Author and journalist Nir Rosen has written a book titled “Aftermath” which provides an in depth look at the consequences of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Press TV interviewed Nir Rosen regarding his views on the US-led Iraq and Afghan invasions and his travel experiences in both countries.
Press TV:Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World is about occupation, resistance, sectarianism and civil war from Iraq to Afghanistan. Nir Rosen has spent time in both countries outside of the fortified US areas with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 7 ½ years. Where does Iraq stand eight years later after the US-led invasion of the country?
Rosen: It is hard to talk about Iraqis as a whole, but in general the country is now stable and there is a new order in Iraq. There is no group that can overthrow that order. They have a very strong central regime. It's authoritarian, corrupt and inefficient, brutal sometimes, but it's strong and it can impose its security forces on the entire country. This is at least some kind of positive development. So violence is terrible on the streets. It affects civilians. You have the occasional suicide attacks. But it has also been normalized, which is tragic that this is a routine.
But there is no longer any militia-violence that they used to have. There are no militias or neighborhoods or checkpoints that militias can control. There is no armed group that is threatening to overthrow the government. There is no movement that is threatening to overthrow the government. So the new order “Shia dominated” somewhat democratic but an authoritarian Iraq that is now sort of permanent. The optimistic take on Iraq is it's going to look like Mexico or Pakistan. In these countries you have a very strong central regime, strong security forces, torture and the rule of law might be very weak and services might be poor but the regimes are strong. On the streets you have terrible violence and it's just normal unfortunately and the common people have to suffer. And you have a growing gap between rich and poor. We also see this in Iraq and a new class of rich emerged from the war. And yet the same poor masses who were poor under Saddam remain pretty much neglected today as well.
Press TV: You have recently returned from the country. How has the situation changed since the United States declared the end of military operations in Iraq? Is the occupation really over?
Rosen: That's complicated. Iraq is weird. It's not fully sovereign, but it's not really occupied anymore either. I don't think that the September 1, 2010 deadline was a real end to the American occupation. I think a more accurate date would be a year earlier. That's when American forces withdrew from the cities, and you didn't really see them anymore in most of Iraq. They were on bases and it was Iraq security forces who were running the show. They were in every village and every town. They were running the checkpoints, they were arresting people and torturing people and killing them. They were protecting civilians from attacks.
So the Americans were still there. You can't call a country sovereign when it has tens of thousands of foreign soldiers in its territory. It was now sort of like Iraqis occupying Iraq. The day to day affairs were being run by Iraqi security forces and that was the real test. Can they handle it? And we saw that they can at least maintain the new order. They can't protect the population from every terrorist attack or from assassinations which are occurring on a daily basis, but they can handle a situation to the extent that violence is on a stable or lower level compared to 2006 and 2007. Most Iraqis might not even be aware that the Americans are still there because you really don't see them. I was inside an Iraqi city a couple of months ago. It was amazing to see Iraqi security forces on patrol, and Iraqi helicopters flying over our heads. The Americans are very much involved in intelligence, counter-terrorism and working with Iraqi Special Forces, and training the air force and various parts of the Iraqi army. They are still there and are conducting a role I think at least the Iraqi military wants them to conduct. But for the most part Iraqis don't feel that the Americans are there. If they fully leave, nothing will change when it comes to day to day operations of Iraq. Their presence allows them to exert some extra influence, which we saw in the negotiations in the new government. The Americans were the most influential actor.
