the prime minister’s office is held by a Shia politician.