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Paul Jay speaks to Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers’ bureau chief in Baghdad. They discuss the future of Iraq after December 31, 2011, when the United States is scheduled to withdraw, according to the Arabic version of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The violence in Iraq, Fadel says, has largely decreased and is now changing from sectarian to political. As soon as the occupation forces are to pullout, Fadel says the fight for political power and money will break out.

Story Transcript

Iraq post pullout
Paul Jay, Washington, DC

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back for the next in our series with Leila Fadel, bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers in Baghdad. Thank you again. So part of what we’re told about what will happen in Iraq is that if American troops leave, all hell will break loose, and we’ll be back to Sunni-Shia civil war. What’s your take on the nature of the security situation?

LEILA FADEL, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I think the problem is that none of the underlying issues—why there was violence in the first place—have been solved. Every time there’s an issue, it’s pushed back. If you look at the provincial elections, for example, the major problem was over Kirkuk, which the Kurds—it’s the very oil-rich northern area of Iraq the Kurds say is theirs. The central government wants to keep part of the rest of Iraq, ’cause Kurdistan has [inaudible] have a semi-autonomous regime in the north. And so, instead of solving the issue, they postponed it, and so where you see the violence happening is where all those underlying issues are happening. I don’t think the future violence is necessarily going to be a sectarian Sunni-Shia violence. They had civil war, and I think a lot of people are tired of it. The new violence really is going to be Shia, Shia in the south about the political power down there, Kurdish-Arab in the north. And then, when you get to Baghdad, I think, a lot of that violence is done, and just as you said, the neighborhoods are separated.

JAY: So it’s not about Shia-Sunni, it’s a fight over oil, and perhaps that’s what it really always was.

FADEL: It’s a fight over—yeah, it’s a fight over political power and money and “Where is my stake in the new Iraq?” When the Americans leave, basically what’s happening right now is everybody’s angling: “We know America’s going to leave. Okay? We have a date. It’s written down. Where are we going to be come December 31, 2011, and how prepared are we going to be?” Kurdish authorities are buying weapons. I mean, there was a Washington Post story about the Bulgarian sale of weapons to Kurdish authorities. They have their militias loyal to Kurdish authorities in the Iraqi military. The Shias have the same thing. The Supreme Council has the national police, basically, as they’re very loyal to them. And so, when you look at the future violence, it doesn’t look to me as if it’s going to be a sectarian “You killed my brother. I’m going to kill your brother”; it’s going to be political violence.

JAY: So this is really a battle amongst elites for who’s going to control oil and political power in Iraq.

FADEL: Yeah, but when has it not been about that? You know? All the violence has been about that. It’s just now it’s coming to an end. I mean, the thing about this agreement is if it’s implemented as it’s written, without amendments, that is the end of this war, December 31, 2011. That is the end of the American involvement in Iraq. Every single one of them should be gone. Right? So that means that the Iraqi authorities have to angle themselves. The Sons of Iraq, the Sunni militants or the militia that’s been supported by America, they have to angle themselves. The Kurds, they have to angle themselves. Do they want a Kurdistan, an independent Kurdistan? They have to put that in there; you know, they have to decide what they’re going to do there. Down south, the Shias, if the Supreme Council wants a federal region that looks a lot like Kurdistan, a Shia-stan in the south, they have to prepare for that as well. And so all the violence, when you look at the assassinations, and where the major violence is, and where al-Qaeds in Iraq still has power, which would be between the Kurds and the Arabs, where people still feel they need protection, that’s where the violence—you’ll see it come out, I think, and that’s where you’re seeing it come out now.

JAY: There’s been a lot of discussion about the role of Iran in Iraq. At one point McCain or Lieberman were talking about how Iranians are killing American soldiers and arming militias. There’s also been analysis done about how the fundamental dynamic of power in the region has changed, created an opening for Iran in Iraq as a regional power. What’s your take on the relationship from the Maliki government to Iran and Iraqi society to Iran?

FADEL: Well, Iran is a neighbor, and that’s all there is to it: they’re a neighbor, and they’re a powerful one. And they have a lot of stake in what happens in the future of Iraq. They had an eight-years war with Iraq. And it’s very much in their interest to have power and say in what happens in the new Iraq and in the new administration, because that will affect the future of their nation. They also have—you know, Iran’s a Shia theocracy, and two of the most important Shia Islamic sites in the whole world are in Iraq, in the south of Iraq, and so their influence in Iraq should have been expected. But also they have extreme links to all the leading political groups: the Supreme Council, supported and basically born in Iran; the Kurdish parties, also supported in Iran. All those parties, all those exiles, besides the Sunni element, were supported by Iran in the past, and now they lead Iraq. Of course they’re going to have a relationship. And then on top of that they have cash, which they’re putting into Iraq, both economically and also under the table to the politicians. And so, you know, Iran has a lot of influence, and some of it is negative and some of it is positive.