People say the Iranians were but I don't think that's true. The Americans were the ones actually communicating between Maliki and Alawi and Maliki and Barzani. In a way at the political level, Maliki feels so cut off from neighboring countries that he has almost come to rely on the Americans. The Sunni countries in the region obviously hate Maliki because he is a Shia. That's easy to explain, but Maliki is not exactly the pro-Iranian candidate either the way Jaffari or somebody else might have been. He has mistrust of everybody. In that way he is a real Iraqi. Iraqis don't like anybody or any of their neighbors. And the Americans are influential on the political level at least in advising Maliki's coming to trust some of the American actors after all these years. But the Americans have been complaining since 2009 that they have lost their leverage. You hear that expression again and again. They long for the days where they could actually influence things. Now days there is really not that much they can do. From Maliki's point of view, if they leave it won't seriously affect his power. It will affect his ability to have F16 planes maybe or better American tanks, but his control over the Iraqi state is secure in his hands. And whether the Americans are there or not I don't think makes much of a difference.
Press TV: You know former US President George W. Bush is convinced that history will judge him a success in the invasion of Iraq. Americans were able to topple Saddam Hussein back in 2003, but as you argue they weren't able to establish control.
Rosen: America is the most powerful nation in the world. They can topple anybody they want. The toppling part is the easy part if you bomb a country enough. We have the military ability to do whatever we want all over the world. But that wasn't the goal per se in Iraq. It was to create an Iraq that would be compliant with American wishes the way Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Israel sometimes is; hence, to fit in the American hegemony over the Middle East. The last country in the way is Iran. So George Bush's legacy, nobody doubted he could remove Saddam. But I think the hope for the Bush Administration was that they could put in some kind of compliant ruler. Whether he was a dictator or democrat was less important. Egypt's Mubarak is a dictator but as long as he plays along they are happy. Ahmed Chalabi would have been their hope or Ayad Alawi. Then he would hopefully make peace with Israel, and have a good relationship with the Saudis and give us cheap oil and be one more obstacle for Iranian influence.
So that didn't work out obviously in that you also don't have the Iraq they wanted as a symbol in the region. There were some Neo-Cons who thought Iraq would somehow miraculously be a democracy and democracies would spark all of the region and everybody would love Israel and the US, and we would live happily ever after. I think what Iraq did do was to give reform and democracy a bad name, and give an argument for dictatorships in the region like Syria, Jordan or Egypt. You want America's reformed democracy; you get Iraqi civil war, sectarianism, occupation. So it gave anybody who was pro-reform and pro-liberalizing--it weakened their position I think. We should not forget that hundreds of thousands of people died for no reason at all. Millions of people lost their homes and were displaced. Tens of thousands of people spent years in the American and Iraqi prisons being tortured, and away from their families for no reason. There were no charges and no sentencing.
So as far as legacy, if you don't care about humanitarianism and the lives of the people, you can at least say now Iraq is somewhat friendlier to the US. Sure, but what happened to the region though? Sunni and Shia tensions are at their worse I think maybe ever. You have veterans up from Iraq such as jihadists throughout the region now. They have anti-Shia ideas and Takthir-jihadist ideas. There are weapons that made their way throughout the region. These are weapons they gave to the Iraqi Security Forces, which ended up in Afghanistan in the hands of Al-Qaeda guys in Lebanon, murderers in Turkey, tactics from Iraq like suicide bombers and road side bombs being used in Afghanistan. So if he is concerned about his legacy, in the short term, as long as people remember these terrible things. I think his legacy will be a very dirty and terrible one. Unfortunately, people have a very short memory. I think they will be able to say one day look Iraq is stable. It's not going to happen anytime soon. Somehow it's friendly to the US and it's a little bit of a democracy. And they will forget about the terrible costs that the people inside and outside of Iraq had to pay. They will forget about the Iraqi refugees who by then will maybe be integrated into Jordan or Syria. So history can judge him one way or another. I think certain historians, such as with Ronald Regan, certain historians have condemned Ronald Regan depending on their politics and their interests. I think President Bush destroyed Iraq, destroyed the lives of millions of people in Iraq, and in the region and also harmed American democracy.
Press TV: You lashed out at the mainstream media, or as what we know as the media in your book. This might be a very broad question, but what would you say frustrates you the most about the misconceptions that we have about what's happening on the ground in Iraq?
