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Iraqi armed forces are battling militants to reclaim control of the city of Fallujah in Iraq’s Anbar province. For the first time since U.S. forces defeated insurgents in 2006-2007, the region bordering war-torn Syria has become a hub for an al Qaida affiliate called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Experts join Kojo to understand the rise of militancy in Iraq and its traces in neighboring countries like Syria.
- Paul Salem Vice president, Middle East Institute
- Maria Fantappie Iraq analyst, International Crisis Group
- Mark Kimmitt Retired brigadier general, US Army; former military spokesman for coalition forces, Operation Iraqi Freedom
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. As Al-Qaida flags wave from the tops of buildings in the city of Fallujah and battles rage in the streets below, it's a scene that many find all too familiar. During the Iraq war, the U.S. fought bitterly to defeat Al-Qaida insurgents in Fallujah and the surrounding region, losing more than 1,300 American soldiers in the process. Now, for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal, Al-Qaida has once again taken hold of Iraq's western territory.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIExcept, this time, the U.S. is unwilling to intervene. And some question whether Iraq and its neighbors can stop the spread of extremism within their borders. Here to discuss this with us is Paul Salem. He is vice president at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Paul Salem, thank you for joining us.
MR. PAUL SALEMThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Mark Kimmitt. He's a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army and former military spokesman for coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mark Kimmitt, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARK KIMMITTGlad to be here. Thanks.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Cairo is Maria Fantappie. She is an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group. She is based in Bagdad. But, as I mentioned, she joins us by phone from Cairo. Maria, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARIA FANTAPPIEThank you.
NNAMDIPaul Salem, I'll start with you. The unfolding conflict in the Anbar province reminds many of us of Iraq's past instability before U.S. troops left in 2011. Why are we seeing this eruption of violence again? What about the environment in Iraq has allowed for this conflict and the rise of Al-Qaida militants.
SALEMWell, I'd say there's these three elements to this. One, it's become clear, since 2003 and 2004 and the events of September 11, that Al-Qaida morphs and has been able to adapt and to survive in many parts of the region from Afghanistan to Pakistan. It has a presence in Yemen, in North Africa, and certainly in the Levant region in Iraq, as we're discussing. So it's -- it's an ongoing concern. Secondly, the war that erupted next door to Iraq in Syria in late 2011 drew in a lot of Al-Qaida attention.
SALEMA lot of fighters from around the Arab and Muslim world streamed to Syria to fight against the Assad regime there. The borders between eastern Syria and western Iraq have always been porous. There's a large Sunni community across these two borders. The inflow into Syria also meant that part of that inflow was going through Iraq or blowing back to Iraq and created sort of more activity there.
SALEMThis coincides with an Iraqi dynamic in which the Maliki government, after the U.S. withdrew in December 2011, unfortunately chose in a sense to turn against their Sunni political partners and alienate them, persecute them. And many of the Sunnis of Iraq today, many of which are in the Anbar province and in the cities, certainly feel left out of the Iraqi equation and feel that, like many Sunnis are rising up next door in Syria to end years of marginalization there, maybe this is an opportunity for them as well.
SALEMAl-Qaida has been able to take advantage of these dynamics to make a big comeback in Iraq, definitely.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think the current violence in Iraq undoes what the U.S. fought for? What is your understanding of what the U.S. fought for? How do you think the U.S. should respond to the conflict in Fallujah and the surrounding region? What kind of aid should the U.S. provide? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Maria Fantappie, while you are in Cairo for a conference, you have been based in Bagdad.
NNAMDIHaving been on the ground, can you give us some background on what the security situation has been like leading up to these events?
FANTAPPIEWell, first of all, I would like to thank you, Paul, for the excellent presentation of the dynamics that are really exactly as you describe it. And to add to what you said, being a field work basis, the analyst, I would say that indeed one of the key elements that's led to this situation has been the Maliki government policies within the country.
FANTAPPIEBecause, of course, this recent event in Fallujah are only the peak of an ongoing situation that started really one year ago, when the Maliki really did not -- Maliki government did not show any appetite for compromises with this Sunni community at present in Bagdad and also in the northern region of the country. So step by step, over this year starting from April -- last April 2013 until this December, the security situation has deteriorated day after day. And I would say that this is the consequences of two factors.
