tv Discussion on Iraq Protests Unrest CSPAN November 27, 2019 9:40am-11:15am EST
interviewed by former fda commissioner david kessler. >> smoking at the turn of the 20th century, early 1900's was considered something almost un-american. it was a vice of the foreign born. so the anti-smoking movement of the first two decades of the 20th century kind of rode that, a wave of nativism in thinking about, you know, what type of behavior is appropriate for native-born healthy americans. >> watch an extended version of book tv this holiday weekend and every weekend on c-span2. >> since october demonstrators in iraq have been protesting against many issues, including political corruption, the hudson institute in washington d.c. hosted a conversation on the iraqi protests with middle east policy experts and they also discussed iran's intervention in iraq and what
should the u.s. role be as the unrest continues. this is about an hour and a half. [inaudible] >> so my name is patricia, i'm at the international republican institute where we implement programs that are focused on responsive governance across the middle east and across the world, but i work on the middle east. so today we will talk about iran's influence in the region and iraq in particular, in the context of ongoing demonstrations and how iran is working to destabilize iraq, as well as the evolution of u.s. foreign policies towards iraq's government. first, i would introduce our distinguished panelists and provide some overarching remarks before turning it over
for discussion. >> your mic is not on. can you-- >> is it on? >> okay. good now. >> so first to introduce our panelists, michael whom you all know is a senior fellow at hudson, a former intelligence officer with over 28 years of experience working on security, terrorism, counter insurgency in the middle east. he's spent considerable time working on influence in iraq as an advisor embedded in-- >> the iranians are interfering. [laughter] >> the ambassador is an iraqi political activist whose
co-founder and president of the iraq foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that's committed to the support and promotion of democracy and human rights. >> we've got to get this-- >> we need technical help. okay. okay. >> that's good? >> that's better. >> from november, 2003 to march 2005 joins the democratic service representing iraq before the u.s. government as iraq chief to the u.s. a senior fellow at sug he focuses on iran, iraq, terrorism and intelligence and a previous fellow at american enterprise institute and the director of the middle east initiative at the new american center. before i turn it over to our panelists and i hope the mic is working i wanted to make a few introductory remarks that
hopefully will help frame the discussion today. first, my conviction is that to counter iranian hard power we need to dismantle iranian soft power and we need to understand the streams. in iraq, iran's soft power is an overarching indigenous resistance against imperialist design and as a cover for the projects in iraq. its success is largely due to the lack of a coherent alternative that exposes its contradictions and reveals the character. the alternatives can be based on a unified national identity and this is something that the ambassador addressed. iraqi needs to know the level by iranians, bit by bit, story by story by every institution and the cables are a start and
this is something that michael will look at as well. for the last five weeks, more than 200,000 iraqis across the country have been protesting on any given day. over 320 by the last count that i have seen, have been killed and over 15,000 wounded. the protesters are angry about corruption, about unemployment and also about iran's influence. they include idealistic secular use and working class mainly from the south. i want to suggest that iraq, along with lebanon, is part of a developing revolt against efforts by iran to predict its powers throughout the middle east. it is time to listen to the protesters, to listen to what they want. to support their demands for a new social contract, developed for and by iraqis, rather than at the behest of the dominion. how do we do that. and what are the limits of
iraqi nationalism in this context. how do we balance between the u.s. is needed and there are legitimate reasons not to trust it. turning it over first to rend. iraqis have affirmed their desire to curb and reverse the growing iranian influence in the country. what are the prospects, the limits and the challenges of the reemergence of iraqi nationalism? can iraqi nationalism break the formula that was artificially enforced after the invasion and enshrine a system of dividing power across ethnic and religious lines? >> thank you, patricia. thanks to the hudson institute for hosting this event and hosting me. what is really extraordinary about the protests and it's now called the uprising, some people in iraq call it a revolution, a popular
revolution, is first of all, that it's sort of-- it's in the south which is predominantly shia areas. and the thing that is really remarkable is the boldness of the protesters in the slowness that they're raising against iranian influence. and against the political parties, including the militias, that are deemed to be supported and encouraged by iraq. and i say this is extraordinary because it's actually very dangerous for those protesters. you don't openly rip down the poste posters, you doesn't rip down the posters of the shia militia
leaders without fearing consequences, there are consequences. and this outbreak of resentment against iranian attempts against germany, as controlled, including, by the way, you spoke about soft parts, there is enormous economic control of iran and iraq and particularly in baghdad and the southern region. so this is something that has been suppressed for a very long time. we saw it in basra in the summer of 2018. but this year it has reemerged in a much more powerful way, much more explicitly and much more openly. this is really a turning point that shows what true sentiment is in the shia regions of iraq vis-a-vis iranian attempts at control and the region.