Rosen: Well here in the US, there is a notion and a myth you can't even fight anymore that Iraq was a success in the end; that things were going pretty poorly because of poor planning. In 2006 you had an attack and then a civil war broke out but it wasn't our fault. Then things were going down the drain, and General Petraeus came in with his surge and saved the day and Iraq was a success. This myth is so dominant that now it's affecting our Afghanistan policy. So Petraeus and his surge was a success in Iraq, therefore, Petraeus and his surge will be a success in Afghanistan. He is a hero and the media always needs a hero. Once it was McChrystal now it's Petraeus and in another country it will be somebody else. They always have that one guy who can save us. You have all these biographies about how he has a PhD and he can do hundred push-ups and he can run all day long and his better than us and smarter than us and he can save us. That wasn't true in Iraq. There was no success in Iraq. We created the civil war.
The civil war began in 2003. Iraqis have been killing Iraqis from then on in large numbers. It got worse and worse. In 2006 it got much worse. But in 2005 you had a real civil war going on in much of Iraq. Petraeus' surge did not reduce the violence. Violence went down relatively from really bad levels from 2007 to the very bad levels of today. Thanks mostly to Iraqis. I think that's the most fundamental myth. We did not save Iraq. We destroyed Iraq and we are somewhat involved in helping to fix it just a little bit. So it can be where it is today. I visited some Taliban fighters in Ghazni province South of Kabul. I ended up being involved in a feud between rival Taliban groups. So I learned in a short time quite a lot. I learned that a Taliban commander from Ghazni could drive up to Kabul and pick me up and comfortably take me back down to Ghazni without having a care in the world about Afghan security forces. In fact on the way down from Kabul to Ghazni I was with two Taliban commanders, and we were stopped by the police. The police weren't worried about them, they were worried about me. They thought I was a foreigner, as I had a beard. They thought I was a suicide bomber. So two Taliban commanders had to ensure the police that no he's just a journalist and he's not a terrorist. So you learn about the comfort in which they operate in the country. If they can sneak me in, they can sneak Bin Laden in if they wanted.
Then I saw the extent to which they are comfortable in their villages. When you leave Kabul, you're in Taliban territory. They are the people. They are part of the people. They are no longer the Taliban in the traditional sense as being students. They're now farmers and local villagers. They may have never gone to a madrasah and actually studied under a Mullah in the sense of being a real Taliban. They are just the population as they always have in Afghanistan fighting a foreign occupier. In Ghazni, in different villages and districts I visited they were living comfortably and operating in broad daylight. They were going around on patrols with RPGS and AK47s on motorcycles like you didn't have any foreigners in the country. I learned that they were local people fighting for local interests not fighting for some kind of global jihad, though again I was in only one province in certain villages so it's not a window into the whole of Afghanistan, but at least it's a window into some of the fighters. They were fighting for Afghanistan, for Islam, for their villages, for protection, for revenge because innocent civilians were killed; for fear that foreigners were coming to impose different conditions on them, but they were locals fighting for local reasons. The guys I met, the group that invited me down, opposed al-Qaeda, opposed suicide bombings because it killed innocent civilians; they did not object to female education, they were willing to negotiate with Karzai.
PressTV: So these were the moderate Talibans that we hear about?
Rosen: I think the concept of moderate Taliban is sort of false. It's not a very well organized movement. On paper you have district commanders and governors for every province, a minister of defense - real hierarchy as if it were a real government. When you relate it on the ground it's much more ambiguous and very local with different interpretations of Islam and of the goals they're fighting for.
There was a rival group working in the same area as the group I was with who had clashed with my group. That rival group was led by a Tajik Taliban, which is interesting because Talibans are dominated by Pushtins. The Tajik commander had invited eleven Arabs and Pakistanis to be with his group and they were trying to close down a girl's school. The guys I was with clashed with that group and ended up killing those foreigners so you had bad blood between the two groups, which is really interesting. So, the other group thought I was a spy and detained me more or less and they had a bit more authority, their commander was older so they were going to execute me. They didn't obviously-thankfully.
