The US and Iran are assisting the Iraqi army retake the city of Fallujah from the Islamic State, but “neither wants the other to win a victory against the Islamic State,” says Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for the Independent.
Cockburn, who spoke to the Real News from Baghdad, says neither Iran or the US wants the other to be able to secure position of power in the case of a decisive blow against ISIS.
The lack of coordination by the “fragmented coalition” has helped the Islamic State retain control over some territory, says Cockburn.
Some estimates put the current population of Fallujah at 50,000. Almost all the remaining inhabitants are in hiding. Food is scarce.
Many Iraqi cities, such as Ramadi, “are now a heap of ruins, because they are very dependent on the onslaught of the U.S. air force” in order to push back the Islamic State, says Cockburn.
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. A coalition of Shia militia known as Popular Mobilization and the Iraqi army, stormed into the southern edge of Fallujah, under US air support on Monday. They were launching a direct assault to retake one of the main strongholds of the Islamic state. The battle over Fallujah has evolved into yet another example of how the US and Iran must work together as their interests converge. But they also clash at the same time. A top Iranian spy master, Qasem Soleimani has been heading up the operation for the Iranians. There is also a growing skepticism among Sunni law makers who have accused the Shia coalition of using excessive force against civilians in towns that are predominantly Sunni. Now joining me to analyze the situation is Patrick Cockburn. He is the Middle East correspondent for the Independent and he’s joining us from Iraq. Thank you so much for joining us Patrick. PATRICK COCKBURN: Thank you. PERIES: So Patrick, US and Iranian interests are aligned in Iraq and both nations are trying to defeat ISIS here but it’s also introducing a lot of worry for people who are concerned that this will fuel sectarianism. Is that the case? COCKBURN: Yea, Iran and the US are mostly rivals of Iraq and occasionally they have parallel policies. In this case they’re both against the Islamic state but neither wants the other wants the other to win a victory against Islamic state. And they both have their own proxies inside Iraq. So you have this very sort of fragmented coalition against Islamic state which up till now is one of the reasons that it’s been able to hold on to cities like Fallujah and [Mosal] which are coming under attack. PERIES: And the Iraq army is also involved here. The role that they’re playing in all of this because they were in the past of course upheld by the US and now Iranians seem to be giving them more ground support. So where are they in all of this? COCKBURN: Well the Iraqi army and maybe their special forces are not that big but they have a lot of fire power or they could command a lot of firepower from this US led coalition of air powers. It’s supposedly US air force. So they call up from the ground if they see some Islamic state position in front of them. Then this is hit with missiles or bombs or drones or whatever. But there’s a problem that comes out of this is that all the cities where the Iraqi army’s been able to advance like Ramadi a city of 400,000 people, are now a heap of ruins because they’re very dependent on this onslaught from the US Air Force. They can’t really move forward without it. So we’ll have to see whether this happens in Fallujah. We also have the Shia power military so more numerous than the army and better armed, at least as well armed. They’re also advancing. But they’re sort of almost conducting a separate war against Islamic state. So it’s a very sort of confusing situation but overall Islamic state has been driven backwards. PERIES: Patrick, caught in between all of this is several thousand people. What is happening to them? COCKBURN: Well there are about 50,000 people I would say, I’m not sure how we really know because these people are all hiding in their house or in their cellars. Islamic state which says it will shoot anybody who appears on the street or puts out a sheet as a white flag to surrender. But these people can’t get out. Islamic state also wants to keep them there to limit airstrikes. They haven’t been able to get food supplies in quite a long time because Fallujah was almost entirely besieged. There was one narrow road out of it. Local people said it was mostly used by Islamic state to bring in their own supplies. So there isn’t there that much food and what there is, it’s very expensive. What happens to them now? It depends what happens to Fallujah. Is the city going to be destroyed? If it’s destroyed, they’re going to be destroyed with it. So at the moment although the Iraqi army and the special forces, they all share power military so it’s not moving against the city. Very soon, it’s outskirts. They haven’t really gotten into the heavy built up, heavily populated, city center. PERIES: And of course this brings to light the relationship of Iran and the US converging in Iraq. But will this spread over to the region and into Syria? COCKBURN: Well I think that you always had stretching back a long time before the US invasion, that the US and Iran were big rivals. On the other hand, they did have similar enemies. You were able to take out Saddam Hussein, they fought a noble war against him. So they were pleased when the US got rid of him but they were also rivals with the US and that remains true to this day. They want to get rid of Islamic state but they want their own proxies to do it. They don’t want US proxies to do it because whoever gets rid of Islamic state, whoever is most effective at getting rid of him will position themselves to be a real power in Iraq after Islamic state has disappeared. PERIES: Alright Patrick, I hope to have you back very soon because I think it is only going to intensify in the coming days. Thank you for joining us. COCKBURN: Thank you. PERIES: Be safe. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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