FANTAPPIEOne factor, the fact that indeed, the Sunni population, Sunni civilians said that they felt more and more marginalized from the central government of Bagdad. They rather took an uncooperative attitude to do with Iraqi security forces, and rather really refused in some extent to also cooperating terms of sharing information about these radical groups which are present -- which were already present, but which have been then proliferating.
FANTAPPIEAnd, on the other hand, you have, of course, the second factor, which is the Maliki government really, over this past six months, used security forces, the Iraqi army, in particular, rather as a force of repression against the Sunni community, which of course -- which has been also -- which we have seen already in what happened especially in the Iraqi security force's crackdown against one of the Sunni protestors sitting in North Iraq in last April. So I would say that, on one hand, you have a Sunni population which is more and more reluctant to cooperate with the central government.
FANTAPPIEAnd, on the other hand, you have a central government which is -- which has no appetite for compromising and including this Sunni community within.
NNAMDIGeneral Kimmitt, Fallujah was the scene of many intense battles between American forces and insurgents, which cost the lives of both soldiers and civilians. Many Iraq war veterans have taken to social media asking, what was their sacrifice for? Having been on the ground with those troops, what is it like for you to see the city in the hands of Al-Qaida again?
KIMMITTWell, listen, I've spent the last year, most of the last year in Iraq myself -- 13 times in separate visits. I think those of us that worked hard to get Iraq to a position where it was in 2010, 2011, and watch this administration virtually abandon its role -- it's pretty disheartening. I would add, I think that both Paul and Maria have given good points. But I think we also need to understand that this is not simply the blame of the Maliki government.
KIMMITTThe fact is that the Sunnis, who once ruled and dominated the country dictatorially, have not been the most willing partner in terms of reconciliation. They are not willing to accept their new status quo as not only a minority, but also as relatively powerless vis-à-vis the Kurds and the Shia inside of the country.
KIMMITTAnd that's where I think the United States has failed, because were we to have a more active role inside of Iraq, not simply militarily but diplomatically as well and interest, we could be the honest broker between the Sunnis and the Shia inside this country that could reconcile the situation between the Sunnis and the Shia.
KIMMITTI think we would also, if we had not been so focused on pivoting to the Far East, that this administration could be the honest broker between this larger battle in the region between the Arabs, represented by the Sunnis, and the Persians/Iranians, represented by the Shia, all of who have their hand in this proxy war that we're seeing not only inside of Iraq between the Um Baris in the central government, but we're seeing it in Lebanon and Syria as well.
KIMMITTAnd America, to abandon their position and abandon their responsibility as an honest broker in the region, I think shares some responsibility for the violence that we're seeing in Iraq and in the entire region.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, Mark Kimmitt is a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army and former military spokesman for coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He joins us by telephone, as does Maria Fantappie. She is an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group. She joins us by phone from Cairo, even though she's based in Bagdad. Joining us in our Washington studio is Paul Salem. He is vice president of the Middle East Institute here in Washington D.C. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWhat is your take on the events unfolding in Fallujah and in the surrounding region in Iraq? Paul, I would like to go back to the point that Mark Kimmitt was just making about the lack of a U.S. focus on the region, because sectarian conflict has been ripping Iraq apart for years. Last year, in the month of July alone, one thousand people were killed in sectarian violence in Iraq. Can you tell us a little bit more about how ethnic tensions have been rising and what role they could be playing in the current conflict. We've heard a little bit about that.
NNAMDIBut, if you could add into your answer whether you think the U.S. could have been playing a more aggressive and affirmative role here.
SALEMI think the U.S., had it sort of maintained a more vigorous presence in Iraq, even though the military presence ended, and had it continued a more active engagement in Middle East politics in general, could have played a role in trying to mitigate these conflicts. However, I would say this is really a regional conflict at the end of the day, needs to be addressed by the players in the region.
