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Sabah al Nasseri: Gov. attack on Sadr movement meant to prevent their election victory

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Al Sadr pulls fighters off streets

VOICE OF CARLO BASILONE: Shiite militia fighters stormed the state TV facility in Iraq’s southern city of Basra on Sunday, forcing Iraqi military guards surrounding the building to flee. In Baghdad, residents awoke to mostly quiet streets after the Iraqi government extended around-the-clock curfew in the capital until further notice. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged Saturday he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive in Basra, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power. The fight for Basra is crucial for al-Maliki, who flew there earlier this week and is staking his credibility on getting control of Iraq’s second-largest city. Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers have accused rival Shiite parties in the national government of trying to crush their movement before provincial elections this fall.


Najaf, Iraq
March 30, 2008

SALAH AL-U’BEIDI, SPOKESMAN FOR MUQTADA AL-SADR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Unfortunately most of the figures in the Shiite United Alliance (parliament bloc) worked to ignite and escalate the crisis. They pushed for the imposition of this law by the government in the city of Basra and labelled all those who refused the entry of Iraqi troops into Basra as criminal gangs.


Late Sunday, al-Sadr released a nine-point statement saying that he was pulling his fighters off the streets nationwide, and called on the government to stop raids against his followers and free them from prison.


HAZIM AL-ARAJI, SENIOR AIDE TO MUQTADA AL-SADR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): There must be guarantees by the Iraqi government that if these points are implemented, there will be no more raids or random arrests.


The Iraqi government quickly welcomed al-Sadr’s movement to resolve a widening conflict. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement calling it a step in the right direction. Real News Analyst Pepe Escobar spoke with Basra native Sabah al Nasseri, currently professor of political science at York University in Toronto.

PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Professor al Nasseri, for all practical purposes, what we have here is a Shiite civil war. Who are the winners and who are the losers?

PROF. SABAH AL NASSERI, POLITICAL SCIENCE, YORK UNIVERSITY: First of all, I would argue that there can be no civil war under the occupation for the simple reason, because, the US troops are a direct involved protagonist within this conflict. So you can’t have a civil war. The notion of the civil war is actually to justify the presence of the US troops in Iraq. What I’m saying is that there is a struggle of a political power and economic interests within the ruling class in Iraq. We have on the one hand al-Maliki and al-Hakim, like al-Dawa party and the Iraqi Supreme Council. Both, you know, constitute major part of the current governing class in Iraq. And on the other hand, al-Sadr current. Al-Sadr current, they are against the occupation, against the current government, not because they are really anti-imperialists; current Sadr articulate the interests of different classes and groups within the Iraqi society, those who constitute mostly the poorest, the unemployed, the marginalized within the Iraqi societies.

ESCOBAR: So the al-Hakim family and the Dawa party, they are terrified they are going to lose political power in the next October elections to the Sadrists. That’s the key of the whole thing, right?

AL NASSERI: Exactly. Exactly. You know, the Iraqi parliament approved in February this year the provincial election in October 1. Actually, the funny thing is that al-Hakim and al-Maliki wanted this provincial election at the beginning, because they thought that would create a soft region in Iraq where you have not only majority Shiite communities, but also the major oil fields in Iraq. But now, as they realize that—that’s what I’m assuming—the al-Sadr current tried to transform their protest movement into political parties, and they knew there would be an election October 1 in the south. Al-Sadr movement would win all parts on the provision in Iraq. That’s why they started their attack now on the current Sadr; to destroy the movement and to imprison the [inaudible] intellectual figure of the movement, so that they would be sure that this election October 1, they would win, and they would have a majority.

ESCOBAR: So in terms of the American support to the Supreme Islamic Council and Dawa against al-Sadr, in the bigger picture we still come back to the same thing: it’s the American opposition to nationalist indigenous movements.

AL NASSERI: Exactly. Exactly. As I argued well before the war, there is a correlation of interests between the current governing class in Iraq and the Bush administration. There is a kind of mutual dependency. The Bush administration tried to restructure the Middle East through violence and terror, what they call “war on terror.” But it’s nothing but war of terror. And the governing class in Iraq, because they lacked social base in Iraq, because they were absent from Iraq for the last two decades, they need the US troops to create, cement, and reproduce their political power within the new-created states. And then Iraq, from the beginning, if you remember, in April 2003, when Jim Garner, the ex-US general, wanted to make, like, local democratic election in Iraq, the first thing al-Hakim and al-Maliki did was, with the help of US troops, to provoke al-Sadr, because at that time they thought, “He’s weak,” they provoke him now, and they can get rid of him. But actually this contributed to his popularities. So, like, from July 2003, the Mahdi Army was created. And now it has, like, 60,000 armed men.

ESCOBAR: And the main contradiction seems to be that Iran and the US are betting on the same dog, which is the Supreme Islamic Council and the Dawa party against the Sadrists. But, you know, the Iranian foreign minsitry, they seem to be terrified in this situation. They issued a call for all parties to disarm because they fear that this might be a prelude for the Americans try to reconquer parts of southern Iraq as a prelude to attack on Iran. How do you analyze this possibility?

AL NASSERI: Yeah. When I spoke of correlation of interests, of course the interests of the governing class in Iraq, especially of al-Maliki and al-Hakim, is to destroy the al-Sadr movement before the election. And the interests of the United States now—remember, we have this year election, and the United States, I think they want to keep the US troops within Iraq. So they need new provocation, they need a new conflict to justify the presence of US troops within Iraq, so that the next elected president, be it Clinton, McCain, or Obama, will be facing, like, fait accomplis, right? And I think this is the rationale behind the US troops backing up the current governing class in Iraq. By the way, it’s not only the US troops; even the British troops, they are backing up this offensive with air force. So we have, you know, British, American, and Iraqi securities attacking the al-Sadr current. But actually the Iraqi securities are nothing but the militias of al-Hakim and al-Maliki, especially the Badr army. So they are militias in uniform.


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

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Sabah Alnasseri was born in Basra, Iraq, and earned his doctorate at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He teaches Middle East politics and economy at the Political Science Department at York University in Toronto, Canada. His publications cover various topics in Marxist political economy, Marxist state theory in the tradition of Gramsci, Poulantzas and Althusser, theory of regulation, and Middle East politics and economy.