now the question is, this is a popular protest movement, but it hits again entrenched political interests that are tied to iran. and principally, interests that are exercised by militias who in theory and in print follow t the -- part of the iraqi armed forces and come under the control of the commander-in-chief who is the prime minister. in practice though, these militias are not under such control. they are outside the legal fold of the armed forces and they behave as they please. so we have seen the reaction by these militias against the
anti-iranian sentiment of the protesters. sometimes it has been very brutal. the two have been in confrontation, there's no request he, because the protesters have torn down posters, they've burned down the headquarters of the shia militia parties in a number of cities, in m basra and so on. from time to time we hear and see videos that clearly show the militia members from their own headquarters allegedly in self-defense are shooting at the protesters who are trying to storm those offices and so on. so we really do have-- it's not a sea change. what is a sea change is the open defiance that is expressed by the protesters. >> either of you want to
comment on this? >> yeah, i would agree with all of that. i think it's going to be very difficult for the iraqi political establishment to disengage itself from the iranian influence because it's so intertwined. it's no secret to say and i think it's hinted at and the new york times intercepts expose', how deeply they are financially intertwined. iran doesn't like to spend a lot of money in building up networks, but it does spend money and you can buy a lot in iraq. and so i think you always have to keep in the back of your mind, there is, there is some sense that, you know, iran is the last resort. it is sort of the shiite uncle who will come to your rescue if things really get unpleasant and i think for the rhes
resuscitati resuscitation, and they have to become more confident and develop greater national pride. as they do that, i think that's inevitable, then the tension with iran is inevitable because the truth is, is, you know, if you put iraqi, shia and the iranians in the same room, within a short period of time, the iranians will be acting, and it gets on your nerves. so all of these factors, i think, militate against long-term domination of the iraqi establishment, the iraqi political system. but in the short-term i don't see a counterveiling force. the united states is not it. and that the iranians -- i
don't see it reversing. it's largely a game among the iraqis and in between the iraqis and the iranians. to that point they've lost in iraq and they're trying to win it back, win it back for iraqis. what's interesting about that is the lack of a u.s. counter strategy is addressed by the iraqis. it's happening now. they're willing to push back against the status quo in baghdad with it their lives. like you said, they're willing to die with these things. there are ramifications for burning down the consulate. the militia headquarters and basically standing in the square and protesting against simple things, water, internet, and basically a future. iraqis want to see less and less of a military, american,
on the streets. less and less of a diplomate. they want to see university professors, technocrats, private sector investment in iraq, they want a future. this is an opportunity for the united states to get iraq right by doing what the protesters want and that may be inaction, that may be nothing, but what they are asking for right now is international support and they're asking for the united states government not to support baghdad and that's something we've seen. a few weeks ago the u.s. was supporting against the protesters and now it isn't. i got to sit in sideline meetings with the counter-isis strategists and coalition, and the eu representatives in the counter-isis strategy are in agreement, this is not the time to engage baghdad. it's not the time to give a lifeline to the government.
it's a time to support the protesters. who you do you that? put a spotlight on it. international media. do you know what the protesters want? as i understand they want anderson cooper in the square. they want international media. their complaint is, it shouldn't be okay to kill 326 iraqis in baghdad becauand not the world care. and there's a benchmark in syria. and they didn't kill lebanese in lebanon without losing iraq. and in iran. he can't call arabs in other places and some are saying that they're now in iran. they're the afghan militia to deploy and they deployed to syria, up to 20,000 deployed to
syria and they have almost 8,000 in casualties and now we're hearing reports that they're in baghdad and in small numbers, but the thing is, they're there. and this is something that is very concerning, but all the iraqis are asking for is a media spotlight for the international community to care and recent travels through the region, i just got back to the security conference in bahrain yesterday and everyone's talking about the protests in iraq, lebanon and iran and they're seeing the mismanagement of the economies in all three countries. it may not be necessarily against iran, but i would argue that it is because it's the mismanagement of the economy in iran and the mismanagement in baghdad and in lebanon, all tied to the main influences in these countries. well, we know what the influences, who the influences are in iran, but in iraq and in lebanon, it's lebanese and in iraq it's a coalition.
the state of law, maliki state of law party paired up with the fatah party, led by solomany's guy. i get criticized by other think-tankers, you've talked about this the last four years. yeah, you talk about these because you see it coming and it's here and it's an opportunity for the u.s. to get iraq right by simply doing two things. it's important here, i talked to an iraqi who knows this well earlier, this gentleman right here, and we talked about it. everybody has blood on their hands in iraq, but iraqis are asking for the americans to help not their own government and there's an opportunity here. >> we'll get into a lot of detail in the u.s. role, but before we jump to that. i wanted to ask a follow-up question with regard to the differences, can we talk about the differences between baghdad
and basra when it comes to nationalism and what's the risk of regionalism. will we get basra saying -- this is a dynamic that --. >> first of all, if i could backtrack a little bit. the figure of 320 was weeks a ago. there are recent figures of 450, unfortunately, we do not have anybody keeping track, statistics. undoubtedly, the government is, ministry and of health and so on. they're not releasing numbers. and my estimate it's over 450 now. and we should always, if we cite the 320 number we should always say this is weeks ago because one has to be realistic. now, in terms of what can one do, i would add something, michael, it's not just that they want anderson cooper, cnn,
it is extraordinary that neither the u.n. security council has taken up the issue. the u.n. human rights council in geneva has not taken up the issue. yes, we've had amnesty and human rights watch, but they are not international bodies and i can tell you that a lot of the protesters are now talking about the need for international, multinational bodies to at least begin a process of accountability, of investigation because certainly the iraqi government isn't doing that and people are dying over day and i can tell you that the intensity of violence against protesters has actually increased just in the last week. i think there is now a push to completely quell the
more like french picket something that you belong to, that you love, that you are proud of. and that you feel loyalty to. this is really what they've been asking for because they haven't had that in the last 16 years. one could argue they haven't had that and that in the last 25 years or so and maybe even going back. but now iraqis want a homeland to which they feel a sense of belonging and of which they can feel proud. that called by the way has not been -- it has been constant. it has been throughout all the protests in all the areas. all the differences between baghdad and basra, and what does it look like? there are differences but mainly because basra feels far more
deprived man in of the province in iraq, the economic situation and the situation services is far worse than it is in baghdad. and yet basra always maintains that this is a double injustice because it provides 90% of iraq's revenue. the province that contributes so much to iraq's budget gets extremely little in terms of services. and so there is an added grievance and basra. before the protests there certainly was a sense of originalism, and there recalls for creating a region of basra similar to the kurdish region.