SALEMIt is a conflict, as General Kimmitt indicated, at some level between Iran and the Gulf countries, that sponsors in a sense the fault lines that run throughout Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, other countries, between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims. It sort of instrumentalizes that religious identity. And we see those two proxy players slugging it out in Syria, partly in Iraq, partly in Lebanon and elsewhere around the region. At the end of the day, it's these regional players who have to reach an accommodation with each other.
SALEMOf course, the U.S., the E.U., perhaps other international players could help in that process. But this is a regional problem. It's important to note that, you know, the U.S. can be part of the solution. The U.S. also, you know, set in motion a situation which now the region is dealing with, in the sense that the toppling of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003 upset a status quo, bad as it was. But it created a new situation and new power imbalances, particularly between Sunnis and Shiites, between Iranian and Arab or Gulf power.
SALEMThat reverberated throughout the region, as is well known. And, in a sense, round two of that Sunni, Shiite, Gulf, Iranian confrontation is now being played out in Syria. And the two are influencing each other. There are some in the region who say, Well maybe the Sunnis have lost Iraq. Perhaps they can, in compensation, gain Syria. Some of the Sunnis in Iraq feel, if there's more Sunni power next door in Syria, that could help them get a better deal in Iraq. It's also worth mentioning that the U.S. has taken a very important step in its interim nuclear deal with Iran.
SALEMThis is the first sort of movement forward in a very hostile U.S./Iranian relationship that of course goes back to 1979 and the Iranian revolution. That conflict between Iran and the U.S. also organized relations in the region. All of America's allies in the region also were aligned against Iran at the same time. So it created a system of conflict in the region for the last three decades.
SALEMThe interim agreement with Iran raises the first hope that perhaps if this proceeds, if it reaches a full and permanent, verifiable agreement, that might begin to dismantle this conflict system, which has been established over the last three decades and which is tearing apart Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, potentially Bahrain and other countries.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. But you can join it right now by calling 800-433-8850. When we come back we'll be focusing a little bit more on al-Qaida. Do you think the Middle Eastern states can control the rise of militant groups like al-Qaida? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDI...Fallujah and the rise of militants in the Middle East. We're talking with Mark Kimmitt. He's a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army and former military spokesman for coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Paul Salem is vice-president at the Middle East Institute in Washington. And Maria Fantappie is Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group. She is based in Baghdad but she joins us by phone from Cairo.
NNAMDIMaria, I'll start with you this time. Not too long ago, al-Qaida may have seemed weaker than ever. In 2011 the U.S. killed its leader Osama bin Laden. What is al-Qaida today and how is it managing to regain its strength in the Arab world in general and in places like Fallujah in particular?
FANTAPPIEWell, I will start to saying that indeed Iraq and al-Qaida in Iraq has its own (unintelligible) to some extent. And of course, the resurgence of al-Qaida in places like western Anbar, which is an area which is neighboring most of Syria, it's a link to two main factors. One is, of course, the rising and the (unintelligible) of the Syrian crisis -- of the neighboring Syrian crisis. And which has been mentioned, kind of had (unintelligible) of bolstering the hopes of Iraq and therefore a political comeback in their own countries. And to some extent also a kind of a push from the (unintelligible) let's say to al-Qaida.
FANTAPPIEAnd al-Qaida could really expand over this western border of Anbar and also reach up to north Syria where it is now operating. And I would also add that actually the base that al-Qaida has in this moment in Anbar in Iraq is essential for its activity of the north Syria at the moment. Then the second factor is that really what we were talking about, we were discussing before, which is how the central government of Baghdad to some extent has also and to some extent favored this reemergence of al-Qaida by paradox.
FANTAPPIEWe have, I think, to take a step back and see also how this area of Fallujah and Ramadi and all over (unintelligible) it's fully Sunni populated. So it's the only Sunni populated province of Iraq. First of all it's a tribal dominated area. And so there have been all the elements, let's say, for kind of a resurgence of al-Qaida to take place in this area. To some extent the government for over a year marginalized some of the Sunni tribes of this area. And of course this had consequence of also increasing the feeling of marginalization longer among Sunnis.
