U.S. Assassination of Soleimani Could Spark “Another Round of Civil War” in Iraq

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After the United States assassinated Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a major escalation of the conflict between Iran and the United States, which now threatens to engulf Iraq and the Middle East, we get response from Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who says the U.S. killing of Soleimani was reckless. “Did anyone consult Iraqis about the assassination of Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil?” he asks. “We don’t want another round of civil war.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: In 2011, before he was president, Donald Trump tweeted, quote, “In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran.” This is Trump saying the same thing in a video he posted online in 2011.

DONALD TRUMP: Our president will start a war with Iran, because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak, and he’s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he’s going to get re-elected, and as sure as you’re sitting there, is to start a war with Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Trump. We’re going back right now to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Istanbul, Turkey. What you understand is happening on the ground now in Iraq amongst Iraqis, and if you can also respond to what then not President Trump, before he was president, Donald Trump said about Obama wanting to start a war with Iran to get re-elected?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: I mean, in Baghdad, there is a real anxiety. I mean, I love Secretary Pompeo when he talks about freedom for Iraqis. I mean, these words are so absurd, so meaningless. I mean, what freedom? Did anyone consult Iraqis about the assassination of Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil? I mean, this is an act of war, an act of war committed on the land of another country. We are no fan of Qassem Soleimani or Iran, but at the same time we don’t want another war, another round of civil war happening in Iraq.

What you have at the situation — we spoke about this yesterday, Amy — is you have a very delicate confrontation taking place between different elements of Shia political power, different Shia militias. Those are anti-Iran, and those who want a kind of a more independent Iraqi role. In between comes the United States and assassinates the biggest Iranian general in the region. There will be a reaction from the Iranians in Iraq. There will be a reaction from the Iranian militias in Iraq. And this reaction will happen on Iraqi soil. It will not happen in New York. It will not happen in D.C. It will happen in my country.

And this is why this is such a dangerous game. I mean, it is a repetitive game of what we heard in 2003, of what I heard when I was a child in 1991 and of all of the wars in between. And this is very dangerous. Yes, there were some dancing scenes, because like five, six people, the same number of people who chanted when the Americans rolled through Baghdad. I mean, don’t they read history? Don’t they know that none of these military actions that have been taking place, from the ’90s ’til today, led to more peace? I mean, I totally agree with your previous speaker, that 15, 20 years after the “war on terrorism,” what have we achieved? We have ISIS on the outskirts of Baghdad. We had cities destroyed. I mean, when did ever war achieve anything good in this region?

AMY GOODMAN: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, you have Qassem Soleimani who was assassinated. Also, the head of the Popular Mobilization Forces was also assassinated. I think, altogether, there were five people killed at Baghdad airport. The significance of this?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: It’s huge significance. And again, it has two layers of significance, one in terms of the confrontation between the United States and Iraq. On the other layer, it will be a confrontation between pro-Iranian elements within the militias, within PMUs, the Popular Mobilization Units, the hashd, so-called, and more Iraqi moderate elements in the — I mean, we’ve heard Ayatollah Sistani come today in the sermon and condemn the attack, but called for caution, called for preserving Iraq from internal conflict. Everyone is trying to create this middle path for Iraq, but it will be very difficult. And I’ve been talking to activists in the square. I’ve been talking to Iraqi journalists and writers. They’re all fearing that they will be the first target on these pro-Iranian militias. They will want to vent their anger on someone. They might not be able to attack the Americans, but they will definitely be able to attack Iraqi, you know, pro-democracy, anti-Iranian people in the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: So, The New York Times is reporting, Ghaith, that General Soleimani had flown into Baghdad from Syria in order to urge Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to do more to stop the wave of anti-Iran protests that have swept Iraq in recent months. You talked about this yesterday, these protests. But if you could respond to that?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: I mean, I haven’t read this report particularly, but we know that Qassem Soleimani, certain elements and some pro-Iranian elements in the Iraqi militias and the Iraqi government have been very vocal and very lethal in confronting these demonstrations. I mean, we know about kidnappings, we know about disappearances, we know about snipers shooting at demonstrators — a repetition of the way that demonstrations in Iran were quelled. So, we know that these elements were very highly involved in trying to oppress these demonstrations. But as I said yesterday, kind of like these demonstrations managed to put these pro-Iranian elements on the back foot. What the attack on these mobilization units on the border with Syria and now this attack on Qassem Suleimani is suddenly giving them, the — you know, the raison d’être to respond and to be more vocal and more violent in their response.

AMY GOODMAN: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, what do you see happening now? You have the French Foreign Ministry saying we have woken up to or more dangerous morning. In Britain, the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the assassination. One Democratic leader after another in the United States, the Democrats are saying that the U.S. didn’t approve of this. What do you see happening at this point?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: For the past decade, there have been a kind of a — kind of a way both Iranians and the Americans were confronting each other, but there was lines, rules for the game, in which each tried to avoid an open confrontation, an open war. I think these rules have just collapsed today. I do not see how another round of violence is not going to grip the Middle East. I don’t see how Iraq will prosper in peace. I don’t see Iranians being saved from the next round of violence. And this is very maddening and very dangerous — it’s not dangerous. “Dangerous” is an underestimation. This is criminal. I mean, I have been reporting on the last 16 years of war in Iraq. I’m flying back to Baghdad to cover the next round of fighting in Iraq. So, this is not kind of assumptions or theories; this is the reality. You have tens of thousands of armed pro-Iranian militias. You have tens of thousands of anti-Iranian forces. And then what do you do? You’ll have a confrontation. You’ll have a war. It’s a war by proxy, in a region that’s crippled by war. So it’s maddening. It’s maddening how this is allowed to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s be clear, these pro-Iranian militias, they are Iraqi. They are part of the Iraqi security forces. And in fact, while they targeted U.S. forces for years, they then went on to target ISIS. Is that right, Ghaith?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: Of course. I mean, these units were largely established after ISIS’ conquest of one-third of Iraq. They were formed, they were trained, equipped by the Iranians. And they fought, and they are still fighting, against ISIS. Now, yes, they are involved in violence against Iraqis. Yes, they are, you know, accused of corruption, financial corruption, whatever you want to call it. But, yes, they are part of official Iraqi military structure. I mean, I’ve talked to — there is a lot of resentment towards these forces amongst Iraqi officers, but that doesn’t change the issue that — the point that they are part of the established Iraqi military structure. And you know what? During the battle against ISIS, I witnessed at least two incidents in which American airstrikes came in support — not officially, unofficially — came in support of these militias when they really needed help on the outskirts — unofficially — when they needed help on the outskirts of Mosul. So, both of these units have been fighting a common enemy. The common enemy is almost gone, and now we’re having a situation where the Americans want to settle their scores with the Iranians, in the most idiotic way, if I may say so. I apologize.

AMY GOODMAN: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, I want to thank you for being with us, Iraqi correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. We’re speaking to him in Istanbul, Turkey. He is headed into Iraq to report for The Guardian. Please be safe.

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