The Iraqi parliament will meet this weekend to decide whether or not to accept the latest US offer for a new Status of Forces Agreement, which as Sabah al-Nasseri explained in part one of our interview, has now become the all-encompassing document on US operations in Iraq. In part two of our discussion, Sabah explains how political forces inside Iraq are likely to force a rejection of the proposal. With a variety of influential voices within Iraq and the parliament voicing their opposition to the agreement, and president Maliki looking to secure a political victory before January’s provincial elections, Sabah believes the parliament will be forced to reject the offer and seek an extension for the occupation from the UN. These are signs of representative democracy at work, something that the US has proposed is one of its aims in Iraq, but that now appears to be an obstacle to the current US plan for the future.
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Be careful what you wish for
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the next segment of our interview with Sabah al-Nasseri, a professor of political science at York University in Toronto, an expert on Middle East politics. And we’re discussing the end of the UN mandate for American troops in Iraq and what will happen next. Welcome, Sabah.
PROF. SABAH AL-NASSERI, POLITICAL SCIENCE, YORK UNIVERSITY: Hi, Paul.
JAY: So, just to sum from the last segment, the UN mandate is about to expire at the end of this year. You were saying in the last segment that it’s likely that the Iraqi government will request a year extension of this mandate. So, essentially, sort of status quo. The SOFA agreement, which is the agreement that creates the terms between the Iraqi government in the US for how American forces operate in Iraq, is stalled, although there’s been some some American concessions. But it seems like the Iraqi Parliament and many Iraqi political and military forces have their own view on what should be happening next in Iraq. So, first of all, talk about, a little bit, the broader context. This must not have been in anybody’s imagination in the White House in 2003, that they would be dealing with an Iraq that is saying no to them.
AL-NASSERI: Not only the US, but the current Iraqi government actually did not imagine last year that there would be a huge resistance within Iraq, outside the Parliament but also within the cabinet, against the agreement, because in November 2007, when the al-Maliki government, and not only the al-Maliki but a lot of member of his cabinet, signed the so-called declaration of principle with President Bush, they were all d’accord with this agreement. They thought they can push for this agreement without actually presenting the agreement to the Parliament; they can do it on the level of their executive.
JAY: So this is be careful what you wish for. There was so much talk about democracy; they kind of got one.
AL-NASSERI: Exactly. That mean they caped the whole issue secretly. By the way, the United States too, they caped it also, vis-à-vis the Congress, secretly, so that even the member of the Congress, they do not have access to the documents. The same thing in Iraq: nothing was in public. And in March 7, when they drafted the first so-called framework of security agreement, the same thing: it was secretly—there were no discussions about it. But the struggles between al-Sadr movement—remember when we discussed—this was in May, between March and May—it was not a coincidence that al-Sadr in May, after the ceasefire, mobilized his people in Baghdad, 10,000 of them, to demonstrate and protest against the security agreement. So at that time the Iraqi government realized there’s a potential for conflict and explosion within the Iraqi societies and within the Parliament against the agreement.
JAY: So they didn’t get their oil law.
JAY: They’re having great trouble getting an agreement on SOFA and how the US troops are going to operate there. There’s provincial elections coming up, which could dramatically change the whole political picture of Iraq. We could see al-Sadr forces winning seats that could make the situation even worse. So in terms of getting an agreement now versus later, it could be even more difficult later. So how do you think this is going to unfold?
AL-NASSERI: Two things. I think that the Iraqi government now, since they realize there’s a huge resistance within Iraq, within the Parliament, even within the executive against the agreement, they are tactically trying to gain some time to postpone the agreement at least until the new president, Obama, would be inaugurated on January 20.
JAY: And is that what’s really the subtext here is that it kind of doesn’t matter what the Americans say, they’re not going to have an agreement until Obama takes office?
AL-NASSERI: I think so. And they will not ratify the agreement by this weekend; the Iraqi Parliament will not ratify this agreement; they will not sign it. So, as you mentioned before, I think the Iraqi government would ask the Security Council to extend the presence of the multinational troops in Iraq for one more year, and then would wait for the inauguration of President Obama to have a deal with President Obama for two things: first, because they believe they can have a better agreement with Obama when it comes to withdrawal of the troops, redeployment, etcetera; and the second thing, as you mentioned before, on January 31 we would have the provincial election in Iraq, and if the Iraqi government can sell it to the Iraqi public that we have a better agreement now, it’s about ending the occupation, about ending the war, and not about the security of the United States, they could, you know, gain political capital for the election on January 31.
JAY: And perhaps beat back the Sadr forces [inaudible]
AL-NASSERI: Exactly. At least if they cannot win the election, but at least they can—.
JAY: Now, where is Sistani on this?
AL-NASSERI: Sistani, as I said, he is the intellectual of this government, actually. But he didn’t realize—.
JAY: Tell us very fast—I’m sure most people know, but very fast for those who don’t—who Sistani is.
AL-NASSERI: Sistani is the great ayatollah of the Shiites’ religious institution in Iraq, but not only in Iraq: on a worldwide scale. So he’s the biggest ayatollah. And the al-Maliki Dawa Party and al-Hakim’s SCIRI [now the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC] are backed up by al-Sistani right from the beginning vis-à-vis al-Sadr movement. But now al-Sistani realize not only al-Sadr but most part of the Iraqi people—like, two weeks ago you have 100,000 of people in Iraq protesting against the agreement, not only Shiite and Sunni but Kurds and Christians all over Iraq against—.
JAY: The agreement with the Americans.
AL-NASSERI: Exactly. So al-Sistani was telling, signalizing to the government, if you don’t negotiate a fair agreement in terms of the Iraqi population, you will jeopardize your own political position within the Parliament. So, in the interests of the so-called religious institution and of this current government, you have to have the kind of compromise that articulate in terms of the Iraqi people and their national interests. So he was telling them since July 2008 to have a withdrawal or a timetable within this agreement, and anything that could jeopardize the Iraqi sovereignty should not be [inaudible]
JAY: Now, just in the last couple of days there’s been bombings, there’s been more civilian deaths. And this kind of puts itself in the context of what Americans say often, is that if the Americans do pull out, there’s going to be chaos, there’s going to be civil war, and every time a bomb goes off, this is supposed to be proof that this is what would happen without the American forces. So what do you make of that argument?
AL-NASSERI: I think two things. On the one hand—and this is the problem of the al-Maliki government, because it’s under three kind of pressure. The first one is domestically—within Iraq. The second one is regionally, from Iran and Syria. And the third one from the United States, because remember, Gates, last week he actually threatened Iraq: if they don’t sign this agreement, they will have significant consequences. That means he’s saying not only they have possibilities on the financial level, like to block all the Iraqis’ assets and Iraqi development funds in New York, but because they created, since the last year, all these militias and paramilitary groups in Iraq, they can use them against the government to destabilize the Iraqi government.
JAY: Now, these are these mostly Sunni awakening councils.
AL-NASSERI: Exactly, so-called awakening councils, to destabilize the al-Maliki government. So the al-Maliki government has to be very careful here in dealing with the United States.
JAY: And do the Americans have the ability to turn these awakening councils as they please? ‘Cause we’ve also heard stories the awakening councils are pretty fed up with the Americans too.
AL-NASSERI: Yes. I mean, this is the problem with the US: they create always these kind of Frankensteins, and they cannot control them anymore. So it’s possibilities they have there, through these militias and paramilitary groups, actually to destabilize the central government.
JAY: We’ll move on to another segment of our interview. But in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about who’s got guns, and who are they pointing them at, and why.
JAY: So join us for the next segment of our interview with Sabah al-Nasseri.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.