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2006-10-23

The End of Maliki? Will a Coup Unravel Iraq? Robert Dreyfuss and Raed Jarrar Discuss the War in Iraq

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The Bush administration is coming under increasing pressure for its handling of the war in Iraq in the face of relentless bloodshed there. Over 100 Iraqis and seven US troops were killed over the weekend in a wave of bombings and attacks that stretched across Iraq. Could a coup be in the works? [includes rush transcript]

The Associated Press reports that October is on pace to the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. And the number of US troops killed in Iraq in October has reached eighty six, making it the deadliest month for American soldiers this year.

On Saturday, President Bush met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and top U.S. commanders including General John Abizaid and General George Casey to discuss Iraq. The meeting came amid reports the US is losing confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki"s ability or willingness to stem the violence.

President Bush said his weekly radio address the US strategy in Iraq remained unchanged. He said "We will not pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." But the New York Times reported on Sunday the Bush administration is for the first time drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address violence and assume a larger role in securing the country. According to the Times, officials said that Iraq would likely be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming militias, or face political "penalties."

Some analysts say the plan is also an attempt to pre-empt the findings of the independent commission on Iraq led by former secretary of state James Baker. In an interview with President Bush this weekend, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked about Baker’s plan to develop a strategy for Iraq that is "between 'stay the course' and 'cut and run.'" Bush responded, "We’ve never been stay the course, George."

Robert Dreyfuss joins me now from Washington DC. He has written extensively about Iraq for numerous publications and is author of the book, "Devil"s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam." I am also joined by Iraqi blogger and architect Raed Jarrar. He is the Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange and runs a blog called "Raed in the Middle."

  • Robert Dreyfuss, author of "Devil"s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam." He covers national security for Rolling Stone and writes frequently for The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Nation.
  • Raed Jarrar an Iraqi blogger and architect. His blog "Raed in the Middle" is at raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com. Raed is Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Dreyfuss joins us from Washington, D.C. He’s written extensively about Iraq for numerous publications and author of the book, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

ROBERT DREYFUSS: Thanks, Amy. It’s a real pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: You have written a very interesting piece about the possibility that Maliki could be forced out and that there could be a coup that would unravel Iraq. Can you lay out the evidence and what is supporting your argument?

ROBERT DREYFUSS: Well, you know, last week we saw the extraordinary development where Prime Minister Maliki called President Bush on the phone and asked him for reassurances that he was not going to be ousted. This is the same Iraqi prime minister who came to office just a few months ago, again, after months of wrangling, following last December’s elections. He came to office with great acclaim that he was going to be the salvation force who would bring order and stability and political reconciliation to Iraq, and of course, he has totally and utterly failed.

I think everybody across the political spectrum knows that the Iraqi government has no power outside the Green Zone. It’s really a coalition of militias and paramilitary gangs that supports the current government in Baghdad. And asking Maliki to crack down on the militias is truly asking the fox to guard the henhouse, because it’s those exact militias that support his government and make up the main force of his police and paramilitary units. Even the Iraqi army is made up, to a certain extent, lesser than the police and Interior Ministry forces, of those same militias: the peshmurga Kurds and many of the Shiite forces. So, of course, it’s a nonstarter to even think that Maliki could crack down on these militia forces.

So that asks the question, what does it mean when we hear all these warnings that Maliki has only two or three months — and these are warnings coming from everybody, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and generals in Iraq and leading senators and so forth — that he has only two months or so to right the ship in Iraq? It can’t be righted. It’s virtually a hopeless situation. And so, now there are rumors all over the place, in Washington, in Baghdad, in other places, that there are forces trying to come up with a non-democratic solution, some sort of coup d’etat, some sort of military takeover that would oust the elected government. It could be done under a constitutional fig leaf, let’s say, if Maliki were to resign in favor of some junta of national salvation. It could be done in the middle of the night by some enterprising colonel or general, where the United States would look the other way.

I don’t think any of this could happen without American support, but I do know that there are a number of people inside the Baker commission, within the U.S. government, in the CIA and elsewhere, who are thinking about this. And just the other day, I spoke to Salah al-Mukhtar, who is a Baathist and former Iraqi official, who said that there are rumors all over Jordan that the CIA has been going around looking — the military going around looking for a general or two, who could take over in the event of a coup d’etat in Baghdad.

I think the idea that the reason this makes it tempting — and, you know, desperate times sometimes can call for desperate measures — it’s tempting because it seems like a cut-the-Gordian-knot-type of solution, where you sweep in with some strongman army guy, who could then use, I guess, the main force of the Iraqi army to crack down on some of these Shiite death squads and others.

