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  January 8, 2014

Sectarian War Arises in Iraq as Violence Kills 250+ in a Single Week

Raed Jarrar: Growing violence in Iraq is the result of the US-backed central government cracking down on grassroots Sunni protestors in Ramadi
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Raed Jarrar is an Arab-American architect, blogger, and political advocate based in Washington, DC. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Jarrar led the first door-to-door civilian casualties survey in the country. He then he founded an organization that completed hundreds of community-based reconstruction projects. After moving to the United States in 2005, Jarrar dedicated himself to ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He organized dozens of high-level meetings between Iraqi officials and their international counterparts. In addition to helping organize Congressional hearings with Iraqi members of parliament, Jarrar himself appeared before Congress in hearings and briefings. His frequent trips to Iraq, his strong relationships with Iraqi leaders, and deep knowledge of Iraqi political and economic developments have made him a sought after analyst who frequently appears on English and Arabic media outlets.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Bloodshed is continuing in Iraq as violence has claimed the lives of dozens of people on Tuesday alone. Fighting and missile strikes killed as many as 30 people in the city of Ramadi. According to the website Iraq Body Count, 251 civilians have been killed in Iraq so far in January alone.

Meanwhile, the United States has accelerated the delivery of missiles and other missile equipment, including drones, to support the Iraqi military.

Now joining us to discuss this is Raed Jarrar. He's an Arab-American blogger, political analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was born in Baghdad and immigrated to the U.S. after the 2003 invasion.

Thank you for joining us.


NOOR: So can you start off by giving us an update about the latest situation? We know dozens of people--some reports indicate as many as 100 people were killed on Tuesday alone in Iraq.

JARRAR: The situation is at its worst in Iraq in the last few weeks. I am one of the people who were very careful in describing the situation in Iraq as a civil war. I never used the word before. I usually refer to it as a civil conflict. Unfortunately, I think the last few weeks can be described as a full-on civil war. There is a full-on sectarian civil war between a central government that is mainly a Shiite government at this stage and popular uprising in the Sunni areas in Iraq. And it's the worst conflict that the country has witnessed when it comes to domestic conflict, Iraqis against Iraqis, since 2003.

NOOR: And talk about the groups that are participating. We know the Iraqi military has partnered with some Sunni tribes to fight this group called the Islamic State of Iraq, who also have forces in Syria as well. So this is also growing into a regional conflict as well. We also heard some reports that these groups are getting backing from Saudi Arabia and have links to al-Qaeda as well.

JARRAR: Well, this is the mainstream story. I think the real news story is what's going on is more a conflict between the Iraqi central government, with its Shiite parties and Shiite militias, and Iraqis who are Sunnis who live in Ramadi and other Sunni provinces. It has more to do with this than a fight against al-Qaeda.

I think the claims that this is a fight against al-Qaeda are political attempts to get some international support or to create a narrative to support the Iraqi government's actions.

Things on the ground suggest something else. This particular spike of violence can be very easily traced back to a government crackdown against a political sit-in the city of Ramadi. There is a political sit-in in one of the central squares in Ramadi. It has nothing to do with al-Qaeda. It has nothing to do with terrorism. It has everything to do with grassroots organizers who are Sunnis in Ramadi and elsewhere organizing against a central government that they see as corrupt, sectarian, supporting a few Shiite political party agendas.

When the crackdown happened the last week of December, there were dozens of people who were killed and injured in that square, although many people from the province threatened that if an attack happened against the peaceful demonstrators, there will be a violent reaction. After the attack happened, there was a violent reaction. There is an uprising by Iraqi tribal leaders and their forces against the Iraqi government's forces and those who work with the Iraqi government.

Now, there might be a component of, you know, people who exist within this conflict, on the margin of it, who are affiliated with al-Qaeda, but this is definitely not a conflict between a legitimate central government that is trying to fight terrorism the way that the al-Malki government and the Obama administration have been portraying the violence in the last few weeks.

NOOR: So the U.S. has ruled out, at least officially, sending troops back into Iraq. One of the hot spots has been Fallujah, where nearly ten years ago the U.S. attacked that city with white phosphorus and other chemical weapons. Talk about the fact--well, talk about the role of the U.S. They haven't sent troops, but they have sent weapons.

JARRAR: Correct. I think the U.S. involvement, although the U.S. military occupation ended officially the last week of December 2011, it's an irony that in the two-year mark, the two-year anniversary of the withdrawal of the U.S., the U.S. is still very much involved in domestic Iraqi politics. The U.S. is still taking sides in the Iraqi domestic political conflict, and now in the Iraqi civil war. The U.S. is funding the Iraqi government, which has been accused of committing mass crimes against its people. And the Iraqi government is definitely using U.S. weapons and U.S. training to attack its own people.

Unfortunately, the U.S. military withdrawal was not accompanied by an end of U.S. political intervention in the country. The political intervention continues. And now we see that the military intervention continues through funding the Iraqi authorities and supplying them with weapons and with legitimacy.

I think the Obama administration's official narrative copies that of the Iraqi government. There is no questioning of the Iraqi government's agendas or real intentions behind this brutal attack against Sunni provinces and cities in Iraq.

On the ground in Iraq, people don't really believe that this has to do with al-Qaeda. They've been hearing the same broken record for a decade now, that we are attacking this because of al-Qaeda, we're doing that because of al-Qaeda. This one is clear-cut for Iraqis. There was no al-Qaeda in that central square. There was no al-Qaeda in another central square in the north of Iraq, where the Iraqi forces attacked other peaceful demonstrators four or five months ago and killed and injured hundreds.

So this is, from a domestic perspective, when I read things on the Iraqi press or Iraqi TVs, no one is talking about this being a real attack against al-Qaeda. This is definitely a continuation of a sectarian attack against people who don't like the central government.

And just to give you another proof that this has nothing to do with al-Qaeda and has a lot to do with sectarian politics, the day that the government's crackdown happened, 42 members of the Iraqi parliament resigned. These are mostly or almost every Sunni in the Iraqi parliament. Why would 42 members of parliament resign if the Iraqi government is conducting an operation against al-Qaeda? That will never happen. People hate al-Qaeda in Iraq. They hate al-Qaeda in Falluja and in Anbar. There is no popular support to that. But there is popular support to the grassroots activists who are sick of this central government that is among the most corrupt governments in the world, among the most brutal governments in the region.

NOOR: And finally, what can people do today in America and around the world to support these grassroots movements that are demanding a change, demanding an end to the violence, the escalating violence in Iraq?

JARRAR: I mean, I think, you know, the biggest support that movements of change around the world and in the region and Iraq, the biggest support that they expect from the United States is to leave them alone. You know, I don't think anyone from Fallujah or Ramadi who's fighting for better futures for their kids are waiting for American taxpayers or the U.S. government to send them missiles or to send them, you know, more helicopters or drones. That's not what they need. What they need is an end to U.S. intervention in the region, an end to U.S. support of one faction against the other, because that support from the U.S. is definitely prolonging the internal conflicts in these countries and making it harder to achieve positive social change in them.

NOOR: Raed Jarrar, thank you so much for joining us.

JARRAR: Thank you.

NOOR: You can follow us on Twitter @therealnews, Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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