Pepe Escobar on Terrorism

June 27, 2007

Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Pepe Escobar covers the huge Latin American landscape for Asia Times Online.

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Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Pepe Escobar covers the huge Latin American landscape for Asia Times Online.



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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, TRNN ANALYST: What I try to do is to explain how Islamist movements work, and this is something that has not been well understood in the West, I think. I try to put into context what Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri think. I try to compare this with, for instance, [what] Hamas and Hezbollah think and what they’re doing as popular movements in Palestine and in Lebanon, which is something that has nothing to do with terrorism, because they work with local populations, and they happen to have armed wings as well. But they’re both involved in wars of national liberation. Well, the Sunni-Shia rivalry in Iraq is an extremely complex question, which during Saddam Hussein was, dealt with in, let’s say, a vertical manner. The Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein was a lay state, was a secular state. So Sunni-Shia divide religiously was left to the mosques, basically. After Saddam is a completely different story. The occupation was based on a sectarian divide, and it was ethnic and it was religious from the beginning. So the animosity between Sunni(s) and Shias was just exacerbated by the occupation. It’s completely different from the spin coming from Washington, which paints now Shias against Sunnis like Arab barbarians against Arab barbarians, and we are caught in the middle. No way. It was exactly the other way around. It was the way the occupation exacerbated on both sides a total rejection of the foreign occupier. So if the Americans pulled out, let’s say, tomorrow, the civil war will continue, as we’re seeing today, even bloodier of course. But in the end, I’m sure the Sunnis and the Shias would find a way to accommodate power. It would be almost like—the country would be in practice divided into three. The Kurds will stay in the north with a big battle for Kirkuk, of course, because the Sunnis will like to keep Kirkuk. The Sunnis will be left with Baghdad and no oil and the Green Zone—with a huge American embassy on it and American military bases nearby—and the Shiites will have a great Shiite-stan in the South, which would be aligned with Iran but not subordinated to Iran, which is another myth perpetrated by Washington and by American mainstream media. If you ask, what do Iraqis want now? You have to be very precise. What kind of Iraqi are we talking about? If you ask a Kurd, he’s going to tell you, “I want an independent Kurdistan. I want Kirkuk. I want to have control over the oil of Kirkuk. And I don’t want any interference from Baghdad.” That’s one thing. Okay. Then you move to Baghdad and you ask a Sunni Arab who lives in Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Sunni triangle in general, he says, “I want at least part of the power that I had back. I don’t want to be victim of ethnic cleansing. I don’t want a Shiite government which is only interested in the wellbeing of Shiites, and doesn’t care about the rest of Iraqis, and on top of it gets its orders from Tehran”—this is how they see it; it’s not necessarily true—“And I want the Americans out.” Then you go and talk to a Shiite who lives in Sadr City and supports Muqtada al-Sadr. He’s going to say, “I want an independent Iraq, a nationalist Iraqi nation, Shiite majority controlled by Shiites, not aligned with Iran, and over control of our national resources as well—we control our oil, and we distribute the oil to the other parts of the country.” Then you go further south. You go to Najaf, Karbala, and then you go to Basra as well, southern Iraq, near Kuwait. He’s going to say more or less the same thing with a difference. He’ll say, “I want a Shiite government well aligned with Iran, collaborating very closely with Iran. It can be more or less modeled on the Islamic theocratic model, but not so much, with a slight degree of, let’s say, a better degree of, let’s say, political expression, political freedom, with control of our national resources as well, and with the Americans out as soon as possible—if not now, as soon as possible, provided that we’re guaranteed that they are not going to stage a coup and put another Sunni back in power.” So, as you can see, depending on the Iraqi you’re talking to, you have at least four different concepts for Iraq in the future.

PEPE ESCOBAR, TRNN ANALYST: What I try to do is to explain how Islamist movements work, and this is something that has not been well understood in the West, I think. I try to put into context what Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri think. I try to compare this with, for instance, [what] Hamas and Hezbollah think and what they’re doing as popular movements in Palestine and in Lebanon, which is something that has nothing to do with terrorism, because they work with local populations, and they happen to have armed wings as well. But they’re both involved in wars of national liberation. Well, the Sunni-Shia rivalry in Iraq is an extremely complex question, which during Saddam Hussein was, dealt with in, let’s say, a vertical manner. The Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein was a lay state, was a secular state. So Sunni-Shia divide religiously was left to the mosques, basically. After Saddam is a completely different story. The occupation was based on a sectarian divide, and it was ethnic and it was religious from the beginning. So the animosity between Sunni(s) and Shias was just exacerbated by the occupation. It’s completely different from the spin coming from Washington, which paints now Shias against Sunnis like Arab barbarians against Arab barbarians, and we are caught in the middle. No way. It was exactly the other way around. It was the way the occupation exacerbated on both sides a total rejection of the foreign occupier. So if the Americans pulled out, let’s say, tomorrow, the civil war will continue, as we’re seeing today, even bloodier of course. But in the end, I’m sure the Sunnis and the Shias would find a way to accommodate power. It would be almost like—the country would be in practice divided into three. The Kurds will stay in the north with a big battle for Kirkuk, of course, because the Sunnis will like to keep Kirkuk. The Sunnis will be left with Baghdad and no oil and the Green Zone—with a huge American embassy on it and American military bases nearby—and the Shiites will have a great Shiite-stan in the South, which would be aligned with Iran but not subordinated to Iran, which is another myth perpetrated by Washington and by American mainstream media. If you ask, what do Iraqis want now? You have to be very precise. What kind of Iraqi are we talking about? If you ask a Kurd, he’s going to tell you, “I want an independent Kurdistan. I want Kirkuk. I want to have control over the oil of Kirkuk. And I don’t want any interference from Baghdad.” That’s one thing. Okay. Then you move to Baghdad and you ask a Sunni Arab who lives in Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Sunni triangle in general, he says, “I want at least part of the power that I had back. I don’t want to be victim of ethnic cleansing. I don’t want a Shiite government which is only interested in the wellbeing of Shiites, and doesn’t care about the rest of Iraqis, and on top of it gets its orders from Tehran”—this is how they see it; it’s not necessarily true—“And I want the Americans out.” Then you go and talk to a Shiite who lives in Sadr City and supports Muqtada al-Sadr. He’s going to say, “I want an independent Iraq, a nationalist Iraqi nation, Shiite majority controlled by Shiites, not aligned with Iran, and over control of our national resources as well—we control our oil, and we distribute the oil to the other parts of the country.” Then you go further south. You go to Najaf, Karbala, and then you go to Basra as well, southern Iraq, near Kuwait. He’s going to say more or less the same thing with a difference. He’ll say, “I want a Shiite government well aligned with Iran, collaborating very closely with Iran. It can be more or less modeled on the Islamic theocratic model, but not so much, with a slight degree of, let’s say, a better degree of, let’s say, political expression, political freedom, with control of our national resources as well, and with the Americans out as soon as possible—if not now, as soon as possible, provided that we’re guaranteed that they are not going to stage a coup and put another Sunni back in power.” So, as you can see, depending on the Iraqi you’re talking to, you have at least four different concepts for Iraq in the future.

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