FANTAPPIESo at this moment you have of course al-Qaida basically taking the really grounds in this area because of so young Sunnis and some parts of the tribes, especially some portion of the Fallujah's tribes, also shifting alliances from the government to actually al-Qaida. Or even if they're not taking an open position of corporation with al-Qaida, they are, let's say, possibly accepting its presence over there.
FANTAPPIEAnd this is why because -- most importantly because they see that between al-Qaida and the government, on one side they have al-Qaida. And on the other side they have a government which is not really for them representing the Iraqi state, but is only representing (unintelligible) Shia Shiite's power. And it's also a power which is consistently repressed against them. So to some extent this Sunni population and parts of the tribe of Fallujah and of Anbar, they're finding themselves between Iraq and the hard place.
FANTAPPIEOn one hand they have the Iraqi government and its army, which they see only as an instrument of repression and not really as a security force who can protect them. And on the other side they have al-Qaida, the (unintelligible) . So I will say that this antagonism (unintelligible) Baghdad (unintelligible) really al-Qaida to take grounds and to take also a kind of consensus (unintelligible) especially the young Sunni and some of the tribe.
NNAMDIOkay. Mark Kimmitt, a couple of questions for you. Strategically what do you see as the significance of Fallujah? And the second part of the question, having made the argument that the U.S. has a responsibility here having invaded Iraq in 2000 -- what was that, 2003?
NNAMDI...2003. Having invaded Iraq in 2003, what do you see the U.S. being able to push the Maliki government to do in this situation?
KIMMITTWell, in the first case of the strategic consequences, should the central government align themselves with the tribesmen in the Anbar region much like the surge that we had in 2006 that was so successful because of the alignment with the tribes, there is an opportunity for Prime Minister Maliki and aborisha (sp?) in the tribes to come together to get rid of al-Qaida. And that very well could provide the leverage and the catalyst to get them sitting back at the table and further the so needed reconciliation talks.
KIMMITTWhat can the United States do? Well, Secretary Cary has said we're not going to put any troops on the ground. That sort of goes without saying, not that the Americans want to put them in, nor do the Iraqis want them to come back. But that doesn't mean that the United States can't do two things. Number one, at the tactical level can provide the Maliki government with the required intelligence capabilities that they need to find al-Qaida and uproot them.
KIMMITTBut number two, there's a much larger diplomatic effort that the United States could participate in, which is to talk to both sides of the region, both the Arab Sunni side of the region and the Persian Shia side of the region and say, you have got to quit participating in this proxy adventure fighting your larger strategic struggle between the Arabs and the Persians by fomenting proxy wars in Iraq, in Syria and Lebanon.
KIMMITTAnd I think that would be far more important in the long run for the United States to act as the honest broker in the region, much like Henry Kissinger was able to which led to the Camp David peace accords where he put down the longstanding enmity between the Egyptians and the Israelis.
NNAMDIPaul Salem, does the Maliki government still have any credibility left in the Sunni population? Can it be pushed by the U.S. -- either pushed by the U.S. or on its own accord be able to bring the Sunnis into the fold to affect the kind of resistance against al-Qaida that Mark Kimmitt is talking about?
SALEMWell, I think the U.S. has been trying -- since it left to try to dissuade Maliki from the policies he was pursuing, and certainly now to try to move the situation forward some of the ways that General Kimmitt was indicating. The Maliki government has domestic considerations. It's also in an alliance regionally, which is engaged in a proxy war in Syria which many consider a kind of an existential war between the two communities. So it is difficult. It's a very tense time. Maliki's not the only player.
SALEMAt one level as well, there's some kind of instrumentality to this. In other words, for the Maliki government let's not forget Iraq is coming up to elections just in a few months. And, you know, the return of al-Qaida, the rise of al-Qaida among the Sunnis of Iraq is not altogether un-useful to Maliki and his reelection bid for two reasons. First of all, it sort of unifies the Shiites in their fear and hostility to al-Qaida. It also allows Maliki to appear to his people, but also when he visited Washington as the bulwark against terrorism and against al-Qaida, you know, he is trying to also run for a third term. And that's, you know, in itself very controversial.
