Questions for Iraq's Adel Abdul Mahdi

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, vice president of Iraq. Jim Young / Reuters-Corbis

Nearly six months after the elections in Iraq, the nation still has no government. To break the deadlock, politicians are looking to alternate prime-ministerial candidates. One of the top contenders is Adel Abdul Mahdi, a longtime member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq who is currently serving as vice president. He met with NEWSWEEK's Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad to discuss the political stalemate, Iran's influence, and the end of U.S. combat operations there. Excerpts:

How do you see the situation with the negotiations between the various blocs?

It is still critical and somehow confused. We are all waiting for the outcome.

There are reports that there are splits in the alliance formed between your bloc [the National Iraqi Alliance] and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law.

Yes, it's no secret there are differences. Especially about the prime-minister candidate. But the alliance is still there. It's not dissolved or fully broken. It depends on whether they can choose one candidate or not.

Your name has been raised as a potential candidate for the prime-minister slot.

Well, I can't jump in front of others. We are waiting for negotiations between State of Law and the Alliance. [Ayad] Allawi and Maliki are both contenders. [If they can't reach an agreement,] I think both of them will come to us. Then such issues could be discussed, but not before that.

What kind of influence is Iran having in political negotiations?

For some parties it's helpful and positive. For others it could be seen as negative and not helpful.

Do you think they're having a negative influence?

Here in Iraq we always had a sense that there was some tacit understanding between the United States and Iran. From the beginning they were the two big countries trying to patronize the project in Iraq. Iran and the United States recognized the Governing Council. There was a clear intervention from the United States to attack Saddam Hussein and overthrow him. The Iranians helped the operations in some way. And then in the Constitution issue—they both supported it. There is some tacit understanding and mutual interests there.

American officials accuse Iran of training militia fighters and sending weapons into Iraq. Do you agree that this is happening?

This is a long story between the Americans and the Iranians. You know very well we've always tried to play a bridging role between both sides. We participated in trying to bring them to dialogue many times here in Iraq in the former administration. We are still talking the same language. We are always saying that we don't want Iraq to be in the crossfire. I can't judge formally that Iranians are sending weapons or such things. There are reports—media reports, even some reports coming from the American forces. I don't want to be either someone who doesn't see realities or to attack Iranians freely. We are trying to contain this issue rather than make it an issue that will make our relations with Iranians [worse]. That's why personally I deal with this issue in a diplomatic way.

The U.S. military is dropping to the lowest levels since 2003 at the end of August. Do you think the Iraqi security forces are ready to take over the responsibility?

Concerning internal security, we have no other way; we have to assume it ourselves. The Americans are withdrawing. It's not only our decision, it's the administration's decision. So we have to assume these responsibilities; there's no other way. I think on the internal issue we can do it. But concerning the security for the whole country, of course the armed services are lacking in many, many fields—the air defenses, communications. It may take more than one or two years.