PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: The U.S. government claims violence in Iraq has dropped to levels not seen consistently for almost three years. Osama bin Laden says al-Qaida in Iraq has made mistakes and seems in retreat. U.S. Army General David Petraeus says the surge is working and the strategy against al-Qaida is successful. And the American media is echoing his optimism.
November 21, 2007
HOST: We have already told you about the astounding drop in violence in Iraq. Homicide bombings, roadside bombings, and other attacks are dropping significantly according to the military, all of it being credited to the troop surge.
December 1, 2007
VOICE OF REPORTER: Twenty-eight combat dead in November. Compare that to 120 killed last May. Even a hardcore critic like Democratic Congressman John Murtha, who once pronounced the troop surge a failure, is impressed.
JOHN MURTHA, U.S. CONGRESSMAN (D): No. I think the surge is working.
Here to explain what he thinks is really going on is Real News analyst Pepe Escobar, joining us today from Brazil. Pepe, what do you make of these reports that Iraq’s violence is down? What are you hearing from your contacts in Iraq?
PEPE ESCOBAR: Well, basically, Baghdad nowadays, it’s a collection of neighborhoods that are totally isolated from each other. It’s a blast-wall country, basically. And this reproduces what’s happening all over Iraq. So if we look at Iraq at the moment, it’s total balkanization, actually. Look at the south. The south, we have Shiite militias battling against each other. We have the Mahdi Army battling the Badr Organization for control of Basra, basically. In Anbar province, the Sunni tribes were collaborating with the Americans. They now secure the roads to Syria and Jordan. They are not battling the Americans. They were battling al-Qaida. And there’s no connection to what’s happening in Baghdad, where some other Sunnis are also allied with the Americans to erase al-Qaida from some Sunni neighborhoods, but basically to protect their neighborhoods from Shiite militias. So in Baghdad, it’s basically, the city’s completely divided. When the Americans says that there’s peace in Baghdad, this means that the city that was 65 percent Sunni and now it’s 75 to 80 percent Shiite, the Sunni neighborhoods, they are isolated from everybody else by blast walls, like Adamiya or Azamiya for that matter, which is near Kadamiya which has a very important Shiite shrine. So this is what we call peace: we call people living in ghettos completely isolated and protected by militias.
JAY: But the American response would be, as Balkanized as it might be, better now than it was before the surge.
ESCOBAR: Well, better now than it was before. We have to take into consideration the change of strategy by the Americans. This means there are less missions in Baghdad, in the streets of Baghdad. They are confined to a few neighborhoods near the airport and Camp Victory, the main American base. This means there are more air strikes. What I hear from people in Sadr City is that the Americans refuse to go to Sadr City, and sometimes they will go only with Humvees and Bradleys. They go on an aerial strike to try to find so-called pockets of guerrillas allied with the Iranians. Usually what they do when they do these kind of strikes is they hit a lot of civilians. And this has been going on in Sadr City for the last two or three months as well. So there was an American sort of retreat to base. Less missions, more air strikes. And at the same time a very important development. Sunnis in Baghdad, since they consider themselves excluded from the government, some Sunni neighborhood Sheiks have tried to strike deals with American forces to protect their own neighborhoods, because they fear they are being circled by Shiites. And this goes back to the slow-motion ethnic cleansing, violent and sometimes not so violent, that’s been occurring by now for the past year or so, even before the surge started in last February.
JAY: What do you make of bin Laden’s statement a few weeks ago, where he talks about mistakes being made by al-Qaida in Iraq, that some people who have made these mistakes should be brought to justice. What’s the context for those comments if we’re to believe that this is a genuine statement from bin Laden?
Aired on al-Jazeera TV
October 22, 2007
VOICE (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): But some of you have been lax in fulfilling another duty, which is also a great duty, that is to unite your ranks into one as Allah desires.
ESCOBAR: Well, according to Islamic Web sites, this was a real Osama bin Laden communique. If we really don’t like bin Laden, he’s absolutely correct, because al-Qaida in the Land of the Two Rivers, which is the al-Qaida branch that was started by Zarqawi, actually, and it has been developed for the past year or so. There are not many Iraqis in this branch, for that matter. They are basically Saudis, Yemenis, Kuwaitis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and very, very few other known Arab nationals. This al-Qaida in the Land of the Two Rivers, their strategy, especially in Anbar province, was of confrontation, and it was like—we could draw a parallel to Afghanistan. Talibanization was too hardcore, and they antagonized the local tribal chiefs. That’s why these tribal chiefs resorted to doing deals with the Americans to basically drive al-Qaida out of Anbar province.
JAY: The conditions for the Sunni militias or fighters turning on al-Qaida, the relative lowering of violence, certainly sectarian violence, if the surge had something to do with it, if increased U.S. troops has helped create the conditions for this—and that’s an if, so you should tell me if you think that assumption’s at all correct—but if it is, what happens if U.S. troop levels go down?
ESCOBAR: Look, what’s happening now is that both sides know that the surge would last only for a period of time, let’s say a year or so. Both sides were reorganizing themselves, are still reorganizing themselves. The Mahdi Army, for instance, they decided to lie low, not save the Americans, even if they are attacked inside Sadr City, which has been happening for the past few months, because what they are thinking about is 2009. They are already planning in advance. What Muqtada has done, he’s reorganizing his forces, he’s reorganizing the Mahdi Army. There was a sort of purge of more radical elements of the Mahdi Army who are now acting by themselves. And he’s trying to organize a party modeled on Hezbollah to contest the 2009 elections, where they have the numbers, of course, not only in Baghdad but in the whole Shiite south. The Sadrists believe very strongly that they can reach power by themselves in the 2009 parliamentary elections. On the other side, the Sunnis have decided that, “We cannot fight the Iraqi government, the Maliki government, and the Americans at the same time.” Because they are trying to concentrate their forces to do something, or maybe a putsch, against the government that that would be of course, and especially against the Mahdi Army, which they consider to be their main aggressor, after the draw-down of the surge, which is going to be probably next summer.
JAY: Well, it must be the Bush administration and the whole American security community’s worst nightmare to wage a five-year war in order to put the Sadr Hezbollah in power in Iraq.
ESCOBAR: In fact, they never saw it coming, because in fact they underestimated Muqtada al-Sadr for so long, starting in 2004 when he actually formed the Mahdi Army. And Muqtada has developed himself as an excellent politician. And he went to Saudi Arabia, he’s been to Syria, he’s been talking to Sunni leaders, tribal leaders, and inside Iraq he is the voice of the streets. [inaudible] it’s a true indigenous nationalist movement. It has, of course, Islamic overtones, but not sectarian in an al-Qaida, Wahhabi, Saudi Arabian sense. So it’s almost inevitable. It’s just like Hezbollah evolved as a resistance movement in Lebanon. The Sadrists are evolving now as a resistance movement in Iraq. And this, if we analyze the history of U.S. foreign policy these past fifty years, is America’s worst nightmare. It’s not communism. It’s not terrorism. The real bogeyman for American foreign policy with some imperialistic overtones is a true indigenous nationalist movement.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.