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Prashad: Maliki government allies with Sunni groups to battle against Syria- bound militants from Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS)

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Prashad Report.

Before we get started, I just want to mention again that we’re currently, as our regular viewers know, currently in the process of transitioning to our new studios. We’re in a temporary studio right now. There’s actually construction happening all around me. So we apologize for any noise or any disturbances you might experience during this interview.

We’re now joined by Vijay Prashad. He is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.

Thank you so much for joining us again, Vijay.


NOOR: So, Vijay, you have an upcoming piece in Frontline talking about the situation in Iraq right now. Right now, the Iraqi military is partnering with Sunni militias to fight an insurgency. The Western media has called this insurgency al-Qaeda linked. Talk about what’s happening right now.

And the UN also just released a report confirming the fact that 2013 was the deadliest year in Iraq in five years, with more than 7,800 people killed and almost 18,000 injured in this last year.

PRASHAD: Yes, Jaisal. In fact, I think the UN numbers are not entirely up to par. Other sources suggest that about 10,000 people may have been killed last year in Iraq. And Iraq has moved in a year from about ten major incidents per week to about 70 incidents per week.

You know, just in the first few days of January, about 108 people have died in Anbar Province in very, very disturbing fighting that has been taking place there. But even this is not something that just came out of nowhere.

You know, since perhaps the last two years, with the Syrian war in full flush, in parts of Iraq a group has emerged called the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham, the ISIS. You know, they come out of different formations inside Iraq, part of it perhaps drawing from the so-called al-Qaeda of Iraq group that had made its appearance during the American occupation. Some parts of it have drawn from the so-called Sunni Awakening groups that were formed by the U.S. government to tackle al-Qaeda. You know, different formations have fueled the people or funneled their people into this ISIS grouping.

In July, over the summer, June and July, ISIS did a bunch of very daring prison breaks, including one in July in Abu Ghraib Prison, where they broke out about 500 hardened fighters. And they have used these, you know, these jailbreaks to replenish their ranks with very tough people who are used to battle. And it’s with these people that ISIS has essentially taken control of the road that runs from Baghdad, but really from Ramadi, which is a main city in Anbar Province, all the way out to Raqqah, which is in northern Syria. And that road, which goes along the Syrian desert, is essentially in ISIS hands.

You know, right through this fall, ISIS has been blowing up bridges that connect this road to the small towns that are along it. And part of the reason for doing that is to cut off the police and military from access to the road. And, you know, my colleagues say that in Ramadi, trucks line up at the center of town, pick up fighters. They drive into Syria, they fight for a few days, and they come back to Iraq, where they feel it is a secure base.

This is where the situation had been until a few days ago, when the sheiks of Anbar Province–and Anbar is one of the largest provinces in Iraq. You know, it borders Syria and Jordan. The sheiks of Anbar Province decided to break their ties with ISIS to go back to have some relationship with the government of Mr. Maliki.

Now, this is a very significant development, because it means that the sheiks of Anbar Province, who are largely Sunni sheiks, have decided that it is too dangerous to tackle the growth of this kind of very, very disturbing militancy, even if it means making alliance with the government of Mr. Maliki, which is seen as a sectarian government or a Shia government. So this alliance is what has produced the battle over the last few days.

But I don’t think it’s, you know, something that people need to get excited about. It’s going to take a very long time to have any impact on the kind of roots into Syria that ISIS has developed.

And, once again, the American government has come into this promising the Iraqi government drones, Hellfire missiles, things like that. You know, these are technologies that have had minimal impact in Yemen. It’s very unlikely that it’s going to have a major impact in Syria or in Iraq, you know, where ISIS has developed deep roots using extreme violence to terrorize the population. And that is what has been happening in Anbar Province of Iraq.

NOOR: And, Vijay, in a few months we’re going to be at the 11-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What has been the human impact on the civilians that are bystanders to all this violence?

PRASHAD: Well, Jaisal, that is a very important question, you know, whether we discuss what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll may be at 120,000, where there are millions of Syrians as refugees suffering very cold weather in Lebanon and Jordan, you know, in fact in Turkey as well. If you consider the human impact in Iraq, which has had the longest turmoil, you know, since the upsurge in West Asia, it is catastrophic. You know, not only has the death toll continued to rise; the toll of the wounded has been very high. There have been journalists being routinely assassinated. You know, in the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq, I tracked over the last just six to eight weeks maybe six journalists have been killed, you know, and not all because they were targeted as journalists. Some were killed through the increase of random attacks of people. A 19-year-old woman who was a news reporter was shot right outside her house as December closed out of 2013.

So the violence in Iraq has become grotesque. You know, it has become very hard for people to plan for the future. And there is no way to live, you know, as a human being without planning for the future. So when you think of the human toll in Iraq, it’s not enough to just count the dead bodies, you know, even though those are very great. You have to look at the deep sense of insecurity. You know, so much for all those calls about democracy and freedom for Iraq. Iraq right now is a country with a great deal of tension and turmoil.

NOOR: Vijay Prashad, thank you so much for that report.

PRASHAD: Thank you.

NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter, Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.


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Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.