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Professor Sabah Alnasseri says the purpose of the campaign against ISIL is to enable continued political and military intervention by the U.S. throughout the Middle East

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

President Obama is scheduled to make an important prime time speech on Wednesday evening as he prepares an international coalition to fight the Islamic State. Obama is facing increasing domestic pressure to attack ISIS as a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 71 percent of Americans support airstrikes in Iraq and 65 percent in Syria. Administration and Pentagon officials say a plan to destroy ISIS could take up to three years. Meanwhile, in Iraq, Haider al-Abadi has been officially appointed prime minister of the new government, following the departure of Nouri al-Maliki last month. The U.S. has conducted nearly 150 airstrikes in Iraq since authorizing them a month ago.

Joining us now to discuss Iraq and the Islamic State is Sabah Alnasseri. Sabah Alnasseri teaches Middle East politics and economy at the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto.

Sabah, thank you so much for joining us today.


PERIES: So let’s start off by getting your reaction to the U.S. decision to launch an international coalition to fight the ISIS through a military operation that could take years.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. You see the disastrous U.S. policy in Iraq and their attempts to defeat the Assad government and the Syrian army were actually kind of shooting themselves in the knee, because it was based on false assumption and, incredibly, overestimation of oppositional forces and the underestimation of the interests of Russia and Iran and so on, especially in Syria. So now what they’re trying to do: they’re trying to utilize the conflict in Iraq with the Islamic State to expand and extend the war against, again, the government of al-Assad and the Syrian army, utilizing now the Islamic State.

So what is so dangerous about it? First, it actually disregard the sovereignties and the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, which open up a precedent for further military intervention. And the second thing: I think it’s not so much about defeating IS, ISIL, or ISIS, whatever you want to call it. And, as you said, [incompr.] could take up to three years. So that means the objective [incompr.] completely different. The objective is not so much to defeat ISIS as much as to pressure Iran and Russia to make concession: if they want to sustain their presence and interests in Syria, Russia should make some concession regarding Ukraine, open up space for expanding NATO to the east, and Iran make concession in regard to its nuclear program. So I think they’re trying to achieve different objective by utilizing ISIS as a cover for their geopolitical intervention and military intervention.

PERIES: That’s very interesting. Sabah, what role do you think Iraqi prime minister–the new prime minister, Abadi, will have on this country’s sectarianism and regional divides and their alliances with the U.S.?

ALNASSERI: Right. Let me go two steps back, and another to go one step forward. You see, let’s remember, three years ago there was huge revolutions in the Arab world. And these revolutions caught everybody by surprise. And the major allies of the United States–Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, or almost Al Khalifa in Bahrain, they were all toppled, right? And so, at that time the U.S. and some major European or imperialist power, like France, U.K., they lost, almost, their influence in the Middle East.

So the best way to regain dominance and influence the Middle East is qua militarization of the Arab revolutions, which started with Libya and Syria. And they are trying to achieve some objective here, not just the dominance of the United States, but also to stabilize their regional allies–Israel and the Gulf monarchies, and Sisi in Egypt. So the best way is–to push back against the Arab Revolution and people’s demand is precisely to militarize the conflict.

Now, what we are witnessing with the so-called ISIL or ISIS, which is nothing but a fabrication of this military intervention, especially in Syria against al-Assad, armed and supported by the Gulf monarchies, Turkey, the United States, etc., so now what they’re trying to do, what I think’s kind of deja vu with the Bush administration and deja vu of the with the war on terror, or you can say war of terror reloaded, is that the formation of the so-called coalition of the willing, an international consensus which allegedly would fight this Islamist terror and so on, de facto, as I said, first secure the permanent military intervention and political intervention of the United States in the internal affair of these countries. Second, it stabilizes regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia, Israel, to push back against any people demands. Third, they justify all kinds of state terrorism practiced by Israel against the Palestinians or the Gulf monarchies against [civilian] population, Sisi in Egypt, or the Iraqi government in Iraq, it opened up this enormous space for the arm industry, because now you can see not only the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, and so on, all of them supporting and supplying, especially the Kurdish Peshmerga in Kurdistan, weapons and arms without even any legislative for constitutional constraint. So it’s opened an enormous precedent for this arm industry and further militarization of the conflict.

And the bizarre thing about it is, I mean, about ISIL or the Islamic State and the U.S. policy in Iraq, both of them actually are hollowing out, undermining the territorial integrity and sovereignties of these states. Both of them use of violence to achieve political objectives. Both of them actually are involved in action of plunder and booties. And–how should I say?–both of them follow a politics of–what do you call it?–scorched earth, burning earth, to achieve their objectives. And that’s the most disastrous thing in this development. And the U.S. was pressuring the Iraqi government or the Iraqi parliament to create a so-called inclusive government. And only if they can create an inclusive government, the U.S. will be willing to support their military, etc., etc., to push back against al-Maliki. So now we have the formation of this government. And if you want me to comment on this, I am more than happy to do that.

PERIES: Please do, because earlier this week, Obama has said that they need to build a moderate Sunni opposition in Iraq in order to fight the Islamic State. What does that mean and what effect will this policy have in terms of the military operations that they’re going to resume?

