Pepe Escobar’s interview with me on Iraq at the Asia Times is available online.
ATol: Let’s start with the credibility of the Iraqi caretaker government vis-a-vis the Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, more than vis-a-vis the US and the UN. Virtually everyone in the Sunni triangle and also in the Shi’ite south used to refer to the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as “the imported government”. Will the same happen again to this American face of an Iraqi government?
Juan Cole: Everybody knows it’s an appointed government. It doesn’t spring from the rule of the Iraqi people. Grand Ayatollah [Ali al-]Sistani has issued a fatwa recently in which he openly said that. His view in this matter will be widely shared. It’s unfortunate that the Iraqi prime minister should have been a known CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] asset. I don’t think that it changes anything. The IGC, as you said, was seen as a puppet council by many people. There’s much more continuity between the IGC and this government than most people seem to realize. It’s pretty much the same cast of characters – either with regard to people who actually sat at the council and persons who represent factions who had a seat in that council.
ATol: What are the implications of what you’re saying for the Iraqi street?
JC: That nothing really has changed. These people are not getting anything like full sovereignty. I think it is a publicity stunt – without substance. The real question for a lot of Iraqis is not so much if it’s credible or not, but if it can accomplish anything for them. Since the Americans dissolved the Iraqi army, since it’s not entirely clear how do you get an Iraqi army back, one can be pessimistic …
Army down, racism up
ATol: On the dissolution of the army: Do you think this was a blunder by proconsul Paul Bremer or was it carried out on purpose?
JC: On purpose in the sense of trying to make the Iraqis dependent on the Americans? Well, what Jay Garner said to the BBC [British Broadcasting Corp], I saw it with my own eyes, is that he believed one of the reasons the army was dissolved was that the Bremer team has as one of their primary goals in Iraq the imposition of Polish-style shock therapy. They wanted to transform Iraq into a capitalist state, as quickly as possible. This was part of the general plan to make Iraq a kind of model for the region.