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Prof. Sabah Alnasseri highlights how sectarian politics, which were exacerbated by the U.S. invasion, continue to divide the country, while America’s response has been militarization when it should be promoting inclusion

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

More than 2,400 Iraqis died during the month of June. That’s according to the United Nations. The news comes as the U.S. plans to send missiles, drones, as well as hundreds of more troops to Baghdad. Even Russia and Iran have also sent fighter jets to help the central government defend itself against the jihadist group ISIS (now it’s calling itself the Islamic State after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself head of a new caliphate across Syria and Iraq).

As for the Iraqi government, Parliament’s first session has been postponed until next week, after Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers walked out. There have been disagreements over appointments to the new government.

Now joining us to discuss the developments in Iraq is our guest, Sabah Alnasseri. Sabah is a professor of political science and economy at York University in Toronto.

Thanks for joining us, Sabah.


DESVARIEUX: So, Sabah, not a week goes by without reports of more military equipment, arms, and U.S. troops being sent into Baghdad, prompting critics to really accuse the Obama administration of this sort of mission creep. Does it look like the U.S. is setting itself up for a serious military engagement with the Islamic State, also formerly known as ISIS?

ALNASSERI: I don’t think so. We can look at it from two different perspective. If we look at it from the internal politics of Iraq, this is, you know, the worst that the U.S. can do, to send more weapons and more arms to Iraq and escalate the conflict, because the conflict is mainly political. So from this perspective, this is wrong. It’s a wrong policy. It will leads nowhere.

If you look at it for the perspective of United States–and I think the focus and the priority of the U.S. policy in Iraq is not Iraq or the so-called Islamic caliphate, but mostly Iran and Syria. So you can see it’s bizarre where U.S. support the same groups in Syria who fight against al-Assad, and al-Assad is supported by Iran and Russia, whereas in Iraq, all the three join together to fight the Islamic caliphate. So it’s a bizarre situation. But it depends on the perspective and those who are involved, of course, in the conflict, on which side of the conflict you stand.

DESVARIEUX: So if policy was really constructed in the interests of, let’s say, the Iraqi people and you were advising President Obama in terms of where he should stand on this issue, what would you advise him to do?

ALNASSERI: Jessica, you mentioned a fantastic thing at the beginning, where you said that the parliament convened yesterday, and only 75 out of 328 MPs came back to the session after the break, so there was no quorum to nominate the speaker of the house and the president, etc. This shows you the depth of the crisis, the political crisis in Iraq. This in itself should have, you know, been sufficient to the Obama administration to stop supporting the al-Maliki government and to push for a different formation, much more inclusive, democratic, representative, which is not the case.

DESVARIEUX: So you’re saying that’s not the case right now, but how would we get to that point? You’re saying push them to make it more inclusive. What could they do?

ALNASSERI: Well, my sense is they don’t really want it to be much more inclusive, because they are using this conflict to sustain the instabilities, because the instabilities keep the U.S. a permanent–how do you call it?–permanent mean to intervene in Iraqi politics and regional politics.

You see, one of the things that the Iraqi parliament refused in 2011 was to give immunities to the U.S. army in Iraq. That’s why they withdraw the troops. So now President Obama, before sending the 300 adviser, he insisted upon such immunity vis-à-vis the Iraqi law, which al-Malki, as a concession, made to the Obama administration to get some weapons and support. Right? So they utilize the conflict to push for some concession to sustain their influence in Iraqi politics, not because Iraqi politics per se are important to them, but, as I said, regional politics. And Iraq offers some kind of [laboratory?] in the sense of security, of gathering information, intervention in regional politics, etc.

DESVARIEUX: So, Sabah, I want to turn it talk about a New York Times article. They’re reporting that among the possible replacements for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki is Ahmed Chalabi. Who is he, and how likely is it that he’ll come to power?

ALNASSERI: He will never come to power, al-Chalabi, because he has no majority whatsoever, even within his own political force. He is the most hated politician in Iraq. He is the one who was responsible of the 2003 occupation, basically, who brought the U.S. army and destroyed Iraq. So there’s no way al-Chalabi can be a minister-president. Even though he claims to be a Shiite nowadays, even the Shiite political parties, they will not choose al-Chalabi.

There are other much more decent politicians within these parties that could be–could be, you know, reconciliatory figures, but not al-Chalabi.

DESVARIEUX: Who specifically?

ALNASSERI: Well, you see, the list of the State of Law of al-Maliki won 92 seats in the parliament. So, formally, if they nominate the speaker of the house and the president, this list will be instructed to form a government. So one candidate from within this list who has good connection to al-Hakim and al-Sadr are the two Shiite political forces who don’t want al-Maliki to be nominated for the third [term?], someone who has good connection to other political parties, like al-/ɛlaˈbi/, al-/wɔːfəˈniʌv/, Allawi, /aoʊ/, and /məˈdʒeɪg/, and /muːtaheˈduːn/, the Sunni, and the Kurds, al-Barzani and Talabani. I think this would be an acceptable figure for all political forces.

But, Jessica, the problem is is not the person, it’s not faces. I mean, you can bring a different figure, and maybe he or she can, you know, set something in motion. The problem is, as I said, like, years ago on The Real News, the problem is the whole state edifice, the whole institutional structure created by the United States, which permanently and systematically fractured the Iraqi polity according to ethnic and sectarian lines. So even if politician don’t want to be sectarian, they have to be in order to be elected. They have to appeal to their own ethnic or sectarian minorities and so on to be elected. So it’s imposed ethnicity and sectarianism onto the body of the people. So that need to be redesigned. The whole institution, the Constitution, the election law, all of these need to be restructured.

That means if there is a way out of this complex scenario, you need a temporary government, a national government, which will then create some committees and come up with suggestion how to restructure the Constitution and the election and party laws, etc., and then have, let’s say by next year, a new election based on the new constitution accepted by a referendum by all Iraqi people and have a new representative government. That’s the only way out.

I think if you initiate–changing person is to initiate this process. Once you start this process, I am definitely sure all the Iraqi communities who enabled this Islamic caliphate to take hold of Iraqi cities, not supporting them, but by not resisting them, enable them, they will start resisting them, because they are not [d’accord?] with this so-called Islamic caliphate. People in Iraq, be them Sunni or Kurds or Shiite, they fight for an Iraqi unified state and government, not for Islamic caliphate.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Sabah Alnasseri, thank you so much for joining us.

ALNASSERI: Pleasure. Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And 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.