Contextual Content

Iraqi cabinet accepts US agreement

The Iraqi cabinet agreed by a vote of 27-1 on Sunday to approve the newest US draft of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries. The agreement speaks to a variety of issues concerning the occupation, including the complete withdrawal from Iraq of US forces by the end of 2011. Moreover, it includes a promise from the US to not use Iraqi territory as a launch pad to attack inside other Middle-eastern countries, as it did in late October during a raid on a village inside Syria. Sabah al-Nasseri believes that the Iraqi parliament will eventually turn down the agreement for political reasons, in the interests of securing one with Barack Obama when he comes to power in January. The timing is important as the Iraqi provincial elections, which are extremely significant given the power granted provinces under the Iraqi constitution, will take place on January 31. Sabah believes that the importance of fairing well in those elections will force the parliament to reject an agreement which has received the rebuke of numerous groups, both religious and secular, who have organized massive protests over recent weeks. One piece of the agreement that very few people are talking about, which Sabah believes has angered many nationalists of all stripes, is the labeling of any armed resistance against occupation forces as terrorists, thereby criminalizing their activities under Iraqi law. Sabah believes that the most recent violence in Iraq was carried out by secular nationalists who are opposed to the deal, given that the targets of the attacks were all US and Iraqi government elements. Sabah, who was born and raised in the Southern Iraqi city of Basra, reiterates his support for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign occupiers, believing that the violence in Iraq stems from the occupation.

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Iraqi cabinet accepts US agreement

VOICEOVER: On Sunday the Iraqi cabinet voted 27-1 to approve the latest US draft of the Status of Forces Agreement. The agreement, which will see US forces remain in Iraq until the end of 2011, will now be voted on by the Iraqi Parliament. In Part 3 of our interview with Sabah al-Nasseri, Sabah gives us reason to believe that the landslide victory inside the cabinet may not be representative of the broader Iraqi population, and he evaluates the evolving power dynamics inside Iraq.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Sabah al-Nasseri, a professor of political science at York University and an expert on Middle East politics. Welcome again. So, to quote Chairman Mao Zedong, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. And if that’s true, who in Iraq’s got guns? And who are they pointing them at?

PROF. SABAH AL-NASSERI, POLITICAL SCIENCE, YORK UNIVERSITY: So many peoples in Iraq have guns and pointing at each others. The United States, they have their own paramilitary group, their militia, pointing at the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government, all of them, they have their own militias—the Kurds, the al-Hakim, al-Maliki’s—pointing them against their opponent within Iraq, like al-Sadr movement, etcetera. So everybody has guns in Iraq and pointing at each others.

JAY: And maybe I should just add—I’m sure everyone knows, but just to remind them, there’s gazillions of dollars of oil under the ground, so there’s a lot to be fighting for here.

AL-NASSERI: Exactly, and especially when you talk about the provincial election in January 31 next year, because according to the Constitution, those provinces will have enormous jurisdiction over economic and security issues when it come to military bases, oil, and so on. So it’s a big issue. The second issue—.

JAY: Just to be clear on this. So the election’s coming up. It’s January—.

AL-NASSERI: Thirty-first.

JAY: January 31.

AL-NASSERI: 2009. Exactly.

JAY: These provinces are not like—they have more rights and more power than a state does within the United States or even a province does in Canada. They can determine oil deals; they can—military base deals. So it’s a very big, big issue of who’s going to have power in Iraq.

AL-NASSERI: And that was created by the United States right in the beginning in the Constitution, actually, as a need to weaken the central government, strengthening all these provinces. They had at that time the Kurds in mind, as their allies. But now all other provinces trying to take advantage of the constitutions by creating those economic and security powers and so on. So it’s a huge issue for the Iraqi government the next election. That’s why they couple the election to this agreement. But to go back to the issue of the arms and violence and so on, as I see it, I mean, the US, they have their own militias. They can destabilize the government and so on.

JAY: So these are some of these—what have been called awakening councils amongst the Sunnis. Do they also have any amongst the Shia? Or is it mostly Sunni militias that the Americans have some influence [inaudible]?

AL-NASSERI: Well, I have always my problem with these Sunni and Shiites, because, you know, the problem is that all these provinces are mixed up, so you cannot say that, really. Even most of them are in so-called tribal forces, but each Iraqi tribe has Shiite and Sunni within it. So this distinction’s problematic. But you’re right: they have some paramilitary group and militias within some provinces in Iraq, like in an Anbar, especially southwest/west of Baghdad. There they have their paramilitary group, not in the south, because the south is controlled by al-Sadr, al-Fadhila, other movement and political parties, right? But there, especially around Baghdad, like the strategic belt—or you can call a security belt—for the United States around Baghdad, they created these paramilitary group and militias, and they can use them. But you’re right: they cannot control them at the same time, because most of these people at the same time are nationalists, so one day will say "Hey, we’re fed up with all this US tactics and all these issues." And once they realize that the US, their foreign policy, never had friends but only allies for a time—.