with all the rights, the authorities, the sort of quasi-dependence that the kurdish region enjoys. some people in basra, including politicians and professionals want to re-create the same thing in the province of basra. that originalism was a merchant. it hasn't emerged during these protests. if it's there than it has been in a sense sort of the weight of the protests have submerged it. whether it will reemerge afterwards isn't clear, but because there's this unifying call, demand of we want a patrimony, it may be a unifier in the long run, and it may actually be the alternative that
we were saying that does not exist yet. it may become so. >> before i turn it over to comments i want to follow up to desk about the of the sunnis who had been standing by presumably. the question being, what can be done to get the sunnis into this process and for them to be able to define these events as well? >> yeah, this question is asked a lot. well, it's asked in a different way, why are the sunnis protesting? there are several reasons, one of them is when the sunnis pretested in 2012 and 2013, the backlash from the malady government, they shot them and kill them, and then they accused the protesters of being the conduit for isis, if you
remember. [inaudible] >> they are rolled into one in the eyes of speedy just for emphasis. >> baathists, and isis, yes. the sunnis are guilty until proven innocent. i do not want to come out and be accused again of reintroducing isis, reintroducing al-shabaab. all the sunni provinces have just emerged from isis occupation. their cities are devastated. their communities are devastated. it's not just physically for such. the communities have been torn apart, crushed and, therefore, their sense of community, the ability to organize together is at least for the moment not there. and i would add a third sector.
the shiite shiites are protestg because they consider the government in baghdad to be a shiite government. >> which it is. >> which it is. and, therefore, their level of expectation from their government are higher than the expectation of the sunnis, from this shiite government. so there's an imbalance expectation. the shiite feel, this is our government but what have they given us? they have robbed us. it's that exactly, inessential talking about shiite shiite. it's not shiite ship in terms of population. it's the shiite ovulation against political parties. >> i just wanted to jump in on that. what's interesting also is that protesters, there are two myths
here, to make things that when prime minister abadi with prime minister none of this would be happening. it would be happening under any prime minister as long as bad actors which will talk about later continue to have influence. the second thing is that shiite youth are not tied to him. people try to say this is a sign of movement. it was to show iraqis this is a guy we can move around. we've been able to move them around. what's interesting about this is the first time at a think what i talk to sunnis and kurds in iraq, they don't want a protest because when they took a legal stance in the kirkuk referendum, there met with military force. the sunnis were killed and nobody cared. this is that she had use for the first time 60% of the country is shia.
70% are under under the age of 30. one thing i'm hearing, i would like to post this to the ambassador, is they want a presidential system. they want to be able to elect somebody with the popular vote to be in charge. i've been hearing this, they don't believe the prime minister needs to be a shiite prime minister. that the best person be elected. those are major changes and i think what i talked to the sunnis and kurds, they are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how much momentum this shiite movement has. it can be sustained. it can become an iraqi movement and when we hear words like iraq -- which means iraq should be free and iran should be out, those are big statements and we're hearing that and i think if the sunnis and the kurds will be hesitant to jump on board until like you said the u.n. is in there.
the u.n. human rights council, all these international organizations that should care that iraqis are being shot in the face i shiite militia tied to iran. it's an opportunity for the international community to take iraq away from iran finally. we don't have a coherent policy but the iraqis may have one. >> i'm skeptical that anything like that is going to happen in the short term. i mean, iraq is just a deeply fractured place. i mean, i have the greatest sympathy for the folks down south, that area is just brutally poor. there are places in southern iraq that afghanistan looks a lot better. so it's a very, very bad situation. that's the type of situation iranians can easily exploit. again, the political establishment in baghdad for very understandable reasons has become profoundly intertwined
with iran. we didn't help in the way we conduct ourselves after we withdrew. so i'm skeptical that the iranians will be disengaged anytime soon by an iraqi nationalist movement, though i think it is a very good sign. it's just one has to have patience here. none of this is going to develop quickly and probably not in a very satisfying way. the iranians and allies have already demonstrated their willingness to use force. there is really no other factor on the other side capable of resisting that. you don't really i think have an iraqi army that has any capacity to do that. the officer corps doesn't. i think we will have to wait
this out and there are things people could do on the edges, and i think certainly soft power, though soft power loses when it comes head-to-head with hard power, there are things that could be done. i think it's difficult for the united states to do this because of the rhetoric is so bad. for example, we tend to talk about when we talk about the middle east now we talk about iraq, iran, lebanon. we tend to put the emphasis on economics. that's completely wrong. the economics and political factors are deeply intertwined, and if you were to go up an altitude what we're looking at is just another ripple, big one actually, of what i would call the political reorientation of the entire region, and the potency still of representative government and democracy. those words are very difficult
to articulate now in the west, particularly in the united states where democracy promotion are just out of fashion and one is exhausted by the middle east. but i think it's a serious mistake and i would argue that is what you seeing across the region and has a particular shiite dimension to it. so i'm skeptical that we rhetorically are going to get this right. that doesn't mean that we can't do certain things that could be highly helpful. the hardest issue for me to deal with on iraq is what coercive measures are within the american toolbox that would be helpful? there are not many. i suppose sanction would be one of them but you would have to have that argument -- >> there's a lot of things we could do. to your point on patience and i think this is an inpatient response by the iraqis. they are tired of this, the u.s.
read it for 13 years. their final taking this into their own hands. i believe there's some momentum behind this. i believe this can actually work. iraqis are skeptical of what d.c. will do, and because of that they are actually lead the way on this. as we learn and iraqis this phrase -- we have to look at all the problems through your eyes. it makes sense. this is an opportunity where iraqis are leading absent a clear strategy from the u.s., and are not asking us to do much other than let the world know this matters. i think there's an opportunity here. >> first of all, there is more than just sending cnn. i know this may come up at some
point, but the u.s. really needs to stop dealing with corrupt iraqis politicians. now -- >> oh, lord. [laughing] >> one could say if the u.s. stopped or exposed corrupt officials, then they would not be able to deal with anybody. i have long said that just exposing the corrupt people, then we will have an automatic change of government and regime. and i think for too long the u.s. has been willing to turn it's sort of sites away from the corruption that is going on. the corruption that is going on in iraq is intimately related to the dreadful economic situation, the lack of development, and to
political ties to iran. corruption is the sort of the theater that feeds all of these problems. and so i think corruption is an important part, should be an important part of u.s. policy and not just by the sort of mild rhetoric as we are against corruption. we are all against corruption, so what? and also i just want to say, michael, we have to remember that when we say on any day, 200,000 people are protesting, we have to be careful about their demands so that people want a presidential system, people who say we don't care if it's a shiite, we really need to come up with the unifying demands. it has that are all over the place. they want to cancel parliament.
