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New President Won't Bring Change to Iraq, Sadrists Say

New America Media, Q&A, Shane Bauer Posted: Dec 18, 2008

About two weeks ago, the Iraqi parliament approved a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, requiring that American troops pull out of Iraqs cities and villages by the summer of 2009 and withdraw completely by the end of 2011.

In Iraq, some viewed the pact as a successful attempt to secure an American withdrawal, while allowing enough time for the Iraqi government to gain control over the country with American support.

But many condemned the deal. The most outspoken of its critics were the Sadrists, an anti-American movement of mostly poor Iraqi Shia led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

In an exclusive interview, New America Media talked with Rassam al-Mawaani, the Sadrist cultural advisor. Al-Mawaani discussed the Sadrist positions on the security pact, Barack Obama, al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Awakening Councils, and the Support Councils.

What do the Sadrists think about the election of Barack Obama?

We believe that the position of the U.S. presidency is a symbolic one. As far as we are concerned, it doesnt matter whether the president of the United States is Obama, Bush, or whoever comes after them. No matter what they want to do, American presidents dont have the power to change policy as they wish.

America is built upon companies and powerful organizations. The fact that a new president is in office doesnt change the agendas or financial interests that drive American policies. American political parties do not disagree about the goal of U.S. foreign policy. They only disagree on the method of implementing it. A new president will just give America a new face and another way of implementing its agenda.

There is no hope for Obama. Like every American president, he is beholden to the Zionist pressures in American politics. If he takes a stand against these pressures, he will go the way of George Bush, Sr. or JFK.

What do the Sadrists make of the security agreement signed with the United States?

We refuse this agreement completely. We are an occupied country and it makes no sense to be striking deals with the occupying forces. There should be no agreements made until the last soldier leaves. Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties says that treaties made under coercion are invalid. America is not beholden to its agreements and Obama will be able to dissolve this agreement at any time.

The other major problem with this agreement is that there is no law in the Iraqi constitution that allows parliament to endorse any agreements made with a foreign country. The new constitution doesnt allow it, so the Iraqi government called up an old, defunct law made in 1979 that allows us to make an agreement with another country.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised that he will pull all American troops out of Iraq within 16 months of his presidency, which is quicker than the new security agreement between Iraq and the United States has required. Do you think Obama with end the U.S. occupation of Iraq?

Obama has said that his ability to withdraw troops will depend on the realities on the ground. He can use any propaganda he likes during his election campaign, but when it comes time to implement his promises, American political and financial interests in Iraq will win out.

When will the Americans leave Iraq?

The Americans didnt come all this way to end a dictatorship and leave. They want to have a continued presence in the region to finish their project of making a new Middle East, whose most important goal is protecting Israel.

The Americans are only going to leave through resistance of all types: militant resistance, ideological resistance, cultural resistance, economic resistance, political resistance, etc.

We need to continue to react to the American occupation by targeting the occupation, but not by using acts of terrorism like al-Qaeda, targeting innocent Iraqis.

The Sadrists have always declared al-Qaeda an enemy. U.S. military actions, namely the surge, have greatly curbed al-Qaedas influence in the country. In that light, do the Sadrists think the U.S. military could help stabilize Iraq?

Al-Qaeda didnt exist in Iraq before the Americans invaded, but when the Americans came, they brought their resistance with them. Both the Americans and al-Qaeda are both outsiders who came to Iraq to fight each other.

The fact that al-Qaeda came to fight the Americans in Iraq benefited the Americans in three ways. First, they could tell the world that everyone resisting them in Iraq were terrorists. Second, it gave them a reason to stay in Iraq: to fight al-Qaeda. Third, it put regular Iraqis in a corner. People were looking for a way out of the chaos that al-Qaeda fomented in Iraq and the Americans gave people two choices: terrorism or occupation.

Many Iraqis chose the lesser of two evils (the Americans), but that doesnt mean that Iraqis want the Americans to stay.

Some say that credit for the near defeat of al-Qaeda is due to the Awakening Councils, Sunni tribal groups that allied with the Americans to fight al-Qaeda. Recently, these groups have been turned over to the Iraqi government. What is your take on the role they play in Iraq today?

The Awakening Councils are a time bomb. Many of these people are the same terrorists that were killing Iraqi civilians earlier in the war and many of them are anti-Shia. The government doesnt trust them.

Bush had other reasons for creating the Awakening Councils. He was afraid of the Shia gaining too much power in Iraq and, by extension, Iran gaining too much influence in Baghdad. Bush sent a message to the Sunni world, which is weary of Iraq becoming a Shia power in the region. By arming the Sunni tribes, Bush was telling the Sunni world that he was acting on their behalf.

Now, the Awakening Councils are a tool for the Americans. If the government doesnt cooperate with the Americans, they will instigate the Awakening Councils against the government.

A new Shia group has recently emerged in Iraq called the Support Councils. Some have called this group an illegal militia, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says they will bring stability to the Shia areas of Iraq like the Awakening Councils have done in the Sunni areas. What do you think is going to come of the Support Councils?

Al-Malikis Dawa party felt like they needed a militia. The Sadrists have the Mehdi Army, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council has the Badr Brigades, and al-Maliki didnt have his own militia.

He created this group to help him win the upcoming elections. He wants to use them to win votes by giving people money and weapons.

What lies in Iraqs near future?

Things have not gotten better in Iraq in any significant way. We are inching back toward civil war. The Awakening Councils are going to start fighting the Support Councils or some other Shia group. Then Shia groups will start allying with each other and Sunni groups will do the same.

Political conflicts will translate into religious sectarianism and people will be killing each other again.

NAM contributor Shane Bauer is a journalist and photographer based in the Middle East.

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