Dahr Jamail has spent more time reporting from Iraq than almost any other US journalist. His new book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, is a chronicle of his experiences there. He recently sat down with Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill to talk about the supposed “success” of Bush’s troop surge, what would happen if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins the White House and why he believes an immediate withdrawal from Iraq is the only way to peace. Here’s an edited transcript of that interview.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have indicated that US troops are not going to be withdrawn in any significant manner in the first term of a presidency. What do you think would happen if the US did withdraw immediately from Iraq?
We have a specific example of what would likely happen throughout Iraq if the US were to withdraw completely. When the Brits recently pulled out of their last base in Basra City late last year, The Independent reported that according to the British military, violent attacks dropped 90 percent. I think that goes to show that the Brits down in Basra, like the Americans in central and northern Iraq, have been the primary cause of the violence and the instability.
And I think it’s easy to see that when the US does pull out completely, we would have a dramatic de-escalation in violence. We would have increased stability and it would be the first logical step for Iraqis to form their own government. This time, it would actually have popular support, unlike the current government, where less than 1 percent of Iraqis polled even support it or even find it legitimate at all.
Now, obviously, we have a situation in Iraq right now that’s very different from the era of Saddam Hussein: many pockets of power, various leaders who have their own armed factions, and a much more significant Iranian influence. How do you see that playing out in the absence of US troops? What do you think would happen among those various groups that are vying for power, and have a significant volume of weapons?
One of the key reasons Iran has the influence it does in Iraq right now is because the US itself appointed Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. We have to remember that he was in no way, shape or form democratically elected. After the January 30, 2005, elections, one of the first tasks of the government was to choose its own prime minister. It chose Ibrahim Al-Jaafari. And then when he wasn’t toeing the US-UK line enough, Condoleezza Rice and her UK counterpart, Jack Straw, flew to Baghdad. And right before they left from their trip, Jaafari was out, Maliki was in.
Maliki, head of the Dawa party, was in exile in Tehran for numerous years, and is basically a political figurehead of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), whose armed wing, the Badr Organization, has staunch Iranian support. It was basically formed in Iran and came into Iraq on the heels of the invasion forces. So I think, again, with [Maliki] out, and with other Iranian puppets in the government out, we would have more nationalist Iraqis who would certainly be able to start making moves toward reconciliation.