they want to tear up the constitution and such. we have to be a little careful about taking all these demands as core asks. >> just one thing quick. interesting to point, in 2007 general petraeus had colonel mcmaster at the tampa to give the team and does on this team identified the corrupt officials in the iraqi government and those type to iran. we present him with 50 mates. we gave it to many said i can't do this. it would basically be replacing anybody who is currently in position. it's the same situation now. i i had a conversation with them about iraq and he said, iraq is better than it's ever been. of course this was a year ago. i set everything you asked us to stop is on steroids now. these militias have primacy now. much different tone. i saw him this week in bahrain, and a much different tone.
so that's good. leadership is getting it out. at least some of people who are cheerleaders a year ago on a rack on now cassandra is so that's a good thing. >> i just want to, everybody seems to agree on the fact the u.s. role is data i just wanted to focus in on one point now just to flesh it out, which is if the u.s., or would one say that the u.s. ought to deny the ability of iran to use undue force? that's a question. in other words, like, what can the u.s. do to help level the playing field from the perspective of the protesters? you talked about seeing him. we talk about corruption but are the kind of things that, can we hone in on the issue so that we can identify specific things that the u.s. can do? given the fact the trust issue is a big one and that the u.s. is not always trusted in iraq,, which is something i believe you
pointed out. >> what can the u.s. do? pompeo's state was pretty tough. start sanction individuals responsible for killing protesters. i know you talked about you can't just make it economic. we have argued, we can give five people right now to the u.s. government as a sanction these individuals, and begin change the aumf, the authors use metaphors to go after shia militias. we hit shiite militias in syria wants to do something. we hit them and iraq once the do something. there were 13 rockets launched at the air force base, just south of mosul, different airbase, and we immediately did counter fire battery strike and killed members of the shiite militia. there were some others there. there are five people. doesn't matter the prime
minister is. it doesn't matter who the prime minister is as long as -- retains his influence. it doesn't matter who the prime minister is as long as far thought and state-of-the-art access and maintain their influence. it's difficult to do. the good thing is the u.s. does have to do any of that. we can sanction individuals, with them on the aumf. that was sent a strong message that iraqis are bring down the offices of the individuals i just mentioned. they actually done the pictures, going after them and rejecting the message that you hear. people say yes mentioned those same three guys all the time for those of the same three guys causing problems whole time. you have to pass by their offices to get to the prime minister's office and that the beginner. i talked to someone who supposed be objective. what if i told you there was a terrorist who is skilled americans, kuwaitis and iraqis, who has an office in baghdad, who gets paid a government salary and us access to his
intelligence, training and equipment? he said, how is a possible? i said his name and every time i asked the state department official or so in dod or in a white us why he still exist, , y his two indisposition, they can't answer the question. they can't answer that question. that is an individual that the iraqis blame for getting the militias to kill protesters. there are several things we can do but a year ago when the protesters burned down the iranian consulate we contend that. our state department said don't do those things. this time were not taking deposition. there's a different position in the u.s. i don't know how to get this right because we're not very good at this. we don't do hard and make it easy wrong all the time. an issue for the u.s. when you go to baghdad and you talk to baghdad politician to give you the good news story. you go to baghdad at talk to military officers of give it a good news story. i've never been desperate -- ir
met an iraqi politician or general health of a set things on my watch. i've never heard that. so you come back with these good news stories. there's no problem. you see it on the streets. one of the biggest problems, i was intelligence officer for 28 years and one of the biggest problems in our community is this statement, , we haven't sen that in reporting yet. therefore, , it doesn't exist, even though it's right there on the ground. by the time he gets in report it is 30 days late. six weeks late, it's overcome by events. that's one of the biggest problems. we are seeing this in real time and waiting for anybody else to catch up. the iraqis can't afford for all of us to wait. >> i mean, again, they're obviously isn't going to any type of military coercion in iraq by the united states. it's inconceivable that
president trump would back that. i don't think you'd think you h congressional support for that either. the pentagon is gun shy. they wouldn't want to go there. their primary concern i think his force protection. i don't see that changing. when you can't do anything else you can use the bully pulpit. you can use sanctions. those are the default choices for the week sometimes but i don't want to underestimate the value certainly of using the bully pulpit more. i think it always has some value, but we are a bit hamstrung by that. i i get i don't think president trump could do that. the secretary has, secretary of state has done a better job but still, you don't really have the impression that the united states invested any type of coherent iraq policy. at best it seems like an
afterthought. that's certainly not going to change before the election. i just don't take its realistic to have the hope that it would. i think what you can do is the sort of incremental things the embassy tries to do. you are not going to get excited about it but i do think the idea of the united states actually been more aggressive on the issue of corruption and iraq, elsewhere in the middle east, has some value. everybody knows that everybody is corrupt. it doesn't hurt to give that a bit of detail. sometimes these things can snap, so i think that's a worthwhile endeavor. the united states is much, much better about gathering that type of information than it used to be. i think you have to give the united states government, particularly the treasury department and elsewhere, some
credit in being able to compile and investigate these things. they have become much more adept, much more slothful and how they approach economic information and corruption -- sleuth full -- again i don't think it's going to be earthshaking. i think the issue here is largely iraqis, you know, it's whether the iraqis can develop a leadership that isn't corrupt, that isn't tied, bonded to iran and can stay alive. which should never be downplayed. staying alive is important. >> i would agree with reuel and i would actually say that over action by the u.s. will yield
negative results, precisely because of the issue of trust that you mentioned. i'm aware of that this is a little bit of a controversial issue, but of course the problems we have in iraq are made by iraqis, by the iraqis political class. but there's also blame in the u.s. iraqis because of the way that the post 2003 war was conducted in the way that the system of spoils and so on was allowed to happen was encouraged. in other words, the u.s. is not seen in iraq as the most sort of equitable, benign influence. so i think, i agree with reuel
that what really has to be very cautious -- one has to be very cautious in taking steps if indeed the administration of president trump as any thought of doing anything. putting the spotlight is good, going after sanctioning corrupt officials, at least a few of them and showing that america is taking note of this and is sanctioning these people. and again i repeat that we do need some kind of international resolve on this, not just a u.s. issue. at least on the human rights question, there has to be some kind of international response to the iraqi armed forces, the iraqis security forces. i would just say caution in washington is the best policy as far as iraq is concerned.
