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Campaigning for a better Iraq
Parliamentary member Yonadam Kanna reaches out to Central Valley countrymen
Yonadam Kanna, a member of the Republic of Iraq’s Council of Representatives, visited Turlock on Saturday.
Local Iraq expatriates able to vote in upcoming election
The 2010 Iraqi Election is just around the corner, running from March 5-7, and many local expatriates will have a chance to vote in the proceedings.
All those 18 years or older who were either born in Iraq or born to Iraqi parents are eligible to vote in the election. Voters simply need a document proving either their Iraqi birth, or that their parents are Iraqis. An American passport stating that “Iraq” as place of birth fulfills the requirements.
In 2005, the year of the last parliamentary election, a polling place at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton served as the nearest site to vote. While the polling place was, fortunately, within driving distance for Turlockers — cities such as Portland, Seattle, and Denver did not have polling places — local organizers are working to host voters in Modesto this March.
According to Charles Givargis, executive director of the Assyrian Democratic Movement of Stanislaus County, 80 percent of Iraqis casting votes in Pleasanton resided in Stanislaus County. More than 10,000 Iraqi voters live within the county, he said.
The ADM has secured a Modesto banquet hall and volunteers to staff the polling place free of charge, but the Iraqi Independent High Election Committee has yet to respond to requests to add the Modesto site.
Givargis hopes the polling place is approved, as he believes the close location would be much more convenient for working Iraqis with families, who could have trouble making the drive to Pleasanton.
— Alex Cantatore
Yonadam Kanna, a member of the Republic of Iraq’s Council of Representatives, visited Turlock Saturday on his 51st day spent campaigning for the coming, March 7 Iraqi parliamentary election.
An Assyrian from northern Iraq, Kanna is one of four Christians currently in the 275-member parliament. The 2010 election will add one Christian seat, while expanding the parliament to 325 members.
Kanna sits as co-chairman of the Iraqi Economy, Investment, and Reconstruction Committee for the Council of Representatives, and serves as the Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement party and chairman of the National Rafidain List political coalition.
Kanna played an important role in the anti-Sadaam movement, taking part in a September 2002 meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders in New York. Later that year, Kanna addressed a similar London conference of Iraqi opposition leaders.
In February 2003, Kanna sat before U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at a conference in northern Iraq just months before the American-led war in Iraq began.
After the fall of Sadaam, Kanna served as a member of the Iraqi Governing Council from 2003-2004 before earning a seat in Iraq’s first elected government in 2005.
On May 6, 2006, an unsuccessful attempt was made against Kanna’s life as his convoy came under attack by improvised explosive device as it traveled through Baghdad.
Kanna took a break from the campaign trail to speak with the Turlock Journal about the state of Iraq, prior to a Saturday evening speech in Modesto. The following is a transcript of that conversation.

The Journal: Last time we talked was in August of 2008, so it’s been about a year and a half. How have things changed in Iraq over the last year and a half; has the situation gotten better?
Yonadam Kanna: Yes, much, much better, since we voted for SoFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and American troops began to withdraw from the cities. Iraqi people have responded very positively to Iraqi local police and security forces.
That’s one side. The second part is that we are approaching the end of the parliament term; March 15 is the last day. We have just started to campaign, so I think we are much, much better than that time and the sectarian conflicts are behind us.
In addition to that, our police and armies have been built, which is one of the major factors for security in the country and the rule of order. So we are much, much better than that time.

TJ: There has been some bad news that has come to light here locally: There was a series of church bombings last summer and there were protests here in Turlock regarding the bombings. Is there still a threat of violence happening?
YK: Those attacks were not as serious as before. I can say it was a part of some agenda, intended as a message for us or to threaten people to push them to flee the country or flee the cities.
Out of six attacks, only one was serious. The others were only some Molotovs on the wall of the churches, even the walls were not damaged. I think it has improved very much.

TJ: The Assyrian people here in Turlock are very politically active, holding a protest or gathering every month or two. Do the local efforts have an effect in Iraq? Do the people over there hear about what is happening here?
YK: Well, sure, today the world is a small village. There is the media; there are Web sites; there is the Internet.
They hear, and it is a kind of pressure on decision makers, either here in D.C. or back home there. When it is organized and coordinated all over the world, for sure it will be much more influential and effective.

TJ: The elections are coming up on March 5, 6 and 7. What kind of effect do you think the elections will have on the political picture in Iraq?
YK: First of all, the election is designed by those who are in power now. They try to stay in power, they try to stay there and not have a big change in the political scene.
But, still, one of the points in the election is very exciting, and will bring change: the open list. People will vote for who is better. So for sure we will have a more productive parliament in the coming few months, and better caliber members in the parliament.
When it’s open list, the political entities are obliged to bring good people, with high dignity, and good expertise. It will be a turning point in the political process and the development of this country.

TJ: I understand that a few months ago there was an effort to disqualify about 500 candidates that were said to have been involved with Sadaam Hussein’s former Baath party. I saw your name listed among those 500 on one Web site, but details were hard to come by.
YK: Some of the political entities there tried to exclude me because they knew very well my influence and effect. Because I fight for peace, I fight for anti-corruption, I fight for the transparency in this country. So some of the very corrupted groups are not that happy with me, because I never say, “Yes sir” for anybody. That’s why they tried to exclude me, but it was a joke.
They prepared a fake paper against me; there were six big mistakes. Any child could find the six mistakes in that paper. So my name was never there.
Somebody, a Kurdish guy, by the name of Haval Zaholi, he published an article saying he called Mr. Kanna’s office and this and that, which was all false. Nobody called my office.
The media depended on that article only. Later on that night … the de-Baathification director called the Iraqi TV right away and subtitles were everywhere that Mr. Kanna has nothing to do with that.
So this was about my name. About others, some of them (were members of the Baath party), yes, but I think if you refer to the constitution they have the right to be in the political process. As part of this issue, it’s possible to be politically excluded.
Yes they were Baathists one day, but they were kicked out by Saadam Hussein a long time ago, for example. And the constitution says those who are out of the regime party since 1993 … they are okay.
If we don’t go for reconciliation, the opposite of that is violence. So I hope we can contain these disputes peacefully and legally.

