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Trump Loss Decreases Chance of Iran War, But Many Iraqis Fear U.S. Policy Under Biden, Too

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We look at how Joe Biden’s presidency will affect the U.S. footprint in the Middle East with Guardian correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who says Biden’s win is being viewed with “anxiety” by many Iraqis who are eager to avoid war between the U.S. and Iran. “Any conflict will take place on Iraqi soil,” says Abdul-Ahad. “There is not much optimism. There is anxiety towards Biden and his team in the way they deal with Iraq.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn now to look at how Joe Biden’s presidency will influence U.S. relations in the Middle East, as the Trump administration reportedly prepares to flood Iran with new sanctions ahead of the January 20th transition of power. The news website Axios reports Trump’s State Department is coordinating the sanctions with Israel, in part to prevent Biden from rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018. This comes as the State Department is refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden’s presidential win or pass on messages from world leaders to him. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked to compare the Trump administration’s response to Biden’s victory with overseas elections where defeated candidates cling to power.

REUTERS REPORTER: This department frequently sends out statements encouraging free and fair elections abroad —

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Yes.

REUTERS REPORTER: — and for the losers of those elections to accept the results. Doesn’t President Trump’s refusal to concede discredit those efforts?

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: That’s ridiculous. And you know it’s ridiculous. And you asked it because it’s ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the secretary of state under President Trump.

Well, for more, we go to Istanbul, Turkey, where we’re joined by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. He is an Iraqi journalist, correspondent for The Guardian newspaper.

It’s great to have you with us. Let’s start on Iran and what this means for Iran. President Trump not only pulled out of the accord, but, as we pointed out, is now imposing more and more fierce sanctions. Talk about the significance of this, and your response to the Biden victory, that Trump will not accept.

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: I mean, Amy, so good to talk to you again.

I mean, the biggest fear in Iraq, where I’m from, is the America-Iran war. And any conflict will take place on Iraqi soil. Any conflict. Already we’ve seen the clashes, the provocations. All these things are happening in Iraq. They’re not happening in America. They’re not happening in Iran. So, that is the biggest fear.

There was a sigh of relief that Trump has lost the elections, because that meant any possibility of a future war is distant. However, that’s not very — you know, it’s not very sure, kind of hearing about the shuffle in the Cabinet. So that is creating an anxiety in Iraq.

So, people are looking at the Trump-Biden election with two angles. One is the possibility of an Iranian-American war, and how would that affect Iraq. However, although people are very — you know, people are relieved that Biden has won the elections. At the same time, there is an anxiety in Iraq toward the Biden administration.

I mean, we have to remember that early on, when Biden was a vice president in the Obama administration, Biden helped former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to win another term or to become a prime minister for a second term. And that was seen as a disastrous moment, which brought sectarianism back into Iraq, which again led to the emergence of ISIS. So, there is not much optimism. There is anxiety towards Biden and his team in the way they deal with Iraq. There is a fear in Iraq.

And this is very ironic — right? — because we’re talking about the liberals, the leftists, the people who went into demonstrations in the streets last year kind of calling for a better democratic system, end of corruption, end of the rule of the militias in Iraq. Now those same activists are worried that a Biden administration might kind of be appeasing to the Iranians. So, it’s all convoluted. I mean, it’s all — it’s seen from a one single point: How do we avoid a confrontation between America and Iran on Iraqi soil? And I think that’s the most important thing for Iraqis.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ghaith, you mentioned that people in Iraq and elsewhere across the region, at least in parts of the region, you know, heaved a sign of relief with Biden’s victory, but, of course, as you said, there are concerns in Iraq about what this might mean. And I just want to mention that according to a 2017 analysis of the last year of Obama’s presidency — that is, of 2016 — this Council on Foreign Relations report found that in his last year in office, the U.S. dropped an average of 72 bombs every day. That’s the equivalent of three bombs an hour. Twenty-six thousand bombs in — over 26,000 bombs in total were dropped on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. So, obviously, there are concerns about what Biden’s military and foreign policy strategy will be in the Middle East. So, could you say a little more about that? And then, what will happen to Trump’s erstwhile allies — in particular, Saudi Arabia — under a Biden administration?

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: I mean, Nermeen, that’s a very good point, because we have to remember that one of the most atrocious wars taking place now in the Middle East, one of the most unjustified, illegal wars taking place, is the war in Yemen. That started under the Obama administration; that did not start under the Trump administration. So, it is a very good point, because although the Trump administration has been atrocious, and, you know, as atrocious as it could be, we also have to remember that in the Middle East, it’s not like the previous administration or the one before, or the Clinton administration even, was such an angelic kind of administration in relation to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. So the anxiety is there.

But still, it’s: How do we avoid a confrontation with Iran? So, again I go back to the Iraqi perspective. In Iraq, there are two things that are happening at the same time. One, to avoid the war with Iran, because that would be disastrous. The second thing is, how do you pressure the Iranians to take away some of the backing to their militias, to — because we have two states in Iraq at the moment. We have a state run by the militias, and we have the general, the main state. So, how do you convince the Iranians, to assure the Iranians, that they don’t need to defend themselves in Iraq anymore, they don’t need to arm, equip militias, because they do all these things to defend themselves against any possible American aggression? And the examples are so wide and many in the region, from an Iranian perspective. So, again, yes, there is the fear. There’s anxiety. There is the mistrust to the Biden administration in terms of their policy to Iraq, Iran and the Middle East.

But then again, we have to see the Middle East in — during the Trump days, the Middle East was cut almost halfway. You have the Gulf countries coalition, and I would include Gulf countries-Israel coalition. And you have Iran coalition. And everyone else — the Yemenis, the Iraqis, the Syrians — every one of us is squeezed between these two alliances, between these two gigantic military powers in the region — not Saudi Arabia anymore, but the United Arab Emirates, Israel on one side, and the Iranians on the other side. And many people are just like fed up with this competition, because — again, I repeat the same line — the competition is happening in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria. It’s not happening in Iran, it’s not happening in Dubai, and it’s not happening definitely in Washington. So, how will the Biden administration, again, try to disengage Iran from interfering in Iraqi politics, at one hand, and at the same time avoiding the mad policies of the Trump administration by pushing the Iranians into a corner and forcing them to equip, arm militias, fire rockets, and whatnot?

AMY GOODMAN: Ghaith, we have to end the conversation here, but we will definitely have you back on soon. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraqi journalist and correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, today speaking to us from Istanbul, Turkey.

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