>> its lead led to iraqi protes taking back the country. >> it's going to be very difficult as you and reuel rightly said, but there's a point beyond which one can't go in supporting protests. >> just a clarifying statement. when i said aumf, i didn't start killing iraqis. i meant simply putting come changing the authors use a minister forced to include shia militias who are doing things. the message itself, there needs to be this we are afraid of our state department believes that if we sanction the leader got some that will be a unifying event for iraqis, that they will coalesce around the flag. that needs to be put to rest. that is not the case. simply sanctioning the leader, these groups, that's important. there needs to be a modification of the iraqi security forces.
they have primacy in the iraqis agree forces and we allow everything. these individuals like you said we can't trust the iraqi army. you can trust individuals but they won't do things because as soon as they do things, like the counterterrorism director that was fired, as soon as they expressed any interest in taking on the shia militias, they are marginalized and replace. we have an election in 2022. we need we need to identify and i say we, the international community should identify iraqis that can lead a nationalist movement. the individuals in iraq that what the future, , want a relationship with the west that is based on investment, private sector, education, university. because iraqis are identifying those leaders. the iraqis govern, the shia militias are identifying and
making them disappear. we need to put a spotlight of those individuals. it's not hard to remember four female activist the been detained by the iraqi secret he forces or disappeared by the militias. that shouldn't be difficult. it should be hard to remember two names. but we don't know their names. we should know them at odyssey i can't recite them right now but these people are dying. this is an important cause and all it takes is a media spotlight. it needs to be different in al-jazeera, sky news, all these entities are doing all the right things but they want bbc international, seen in international because they believe somehow that if the spotlight is put on the protest, at the world will care. they may be proven to be wrong but they still have that yet and that something i keep hearing. >> i was rereading the other day "new york times" op-ed by my
good friend philip gordon who was senior director of the nsc under obama on the middle east. he helped shepherd to iran deal, and in that op-ed from 2017, he prognosticator and said if trump were to reimpose sanctions against the islamic republic and withdraw from the jcpoa, iranians would rally around their leadership and the united states would become the enemy. exact opposite of course has happened. and and i would just make that parallel that if the united states decides to you sanctions, regardless of their efficacy, but decides to use the more aggressively and iraq against the baddest players, the one thing we can probably the absolute confidence about is that iraqis are not going to
rally around these individuals and that there's certainly a margin for maneuver their, and we do not have to worry about this type of an argument which seems to predominate on the left and it's just, i think it has no traction whatsoever on the ground. >> because i am the moderator and the privilege of asking the questions i'm going to ask a difficult one. before opening it up for questions. question is, are these protesters hitting points in iraqi politics? and what will iraqis politics look like a year from now? i would ask maybe made each ofo address that. if you want to start. >> i will defer to the ambassador. >> this is a sort of prognosis, predicting. there are several outcomes. the protests have been going on for seven weeks now.
the death toll is rising. there are several possible outcomes. one possible outcome is that the government and parliament will yield and will implement at least some of the demands connected to election, election law and so on and, therefore, there would be a compromise on everything the protesters want but enough for protesters to go home. that would be the sort of rosiest scenario. the other scenario is that is being talked about is, is there going to be a military coup in iraq? i think that is far from likely. we don't have a military that is
so organized and tied together that you can do it. in any case it's not desirable. i think the region has had enough military coups over the last seven, eight decades. the third scenario which i think is the most likely is that the regime will simply wear out the protesters. the people in government and in parliament parliament are sitting at home having their meals, getting their salaries. they have electricity. they don't have anything. they've everything to lose and nothing to gain yielding, and they can wait it out, and they can kill more people. the rains are coming. the cold weather is coming. more brutality, more repression,
which as i said we have been seeing in the last week. and with a few cosmetic changes, by which i mean, for example, there is a new electoral law being reviewed in parliament. it's a bit of a joke because it really doesn't satisfy the legitimate demands of the protesters in any way, shape, or form. it is designed to maintain the influence of the political parties, not about any new blood in. more repression can rely on the weather. meanwhile, do something slightly cosmetic but nothing that is going to harm the political system. and i think this is the most likely scenario, unfortunately. so a year from now, we will, not
a year from now, maybe next summer we will see a reprieve of protests because no change will have ever happened. >> and so i will follow. next year, just to follow on, they will be better organize, they will be louder and there would be a repeat of what's happening now, again on steroids. the one think that i'm concerned over the next year is that the u.s. calls for cosmetic changes that something we can to do. the united states foreign policy establishment believes that if primary somebody simply would have won reelection, let's call it reelection, that none of this would be happening -- prime minister abadi -- it's very concerning. protest dianne doctor. the doctors is lack of the new spotlight, like the day, the secret he forces being more
brunelle. they're using rubber boat but aiming at the head. they are using bullets, and to guess canisters with the iraqi companies using rubber bullets butternut inn at the extremities. they are aiming at the face. they just go to protest with a rubber bullet yesterday. the international committee says they're using rubber bullets. there's -- i'm concerned over the next year we fall into an election cycle and we continue to see this in the region, our geopolitical competitors, our geopolitical foes are open for election outcomes that the within. in this case a disinterested 2021 president that doesn't look at iraq as a priority, it does at syria -- doesn't does a looa as a priority. i think a lot of this is tied into next year to whether or not we get back into the iran deal.