TJ: You say there is still some corruption...
YK: Not some corruption, very big corruption.

TJ: But things are getting accomplished? You have your own security forces coming up, the American forces are winding down, and things are headed on the right track. What are you working on to try to set things down this path a little more quickly?
YK: First of all, the corruption I think is the major obstacle in the way of the rule of order. Because the corrupt people do not want the rule of order, they do not want peace and stability. Because if there is a rule of order, they cannot be good thieves.
But in the upcoming few months, when there is a new parliament, the balance will change a bit; new people will be there. Our first task will be how to find the corruption and those corrupted people. Public integrity has to be activated, because if corruption is on then we cannot offer public services and they will offer that in the prosperity of the country. So this is one of the major tasks in the coming parliament. I think things will change.
About army and police and other things, we still need some screening. Some of the bad guys infiltrated the police and they were the thieves, they were the criminals sometimes. So many thousands of them are kicked out of the police, but still we need some more. We have to be committed to the patriot of the same national criteria and conditions, not sectarian. So still we have some things like that we have to manage.

TJ: Last year when we spoke I asked you “Where do you see Iraq in 20 years?” So, today, where do you see Iraq in 20 years?
YK: Maybe it’s my personal aspiration but I would like to see Iraq very prosperous and very stable and peaceful, and no more sectarianism. No more (traces) of the former regime and the former culture, not only the former regime, because the former culture is very extreme and very racist and very fanatical, religiously. So our direction is how to get rid of that.
In the past we had no Abraham Lincoln in our country, but in the coming few years we may find those reasons to live. It is our destiny to live together. So our condition, our situation, our future in Iraq, is in relation with neighboring countries and the Middle East situation in general.
So if the international community succeeds to impose peace and stability and no more terrorism in that region, Iraq is a very rich country. So it would become one of the most important countries in the region.

TJ: Would you say Iraq is a more tolerant place today? Is it easier to be a Christian in Iraq today?
YK: Well, now we are suffering from emigration because of violence, because of no job opportunities, and discrimination policies.
So now it’s not that good. And we are trying to stop that, trying to make people confident of their lives and at the same time give them an opportunity for a job. But in the future, when there is a rule of order and there is stability and there is peace, civil peace, and the country is very rich, I expect some immigration from here back home. Maybe not all, but some of the people, because of their business and their life is here.

TJ: Tell me a little bit about why you’re here in California. I know you’re speaking in Modesto later today.
YK: Today is my 51st day touring Iraq and Europe and America. Over 50 days.
First of all, it’s my duty as a member of parliament to meet my community all over the world, because they have voted for me to represent them there. It’s my duty to inform them about the situation in the country, what’s going on.
Second, we have organizations all over the world where Iraqis live. So we are meeting our community and we are meeting our organization — Assyrian Democratic Movement representatives in those cities and those states — to prepare ourselves and start with the campaign for election.
Yesterday the campaign started, so we are organizing ourselves and encouraging them for the campaign for the upcoming election. At the same time we are organizing with the IHEC, the Iraqi High Commission of Election, to manage with them to have some centers for electoral polls in those regions where there are Iraqis, so those are two or three reasons why I am here. After tomorrow, I will be flying back to home.

TJ: When you talk to Iraqis here in the area, do you hear any common themes? Are there any issues they are concerned about?
YK: We’re encouraging people first of all, we are informing them about the election, how important it is, and then we are encouraging them to go vote for the election.
We are explaining to them what will happen, because we have five seats for the Assyrian Chaldean community in Iraq. And how they have to go for election, what to do.
I’m sure most of the people are disappointed, or there are not that many feelings towards what is going on there or what will happen there, so that’s why we are talking to them.

TJ: Is there anything else that you want to talk about, that you want to let readers of the Turlock Journal know about?
YK: I have two points. First of all people are concerned that American troops will withdraw, American forces will withdraw from the country and people are expecting some violence. So I can reassure them of the opposite of that, that when they withdrew from the cities the situation was much better.
Not because the Americans were not doing a good job, but because they were foreigners and Iraqi people respond much better to the local forces with their support or cooperation than some foreign attack squad.
Maybe we will ask our friends, Americans, we appreciate all their sacrifices but maybe we need some more time for some locations in Iraq because of the disputes on an ethnic basis between Arbil and Baghdad. So we may need a new national security resolution how to deal with that, how to have mutual forces if something happens somewhere, but we don’t need forces all over Iraq.
So people have to be confident that there is not that much threat, or not that much violence with the withdrawal. Maybe we will have some only to cover the air force — we have no air force yet — and some disputes between, as I said, Arbil and Baghdad.
So that’s one side. Second side, I am calling my people here to see the importance of this election. We have five seats, so I don’t say let them vote for me or for our Rafidain slate, 389, this is our (party’s electoral) number.
I don’t say they have to vote for me, but they have to go, they have to vote, they have to feel that this is their country. Yes, we are happy that they are full American citizens, but at the same time they have some respect towards their brothers and their families back home there to elect good people to go there to do a good job.
And when there are positive things in Iraq, they reflect positively here. When they are negative, they reflect negatively, so we hope they take the responsibility and go to the election and vote.