SALEMAnd it enables him in a way to avoid the issue of including Sunnis now because he says, well they're -- you know, now I'm dealing with a security situation. It's not unlike some elements of the situation in Syria where the Assad regime, you know, was -- had a hard time justifying its war against peaceful prodemocracy demonstrators. But once al-Qaida affiliated groups became prominent in the Syrian rebellion, that was the enemy of choice. That was the opposition of choice for the Assad regime. And indeed it's paid great dividends. They now appear as, you know, one of the bulwarks against terrorism.
SALEMAnother factor to consider is that the Sunnis, both in Syria and Iraq, have considerable pushback against al-Qaida. Just in the last couple of days, members of the Syrian opposition, Syrian rebel groups have driven al-Qaida affiliated groups there, which is the same group that's present in Iraq. It's called the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria. And they've driven it out of a number of towns and they're besieging it in its main holdout in the city of Rudka in Syria. So a great pushback there.
SALEMThat dynamic is related to another political occasion, which is the Geneva talks which are supposed to take place either later this month or in the weeks coming forward. So part of this, you know, security situation also has political gainsmanship involved. And that's part of the picture as well.
NNAMDIIndeed there's political gainsmanship involved. Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite sides of the ethnic violence that is dividing Syria and Iraq, with Iran predominantly Shia and Saudi Arabia Sunni. How are they pursuing their own interests in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria?
SALEMWell, definitely Iran is very close to the Maliki government. But the Maliki government has its own resources, has its own interests and orientations. It would be wrong to say that it's just a lackey of Iran. But their relationships are very strong. It's important for us to remember that the U.S. is Iraq's main military partner in terms of the army that it helped build, as well as the arms deals that are still outstanding, a recent talk about U.S. assistance in counterterrorism, drones and hellfire missiles and so on. So Iraq is close to Iran but it's not, you know, exclusively so.
SALEMSaudi Arabia generally certainly has backed Sunni ambitions or Sunni politicians in some of them in Iraq, as has Turkey and Qatar and some other regional players. But I would say Saudi Arabia is not as engaged inside Iraq as it is in direct support of the Syrian opposition -- the rebels groups and the opposition groups. Saudi Arabia has less of a presence inside. But the fact remains that this region which is basically this, you know, Arab, Persian, Turkish zone is a region which is, as I've described it, it's been a conflict zone for the last three decades.
SALEMThat's very unhealthy for the people of the region. It's very bad for energy supplies and energy future for the world economy in general. This is a very sensitive area. What the U.S. could certainly help in doing is if it makes further progress on the nuclear issue and if it makes a permanent breakthrough, can then bring the other players, the Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and so on to sort of the table as it were to put in place a more stable set of regional political and security arrangements. That would require from Iran to change some of its policies certainly, but would also require Saudi Arabia and others to be more accommodating as well.
NNAMDII will get to the telephone callers in a little while, but there's a little clarity needed here first because in terms of what General Kimmitt has been saying about the U.S. needing to be more assertive, Maria I'll start with you. The U.S. has agreed to support Iraq's military without putting troops on the ground. What kind of standing does Iraq's prime minister have with the U.S. government at this time?
FANTAPPIEWell, I think that at this moment I will say that what Paul was just pointing out that -- I mean, how much Maliki is in this moment gaining from this struggle in Fallujah. I think that both al-Qaida and Maliki are gaining from the unfolding events to the extent that this polarization between one hand, the terrorists as they are called, and on the other hand Maliki government put him really under this porch light, has the symbol of the Iraq state. And really they -- I mean, the only one who can prevent the wars to happen.
FANTAPPIEThis is also why the U.S. I think decided to support militarily because they see it has the only solution in order to prevent the wars to happen with al-Qaida. And the only time they'll -- in the struggle against al-Qaida. And now the situation -- I think the question is what are the consequences of U.S. military supplies to Maliki government? I think that we should -- this question is legitimate.
