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Professor Sabah Alnasseri says ISIS attacks poor working-class neighborhoods in order to turn the people further against an already despised government

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On July 3, shortly after midnight, Baghdad suffered its most devastating car bomb since the U.S. invaded in 2003. The death toll has now reached over 250 with hundreds more wounded as a truck filled with explosives detonated in a busy part of Baghdad at the end of holy Ramadan celebrations. The bomb exploded in a mostly Shia neighborhood and the Islamic state, which adheres to Sunni denomination of Islam, took responsibility for the attack. This bombing took place in the wake of a series of deadly attacks and had been attributed to ISIS in the past week such as an Istanbul, Turkey, and [Indaka-Bangladesh]. With us to analyze what’s going on in Iraq is Sabah Alnasseri. Born in Basra, Iraq, he’s an associate professor and director of the graduate program of political science at York University in Toronto. Thanks for joining us, Sabah. SABAH ALNASSERI: Good to be with you. JAY: So the analysis we’re hearing mostly is that ISIS has lost territory, and the results of this are striking out and–the only way it can, and that’s the reasons behind the Baghdad attack and some of the other attacks. What do you make of that? ALNASSERI: Well, following this strategy of ISIS was always to control territory for time. For time to initiate attacks on different targets in the region, especially with the conflict in Iraq and Syria not resolved. So it was always temporary occupation of territory, not as an objective itself. So when they lost some territorial spaces–pockets in Fallujah, in Iraq–they shifted their strategies to attack other cities and provinces in Iraq. So it has always been the case. There’s nothing new about these developments, and I’m not sure why everybody’s surprised or why everybody believe[s] that because ISIS lost territory that’s why they go back to the old tradition of so-called terrorist attacks. JAY: And what does ISIS hope to achieve by car bombs in Shia areas of Iraq? I mean, do they think they will make life so unlivable for people that eventually they will be allowed to have their territory without it being opposed? ALNASSERI: So if you’ve got concretely upbeat neighborhoods, the target of ISIS in Baghdad, let’s say a [southern city] or Karrada where the recent attack happens. Or [inaud.] the [inaud.]. All these neighborhoods are working class, unemployed, poor neighborhoods of Baghdad. The targets could never be the wealthy community in Baghdad where the wealthy Iraqis live with their private securities protecting them or the green zone where the ministers and their parties living in their policies. And that’s why you can see why when minister, President [inaud.] came to the scene of bombing, people start throwing stones attacking his convoy, blaming the government and the Iraq state and not so much ISIS. JAY: Now, in terms of ISIS objectives, why would they target poor working-classers? I understand their security in the other areas of the wealthy, but mind you, there have been successful terrorist attacks even with that kind of security. And if a car bomb drives into something and blows it up, there must be a tactic here. ALNASSERI: There are now three moments that explain why this happens. First, this truck full with bombs came from Diyala, which is north of Baghdad. It went through numerous checkpoints without being detected. So what–for three reasons, and that’s what I’ve termed systemic corruption which the United States actually institutionalized in Iraq. The first one is, the Iraqi security forces are still using so-called golf ball [detected]. You know, sold to them by British criminals as bomb detectors. The guy is presently serving ten years for security fraud. The Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint now are still using these so-called golf ball detectors. They cannot detect anything. This is the first form of corruption. The second form is if we look up the security of persons in Iraq, and especially Baghdad, you will see there is inflated as such to create employment through the parties and militias. JAY: Just before you make that point let’s go back to this golf ball thing. It’s kind of crazy story. So this guy created this supposed thing for golfers to go find their golf balls which didn’t work, didn’t find golf balls. They sell those to the Iraqi government to find hidden explosives, which of course it didn’t find those either. So the idea of there’s a corruptionism is there must’ve been some kind of payment in order to induce the Iraqis to buy something that didn’t work. Because it must’ve been pretty obvious. You can test the thing and see it didn’t work. ALNASSERI: Yes. You see one of the screwed up part is on the contract has been negotiated, dealt with behind the scene. So ministers are generals received a million of dollars to secure deals that are unnecessary and ruthless. And this is in the corruption, 6 years in Iraq. And the most bizzare thing is even though it was clearly a fraud and the person they paid was so the poor Iraq soldier at this checkpoint are still using these detectors because one of the officers was arguing, well at least they have something to do. So that means they didn’t even—the security of the people at this poor neighborhood seriously because of this class [openness] attitude. JAY: So is the objective then, of ISIS, to get the people in the poor Sunni working class areas to turn on the government? ALNASSERI: The point, the [inaud.] among the Iraqi population vis-a-vis the government and their state and turn it against them. The state up against ISIS or other forces within Iraq. And I think this is very strong appeal because as you can see when Abadi come forward, this is– JAY: Abadi meaning a prime minister, the current prime minster of Iraq. ALNASSERI: Exactly, people accuse him of corruption and he is the reason why his government, why they are attacked. Again, this is the first movement of corruption. The second movement, this inflate security of [inaud.] is nothing but an employment venue for all the militias and supporters of the government party. And most of them, you know they buy and sell the security post so normally they are on paper. But in fact so none of them is in charge or taking care of the security of the people. And the third moment which is so dramatic, that