The Real Story examines General Petraeus’ testimony and the contending forces in Iraq
VOICEOVER: The Real Story, with senior news editor for The Real News Network, Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR NEWS EDITOR: Hello. My name is Paul Jay, and welcome to The Real News Network. On Tuesday, April 8, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker told Congress that the surge is working and asked it to support a continuing presence of US troops in Iraq, including a pause in a planned draw-down of troops. Perhaps the real story of the hearings, though, was how Petraeus and Crocker dealt with Iran. Before the hearings, the statements against Iran from Bush, Cheney, McCain, and Lieberman were at the level of pre-war regime change rhetoric. We heard it again during the hearings.
JOE LIEBERMAN, US SENATOR (I-CT): Are the Iranians still training and equipping Iraqi extremists who are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers?
LINDSEY GRAHAM, US SENATOR (R-SC): From an Iranian point of view, one of their biggest nightmares would be a functioning democracy in Lebanon, a functioning representative government in Iraq on their borders.
Without doubt, the general and the ambassador carried some of the message.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ COMMANDER: And Iran has fueled the violence, as I noted, in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support to the special groups.
RYAN CROCKER, US AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state.
But that’s where Petraeus and Crocker started to part ways with Bush and McCain. Iran has a choice, they said. Iran can make a contribution to peace in Iraq. In fact, under questioning, they confirmed reports that Iran had brokered the peace in Basra, and according to the general, Iran wants democracy in Iraq.
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PETRAEUS: Iran, at the end of the day, clearly played a role as an arbiter, if you will, for talks among all of the different parties to that particular action. And whether that strengthened them or also made them realize that their actions have been destructive in helping a country they want to succeed, presumably—the first Shia-led democracy.
CROCKER: One might look for a reconsideration in Tehran as to just where they want to go in Iraq. No country other than Iraq itself suffered more under Saddam Hussein than did Iran.
This is not what senators Lieberman and Graham, who coauthored an op-ed piece only a day before, wanted to hear. It should not be forgotten that Lieberman is the co-chair of the Committee on the Present Danger, which advocates regime change in Iran, not a compromise with Iran over Iraq. It’s been a core value of the Access of Evil view of the world. Is there a split between the military leadership and the Iran-regime-change neocons? Are the demands of finding a way out of the Iraq War, which requires cooperating with Iran, at odds with the neocon geopolitical strategy? And where is John McCain in this? During his questioning, he ran out of time before he could ask about Iran.
JOHN MCCAIN, US SENATOR (R-AZ): Finally, I hope in response, ’cause my time has expired, that we could talk a little bit more about the Iranian threat, particularly the role they played in Basra, as well as the southern part of the country. I used up my time. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
This is something he hasn’t stopped talking about in the weeks leading up to the hearings. Perhaps he knew he could rely on Senator Lieberman to ask a question that may not quite get the answer he was looking for. Perhaps McCain, who has surrounded himself with members of the Committee on the Present Danger is caught between the military leadership and his political allies. When we return, we talk to Professor Sabah al Nasseri and look at Iran, the neocons, and who wants what in Iraq. Please join us.
JAY: Welcome back. I’m joined now by Professor Sabah al Nasseri, professor of political science at York University. And Sabah grew up in Basra, and left as a teenager, and is very familiar with the situation there. Sabah, in this morning’s testimony, we heard almost two different kinds of testimonies. We heard about Iran’s using special groups to stabilize Iraq. But then we also heard that Iraq [sic] is interested in a real democracy in Iraq, or at least a Shia democracy in Iraq. Why didn’t Petraeus and Crocker deliver a more aggressive message towards Iran? Certainly the media expected it.