It raises, though, far more questions than it would answer. I don’t think it would be a good solution, by any means, tempting though it is for, I’m sure, many people in the U.S. military and in the CIA, especially in the realist camp, the people who are frustrated and angry at the way Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Ambassador Khalilzad have handled the war in Iraq over the past couple of years. They’re looking for some sort of solution that would work, and I think they’re at least considering this as maybe the least bad one of the many horrible options that they have for Iraq, short of leaving, just, you know, so-called "cutting and running," which is increasingly, I think, really the only logical choice that’s facing the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Dreyfuss. He has written a piece for ZNet called "The End of Maliki? Will a Coup Unravel Iraq?" We’ll be back with him and also Iraqi blogger and architect Raed Jarrar. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about the future of Iraq, Robert Dreyfuss has written a piece called "The End of Maliki? Will a Coup Unravel Iraq?" He’s the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, and he covers national security for Rolling Stone magazine and writes frequently for Mother Jones and The Nation and other publications. Raed Jarrar is also with us in Washington, D.C., Iraqi blogger and architect. His blog is called raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com. He is Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange. And we welcome you, as well, Raed Jarrar.

RAED JARRAR: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: In a little while, Raed, we’re going to ask you to tell us about — to respond to part two of the "Does tee stand for terror" story. Another person who, like you, wore a t-shirt that says, "We will not be silent," with the Arabic script above the "We will not be silent" on a t-shirt. But I want to ask you about what Robert Dreyfuss is hypothesizing: the question of the end of Maliki and whether a general or a colonel or someone backed by the CIA could come in to remove Maliki.

RAED JARRAR: There are a lot of rumors and facts concerning what’s happening in the Iraqi government. The end of Maliki came some months ago, in fact, when the last attempts of pushing an Iraq reconciliation plan were aborted by U.S. intervention last June. And Maliki lost his credibility in Iraq, and al-Maliki’s government lost their credibility, as well. The Iraqi parliament is still trying to do some changes. They are failing sometimes, succeeding some other times.

What’s happening is that there are so many rumors about a coup d’etat in Iraq, but everyone knows that the Iraqi government is not functioning. And there isn’t a functioning army. There isn’t functioning police forces. So, the idea, like, you know, maybe this government will fall even more farther, but no one is expecting that someone strong can come and take over the government. There isn’t anything to be taken over. There isn’t any functioning structure.

But the facts that are — the leader of the National Dialogue Front, Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, has been promoting for an Iraqi national salvation government for the last months. And now, his calls are getting some more support, because of the support of two major Shia parties: al-Fadhila and maybe al-Sadr group. And al-Mutlaq is currently in Emirates trying to propose this national salvation government, which is a very radical solution of what’s happening in Iraq. Everyone wishes that there is another solution that can be implemented by force. But I think many Iraqis or the majority of Iraqis realize that no other solutions can be implemented by force.

People are looking forward to have a peace plan that is based on negotiations. There are a number of Iraqi initiatives, like the Iraq reconciliation and peace plan that started since last year. People are waiting for a support of this plan. Even a number of armed resistance groups announced that they are ready to take a part of the reconciliation and stop fighting, if the U.S. sets a timetable for withdrawing the troops and keeps Iraq’s unity and works to differentiate between resistance and terrorism, which is a very general Iraqi demand. So we can see that there are some Iraqi plans and local initiatives that are waiting for support, but unfortunately, the U.S. intervention is putting even more obstacles in their way. And I don’t think many people think that there is a possibility to change the situation through more use of force and violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Raed Jarrar, you wrote at your blog, raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com, about the two U.S. soldiers that were burned and killed, kidnapped a while ago, and that you were looking at the videotape. Why? How do they connect to what is happening today?

RAED JARRAR: What’s happening is that more violence against the coalition forces is being justified because of the number of mistakes that are committed in Iraq. There are a number of very extreme armed resistance groups, like al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, who are taking advantage of huge mistakes committed by the U.S. Army, like the rape and murder of the Iraqi girl, Abir Al-Janabi, and then burning her body with the rest of her family. So, many very, very violent acts are being committed against the coalition forces, killing people, burning them, pulling them in the streets. And it seems that these things are being justified, by saying that these are the soldiers from the same brigade that raped our sister, these are the soldiers from the same unit that killed our brother, and so on.

And maybe this is going on the bigger picture. If you looked at the U.S. casualties for this month, it’s around 400 soldiers a month on an average, which is not taking in consideration the two major battle months in 2004. It’s the highest month, casualties, since the beginning of the war. So it seems that more violence is attracting more violence from the Iraqi side. And just like — I feel hopeless and very sad to see how the situation is reaching to a point where political solutions are not possible anymore, because of the neglect of all of the nonviolent resistance during the last three years.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to Robert Dreyfuss. Robert, you write for the Washington Monthly about "A Higher Power: James Baker Puts Bush’s Iraq Policy into Rehab." Can you talk about this possibility of dividing up Iraq and what’s being predicted is in this report?

ROBERT DREYFUSS: Well, I don’t think that the Baker task force — it’s called the Iraq Study Group and it’s co-chaired by Lee Hamilton, a Democrat from Indiana, a former representative — I don’t think that they’re leaning toward the partition notion. That’s, I think, a horrible misguided solution that’s being promoted by Senator Biden from Delaware. I think more likely — and I’ve talked to many of the people who have fed ideas into the Baker task force, his expert working group people — I think they’re more looking toward some maybe slow-motion version of getting out of Iraq. I wouldn’t say "cut and run," but maybe "cut and walk," that they realize that the battle for Iraq is lost.

