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Professor Sabah Alnasseri says that there’s no way to resolve security, political or diplomatic issues in Iraq without cooperating with Iran

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The new US Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Baghdad on Monday in an attempt to ease relations with Iraq following President Trump’s CIA headquarters address the day after his inauguration. Let’s have a look. JAMES MATTIS: We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil. I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future. SHARMINI PERIES: The US Secretary of Defense James Mattis rolled back on that tone while he was in Baghdad saying, “We are not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.” Joining us today to discuss the shift and the Defense Secretary’s visit to Baghdad is Sabah Alnasseri. Sabah is a professor in political science at York University in Toronto. His latest publication is “Arab Revolutions and Beyond: The Middle East and Reverberations in the Americas”. Thank you so much for joining us today, Sabah. SABAH ALNASSERI: Good to be with you, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: Sabah, let’s start off with your response to the comment newly-inaugurated President Trump made at CIA headquarters in January, and how that was received in Iraq. SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, first, such a public statement addressed to the supporter of Mr. Trump to suggest that the Iraqis should cover the costs for the war and occupation of Iraq, as if the Iraqis invited the United States to make the war with Iraq. And the second thing, which is bizarre, because Mr. Trump knows very well, that Iraqi oil is controlled by US and other multinational corporations who steal the right to oil under legal and illegal terms and sometimes against the will of the government in Iraq. Now, how it was received in Iraq. There are two things, actually, not one. The first one is the question of the ban of the seven majority-Muslim Arab countries, and one of the, of course, is Iraq. So the Iraqis, especially … were outraged and some of them submitted a petition to introduce a similar measure to ban US citizens from entering Iraq. And General Mattis, when he was in Baghdad, he assured the Iraqi MPs and the Iraqi government that Iraqis who collaborate with the US army, that means who collaborate with the occupation, they will be allowed to enter Iraq, as if he somehow… SHARMINI PERIES: …he’s going to be standing at the border or entry points to the United States to facilitate that. SABAH ALNASSERI: Yeah. I think he’s doing them a favor. So, he actually made the problem worse. The second issue, of course, the question of oil. When President Trump claimed that the Iraqis should pay for the US war and occupation and the US should control the oil, or steal the oil. The Iraqi population, much more than the Iraqi Parliament, were outraged. Because they saw what happens to the Iraqi oil industry, how it was destroyed by the United States and how all the contents went to US or other multinational operations, and that the Iraqi population haven’t seen anything from these funds, from the oil income. If we look at the healthcare, education, employment, et cetera. So, General Mattis has – or had, actually – a very difficult mission in Iraq. Before we start talking about what Mattis is doing in Iraq and how he was received, one shouldn’t forget the code name of Mr. Mattis is “Mad Dog”. And this Mad Dog came from the massacre under his command that was committed by the US army, and especially the Marines, in 2004 in Fallujah and Haditha. So, actually, General Mattis should be sued for war crimes. He and the Marines under his command, whom he also helped to get them off the hook not to be sued for war crimes when they were under investigation, and so on, in Iraq. So, the first thing is Mr. Mattis should be sued actually for war crimes. The most outrageous thing about the current governing class in Iraq and especially … political party … and so on, the allies of … Islamic party came to power with the support of the United States. And especially Mr. Trump and his team are the most Islamophobic Cabinet in the history of the United States. So it’s outrageous how these parties still receive a general who committed war crimes in Iraq and who is part of the team, the most Islamophobic in the United States, and these supporters … they call themselves Islamist Party, and yet they receive and collaborate them and consider what he was saying as trustworthy. I think that’s the most outrageous part of the story. SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah. And let me add to that, Sabah, of course, the illegal war that was pursued and illegal declared by the United Nations, let me add, for those young listeners who have no history of this war at this time. SABAH ALNASSERI: Yeah. I mean, the third thing that Mr. Trump tried to suggest is that seizing the Iraqi oil is part of a strategy to defeat ISIS because ISIS controls some of these oil fields. And if the United States would have controlled the Iraqi oil, allegedly the Islamic State wouldn’t have access to it. But, you know, he probably forgot, you know, all these extremist groups were the outcome of the US policies in Iraq. Incarceration of 100,000 of young Iraqi, innocent Iraqi young people, that under incarceration, torture and so on, were radicalized and became extreme. That is the outcome of the US occupation that without such an occupation and incarceration and torture we wouldn’t have Islamic State or any other extremist group for that matter. SHARMINI PERIES: Sabah, what do you ascribe in terms of the differences in rhetoric between Mad Dog Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, and the president. Now, in given the background you’ve just described about Mattis, nevertheless, he comes across somewhat as the elderly statesperson trying to sort of mitigate the absurd words of Trump without trying to really say that – of course, he can’t say that, it’s his president – but he does come across