SABEH AL NASSERI, PROF., POLITICAL SCIENCE, YORK UNIVERSITY: I think because there are two interests. One is in the short term. The other one is the long run. In the short term, the United States is interested in securing a security agreement with the Iraqi government, because the Iraqi Parliament decided last year that there will be no extension of the international troops in Iraq beyond December 2008. So since last August, the United States is trying to convince the Iraqi executive to sign a long-term security agreement with the United States to keep the US troops and military bases in Iraq.
JAY: So the very legal basis of the American occupation could be in jeopardy if they’re too aggressive towards Iran.
AL NASSERI: Exactly. On the other hand, the whole report of Petraeus and the Iraq ambassador was in the long run to say we need the US troops, we need the US troop presence in Iraq, we need the military bases in Iraq, because Iran is the most dangerous place now, because they have affiliation to al-Qaeda, they support these so-called special groups, they create a lot of instabilities in Iraq, etcetera.
JAY: There’s certainly no evidence that Iran has any connection with al-Qaeda.
AL NASSERI: Exactly. So in the long run, this is the message of the neocons. Iran is an issue. But now–not now.
JAY: Are the regime change forces going to be satisfied with the short-term position of the American military and State Department, which, frankly, seems to want to make a deal with Iran? They kept saying Iran has a choice. They clearly want Iran to get involved in stabilizing Iraq, whereas there’s other political forces in the United States that want regime change.
AL NASSERI: Exactly. I think Petraeus and the Iraq ambassador are trying to reach the majority, the middle of the political class in the United States within the Democratic and Republican Party, because they don’t know who will be the next president of the United States. But they want to create, like, fait accomplis on grounds for the next president. So they’re trying to create a consensus here beyond the particular issues within the two parties, within the whole establishment. I think this is the major step [inaudible]*crosstalk–
JAY: *And so part of that means toning down the rhetoric towards Iran.
AL NASSERI: Exactly. Exactly.
JAY: Now, at the same time, they certainly made a point about Iran’s support, financing, arming of what they called “special groups” in Basra and other parts of the country. Who are these special groups? And what’s Iran’s role here?
AL NASSERI: Well, the special groups, as I said, is a construction. There’s no such empirical things called “special groups.” So they want to displace this issue by saying in Iraq we don’t have Iraqi people resisting the occupation, but we have different so-called elements, good and bad elements. You have good Shiite, bad Shiite. You have good Arabs and bad Arabs. You have good al-Sadrists and bad al-Sadrists. So they’re trying to faction the Iraqi people into so many different elements that there’s no people anymore and there’s no resistance anymore. And in this context, they try to construct new enemies, such as the special groups. And, of course, they make Iran as part of this scenario, this threat scenario.
JAY: If the American forces ever leave, there will be a vacuum, and Iran will fill it. So if that’s the logic, American forces never leave.
AL NASSERI: Exactly. I mean, this is the problem that Petraeus and the Iraqi—and the American ambassador have. It’s like a catch-22 situation. That’s why the methodology, they separated the whole report in two parts. The one, in the short term, to say it is successful, relatively successful, and we are going to reach agreement with the Iraqi government for security agreement in the long run. But still it’s unstable, there’s al-Qaeda, there’s Iran, and this and that.
JAY: So my final question is: does Iran want an independent, stable, democratic Iraq?
AL NASSERI: Yes, but in one specific sense, just like the United States. As long as the Iranian allies in Iraq, al-Hakim and al-Maliki, will dominate the Iraqi government in Iraq, they will accept this kind of democracy, just like the United States. But if other political forces, secular forces, or maybe al-Sadr, would probably be popular and have a different kind of democracy, they will oppose it just like the United States.
JAY: That’s very interesting. So the United States and Iran wind up essentially supporting the same political forces.
AL NASSERI: Exactly. Exactly.
JAY: Thank you very much, Prof. al Nasseri. And thank you very much for joining us on The Real News Network. If you’d like to see more of this kind of news, we can only do it with you. We don’t accept government funding or corporate funding or advertising—except for us—and that means we need your economic support. So please contribute, and join us again at The Real News Network.
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