And I think they’re leaning toward some sort of solution that would involve, first of all, a regional plan, getting the agreement from Iran, which is supporting many of the Shiite, including some of the Shiite extremist groups, as well as the Shiite government forces in Iraq, and Syria, which on the other hand is supporting many of the Sunni resistance groups, getting their agreement, as well as Turkey and Saudi Arabia and others, to try to stabilize Iraq.

And then, I hope, going back to what my colleague here just said, that they’ll start thinking about a negotiated peace with the resistance. There are many people among the insurgents who are more than willing to come into the political process, if and when the United States agrees on a timetable for a withdrawal. That’s their demand. In other words, the resistance demand is to have the United States agree to a timetable for a withdrawal, and in exchange for that, you would see almost all of the Iraqi Sunni-led resistance, probably minus the al-Qaeda group, would come into the political process in Baghdad. That, in turn, would remove a great deal of the incentive for the Shiites to maintain these death squads and defense movement militias and would, I think, ease the tension between the Sunnis and Shia that is masking, in a way, the political conflict. It isn’t really a sectarian conflict. It’s a political conflict that needs a political solution.

And I don’t know to what extent, and nobody knows to what extent James Baker gets this. I know many of the people on his task force certainly do get it. The question is, to what extent that begins to become the dominant paradigm after the election. I think there’s no doubt that after this election, which is going to hand the Republicans a massive defeat, that both the military and the Republican Party are going to start to look toward an Iraqi exit, and especially the Republicans. The Republicans know that if they go into the elections of 2008 with this Iraq war hanging over their head, that they’re going to suffer a massive political defeat, not only on the level of the White House, but again in Congress. So they can’t afford to not end this war sometime between now and the 2008 elections. So I think there’ll be tremendous pressure on the White House to consider a radically different strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: Raed Jarrar, let me ask you about our top headline today, that dozens of Iraqi Shiite and Sunni clerics met in Mecca this weekend and approved a declaration calling for an end to the sectarian violence. The clerics urged a release of all hostages and a prohibition on killings of Muslims in Iraq. Your response to this?

RAED JARRAR: My response is that it’s yet another meeting that will not affect things on the ground. These people who met in Mecca or other religious leaders are not the ones who are sending their people to kill each other. It’s not that there is a religious war going on in Iraq with religious differences, that now a religious reconciliation will stop it. What’s happening is way more complicated. It’s based on political reasons, and it’s based on a foreign intervention and foreign occupation. And all of these meetings that are happening are lacking always the major point, which is linking the Iraqi reconciliation to setting a timetable for withdrawing the U.S. troops and the rest of the occupation.

And this demand is actually an Iraqi general demand. It doesn’t come just from the Iraqi resistance. It even comes from the Iraqi government, from Sunnis and Shia within the Iraqi government. And it comes from many of Iraq’s neighbors, that if you wanted to work for peace in Iraq, let Iraqis know that the occupation forces are going to leave, so that they will have the space and time to heal their wounds, and they will deal with their problems by themselves.

What’s happening is that there is an infinite number of meetings, you know, of small rhetoric and discussions of how Iraqis are integrated. Everyone knows these things. Everyone knows how Sunnis and Shia are integrated. But everyone knows that these meetings will not solve the solution and that the solution is to start negotiating with Iraqis to set a timetable for ending the occupation, with a milestone table for rebuilding Iraq. I think what’s happening now is that the idea of dividing Iraq is causing Iraqis in general a lot of anxiety, because there is a general feeling against separating Iraq into more than one state, which is what seems that many regional and even like the U.S. and other superpowers are working towards. I think now we are reaching to a point where it’s more about cutting apart and running, more than just cutting and running.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Raed Jarrar, this senior U.S. diplomat, who publicly accused the United States of displaying arrogance and stupidity in Iraq — he was speaking on Al Jazeera. The State Department official is named Alberto Fernandez. Let’s take a listen and watch, and then I want to get your response.

ALBERTO FERNANDEZ: [translated] We tried to do our best, but I think there is much room for criticism, because undoubtedly there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, afterwards, the State Department official, Fernandez, issued a statement saying "I seriously misspoke by using the phrase, 'There has been arrogance and stupidity.'" But, Raed Jarrar, does this surprise you?

RAED JARRAR: No, it does not surprise me at all, in fact. He was just stating the obvious. Usually I use the words "stupidity" and "arrogance" and "ignorance" to describe the situation of the U.S. authorities in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, but you are not a State Department official.

RAED JARRAR: Yeah, but for Arab audience and people in Iraq, they will receive these words as a matter of fact, because they know that this is what’s causing a lot of problems, not just in Iraq, in the Middle East in general. I think he was just trying to reach to Arab audience and sound like real, not a propagandist to them.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there on the issues right now in Iraq.

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