FANTAPPIEAre these western supplies going to really help the struggle against al-Qaida or -- and they're going to help actually the preservation of the Iraqi state? And all they're going to only fool and bolster Maliki power. There is definitely a distinction to make between what is Maliki power and what is the Iraqi state. I think that (unintelligible) in Fallujah (unintelligible) on the Maliki let's say (unintelligible) within the state. But I'm not sure that really (unintelligible) . Maliki isn't fighting for Iraqi state or is fighting for its own power (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt and bring Mark Kimmitt in on that point. It seems to me, General Kimmitt, that in the context of what Maria has just described, the U.S. has a very, I guess, pretty difficult balancing act in this situation to press the Maliki government not only to oppose the al-Qaida take over in Fallujah, but also not to be operating simply in the interest of Maliki's power.
KIMMITTWell, first of all, let's remember that Maliki is the elected leader of Iraq. And supporting the country of Iraq does in fact provide some support for his political ambitions. But at the end of the day he represents the people of Iraq. The insurgents do not. The weapons that are being provided are of question. I'm not really sure what hellfire missiles are going to be doing in this counterterrorism campaign.
KIMMITTWhat's most important is that we provide the intelligence assets that frankly can't be turned against his own people, but actually can provide the information needed for both the Iraqi security forces and the local tribesmen to root out al-Qaida from Fallujah, from Ramadi and the other places where they're attempting to infiltrate.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. Here is Tesfa in Arlington, Va. Tesfa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TESFAThank you very much. Whether the government is of Sunni or Shia, it doesn't matter. What matters most is whether the government and the individuals in office are honest or dishonest. What I mean is, are they corrupt or are they honest? Are they elected in a free and fair election? Do people (unintelligible) wisdom? Do they share the oil money with (unintelligible) ? I'm telling you this from experience. The Ethiopian government went into Somalia to fight al-Qaida...
NNAMDIWell allow -- allow me to get a response -- allow me to get a response to that question, Tesfa. Thank you so much for your call. Paul Salem, a lot of this discussion seems to have to do with whether Maliki as the official representative, the government of the Iraqi state is in fact representative of the Iraqi people.
SALEMWell, I mean, as General Kimmitt said, for a country outside, like the United States, they have to deal with the constitutionally established authority. Iraq has a constitution. It had elections. They were imperfect, not surprisingly so, but he is the prime minister of today's Iraq. I don't think that is the issue in dispute. At the same time...
NNAMDIWell, he has called on the city of Fallujah to expel the al-Qaida militants. Given al-Qaida's renewed strength, how effective is that strategy likely to be? How likely are the residents of Fallujah, in large measure, Sunnis, to respond to that call?
SALEMWell, let me mention a couple of things. I mean, one, to respond to the caller that it's also the case that, according to corruption indices, Iraq is one of the most corrupt political systems in the world today. So the caller is right. That doesn't mean Maliki isn't the prime minister. It's also the case that for whatever reason, you know, the Sunnis maybe are upping the ante and Maliki himself, but there is a major community, the Sunni community, which is excluded. Those are political facts.
SALEMHis call for the people of, you know, Fallujah and so on, to rise up against al-Qaida, I mean, that's a bit, you know, how to say, it's, you know, it's a bit rich as it were in the sense...
SALEMYeah. Rhetorical and rich in the sense that he has used the National Army in ways to reinforce his political influence. He has used it as an instrument of repression, and for him to call on the inhabitants to push out al-Qaida is legitimate, and it's the correct thing to do, and I imagine they will eventually do so, as the people of Syria did, as the Iraqis themselves, as General Kimmitt indicated, were part of a push back against al-Qaida. That will probably happen. But I think for the time being, he is sort of riding this wave to the elections.
SALEMIt'll probably get him votes inside Iraq and give him, you know, a profile outside Iraq as a (word?) against terrorism which buys him points in Russia and Europe, the U.S. and China, and in other parts of the world.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation on the conflict in Fallujah and Iraq, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How do you think the U.S. should be responding to this conflict in Fallujah and the surrounding region? 800-433-8850. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the crisis in Iraq in general and in more specific terms, the conflict in Fallujah with Maria Fantappie. She is an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group based in Baghdad. She joins us by phone from Cairo. Paul Salem is Vice President of the Middle East Institute in Washington. He joins us in our Washington studio, and Mark Kimmitt is a retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, and former military spokesman for coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
NNAMDII'd like to go directly back to the phone and talk with Stephen with Baltimore, Md. Stephen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEPHENHi, Kojo, and hi to your guests. The question is specifically for General Kimmitt who has had dealings with some of the tribal leaders in Fallujah. If this al-Qaida group is, or does want to impose strict Sharia law, do you think that the tribal leaders will allow that for any length of time?