it didn't curb the behavior they crated new malicious, gave the houthis more lethal aid, propped up assad and they built a land bridge but the best thing about building a land bridge from iran to lebanon is the protesters have occupied it. the purchase of an event or occupy the land bridge. the protesters and iraq are taking the land bridge away and the protests in lebanon are occupied the site. this is a time the region is rejecting iran without a u.s. hand in it, which is great. we can only mess this up. we have to get you to look at the problems to iraqis eyes but make sure we're talking to get right iraqis. to your point about all these different movements having different agendas, that's a strength. it's leaderless, it's organic, it hasn't turned into one movement picus it is a tranten one movement they can become paranoid. attack others. also be attacked. there's a strength and something
positive in fact, it is leaderless, that it does have a coherent message. that's a good thing. >> i want to ask a follow-up question for give you the last word, , raoul. given that we started with the cable, it's relevant what you were saying, how can we use the cables in a productive way to sort of try to counter iran's influence? >> the cables were talked about is the treasure trove of documents that were recently released through the new times and intercept about ten days ago. these documents show the level of iranian infiltration. it also talks about specific individuals that are on the payroll. these are individuals we've note about inside the intelligence community but the significance of these cables as once they get released and once we start transferring them into arabic, not me, the immediate start doing this, , there's a concertd effort to get that done. is the people of been denying this is happening can't deny anymore. that's another positive thing.
we have three categories in d.c., the cheerleaders who say everything is all right, thank a standers who say everything is bad in iraq and the cautious decision-makers is a it's a competent and complex. let's sit this one out and maybe it will take care of itself. the document release is significant. pompeo's statements about individuals tied to that corruption, tied to those leaks is significant because the same individual we were learning about and 2015 are the same killing protesters now. the same individuals that chapter walked out, past the office to get to the prime minister under the move is move the train and equip program to irbil looking continue the defeat isis campaign. a disfavor campaign is what iraqis are giving baghdad pythias needs to follow suit and have disfavor campaign for baghdad. vice president pence went to iraq, visited a militarized and went to irbil.
he did not go to baghdad and that since a good message also. >> it's pretty hard i think, we don't have perspective to know whether we have reached the tipping point and iraq. i'm always very partial to study modern history. i would take a wild, wild guess and say 2019 has been a very bad, bad year for the islamic republic. i think you do see in lebanon and iraq, and iran most importantly, you do see a certain shiite distemper, a certain distaste for iranian, the clerical regimes. i don't think that's going away. now, the speed of acceleration, the regime strikes back, you
know, i think the shiites, the sectarianism, the card that iran has larger plate which is distinctly different from its old ecumenical revolutionary approach, which actually try to seek out sunnis more than shiites, i think they have obtained a great deal of success from flying the sectarian card but it might have reached its apex and now it has to do with the aftertaste of that. so on that note i'm optimistic, and i would say that if we are on the cusp, or close to some type of fundamental transformation in the islamic republic, which is conceivable, not likely but conceivable now, then that has to be good news for iraq. because it takes when one of the
factors which is pretty baleful. it was hard to see how iranian factor in iraq has any positive side effects. so if that happens, if we are seeing a weakening of iran's position to the region, then that's a very good thing. i'm not convinced that we are. it's possible. i think what we have seen certainly if the arab shiite world gives cheer, and once again i ran has erupted. i do think it's a mistake to view the islamic republic as stable. it is a very large cold era and it could blow. and if it does, then the ramifications of that will be profound, and certainly for iraq, if i would argue it would be like a tidal wave.
>> abbasid, last word? >> i understand why in talking about iraq i really always talk about iraq. but this is not always the best way to think of iraq. iraq is not a function of iran, as we often treat it in washington. and when we treat it that way, we only reinforce an existing problem. i think we need think of iraq separately from iran there's no question that for the moment there is a strong link, but u.s. policy seems to be more focused on iran and the byproducts.
iraq is one of the byproducts of the focus on iran. i don't think we will ever get it right with iraq if we continue in washington to think of iraq as nearly a byproduct and a function of our policies towards iran. >> that must have rested with people in the department of defense, state department, because they haven't even put iraq in the sphere of iranian influence. it's only recently iraq has become put back in that conversation. it's a good thing that we're talking about iran's influence because the narrative has been over the last four years of course it would influence, they are enabled. candidate is a neighbor. they don't pick our president. mexico is a neighbor. they don't have primacy over our economies. it's good that it's back in the conversation because if europe
said that to anyone in the last several years, it would resonate because i have heard anyone in the administration except for over the last year talk about iraq in the iran sphere of influence. it's a good thing we are talking about a level of our main influence and iraq now so that we can remove iraq or help remove iraq from that sphere of influence. not the united states but by helping the iraqis do it, the iraqis had to do it and they are doing it with their lives. >> thank you. i'm going to open it up for a discussion, at least for questions from the audience. is there a microphone? >> , so you are come wait for the microphone to get to you and keep it to a question was in a statement. you can do a short statement of the question. >> thank you for hosting this. i am from kurdistan 24. as you know, rubble, that are --
and iraq now demanding the reduce of kurdistan regional government's role by demanding an amendment to the constitution. its focus on a couple articles there along to the right and earnings of krg. and the kurdish leadership, the kurdish people asking about they have, raising just one question now. they do feel, they do know there's a kind of agenda that's been playing political games, but to what extent that's related to the demands of the fate of iraq? it's the right thing to have articles -- [inaudible] what you talk about now. thank you very much. >> i've heard some concerns out
of kurdistan about what happens if the parliament is dismantled, and how kurdistan will lose influence, they krg specifically. specifically. i think that's a cost of freedom, the casa liberation, the cost of liberating iraq from iran. you hear these things. well, if you dismantled the parliament and get rid of the current iraqi government you are kurdish alastair it hurts the rest of iraq. it's a very difficult situation to be in because of course you want to make sure they krg retains its positions that they fought hard for in this last government, the challenges of getting seats, the challenge of getting some ministries. that may go away but i think that's the price of this movement if it succeeds, like everyone on this panel has said this government can simply wait it out. your message could resonate with u.s. government officials that we should do it because it will disrupt the krg.
