A representative of Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called on Iraqis to take up arms against what he called "terrorists" who have overrun large swaths of the country. The call comes just hours after Islamist militants seized two more strategic towns northeast of Baghdad, moving the country closer to disintegration. Over the past few days, fighters from ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have seized several major cities including Mosul and Tikrit. Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters have taken control of the oil city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. On Thursday, President Obama said he won’t rule anything out, including a military response. The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports Iran is sending units of its al-Quds forces into Iraq to help stop the Sunni fighters from ISIS. We go to the city of Najaf to speak to Sami Rasouli, founder and director of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. He left Iraq in the late 1970s and eventually moved to the United States and settled in Minneapolis, where he was a well-known restaurateur. He moved back to Iraq in 2004 after living abroad for nearly 30 years.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iraq. A representative of Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called on Iraqis to take up arms against what he called "terrorists" who have overrun large swaths of the country. The call comes just hours after Islamist militants seized two more strategic towns northeast of Baghdad, moving the country closer to disintegration. Over the past few days, fighters from ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have seized several major cities including Mosul and Tikrit. According to the United Nations, hundreds of people have been killed in Mosul, many of them summarily executed. Hundreds of thousands have fled Mosul, many afraid Iraqi forces would bomb the city. Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters have taken control of the oil city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. On Thursday, President Obama said he won’t rule anything out that might aid Prime Minister Maliki.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think it’s fair to say that in our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily, and, you know, our national security team is looking at all the options. But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government. There has to be a political component to this, so that Sunni and Shia who care about building a functioning state that can bring about security and prosperity to all people inside of Iraq come together and work diligently against these extremists. And that is going to require concessions on the part of both Shia and Sunni that we haven’t seen so far.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports Iran is sending units of its al-Quds forces into Iraq to help stop the Sunni fighters from ISIS. A senior Iranian official told Reuters Shiites in Iran are so alarmed by the gains of the Sunni insurgents, Tehran may be willing to cooperate with Washington in helping Baghdad fight back.
For more on Iraq, we now go to the city of Najaf to speak to Sami Rasouli, founder and director of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. He moved back to Iraq in 2004 at the height of the war, after living abroad for nearly 30 years. He left Iraq in the late '70s, eventually moved to the United States, settled in Minneapolis, where he was a beloved restaurateur with his restaurant Sinbad's, but now in Najaf.
Sami Rasouli, tell us what is happening in your country right now.
SAMI RASOULI: Hi, Amy. How are you? Hope everything all right in the U.S., in New York especially, where you [inaudible]. I’m in Najaf with my family, OK, but certainly Iraq is not.
Amy, we should look at the broader picture since 2003. One of the most important objectives of the invasion of Iraq is to destroy its military forces, that was built since the '20s, 1920s. And it was described before as the most powerful force, army, in the world. But the most important objective also is to divide Iraq. And as you see from the latest events, when the ISIS took over Mosul, right away, the Kurdish peshmerga, the Kurdish power in the northern Iraq, took over Kirkuk, the most rich city in the northern part of Iraq. So, now, if I'm right, the scenario will be—so, the ISIS forces will come down to Baghdad. There probably will be a big fight. Then, after that, the south will be south for the Shia; the Sunnis already have their area; and the Kurds have their place—I mean, the provinces, which is Kirkuk, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah, plus Kirkuk and Erbil.
So, what we see, it’s hard to believe that 1,500 fighters with light arm took over the whole province. It’s described as a third-largest city in Iraq, Mosul, Ninawa, the province of Ninawa, where there were government forces, estimated by four military brigades, and that’s about 50,000 army personnels, who equipped with heavily—heavily armed equipment, including air power, tanks and large logistic abilities to—so, say, to protect the province of Mosul. But they fell. What they did, they left their equipment, which is purchased with lots of money, for the fighters, and at the border of Mosul and Kirkuk, the pershmerga, the Kurdish forces, took those equipments, the government equipment, as a gift, actually.
And who are those—the ISIS? I think, as it’s believed by an average Iraqi, they are part of the al-Qaeda, so-called al-Qaeda previously, were created by the CIA and—partially, and with the Saudis partially in the ’70s to fight the USSR when the USSR occupied Afghanistan in the ’70s. So, part of them, the al-Qaeda, then the other major part is the generals from the previous army, the Saddam Hussein army, who are well trained and expert in army matters. So, beside them, the Sunnis who lived in the western provinces, who felt that they were taken advantage of and not being treated by the Shia government in Baghdad. And with them, of course, some extremist Islamic extremists from Chechnya maybe, Afghanistan, North Africa and some other Arab countries, like Saudis, for example. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Sami Rasouli, we don’t have much time, but I want to get to two quick points: the significance of a representative of Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, calling on Iraqis to take up arms against who he’s calling the terrorists; the idea that Iran sending in al-Quds forces, Iran would work with Washington, D.C., to shore up al-Maliki. You are Shia, like the—like the regime in Baghdad. What do you think needs to happen right now? Do you see Iraq falling apart? Do you see Baghdad being taken, falling?
SAMI RASOULI: Definitely, definitely, Amy. I mean, to destroy a country, it’s not enough to bomb it from the air, but to have an inner fight. And that’s what’s going on since 2003, the inner fight that’s based on dividing Iraqis to sects and ethnic groups, like Sunni, Shia, Arab, Kurds, religiously Christian and Muslims. That’s what is going on after the invasion and after—Iraq was one piece; now we see it falling apart, unfortunately. And Iraq is the first country who entered the so-called—if you remember, Condoleezza Rice call it the "constructive chaos." So, Iraq started it in 2003, then the Arab countries followed suit in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia today and Syria, as we see. So, so-called the Arab Spring is not really Arab Spring, because this spring never has borne fruits toward the countries that are affected by it. But it’s a spring for the Israelis, who used to launch wars every 10 years, then every five years. We will see no wars anymore between the Israelis and the Arab for the sake of the Palestinians to secure homeland for them, but we’re going to see the Arabs killing themselves, killing each other, unfortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: Sami, what do you think the U.S. should do? President Obama has not ruled out airstrikes, talking about shoring up the al-Maliki government. What do you think the role of the U.S. should be right now?
SAMI RASOULI: I think the U.S. should get out of the area. But what’s going on is controlled by the huge embassy in Baghdad, run by at least 5,000 employees. They have nothing to do except monitoring Iraq, advising the Iraqi government what to do, and also monitoring the area surrounded by Iraq. The 5,000, this is beside the—an estimated about 10,000 military forces who are stationed there to protect the interest of the embassy and the U.S. So, I think they should leave the area, not to intervene, end the war in Afghanistan, and pull out their forces, and let the Arabs and the countries of the area solve their problem. But it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time, but eventually they will figure out a way to get—but remember, there was a security agreement between Iraq and the U.S. in 2011. And that agreement, I think, don’t oblige the U.S. to defend Iraq, but to sell some low quality of arms, of course, after the approval—
AMY GOODMAN: Sami Rasouli, we have to end it there. I thank you so much for joining us. He joined us from Najaf.