KIMMITTWell, I think they will find the same response in 2014 that they found in 2007, which is al-Qaida overplayed its hands, and in fact, it's when Abu Risha al Sattar rebelled against al Qaida and turned to the Americans for help, that not only did that begin the surge and the awakening, but it also lead to his death. Now, coincidentally, the leader of the tribe now, again, Abu Risha, his older brother is making that same offer to the Iraqi government which is the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and so we would like to work with you to rid the province of al Qaida.
KIMMITTAs Maria said earlier, it's between a rock and a hard place, but for those tribesmen, the choice between al Qaida and the central government of Iraq is no choice. They far prefer the central government of Iraq than they do to al Qaida, and I understand Prime Minister Malaki has reached out to the tribe to say let's do this in a joint operation, and evict al Qaida. Now, it's up to Prime Minister Malaki, not only to join with the tribesmen for this fight, but also to take care of them when the fight is over.
NNAMDIMaria, Fallujah was the scene of many civilian deaths during the Iraq war, and now war is back in their streets again. What are Iraqi civilians doing in this new time of conflict?
FANTAPPIEWell, Iraqi civilians, I think that they are -- the way I see it, the Iraqi civilians are pretty much, let's say, in this moment where they confront the threat of al Qaida returning. Of course, they align behind the Iraqi Army and they align behind the existence and the future of the Iraqi state against this extremist group. So to some extent, this (word?) going in Fallujah is really kind of boosting national unity, at least to some extent in Baghdad, really, and to support the army in its effort against al Qaida.
FANTAPPIEThen we fall again in this problem that also this -- to some extent is also what the government wanted to achieve because it really wanted -- in order to boost (unintelligible) before the (word?) elections in April 2014, of course, this is a kind of a point on their side. Then you have, of course, the Iraqi civilians who are within the cities like Ramadi and Fallujah and, I mean, (word?) I think that you can find different voices within. You have also those ones who are young and frustrated, and who do not like necessarily al Qaida, but really they feel that Baghdad is too far away.
FANTAPPIEThe capital is something that is unreachable, and that even if they don't like al Qaida, they do not really feel anymore any connection with this Iraqi state, so they are kind of lost in an island which is step by step going closer to Syria rather than to its central government.
NNAMDIAnd from the local to the international, Paul Salem, you underscored this point earlier, if this is escalating into a regional conflict, should the international community be considering a broader response looking at Iraq and Syria not individually, but the region as a whole?
SALEMDefinitely. There is, you know, at least three levels to this. The main conflict in the region, of course, is in Syria, not in Iraq, and Syria certainly deserves, and has, an international initiative of sorts now focused on the Geneva II meetings that are supposed to take place. The U.S. and Russia are engaged in that process as is the UN Secretary General. Iraq has a state. It has, you know, a parliament, it has elections, has institutions, has national security forces. They're imperfect. It's (unintelligible) a different situation.
SALEMIt might, you know, benefit from international assistance, cooperation, advice, but Iraq has and should have the ability and the leader and the institutions to deal with this crisis itself. The external players can help diffuse some of the external elements that are impacting Iraq. The degree to which Iran is influencing the situation to the degree to which perhaps some of the gulf countries are. Those are things that can be discussed with those players.
SALEMMore broadly, as I indicated, what's happening in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, even in Bahrain, is part of a third layer, a broader problem. This is a vital region of the world that does not have a regional set of understanding and agreements that will provide basic stability and basic cooperation. It's absent. For many, many years, of course, we focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that is certainly still very relevant, but in effect, since the Iranian revolution, and since U.S.-Iranian hostility as well, and Arab-Iranian hostility, we have in effect an Arab-Iranian conflict, a war that's been going on for many, many years.