the internal minister of [Kabaan] resigned yesterday because he was complaining that there are overlapping jurisdiction with the security apparatus. That means in Baghdad you have the army, the central police, and the local police, and the later is under the jurisdiction of [general ministers]. In all of these they have different reporting systems. Counter insurgency agencies or regional security demands or defense ministries so there is no coordinated chain of command or intelligence in the recorded system that makes clear to the [general minister] what and what place create an organized cause. That is one of the reasons why I can operate so easily in Baghdad or other parts of Iraq or the whole neighborhood because they are not secured and left open in fact to be attacked by ISIS or any other extremist group. JAY: So in terms of U.S. policy. If defense against terrorism, the talk of terrorist attacks coming increasingly to the United States and so on, which they haven’t nearly as much as one thought they might’ve, what is U.S. policy actually achieving there? ALNASSERI: Well you know, Paul, I’ve argued a long time ago on the Real News that the purpose is to create what they have termed the creative cares. The policy is to control our instability in the bridge. So much–I’ll give an example, why things are shifting and why the US is losing more and more control within the Middle East. You see especially after the attack on [divia] and the destruction of the [diven] state and so on. After that, Russia and China decided there would be no other military intervention in the Middle East because that would mean the end of the presence of especially Russia and behind the scenes China in the Middle East. They stopped coordinating their strategy to pragmatically, politically, and militarily, in the Middle East to push back against U.S. and NATO intervention in the Middle East. Why they are doing this? Because Russia realized NATO is expanding its work, especially through Ukraine and China, realized that the U.S. expanding this Pacific strategy to contain China and Russia. So what they are trying to do is to hit back at the center of the U.S. influence on the world, which is the Middle East. That’s why the Middle East became, if you would like, the hub, the melting point of the rivalries of global power maybe since the 1991 [inaud.] breakdown. It is a very dangerous development, and many people in the Middle East are saying, we are already in third world and we don’t notice it. So there’s a whole foreign policy of the U.S. after 1991, is to control the region with instability. By creating chaos it’s not hitting back against the U.S. and it’s losing control in the Middle East, and the most dangerous thing about it, as you know, the more they lose control, the more militarized became the conflict and the more dangerous it becomes. JAY: Well I wonder if this losing of control is actually more part of controlled chaos in the sense–like, who’s managing U.S. foreign policy? To a large extent these are people who were opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. So they weren’t–they’re dealing with a situation created by the Bush administration and people that wouldn’t listen to the professionals. Because as we know now, almost the entire professional, intelligence and military apparatus is against the invasion of Iraq. Now they’re dealing with the consequences of that, and maybe the objective is they see there’s kind of an upside in this craziness. You know, as long as everybody’s killing each other, there’s arm sales, no power can really vi to contend, the states are in no–they are fueling the rivalry. Even the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Obviously each side has its own agenda there. Each trying to assert its power. But it’s very much in American interest to keep that rivalry going. You know, maybe the controlled chaos is still working for them and truth is, that’s far more in their interests than worrying about the odd terrorist attack that might come to the United States because, frankly, like in Baghdad, it isn’t likely the wealthy that are going to wind up dead, World Trade Towers exempt from that. But the more recent attacks have been ordinary people in the streets. ALNASSERI: Right. I agree with you, and I want to give an example. Because sometimes for all these so-called terror attack and sectarianism and so on, we don’t see what is really taking place on the ground. I’ll give you this clear example to firm what you were saying. If you look at, for instance, the involvement of the United Emirates and the conflict in Yemen. Now, everybody was thinking that the Emirates and the Saudis are attacking the Houthis because the Houthis are supported by Iran. Now if you look at concretely what the United Emirates did in Yemen, you will see first of all, they fought with mercenaries from Colombia. So they internationalized the security apparatus. So now you have Colombian mercenaries fighting for the United Arab Emirates in Yemen. But what for are they fighting for. You know, the United Arab Emirates fear that if there’s a conflict in the U.S. and Iran, Iran will close the Hormuz Strait. And that’s the only part that the United Arab Emirates have for export import. So when they went to Yemen, they wanted to occupy the Aden Port in Yemen and invest it and keep it as a backup port for the United Arab Emirates for its export and imports just in case there is a conflict in the Gulf. So when they withdraw their soldiers a few weeks ago saying mission accomplished, this is precisely what they had in mind. To occupy the Aden Port and invest hugely there to make it de facto Emirate Arab port in Yemen. So if we look at completely in a in a political economic sense we’ll see underneath this sectarianism and the talk of war on terror that the concrete economic security interest of regional and international players and you’re right, it’s not only the U.S. It’s the Saudi’s, the Iraqis, it’s the Iranians, and so on. JAY: But all come within the American umbrella. ALNASSERI: For now yes. But the problem is I think there are a lot of holes in the American umbrella. JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, and we’ll continue this conversation. I hope as soon as next week. ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Paul. JAY: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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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.