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Patrick Cockburn says wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya are escalating, intensifying and cross-infecting each other, and the contradictory positions the US faces gives the IS an advantage

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Gulf Cooperation Council, known as the GCC, is continuing its Saudi-led, U.S.-backed air campaign in Yemen to bring Yemeni President Mansur Hadi back to power. He is at this time in exile in Riyadh. Yemeni foreign minister, in the meantime, is calling for ground invasion against the Houthis. According to the UN, so far almost 100 civilians have been killed since the fighting began last week. Just days after the air campaign began, the Arab League announced the creation of a military force that would intervene in conflicts to protect the national security of Arab states, which probably means to fight against the allies of Iran, and on behalf of the interests of the Saudi-led GCC. Now joining us to talk about all of this and what it means in the region is Patrick Cockburn. Patrick is the author of The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. He is also a correspondent for the Independent of London. Thank you so much for joining us, Patrick. PATRICK COCKBURN, JOURNALIST, THE INDEPENDENT: Thank you. PERIES: Patrick, the press has made a big deal out of the fact that the U.S. is backing the campaign in Yemen and is supporting the Saudi interests in the region against Iran’s interests in Yemen, while supporting Iran’s efforts in Iraq. Now, in your most recent article, in the Independent, you called this U.S.’s contradictory position in the region. Explain that for us. COCKBURN: Well, they’re supporting entirely different people in different parts of the region, much to the advantage of the Islamic State. They’re giving an air of support to the attack on Tikrit, which was held by Islamic State, which is believed to have now fallen, or at least the government claims that it’s fallen. Which is also being attacked by Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq. But in Yemen, the U.S. is supporting Saudi Arabia, which is attacking a group called the Houthi, who are supported by Iran, and we haven’t mentioned, but very important in Syria, the Saudis and the Turks are more or less openly saying that they’re supporting a group called Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, which has just taken city Idlib in northwest Syria. So you know, we’re on the side of the Saudis, but the Saudis are also in Syria on the side of al-Qaeda. So where does that leave the U.S. and its allies? As somehow being in bed with a country which is somewhat openly supporting al-Qaeda. PERIES: Now Patrick, the U.S. is backing the GCC here, which is largely an Arab Sunni monarchy’s coalition against the Iranians. Then what effect do you think the U.S. policy is having towards the Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the region? COCKBURN: It means we’ve got a tremendous mess, and the political temperature is getting hotter and hotter between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Sunni and Shia, and very complex disputes in places like Yemen, which has fiendishly complicated politics, suddenly become internationalized. So the Saudis are saying, a-ha, this group is backed by Iran, but it’s actually much more complicated than that, because they have an alliance with the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, who still controls a large part of the Yemeni army, who was previously allied to the Saudis. So it’s not cut and dried at all, but what you can say, that all these different crises in the Middle East, in Iraq and Syria and Yemen, in Libya, they’re all beginning to cross-infect each other, and make each other worse. So we seem to be entering a period of warfare across the region. PERIES: What effect will this have in the negotiations that’s going on with Iran at the moment, in terms of the IAEA and the P5+1, those discussions? COCKBURN: Good question. I mean, what will … you know, I think it’s naive to imagine the Saudis don’t appreciate that by raising the temperature and increasing its confrontation with Iran that it’s sort of helping undermine the prospect for an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, which of course the Saudis and the other Gulf monarchies are much against. Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. diplomatic documents revealed by Wikileaks, a few years ago was encouraging the U.S. to go to war with Iran. Saying “cut off the head of the snake,” was the famous phrase. They still see themselves in confrontation with Iran. This leaves the negotiations pretty wobbly, because will they … will there be a final agreement in which the Iranians make it clear that, and do various things, that they’re not going to pursue a nuclear device. But at the same time, they want economic sanctions lifted. Which is not at all clear that Congress will do this, or that Obama is able to do it himself. Overall, things, there is some progress. But all this is being undermined by the growing conflict in the region. The increase in the number of wars, and the intensity of those wars. PERIES: Patrick, in your recent article you argued that Yemen is likely to suffer the same stalemate and U.S. policy failures as has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why do you think so? COCKBURN: Well, Yemen is one of those countries which has been the graveyard of various invaders, just like Iraq and Afghanistan, and for somewhat similar reasons. It’s very complex, you’ve got lots of players. You can’t square them all at the same time. You might think that you hold power, but the ground can easily give under your feet. And everybody is armed to the teeth, there’s meant to be more than one gun for every single Yemeni man, woman, and child. Saudi Arabia is very unpopular there. It’s very difficult to see the Saudis winning a decisive victory. It’s one of those places like Iraq, that it’s easy to get into and very difficult to get out of. PERIES: Right. So Patrick, in our next segment, let’s talk about the specifics of what’s going on in Iraq at the moment. COCKBURN: Right. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Patrick Cockburn is a correspondent for the Independent London. He is the author of The Age of Jihad.