JAY: Now, we started talking about this in the last segment, but you hear this often, which is, if Americans leave too soon, if they leave at all, there’s going to be a civil war and a bloodbath. And how can we leave Iraq in this situation?

AL-NASSERI: I argued, you know, last year, when I was here, that actually we have civil—not a civil war. We have war and terror because of the occupation. So once you end the occupation, actually, you will have a pacified situation. It doesn’t mean we’ll have peace overnight, but the Iraqis are capable of controlling the situation, especially—.

JAY: And most Iraqis want an end to the occupation. So you would think they would be the first ones to know [inaudible]

AL-NASSERI: Exactly. Look what’s happening not only since the last year, but especially since the discussion around this agreement became public in Iraq, you have for the first time now, probably since decades, not only since 2003, religious institution representative of the Sunni religious institutions going to Najaf and Karbala, meeting with Sistani, issuing statement together against the agreement, and so on.

JAY: These are—so, in other words, joint Shia-Sunni religious leaders.

AL-NASSERI: Exactly. So you have the [inaudible] within Iraq—.

JAY: And Sadr himself has always reached out to [inaudible] creating a broad opposition. Yeah.

AL-NASSERI: Of course. So these kind of issues actually brought back all of these different Iraqi’s communities together vis-à-vis the United States, and this actually strengthened the position of al-Maliki government vis-à-vis the United States [inaudible]

JAY: But talk about this bombing. There was a bombing just—I think it was just yesterday or the day before. So what does that represent? You know, we in the past have associated bombings where civilians get killed with al-Qaeda-type forces, which is just trying to create a kind of chaos. Does that al-Qaeda-type force still—are they still active? And is that the kind of bombing that just took place?

AL-NASSERI: No. I think it’s a nationalist attacks, because if you look at this attack, where it took place, against whom, you will see they have a military aims, not civilian one. Of course, you will have civilian casualties all the time. But—.

JAY: But the target was military.

AL-NASSERI: Exactly. Military. US soldiers, Iraqi soldiers.

JAY: US or Iraqi soldiers?

AL-NASSERI: US soldiers and Iraqi soldiers. So they have strategic military aims, not civilian one.

JAY: And what would be the objective of that attack? And who might be behind [inaudible]?

AL-NASSERI: Many things. The first one, they want to show that despite all the so-called success of surge and cantonizing Baghdad or bantustan-ing Baghdad in different neighborhoods with all these walls didn’t work, actually. You still can operate within Baghdad and attack all these strategic military posts, etcetera. The second is as a message against any kind of agreement, security agreement, with the United States, because this will—.

JAY: But who might that be? I mean, Sadr, if I understand it correctly, agreed not to pick up arms during this stage of things and told his followers not to be fighting this way. So who else is there and who might be behind these kind of attacks?

AL-NASSERI: Secular nationalists, I would say, a secular nationalism. And they are saying—and this is one of these problematic issues in this document, against which not only—.

JAY: This is the SOFA document.

AL-NASSERI: Exactly. The SOFA documents. A lot of nationalists within the Parliament, like Allawi, the ex-Baathist, Ayad Allawi and his groups, you have statement within this agreement sayings that the United States would support the Iraqi government and its fight against terror and against al-Qaeda, but also against ex-member of the regime, the Baathists, and so on. The old regime, the Baathist regime, was not only all of the pro-Saddam. You have people [inaudible] but they still are Baathist. You see? And against such statements you have these secular nationalists within the Parliament and outside [inaudible] saying not only Baathists were vicious, not all of America is Saddam, not all them are Saddamists. So you have secular nationalists attacking also the US and the Iraqi armies and signalizing they are against any kind of security agreement.

JAY: And they want an end of occupation immediately. Is that the objective of these kinds of attacks?

AL-NASSERI: Not only the end of the occupation, but because if the Iraqi government signed this agreement with the United States, those kind of resistance would be declared as terrorist according to these agreements. So the Iraqi—.

JAY: But aren’t they already?

AL-NASSERI: No. But the thing is you have a legal, now, [inaudible] within Iraq to [inaudible]

JAY: So, in other words, any armed resistance against US forces is now illegal and terrorism [inaudible] and in theory it would have the Iraqi Parliament sign on to such a thing.

AL-NASSERI: Exactly. Exactly. They’re criminalizing all kind of resistance and so on by declaring them as being terrorist and a member of the ex-regime, or a Saddamist, or whatever.

JAY: So another reason why this can’t pass Parliament.

AL-NASSERI: Exactly. Another reason why the seculars and the nationalists and the ex-Baathists within the Parliament against [inaudible] al-Maliki not to sign such agreements, in which all these kind of [inaudible]

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s discuss, if it isn’t civil war that American forces are stopping, then just what are they there for and who are they supporting. Join us with Sabah al-Nasseri.

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