as the elderly, wiser statesman when he was in Iraq. What do you make of that? SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, I don’t think so. The problem is, you know, President Trump gave his security apparatus one month to come up with a plan how to defeat ISIS. And that means they still have one week to come up with a plan how to defeat ISIS. Mattis is knows exactly without the Iraqi on the count they cannot defeat ISIS. So that means he is under enormous pressure in Iraq to justify and to roll back on some of the statements of President Trump to assure the Iraqis that the United States will collaborate with them as usual, like before, to defeat ISIS. And he needs the collaboration of the Iraqi army and the popular mobilization unit, and the anti-terror forces, and the military police, etc., in Iraq. All these forces are waging the war on the ground against ISIS. He needs them to come up with a plan to appease or pacify Trump’s needs for a plan against ISIS. So that means without the collaboration of the Iraqis on the ground, neither Mattis nor Trump can do anything about ISIS, or defeating ISIS. SHARMINI PERIES: Now, of course, as you just mentioned, Mattis is there in order to make a plan for defeating ISIS. How do you think the plan will proceed given what meetings took place in Iraq? SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, it’s not clear what actually President Trump means about defeating ISIS or eliminating ISIS from the earth, and so on. He didn’t come up with any plan. When he told his generals he wants a plan within one month, this is wishful thinking. You know, considering the recent attack on ISIS in Mosul since October last year – and we talked about it already in October on The Real News – and we said that contrary to what the Iraqi government was saying, or the Pentagon, this attack on Mosul would take months. And we are still in Mosul. Now the Iraqi army shifted from the east part of Mosul mostly clean, not totally, but mostly clean from ISIL fighters, and they moved to the west side of Mosul. That means the historical centre of Mosul – it’s a small part of the city, on the west part of the Tigris. But it is a very narrow neighborhood, so it makes it enormously difficult for the Iraqi army to enter this part of the city and fight, from house to house, the ISIL fighter. This will take a few months, if not maybe a year to cleanse the east part of Mosul of Islamic fighters. So, again, it’s wishful thinking of President Trump and General Mattis to come up with somehow a different plan to defeat ISIS. Because, you know, President Obama increased the US troops in Iraq for the first time since the withdrawal to about 5,100 American soldiers and experts in Iraq who are imbedded in this, actually, war against ISIS in Mosul. The only thing, and, of course, the US gave air support for the Iraqi forces on the ground. So, the only thing that Mr. Trump or Mr. Mattis would suggest is to increase US troops on the ground. But I don’t see how this will solve the problem on how to defeat ISIS in the eastern part of Mosul. SHARMINI PERIES: Now, the Americans already have about 6,000 troops in Iraq now. This was soldiers committed by President Barack Obama. So, adding to that, you’re talking about adding to that. How are these 6,000 or so that are already there being received in Iraq? SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, the problem is, as I said, the decision of this government, of the Interior Minister and so on, are mostly taken behind the scenes, and not even sometimes the Parliamentarians know what kind of a deal was made with the United States, how many experts or soldiers are there. And the second problem, of course, is still despite all these years, we still don’t have a national Iraqi army. We have different forces, different militias with different allegiances to different parties and so on. So, you have different American experts and advisors and trainers in different parts of Iraq. Some would, let’s say, be with the Peshwar and Kurdistan and have no collaboration with the Iraqi government or the Iraqi army. Somehow embedded with some units of the Iraqi army, but other units don’t know about their work. Some of the units of the Iraqi army were complaining that the United States and their convoy was not responding fast enough to give them what they need with ISIS. So there is miscommunication, there’s problems with the support commands, confusion on the ground. So, adding more troops will not solve the problem, it will increase the problem because it would multiply the centre of power and decision-making. SHARMINI PERIES: And then finally, Sabah, to what extent do you believe that the Trump administration’s policy on Iran as it has been developed thus far which seems to be an effort to isolate Iran in many ways, how do you think that will affect the relationship with Iraq? SABAH ALNASSERI: Of course, because Iran is the major player in Iraq after the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq in 2011. So, the existence of American forces, experts, diplomats, depends heavily on the collaboration of Iran and Iraq. And the Shiite Party that governs Iraq, they are an ally of Iran. So that means you cannot achieve any security, political, diplomatic issues or problems in Iraq without the collaboration of Iran. Making such statements; threatening Iran with war or sanctions, going back and trying to renegotiate the nuclear agreements; is, as I said, it’s a bare bone, he will see. Trump will realize very soon. I hope his advisors, there are some rational advisors among his team, will inform him that this is the least he wants to create a new conflict against Iran, because this will jeopardize all the US security policy et cetera in the region, especially in Iraq. SHARMINI PERIES: Very well. I thank you so much for joining us today, Sabah, and I look forward to having you back on The Real News Network. SABAH ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network. ————————- END

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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.