Socialist Worker

Dahr Jamail interview: Iraq occupation in the eye of the storm

One of the few independent journalists to report from inside Iraq, Dahr Jamail spoke to Socialist Worker about the reality behind US claims of success in its ‘surge’

Issue No. 2079

Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail

The US military are claiming that the “surge” of 30,000 troops in Iraq has stabilised the occupation. Is this true?

The propaganda campaign which is being pushed by most of the establishment media in the US has now assumed is that the so-called surge is working.

The line goes something like, “People are returning to their homes in Baghdad, fewer people are dying”, and so on.

It is true that their are fewer US soldiers are being killed – in May this year 131 US troops were killed, last month this dropped to 40 – but we’re not told why.

There are fewer military patrols being run, and the US has bought off much of the resistance in the mainly Sunni Muslim al-Anbar province in western Iraq and the capital Baghdad. Meanwhile rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has declared a ceasefire.

There has also been a huge escalation in the use of air strikes.

With Baghdad we need to consider the fact that one million of the six million who lived there have fled.

There is less violence in the capital because we’re seeing the endgame of the US-backed sectarian death squads.

“Sectarian cleansing” and the segregating of the mixed neighbourhoods is now largely complete.

There are some people returning to Baghdad now. But this has little to do with a new confidence among ordinary people.

As of 1 October 2007 Syria, the last country to allow Iraqis unrestricted entry, has imposed tough new visa restrictions.

So most folks who get to the Syrian border are turned back. They can sit in the desert in a refugee camp or return to Baghdad.

People are also returning from both Syria and Jordan because their savings are running out.

Since the “surge” was launched however, the number of displaced Iraqis has quadrupled.

There are now over one million who have been killed, three million wounded, over five million displaced, and four million in need of some emergency assistance.

That means that over half the population of the country are either displaced, wounded, in need of emergency assistance, or dead.

Why are sections of the mainly Sunni resistance now co-operating with the US?

Several tribal sheikhs, mostly in the al-Anbar province, have agreed to take US cash to order their fighters to stand-down.

This is the primary reason why there is less violence in al-Anbar. So resistance fighters are being paid, armed, and backed by the US military they were fighting a few months ago.

It is a classic example of divide and rule. The US is now arming and backing Sunni resistance groups, while supporting the predominantly Shia government in Baghdad. It is a ticking time bomb.

Why did Muqtada al-Sadr call a ceasefire?

His Mehdi militia had been heavily infiltrated by criminal gangs, and “foreign elements” which led to generating strife with rival groups.

He called a six month stand-down to rebuild his militia, to vet members, and weed out the undesirable elements.

That is why they are on ceasefire for the moment. The final straw for Sadr was when members of his militia attacked the rival Badr Brigades in the holy city of Kerbala and Baghdad a few months ago. He did not order the attacks and was struggling to keep control of his supporters.

The US is building a huge embassy complex in Baghdad. What does this tell us about their long term plans?

They plan to stay there permanently.

Look at the mega military bases they are building, look at the new embassy. It has the same infrastructure that we see in other US militarised areas around the globe like Japan, South Korea and Germany.

Both the US National Security Strategy and the Quadrennial Defence Review Report – which are the engines that drive US foreign policy – call for the military to protect “US interests” like oil, natural gas and the shipping lanes in the Middle East.

Until these priorities are changed, there will be no change in US policy for the Middle East and no withdrawal from Iraq.

What can we expect from the Democratic party if they win the next US presidential elections?

The top three Democratic presidential candidates for the 2008 presidential elections – Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards – have already taken off the table the discussion of total withdrawal from Iraq until after their first term in office in 2013 – if they come to power, that is. So we can expect little change in US policy even under a new administration.

The mainly Kurdish region of northern Iraq has, up till now, been seen as a success story. Yet reports are emerging that ethnic tensions are building. What are the reasons behind it?

Primarily it is because of the Kurds want independence from Baghdad. This demand was made with the full knowledge of the US from the beginning of the occupation.

Now the Kurds are signing their own contracts with foreign oil companies, (mainly western oil giants), and are thumbing their nose at Baghdad in the process.

This has signalled to Turkey that the Kurds really are taking strides towards independence. This has been one of the prime motivators for Turkey’s aggression towards the Kurds as of late.

Part of this plan has been to force out other ethnic Iraqi groups from Kirkuk, their oil hub. They have been involved in removing Arabs, Turkomen, and other minorities from the city to make it more “Kurdish.”

This has included “sectarian cleansing” of mixed neighbourhoods by the US backed Peshmerga militia. This militia has been removing all signs in Arabic, and are only flying the Kurdish flag in the city. This has, needless to say, not helped to dampen sectarian tensions in the city.

How deep is the sectarian divide in Iraq, and how serious are moves to divide the country?

The sectarian divide is a result of the US policy to “divide and conquer”. We cannot underestimate the impact of the sectarian death squads – orchestrated by John Negroponte while he was US ambassador to Iraq and facilitated by colonel James Steele, the “Counsellor for Iraqi Security Affairs”.

Negroponte and Steele launched their death squads in November

2004 and controlled them through the Iraqi ministry of interior.

They funded, armed and backed them in a similar way that they ran death squads in Central America in the 1980s. This is the key element in the US plan to divide the country.

Then of course we have the overt attempts to stoke divisions. The White House has been praising Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki for his progress towards the “soft-partition” of the country.

What are your reports on life for ordinary people in Iraq?

There is no ordinary life. On all levels the basic infrastructure in Iraq is far worse than before the invasion.

Unemployment is between 60 to 70 percent, the average home has only up to five hours of electricity a day, there are ongoing gas shortages, and 70 percent of Iraqis do not have access to drinkable water.

Over half the medical workers have fled the country, and the situation in the hospitals is worse today than it was than during the punitive United Nations sanctions following the first Gulf War in 1991.

The occupation of Iraq is a complete catastrophe, and one could easily argue that is the result of a genocidal policy conducted by the current Bush administration, the former Clinton administrations,

and the Bush senior administration before that.

This is a bipartisan war against Iraq by successive US administrations that has spanned decades and resulted in the destruction of the country.

Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, by Dahr Jamail is published by Haymarket Books. For his dispatches from the Middle East go to »

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