i just think this is the cost of liberation and that it's just a different situation. >> i see no reason why any change in regime should adversely affect the kurds or the krg in the constitution, it's written that the kurds and the arabs are partners. i really don't see why the kurds are worried. certainly there may be changes in the constitution at the kurds don't like and they can object, but there is no obvious reason why improving the system should have an adverse impact on the kurds, no reason that i can see. >> i just have a has to work a rule, if it's possible for something to go wrong, it will go wrong for the kurds. that's just my historical rule. >> right. >> we ask the question i would
urge you to directed to the pan or to a panelist in particular it again. >> i am from austin, texas. this question is primarily for michael but anyone else could jump in. if these protests continue in the resentment against the popular opposition forces continue to and could you foresee a situation where iran would dedicate openly dedicate more unconventional or conventional forces to put down those protests and bail out? >> what we're seeing now is we're seeing it's primarily the ministry of interior which is heavily dominated -- that are tied to iran. i think they're getting their offices burned down, , they getting beat up on beaches. the iraqis are not afraid to be that can capture militia
fighters and snipers and put them on video and actually executed. that's where the violence can take the wrong road. that's where it can help the government when they say look, this individual just executed this militia leader in the back of an ambulance. that's what happens when your government won't stand in to protect you. i think we've only seen the besieged. we see in iraq you malicious go to the province in iran, but down protesters there. we have seen, again i keep hearing, i have been able to verify this yet but i for multiple sources that iraqis, or militias that are in syria have been moved into iraq and moved into orbit. these are afghan militiamen were paid by the irgc quds force who joined the army, receipt use builder train and use it in syria and use anorak and use it in other places. so the more the militias are
involved in killing protesters, the more it will benefit the protesters, , the more it will benefit the narrative that iran is responsible for these types of things. but we need not confuse iraqis a good forces when it comes to the ministry of interior forces. that counterterrorism forces should that be used to go against protesters. these are the things we just need to highlight. we have americans on the ground that are noticing that anytime on iraqi general hints at being able to take out the militias, that general gets moved out of position. that general goes away. that officer goes away and that's something we need to keep an eye on. >> obviously, the iranians have a great deal of presence inside of iraq. i'm skeptical that they try to replicate the type of force structure they have in syria. i don't think that would play well in iraq.
i think they have to be conscious of local sentiment and the possibility of severe backlash. that's not to say that they won't continue to build bases. i think that they are building bases and a fake that's not going to stop, but i think, soleimani in particular i suspect is wise enough to know that his bad arabic can only go so far. >> actually i'm with the media network, a kurdish news outlet. i have two questions. one on -- there was his idea, decentralizing iraq along geographic lens, not ethnocentric and lights. every province has its own acyclic authority like, the space you have in america.
why hasn't that been talked about? don't you see that could be a good solution for the problems in iraq today? and the second question is about mike pence recent visit anorak. could you always in? was a good he did go to baghdad to meet face-to-face with the prime minister? thanks. >> you want to answer on regional or speedy the region. >> the problems that we have in iraq are not, did not arise because we didn't have regions. they arose because we have a corrupt oriented the political class that is in cahoots with each other, and they want to pillage the country, and they
simply will not give up power. money and power are closely intertwined. and this is not only true of the political parties who exercise power in baghdad to the government and parliament. you can be certain that the government in the provinces are no less corrupt and power-hungry and unwilling to relinquish. so, for example, the demands for the region in basra over the last several years, it's always been if we had our own region we wouldn't be so poor, we wouldn't be so deprived, , we wouldn't be like the kurdish region. that's utter nonsense.
the provincial government and the provincial council in basra have been equally venal, equally uninterested in delivering services. basra itself has received billions of dollars for reconstruction. they had been given authorities. they haven't done anything. the problem really is not a question of whether there in a region or decentralization. it's a question of a political system that is not there to serve anyone but those who are in power. and i think we should really begin to think very carefully about this whole issue of how to give money to the provinces while maintaining a certain
level of accountability on those provinces which doesn't currently exist. it doesn't exist in the kurdish region, and i'm not declaring any unknown, any secrets when i say that there is discontent in the kurdish region again also about corruption, about the fact that the political class lines its own pockets before it goes into, you know, before the money goes into services and reconstruction and so on. originalism is not the answer. it's reform that you really need. -- originalism. >> the significance of mike pence visit i think it sends a message. right now it's resonating inside the white house at least the counter isis coalition was saying this was basically represented of france, germany
and england. now is not the time to legitimize iraqi government. it's time to actually support the protesters. how'd you do that? this trip to baghdad or trip to iraq where vice president visits american soldiers at an airbase a ghost to irbil i think it sends a message. it could be accidental but the best thing about working in the middle east, whether it's true or not, iraqis believe it, you have to deal with it. i love perception in this case perception moves forward in our favor, and liberties favor. >> a lot of iraqis and where you stand determines your perspective. a lot of iraqis say vice president pence came to iraq. it is disrespectful of all iraqis for the vice president not to go to baghdad and to go to irbil.