JAY: What’s the feeling on the street towards Iran? [inaudible]

FADEL: People don’t like Iran. People don’t like Iran. People feel that their government is an Iranian leg, an Iranian arm, that they were made in Iran, that by invading Iraq they opened the fences. People talk about opening the fences of Iraq and allowing this type of influence into their country, which would never have happened in the past. And so people do have a hostility towards Iran as they have or had towards the United States, and some of that hostility towards Iran is much higher than any other hate that they have for countries, including the United States and Israel.

JAY: Really? But it depends which section of Iran you’re talking about, though. What about the Sadrists and the followers of Sadr?

FADEL: Well, the Sadrists was founded on a national resistance platform, and so, officially, they can’t look like Iranian stooges—that is very bad for their movement, because their movement is the only movement that stayed in Iraq and lived under Saddam Hussein. You know, so Muqtada’s father and his brothers were killed by Saddam Hussein because he went from being a token Shia cleric to an actual very powerful, very popular Shia man who had prayers in the streets for the Shia population under Saddam Hussein. He got too powerful and he was killed. And now Muqtada led a movement which before 2006—and really, I guess, it started in 2005—wasn’t seen as a sectarian movement but a national resistance movement, and many Sunni Arab Iraqis really liked Muqtada al-Sadr because he was seen as an Iraqi man, somebody born and raised here, and who didn’t resist Saddam Hussein from outside but from inside with the Iraqi people.

JAY: But what his relationship to now in Iran be?

FADEL: Of course now it’s different. He’s in Iran for two years. You know, he’s an interesting character, because he wasn’t the heir to his father’s throne. The men that were supposed to follow his father died in the car that day—his brothers. And so he’s not known as the smartest man in the world; he doesn’t have much religious education or merit to be in the position he has. He was thrown into that position, and he’s young—he’s 33, 34, I think he is. And so he’s been in Iran for two years. Supposedly he’s studying, ’cause he can’t get respect in Najaf, because everybody knows who he is and won’t really teach him. So his relationship with Iran now, people feel he is an Iranian stooge. People think that a lot of what he does has a lot to do with what Iran wants. But so many leaders in Iraq are like that. But he has never admitted—. I mean, every time we talk about “Where is Muqtada?” “Oh, he’s studying.” Even when he did an interview on Al Jazeera, the reporter who went to see him—and I assume it was in Qom—said, “We may not know where we are. Where are we?” And Muqtada Sadr didn’t say where he was. I mean, it’s not in his interest to look close to Iran, although, obviously, that should change.


REPORTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The general belief abroad is that you are retiring.

MUQTADA AL-SADR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): These are merely tactics. Allah willing, these tactics will not weaken our resolve to liberate Iraq.


JAY: If the political configuration is more or less what it is now and if Maliki is still leading, do they leave behind an Iraqi national government? Or do they leave behind a government that’s more influenced by Iran?

FADEL: I think they leave behind a lot of opportunists. That’s what I think they leave behind. I mean, I think they leave behind a bunch of people who are looking at how they can make themselves more powerful. People really fear Maliki right now because they say he acts like a dictator ever since Basra, which went from being maybe one of his biggest mistakes to one of his biggest successes—a lot to do with Iran and the United States really is the reason he was successful down there. He suddenly had support from the Sunni population, which he never had, ’cause he was seen as a sectarian militia. But here he was going after a Shia militia. He was also going after his competitors. And he’s paying support councils, which are tribal councils that are supposed to mirror the American program of supporting tribes and leaders to fight. But people say he’s paying people off to vote for his party across the country. And all of those things are going to violent repercussions if they’re not dealt with. So if the United States leaves in 2011 and it is as it is now, I think there is going to be a lot of violence that’s politically motivated and will happen because of the politics and who wants to grab the power in the different areas, in Kirkuk, in Basra, in Najaf. Is it going to be a central government with a very strong leader? Or is it going to be a federal nation with very strong federal regions?

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview let’s talk about what’s going to happen on January 21, where some of these questions are going to be answered with the coming of the elections.

FADEL: Thirty-first. Yeah.

JAY: January 31. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Leila Fadel.


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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Leila Fadel is the chief of the Baghdad bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She has covered the war in Iraq for Knight Ridder and now McClatchy on and off since June 2005, as well as the 34-day war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006. Prior to joining the McClatchy team she worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a crime and higher education reporter.

Fadel graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2004 and has lived in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. She speaks conversational Arabic. She was named print journalist of the year by the Houston Press Club for her work in 2005 and won a Katie Award from the Dallas Press Club in 2006 for her portfolio of work.

Her Iraq reporting won her Print Journalist of the Year honors from the Houston Press Club citing her work from "Bedford (Texas) to Baghdad."