I saw many things in a brief period of time many different Taliban fighting for different reasons, but mostly local reasons; their aspirations in the end are very different - some of them want Ayad Allawi back; some of them would agree to have Karzai stay as long as the foreigners leave; some are willing to negotiate, some aren't, but for the most part they were locals fighting for local reasons, I think that was a key element. They were very much part of the communities; the communities fed them, supplied them; they weren't getting paid to fight or anything like that; they were sleeping in different houses and mosques every night and they were well known to the community, policing the community as well; imposing moral rules, but also protecting people from criminals or from the Afghan police who were often predatory.
Press TV: So basically, their fight is well beyond anti-Americanism at the end of the day and anti-occupation or no?
Rosen: No I think fundamentally the Taliban are fighting for Afghanistan - they don't have any broader ambitions. So it's not so much them being anti-American per se, but the Americans happen to be occupying Afghanistan and backing a government that the Taliban and their supporters don't like. If the Americans were to leave Afghanistan, you wouldn't see Taliban in their pickup trucks with AK47s going to try to attack the US. They're seeking to control Afghanistan and liberate it from the foreigners. It's not a very sophisticated plan that they have in terms of what it's going to look like in the end - they have different views about how it should look, but they want the foreigners out and they want to control Afghanistan.
I think you also see a growing tendency to not want al-Qaeda back in there. The Taliban movement and government obviously suffered as a result of their mistake of allowing al-Qaeda in and I think that now you would not see that happening again because they would obviously face punishment from the American air force and Special Forces. So they themselves have learned from their past mistakes.
Press TV: If the US had never invaded Iraq and Saddam held onto power there as if nothing happened, would the people of Iraq be better or worse off?
Rosen: It would be better for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died. The situation would be better for the tens of thousands of Iraqi men who were in prisons and hundreds of thousands of their relatives who lost their brothers and their fathers for many years, or traumatized - little children seeing their fathers being taken away by the foreigners and disappeared; and they were tortured. The situation would certainly be better for the millions of Iraqis who lost their homes and were displaced internally or abroad.
The situation might have been better for some of the countries in the region who now have to deal with increased sectarianism, with the refugees putting an extra burden on already poor infrastructure and poor economies. The situation would be better in Lebanon where you would not have had the Fatah Islam - the Al-Qaeda group, which came from Iraq into Lebanon and ended up provoking clashes with the Lebanese army. The situation would be better in Lebanon that you would not have so much attention that you have today.
But, the Kurds are better off now - 100%. Kurdistan is safer, is more thriving, more confident and culturally successful and free. The governments in Kurdistan are authoritarian, not like Saddam, but certainly brutal and authoritarian, but they are better off. People in southern Iraq right now are certainly better off; they have more access to electricity; they don't have to worry about Saddam and his forces coming in and killing them.
So you can't do that kind of math - some people suffered some people benefitted; some people got new jobs in the security forces and poor people were able to find employment; some people lost jobs for no reason at all - and were forced to flee because they were called Omar or because they were called Ali; so you just can't say that.
What we can say is that the Iraqis did not deserve more suffering; they did not deserve the occupation; they did not deserve a civil war. They deserved better.
And the US - if you're going to be an imperialist occupier, at least be good at it. An occupation was wrong. With that being said, it didn't have to be so wrong. They could have been more efficient at it; they could have prevented a civil war I think; they didn't have to arrest tens of thousands of innocent men and kill so many innocent people at check points.
So I would say on the whole that many Iraqis think that life was better under Saddam - at least you were safer - if you didn't join politics or join the Da'wa party or just kept your mouth shut. You didn't have to worry about your kids leaving the house, going to school and getting blown up. So we actually managed to make Saddam look good. It is a statement of just how incompetent we as a US empire are. We made the Taliban look good in Afghanistan and we made Saddam look good in Iraq.