Contextual Content

Who will determine Iraq’s future?

Sabah al-Nasseri: "He [Obama] did not talk about the occupation. He never mentioned a word about the occupation, so as if things in Iraq will be determined in Washington and not on the ground by the Iraqi people themselves. So my argument is that Obama will not withdraw the troops, US troops. He will move few brigades, probably, from Iraq to Afghanistan, but the majority of the US troops and the private security firms or military firms, companies, will stay in Iraq."

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to the next part of our interview with Sabah al Nasseri on the current situation in Iraq and just what is standing up in Iraq? When the US administration says, "We want the Iraqis to stand up," well, just what is it that’s standing up? And which you can see from this photograph, the Iraqi armed forces with the new Iraqi flag. Coming into being in Iraq is a real state with its own coercive armed force, a lot of money—oil revenues—and as we’ve talked about in the last segment, not in the control of the US, certainly as Bremer and Bush and Cheney had hoped for. There’s another piece to this puzzle, which is probably not something Cheney and Bush had hoped for, which is the extent Iran has friendly relationship with the Maliki government and perhaps tremendous influence. There was a key moment last May in the Battle of Basra, when Iran negotiated a peace between the Sadrist and militia forces and Maliki, but then made a very interesting choice afterwards, especially in the Battle of Sadr City. Well, Iran more or less supported the Maliki government and said, "If you have to go after these outlaws, go ahead." So the Iranian influence role is taking up a lot of room. How does US policy deal with this?

AL NASSERI: Yeah. The thing is the Iranians don’t have a homogeneous position vis-à-vis Iraq. You have those troops who support al-Maliki government, but you have other groups who support al-Sadr against the United States and against al-Hakim, especially. So there’s no homogeneous Iranian position vis-à-vis Iraq. You have different factions supporting different political forces in Iraq. You are right, basically. When it came to al-Sadr City, the Iranian government was supporting al-Maliki by saying the state has to use the monopoly of violence to create security and so on in its own territory. So it’s part of the sovereignty of the state to do this, but actually was supporting al-Maliki. But this is not a homogeneous position within Iran. There are those who support al-Sadr.

JAY: But at any rate you still have an Iraqi government that in many ways seems more influenced and more friendly with the Iranians. Like, they’re not giving Iran a timetable to stop its influence, but they are giving the Americans a timetable to get their troops out.

AL NASSERI: Exactly. This is one of the thing, like, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, the security adviser of the Iraqi government was negotiating with al-Sistani. Al-Sistani was trying to mediate between Iran, the al-Maliki government, and the United States by saying, "We need a timetable for the withdrawal of the troops." This is the interests of Iran and interest of Iraq at the same time. So there’s an enormous influence of Iran of the Iraq policies, security policies.

JAY: Obama says we have to move the main struggle to Afghanistan. Iraq is not the main front of the struggle against terrorism. In some ways he seems to be begging the question, which is: now that there’s been this power vacuum created, filled partly by an Iraqi state, partly with Iranian influence, can US geopolitics allow such a thing?

AL NASSERI: Well, I don’t believe that Obama would withdraw the US troops from Iraq. He was saying he will redeploy some combat brigades within the next 16 month and to move them, but that he will keep the rest, which is something like 135,000 US soldiers in Iraq, plus the civil service and personnel, etcetera, and he did not say a word about the private security firms, like 100,000 mercenaries in Iraq.

JAY: But he has said that over 16 months he would draw down the majority of conventional US troops.

AL NASSERI: Well, he said—I mean, I read I read his article in The New York Times, and it was saying he will redeploy the combat brigades within 16 months, and after that he will remove them—that means the combat brigades. But then there is a residual of US troops in Iraq, but he didn’t say how much.

JAY: He suggested in some venues 20,000 or 30,000. It’s never been clear, because he says the tactics will be decided by the conditions on the ground.

AL NASSERI: Yeah. This is another way of saying, "We will keep the troops in Iraq." He will not withdraw the troops; he will not end the occupation. By the way, he did not talk about the occupation. He never mentioned a word about the occupation, so as if things in Iraq will be determined in Washington and not on the ground by the Iraqi people themselves. So my argument is that Obama will not withdraw the troops, US troops. He will move few brigades, probably, from Iraq to Afghanistan, but the majority of the US troops and the private security firms or military firms, companies, will stay in Iraq.

JAY: But what does he do if the Iraqi government says, "Get out," which is possible if this current alliance of elites coalesces? They may very well say, "We want you out by 2010." What’s he going to do?

AL NASSERI: That’s what the, like—.

JAY: Whichever. McCain or Obama.

AL NASSERI: Like al-Dabbagh, the spokesman of the Iraqi government, was saying, "We are negotiating with the United States a memorandum of understanding, and we had, like, 2010 in mind that the US will withdraw its troops, etcetera." But I believe that what they are doing, the Iraqi government, is to bypass the Iraqi Parliament by creating this memorandum of understanding and keep the US troops, despite the objection of the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people in Iraq. So they’re trying to bypass the Parliament for the next two years and to see what will come out of these two years. I believe that the Iraqi government rely heavily on the US troops and US advisers in Iraq to stay in power. They cannot ask the US troops to withdraw Iraq.

JAY: So the key point you’re making is that the current configuration of elites who are in power, especially faced with a potentially revived Sadr movement or something like it, can’t hold their power without US troops down the block to call on them.

AL NASSERI: Exactly. But at the same time, they cannot go—they have the American demands of the Bush administration or the neo-cons to keep permanent US military bases in Iraq, etcetera, because they will commit political suicide. So they are within a dilemma here. They’re trying to find a compromise by creating a memorandum of understanding to stay in power, and to sell it to the Iraqi public by saying, "Look, we don’t have permanent US bases in Iraq. We don’t have a security agreement with the United States. We have a memorandum of understanding to give the United States time to withdraw their troops, because technically it’s impossible for them to withdraw their troops within six months or one year, etcetera. So this is the best they can do out of the situation.

JAY: Please join us for the next part of our interview with Sahab al Nasseri.