ALNASSERI: Right. I mean, just like at the regional and international level you can see the so-called Kerry’s coalition of the willings, even the Arab League’s all of a sudden saying that they [incompr.] militarily and support Iraq, though they forgot about Iraq over the last few years, where 100,000 [incompr.] nobody give a damn about it, just like the U.S. You see before ISIL reached a deal where the U.S. commands and oilfields based, they didn’t give a damn about 1,000 and 10,000 Iraqi killed and massacred and 100,000 displaced in Iraq in Syria.

So now you can see this government in Iraq–I will term it the coalition of the willings, which means all those forces who accept the U.S. agenda in the region. That’s what they mean by inclusive. And they were literally pushed to form this government under U.S. pressure until the last minute. So what we see? We see that the same faces and the same forces involved in the last 11 years after the occupation of 2011 are the same forming the new government. So you have at the ceremonial level the so-called three: vice president; al-Maliki, the ex-prime minister; and then Allawi, an ex-prime minister; and then Nujayfi–he was the speaker of the house. And at the other ceremonial level, which is the deputy prime minister, you have Zebari, who used to be the foreign minister of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan; you have Mutlak, who was to be a vice president; and you have the new figure, which is Bahaa al-Aaraji–he’s from the Sadrists, but he is, as I said, as the deputy prime minister, just a ceremonial post. But the major ministries–the Oil Ministry, Finance, Interior, and military, and Defense, these are the hot topics.

So if we look at here, what do you see? The oil minister is Adil Abdul-Mahdi. He is from the al-Hakim faction, which is the supreme Islamic–what do you call it? The supreme Islamic–in Iraq and so on. This guy, he used to be in his youth a Baathist turned communist turned Islamist turned neoliberal. He was the ex-finance minister. And this guy, I can should assure you, he will push for privatization and the wholesale out of the Iraqi oil. He was chosen because he had good relationship with the Kurds. So it’s a kind of positive gesture toward the Kurds that the Iraqi government will resolve the problem around the oil.

If we look at the finance minister, who is Rowsch Nuri Shaways, he is from the Democratic Party of Kurdistan of Barzani–again a positive gesture toward the Kurds that the financial, the budget issue between the central government and Kurdistan would be resolved and [incompr.] because the Kurds, until the last minute, they did not participate in the formation of their government, and they were literally pushed by the U.S. to join the government. So when they joined the government under the condition that within three months all issues, non-resolved issues between the central government and Kurdistan should be resolved; otherwise they will leave the government. So they put the government under enormous pressure, which means that that’s a new conflict formation at this level.

Now, if we go back to the Defense and Interior ministry, what do we see? Abadi is still the head of the interior and defense ministry and has the prerogative for these two ministry, just like al-Maliki he before him, he was in charge for the security apparatus. Now, Abadi promised to solve the problem within one week and nominate few figures for these ministries, because there was one possible MP from the Badr Brigade, which was a militia of al-Hakim, but now they are a political, mainstream party. And one of their members wanted to be at least a minister for interior or defense, but it was rejected because of the violent terrorist practices of al-Badr Brigades. So this problem is not solved yet. And this is very important, because especially the security apparatus, it’s important for three reasons. First, anybody who’s in the position of minister president and within the executive can rely on the security apparatus to sustain political power. The second thing: the security apparatus is the most corrupt security apparatus, through all kind of real and fake arm deals and the selling of public posts within these ministries. And third, the security apparatus is the site of a influence and intervention of the United States and Iran. So anybody who’s in charge of this apparatus will be backed up by the U.S. and Iran. So that’s why it is so significant to see who is going to fill these posts within the next week.

PERIES: Sabah, what will be the political status of Sunni communities in Iraq with this policy?

ALNASSERI: Right. I refer to one possible conflict between the Kurds and the central government within the next three months. But there’s another and, I think, major problem. You see, if you look at the so-called Sunni politicians who are included in this government, they are all the same faces, who–mostly pro-U.S. That means none of the political forces in the western and northwestern provinces of Iraq, the so-called Sunni–as I said, I don’t call them Sunni–the western and northwestern provinces of Iraq, none of these forces, political forces, is included in the government or in the political forces in general. So that means the oil conflict between the opposition in these provinces, be them tribal or political or what have you, and the central government is not resolved. They are not represented in this government. So it is inclusive in a U.S. sense. That means all those who are on board, be them Sunni, Kurds, Shiite, are, you know, d’accord with the U.S. agenda, but not necessarily inclusive in the sense of representation and just redistribution of resources and wealth, etc., but in this narrow geopolitical sense of the United States.

And that’s why I think this–I was hoping–in the last Real News interview, I was saying changing faces might inaugurate a process which is much more inclusive and just. But having looked at this new government and the formation of the government and how it was formed and who are in charge, there is literally no change vis-à-vis the old government and Maliki, because as I said, if we look at other members of the government, look at, for instance, the foreign minister, al-Jaafari, he was the ex-prime minister before al-Maliki, a guy–because of his sectarian politics, he created the massacres and the violence and terror in 2006 and ’07, right? So they’re the same figure who the created the mess, the insecurity, the injustices and violence, are the same who now control the new government. So there is no real shift in the relation of power, of representation and inclusion of the huge segment of the Iraqi population.

PERIES: Sabah, it sounds like more of the same for Iraqis. I’m sorry to hear that. But I want to thank you for joining us in explaining all of this to us.

ALNASSERI: My pleasure, and thanks for having me.

PERIES: 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.