Charles Glass: Tony Blair is Right - Those Who Removed Saddam Hussein Share Blame for Rise of ISIL

October 26, 2015


Charles Glass

former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent. His latest book is titled Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring.

In an interview on Sunday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that there were "elements of truth" to the claim that removing Saddam Hussein played a part in the creation of ISIL. "You can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015," said Blair on CNN. We speak to journalist Charles Glass about his recent trip to Iraq and his new book, "Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring."


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

AMY GOODMAN: You also just returned, Charles Glass, from Iraq. Talk about what you found there. You were in the north and the south.

CHARLES GLASS: One of the things that I discovered, which I wasn’t aware of until I got there, was how badly resourced the Kurdish forces are in the north. They’re not receiving the weapons that they’ve requested from the United States and the rest of the coalition there. And so, they—while they are the strongest force fighting the Islamic State in both Iraq and then helping the Kurds in Syria, they are terribly under-resourced, and they cannot do many of the things that they need to do, because they don’t have those weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Would that be because of the U.S. relationship with Turkey?

CHARLES GLASS: It’s partly to do with the relationship with Turkey and partly to do with the relationship with Baghdad. The Baghdad government is afraid that once the Kurds take all of the area that they want, that they will then be fighting against the Baghdad government for their independence and controlling what are called the disputed territories between the Kurdish regional government and the Baghdad government. And they’re thinking of the longer-term future, not just the war against ISIS.

But in the South, I found the opposite. The popular militias are receiving vast resources from Iran and the United States to fight against the Islamic State. While I was there, they took the Baiji oil refinery and much of the area around Ramadi from them, with—using thousands of troops who had very good, modern weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was speaking to Fareed Zakaria on CNN, saying there were, quote, "elements of truth" to the claim that removing Saddam Hussein played a part in the creation of ISIS.

TONY BLAIR: You can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015. But it’s important also to realize, one, that the Arab Spring, which began in 2011, would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and, two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Charles Glass?

CHARLES GLASS: Well, Tony Blair has a consistent strain in his character of rewriting history. In fact, the Islamic State originally was created in Iraq. It then went underground during the American surge, when the—in what was called the Sunni Awakening. It went underground, but it did not disappear. It then, because of the U.S. support for rebels in Syria and the escalation of chaos in Syria, was able to reform itself in Syria and then come back into Iraq, which was its goal all along, was to destroy that border between the two countries and create their caliphate.

Blair is right that the people who did the invasion of 2003 do bear a heavy responsibility for what’s happening now, not just in terms of the Islamic State, but in terms of the war that followed in 2003, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, the fact that there still isn’t proper electricity supply in Baghdad, the fact that now when you talk to people in the streets of Baghdad they all hate the British and the Americans. Many of them yearn for Saddam. And that’s really shocking, because, I mean, Saddam Hussein was a monster. And there was nothing wrong with getting rid of him, but the way they got rid of him and the way they behaved when they got rid of him led to all of this chaos in Iraq, which has spread to Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think, coming back here now—you live in Europe, but coming back to the United States—you were the former chief Middle East correspondent for ABC News—of the U.S. coverage of what’s going on in the Middle East?

CHARLES GLASS: Well, some of it’s very good. I mean, I’ve seen some very, very insightful pieces on The Intercept and here and—but nothing, probably nothing, to compare with, say, Patrick Cockburn’s coverage in The Independent in London or the late Anthony Shadid in The New York Times, whose coverage was absolutely fabulous, but he’s no longer with us. But some of it’s very good, and some of it is terribly misleading.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is most misleading about it?

CHARLES GLASS: Well, I think it’s Washington-directed, so a lot of the coverage tends to follow the American narrative that everything to do in Syria was the problem of a dictatorship. But actually, that can’t be quite right, because every Arab state is a dictatorship, and every other Arab State, except Syria, receives American support. So it wasn’t dictatorship that the U.S. was against. It was Syria’s relationship with Iran, Syria’s dependence on Iran for strategic depth, and Syria’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hezbollah’s antagonism towards Israel. That’s the real problem for the U.S., which some American officials have admitted, but the media seems to have missed this. It isn’t just freedom fighters against a totalitarian regime. There is an element of that, but that isn’t why the freedom fighters got the Western support. They got it because they were going to take down—they wanted them to take down a pro-Iranian regime.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is the Free Syria Army today?

CHARLES GLASS: They are now a very small faction of the opposition, and they find themselves fighting sometimes against the jihadists and sometimes against the regime. But they—because they are under-resourced and they don’t have an ideology that appeals now to people who have lost their homes and people who feel that they’re being oppressed by a minority set in the country, those young men are taking the money and going to the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. So the Free Syrian Army is a much diminished and, frankly, irrelevant force now.

AMY GOODMAN: As you have covered the Middle East for decades, what is the connection now, your subtitle, ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring?

CHARLES GLASS: I think that it’s a metaphor. The Arab Spring is certainly over. ISIS is the worst representation of the killing of that. Remember that the ideals of the Arab Spring, particularly in Tunisia and in Tahrir Square in Cairo, were secular. There were liberal. They wanted freedom of the press. They wanted an independent judiciary. They wanted transparent governance. They wanted to live like normal people and not be afraid of their government. They wanted their dignity. Well, what it has transformed itself into in Syria and Iraq is an institution, the Islamic State, which is opposed to all of those things, even more than the military dictatorships were. So the only opposition now to the regimes in Baghdad and Syria, which are corrupt, is a force that is much more illiberal, much less tolerant than they were. The Syrian state, for all of its flaws, tolerated religious diversity. There was social freedom in Syria. Women did not—were not have to dress—were not forced to dress in a certain way. ISIS, if the Islamic State were to take over in either country, they would impose a very, very rigorous kind of regime in which there would be not even freedom of thought, let alone freedom of speech. That’s why I say that is the death—all of those ideals of the Arab Spring have been lost in this cooptation of the revolution by the most extreme Islamist jihadist forces.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Charles Glass, for joining us. His book is called Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring. He has just returned from Syria and Iraq.

When we come back, we go to Jerusalem to speak with one of the founders of Rabbis for Human Rights. He was attacked this weekend by a knife-wielding Israeli extremist. The video has gone viral. We’ll then come back to the streets of New York, where there was a major anti-police brutality protest over the weekend. Among those there, the mother of Amadou Diallo and Quentin Tarantino. Stay with us.

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