>> have you heard this? i haven't heard this. >> i have. >> who said it? [inaudible] >> but you have to also step over and turn around and look at the same event with different eyes. so it is not, it's not a black and white case. there are different ways of looking at it and some people say this is not disrespecting the government. this is disrespecting iraqis. it has to be very, very careful. >> i'm just doing the opposite of that. there's rose-colored glasses speedy i'm sure you're iraqis on both sides. >> i think visiting baghdad sent the wrong message the protesters that this is vice president. if you want baghdad, i haven't
heard those back channels yet. maybe that did happen but it sounds like it was an accidental success. >> it's a very tricky situation. >> right, right. >> i run my own consultancy firm. i've recently moved to d.c. and i am just -- >> you are an iraqis. >> as i and and iraq yes will. i just moved here and you guys touched on the idea of having an international focus on iraq to see what is actually happening. over the past two days the iraqi government has been all international media operating anorak and maintained the gastric and what they call islamic channels. the militia channels -- [inaudible] and i know, i mean from what i see, i know u.s. government is
not interested in what's happening in iraq. they are busy with impeachment and everything else. it's probably unfortunate for iraqis this happening at this time because there is not enough light being put on iraq to see what this has actually been happening. you may not have the answer, what how do we try to get congress or the u.s. government itself to put, to shed more light on what's happening in iraq? .. to debate what is happening. unfortunately i have not seen any of that happening.
and and not from a political point of view but the ethical side. people have been dying 400 plus, thousands injured, how can we take that forward. >> can you imagine. can you imagine a presidential candidate attacking donald trump say you are doing enough in iraq? it would be powerful if that happened. i don't know if it is effective. i could see donald trump's response, would not be helpful. >> it would not have any impact domestically but you raise a good point. congress comes up with nonbinding resolutions in these nonbinding resolution this don't require action by the us government. i think a nonbinding resolution
expressing condescending and precisely on human rights grounds condemning the violations of human rights in iraq was perpetrated by unknown forces likely associated with isf. it doesn't have an impact in the us but has a good impact inside iraq. the us doing things that can give moral support to people inside iraq. that could be one of them. >> if that is the conceivable scenario, i am not sure it is, that only happens when you bring up the iran act. the iran angle is the key angle
to bring up to galvanize sufficient support in congress to have any type of rhetorical effect. otherwise i think if you are talking about human rights you could talk all day. there are two tools, the leahy law and men in ski act that can be used. these revolutions, these protests across the middle east are built for western democracies support. human rights violations, question of the press, question of the internet, not allowing iraqis to voice their concern. dealing with the press, you don't go after donald trump you go after him here, why are we arming, training and equipping a force that dominated by iranian proxies that are killing iraqis. there are tools we can use. if minsky and the leahy law, this would be built for
democrats support and republican support if they both understood what was going on. >> time for one more. >> questions are all just talk? >> is there anything you would like to add? >> i would like to add something. i know the attention of the us is on the bandwidth, limited under the best of circumstances and even more limited right now because of what is going on in washington. we talked about what will happen. one thing i didn't mention is
my greatest fear, i will tell you what my greatest fear is. in a year's time protesters won't have lessons and will have armed themselves and they will have a war in the south between militias and protesters. this is an extremely -- a dangerous situation for the us. the south is where the oil is. i know we don't support oil anymore but we have interest in the oil markets, stable, slowing, there is a potentially dangerous situation that could materialize. the other worst-case scenario i can think of is the militias,
if violence has intensified right now the shia militias will push for a declaration of a state of emergency. and a will by fiat and decree. there are consequences for the us not paying any attention. there are good reasons why the us should look at iraq as iraq. >> there are bad actions by the us because of problems. civil war happens when our
government oppresses the people, killed the people, silence is the media, takes away the internet, takes away city that exports 9.6 billion barrels of oil a day and doesn't give it water, electricity or the internet, so that armed conflict, did you talk about a year from now, it is possible and that is the thing. it is possible but that will happen based on in action by the international community, based on bad actions by the united states. this is a volatile moment, an important moment in iraq and whether or not this is a tipping point or whether we should be patient with this, your scenario is what we call in the military the most dangerous course of action. when the most dangerous course of action brings the most likely cause of action, talking
bad action and inaction, if not next year than the year after that. we need to get to a place that in 2022 we have identified iraqis and political parties that are not part of the state of law or any of these traditional organizations and that is the opportunity, to actually -- the international community, people that should care about iraq, provide momentum for these iraqis who want their own voice that are tired of being tied to religious parties, corrupt parties but favor themselves or to run or citizens of iraq. >> it seems we are navigating, walking a tight rope and on the other hand i hear messages that are mixed in some ways because we are talking cost of intervention, and a kind of inclination towards the not possible.
in a year from now if we don't do anything there will be armed conflict in iraq which is pretty significant. to come back - more of the same with some tweets. where are we left? left with the best of worse worlds so to speak or the risk of conflict. i am just being provocative but what are the other options. >> there are a lot of different views. we haven't seen a spotlight on this yet. the international community, we will see opportunities and solutions but hard to see
solutions in the art regarding baghdad's dole. >> it is not whether you could have oil production in iraq. it is not a novel idea where oil tends to be discovered in trouble spots. whatever the international community is, you can tolerate a great deal of mayhem in iraq. >> it is terrible for iraqis but we have already fundamentally, practically seated most of iraq strategically to iraq. not to say iran dominates iraq in all areas but the united states and the struggle, we more or less conceded iraq to iran. we are not going to fight over
it, we will not fight over the issue in syria. the israelis may fight, the united states is not. oil is a blessing and a curse. it is a more interesting issue but it is not clear to me, tolerate high levels of mayhem in iraq and oil production would be okay. that is a big question. >> you have not followed the disruption of the oil industry in the last month. >> i am saying -- >> you can't -- >> the oil industry is quite remarkable about how they are able to adjust, so much money involved. if we discover the oil industry
in iraq breaks down, that will bring a spotlight. i'm not convinced the spotlight, it would certainly bring a spotlight to southern iraq. if we discover the action means to insulate the effect, i think the disinterest in iraq will remain in washington, quite profound. >> closing words? >> that is the reason for the protests. i will leave it at that. >> thank you to our c-span audience. [applause] >> during thanksgiving week, you will see weekends on c-span2.
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