SALEMA cold war, a proxy war, and the U.S. has been part of that as well. And until we recognize the magnitude of this instability and begin addressing it, and try to build that, you know, a set of understandings between the U.S. and Iran, Iran and the other regional players, bring Turkey on board, and create the makings of a stable region, these -- you'll put out, you know, you'll put out the brush fire one place, it'll blow up somewhere else. I mean, look at the region now. There's fires in Beirut and Damascus and Eastern Syria, in Iraq and Bahrain and Yemen. The whole system needs revision and that would be the more long-term goal.
NNAMDIGeneral Kimmitt, we got a tweet from Ari who says, "What was it exactly that U.S. troops fought for? We need to answer that question before figuring out if recent violence undoes it." And we got an email from Patrick who says, "As a Vietnam vet, I'd like to ask, is anyone really surprised that this has happened in Iraq, and will anyone really be surprised when this happens in Afghanistan after we leave? Didn't Congress just authorize $80 billion for Afghanistan?
NNAMDI"We have never been good at nation building in countries where we don't understand the culture, and often look down on it or outright despise it." General Kimmitt, Secretary of State John Kerry has already said that the U.S. will not send troops to Iraq. What power does the U.S. have in this situation if it doesn't put boots on the ground?
KIMMITTWell, you know, I agree with all those statements, and the fact remains that we've got to be as good fighting the post-war as we are fighting the war. Those brave soldiers, 4,489 that gave their lives in Iraq, the 2,000-plus that have given their lives in Afghanistan, they are owed a better sequel to -- in the post-war period, to compliment the fine job they did during the war. We're pretty good at toppling dictators. We're pretty good at taking over countries. What we haven't got, and haven't refined, is the ability to go from the post-war to -- from warfare to stability to security to normalcy.
KIMMITTWe took years to get it right inside of the Balkans. It took us 50 years to do it in Germany, 50 years to do it in Japan. Unfortunately, we don't seem to be showing that patience and persistence in Iraq to apply the same amount of effort diplomatically, economically, politically, that we did militarily, and I don't certainly see that in Afghanistan as well. So the rest of the government needs to be as dedicated to the mission as the military has demonstrated up to this point. We do need to retain that influence in Afghanistan.
KIMMITTWe do need to retain that influence in Iraq. I don't see on the part of this administration in Iraq, and I, as a soldier who served in Iraq, feel somewhat cheated as a result.
NNAMDIIndeed, Paul Salem, the Pentagon in planning for troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. The fear clearly is that Afghanistan could face a similar situation to what we are witnessing in Iraq after the U.S. leaves.
SALEMPotentially worse. I mean, in Iraq there is, you know, a fairly powerful central state. It has survived. It will survive. It will get stronger. It has massive oil resources. It has a powerful army. That army will be increasingly equipped, either by the U.S., if they have deals with Russia, with Czech Republic, with South Korea. So you have, you know, I mean, Iraq has problems, but it has a lot of strength as well. Let's not forget that Northern Iraq and the Kurdish zone is also pretty stable and secure and strong.
SALEMCertainly Afghanistan potentially could, you know, could be worse off. It doesn't have the resources. It doesn't have the ability to continue as effectively on its own. One sort of reflection about the difficulty of, you know, post-war nation building, and when you compare it for example to the post-World War II situation, that, you know, the U.S. recently has been intervening in countries which are broken nation states to start with. I mean, Iraq was, you know, was divided, was a mess before the U.S. entered Afghanistan as well, whereas Germany or Japan, you know, these were formidable unified nation states.
SALEMYes, they lost a war. It was easy to rebuild there. So it's not the U.S.'s fault I the sense that these were very divided, dysfunctional places to start with. They have very deep problems. It would never have been easy to quickly rebuild.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid, we're just about out of time. Paul Salem is Vice President of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIMark Kimmitt is a retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, and former military spokesman for coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. General Kimmitt, thank you for joining us.
KIMMITTWell, thank you, and thank you to my colleagues as well.
NNAMDIMaria Fantappie is an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group. She is based in Baghdad. Maria Fantappie, thank you for joining us.
FANTAPPIEThank you. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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