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Milan Rai on Iraq Study Group Report: “What is on the Table is Continued Control at a Reduced Political and Military Cost”

StoryDecember 08, 2006
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As President Bush meets with his closest adviser, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Washington, we go to London to speak with British political analyst and antiwar activist Milan Rai. He says of the Baker-Hamilton report, “What’s on the table is continued occupation and control. That is rejected by the Iraqi people, by the British people and the U.S. public as well.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We continue in London with Milan Rai, co-founder of the group Justice Not Vengeance and also Voices in the Wilderness. His latest book is called 7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War, joining us from London. Milan Rai, the news conference that Bush and Blair held at the White House yesterday, can you respond?

MILAN RAI: Well, I think that what happened was that, as several commentators said in the British press, Tony Blair used to enjoy the privilege of coming and conferring with the president, the leader of the free world, so to speak, but now it looks more like a penance, and it’s more of an act of demeaning the prime minister than elevating him, in the eyes of many commentators over here.

I think that there are serious differences between Bush and Blair, but Blair still has some things that he wants to get from President Bush, as he enters the last phase of his premiership, because, of course, Tony Blair has said that he’s going to leave power next year, and that might only be a few months away. And one of the things that he wants, as we know from the conversation that was recorded without their knowledge at the G8 Summit, is this trip to the Middle East that’s about to take place, where he wants to once again play the role of a great statesman, as part of his farewell to holding power here in Britain, and to try to advance what they call the peace process in relation to Israel and Palestine.

Now, one of the differences between Bush and Blair is to do with what’s happening in Iraq, and another difference is to do with Iran. On Iran, Tony Blair has been trying to halt a U.S. assault on Iran since before the Iraq War started. And in fact, if you go back to September 2002, in the speech in which Tony Blair unveiled the famous 45 minutes to attack dossier to the world and to the House of Commons, he said in that that one of the reasons why there should be an attack on Saddam Hussein was that there was no moderate wing of Saddam Hussein’s government that could be appealed to. And that half a sentence, that phrase was inserted, as far as I can make out, to start building the case against an assault on Iran, which has a much more open and pluralistic political system than then obtained in Iraq.

Of course, there are differences also on what should happen in Iraq. But what is outlined in the Iraq Study Group and what Tony Blair has been pushing for for some time and, in fact, the British government is following in relation to its control of southern Iraq is a process of what has been called a repeat of the Vietnamization strategy of the 1970s in Vietnam, where what you do is you reduce the Western combat troops from the front line and you instead substitute local fighters who will fight on your behalf. So what the Iraq Study Group report is about and what the handover of provinces in southern Iraq by the British forces is about is not about real withdrawal or real exit strategy. It’s about a modification of the occupation.

And what’s going to happen in the southern zone of Iraq for Britain is that provinces will be handed over to local forces, but the British forces will continue to remain in Iraq, and they will have a number of roles, including protecting the U.S. supply chain coming out from Kuwait, which means that as long as there is a U.S. military presence in Iraq, there will continue to be a British military presence, because that’s their role now or that’s their intended role at a reduced level.

And what Tony Blair wants to do is to shift attention to Afghanistan, where the political cost internationally and domestically is much lower, and, in fact, a similar strategy is outlined in the Iraq Study Group report, which says that even after all of their plans have been completed, if they’re successful, there will still be a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do the British people want? What is the sense of the British public right now? And was the Iraq Study Group report played large in Britain?

MILAN RAI: Well, there was a significant amount of reaction in the media to the Iraq Study Group report. And generally it was called uncontroversial, unexpected, not surprising, and so on. It’s not seen as something that is likely to have a dramatic effect. People are calling it, in the media, an opportunity for reality and sanity in mainstream terms.

Now, what’s happening, I think, is that a lot of people in Britain, including perhaps in sectors of the antiwar movement — and, in fact, I was ringing around people in the antiwar movement around the U.K. this morning — I think that in a large part of the population here, the sense is that with these handovers in the South, with the talk in the Iraq Study Group, the U.S. and U.K. are moving towards real withdrawal, which is not the case at all.

And I think that that’s a real problem that the media coverage of the Iraq Study Group report, of the British withdrawals from or of handovers of provinces, is creating. It’s creating a misimpression that what we’re seeing is a real intention to withdraw control. What’s on the table is control at a reduced political and military cost, and that’s what Tony Blair is talking about, and that’s what the Iraq Study Group are talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: In 20 seconds, what do you feel needs to happen right now, Milan Rai, long antiwar activist in Britain and political analyst?

MILAN RAI: Well, I think there needs to be a resurgence of the antiwar movement, and there are different strands of opinion within the antiwar movement, but I think that we can all unite to try to expose the propaganda that’s going on and to say that what’s on the table is continued occupation and control of Iraq, and that’s rejected by the Iraqi people, by the British people and by the United States public, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, Milan Rai, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of the groups Justice Not Vengeance and Voices in the Wilderness.

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