Yousef Baker Speaks to Long Beach Area Peace Network on Iran and Iraq

8 Apr

Yousef Baker, who is an expert on Iran and Iraq, spoke to the Long Beach Area Peace Network, on Thursday, Jan. 16, providing a brief history of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal followed by his thoughts on the consequences on the Iraqi uprising after the U.S. assassinated Qassim Suleimani. 

Baker, who is an assistant professor at California State University at Long Beach, said while each U.S. administration differed regarding tactics toward Iran, the stated policy was and still is regime change.  He pointed out from the perspective of the Iranians, they consider themselves at war and view themselves under “existential threat.”  Consequently, he said Iran’s regional policy has been partially shaped by or in response to the U.S. policy.

Yousef Baker, an expert on Iran and Iraq, spoke to the Long Beach Area Peace Network, on Thursday, Jan. 16, on Iran and Iraq since the United States assassinated Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian general. Baker received his doctorate in sociology in 2014 from the University California at Santa Barbara; photo by Barry Saks.

The professor, who received his doctorate in sociology in 2014 from the University of California at Santa Barbara and whose thesis “Global Capitalism and Political Control: Investigating the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq,” said while the George W. Bush administration spoke a lot about “Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions,” it refused to meet or speak with the Iranian government while the Europeans and others met regularly with the Iranian government. 

Comparing the George W. Bush to the Clinton administration, he added, “If you remember the Bush administration ramped up its threats against Iran after the Clinton administration had …worked to kind of cool the waters a bit.”

Regarding the Obama administration, the professor said, by the second term, as part of its general plan of moving away from the Middle East and towards the Asia-Pacific region, it wanted “to fix” the issue of the Iran nuclear program, so it entered into the negotiations. 

The United States signed onto the Iran nuclear deal, on July, 14, 2015, along with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Iran.  However, the Saudis and the Israelis opposed the deal, according to Baker. 

The professor said, in response to opposition from the Saudis, the U.S. told the Saudis if they “put up with it,” in return the U.S. would allow the Saudis “to have the war…with Yemen and we (U.S.) will support the war.”

Baker said the Obama administration’s response to the Israeli opposition was it “pushed hard against Netanyahu’s objection to the deal.”  However, “(i)n return, the Obama administration increased the level of military aid to Israel at the time.”

According to Baker, the U.S. began to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal on Oct.13, 2017 and completed the withdrawal by May 8, 2018.  With the withdrawal from the agreement, the Trump administration began the campaign ‘maximum pressure,’ which Baker characterized as “everything short of…actual physical assault or physical violence.”  The campaign includes banning travel for Iranians to the U.S. along with other Muslim countries, imposing “draconian sanctions on the Iranian economy,” which from his example, the Iranian currency lost 70 percent of its value.  The campaign includes “putting pressure on anyone doing business with Iran and (it) tried to cut off Iranian oil sales to other countries.”  In the case of India, Baker said, “So, Americans imposed or threatened to impose sanctions on India…one of the main consumers of Iranian oil.” And added that it was a “more drastic turn of events” because the U.S. was going to sanction other countries having independent relations with Iran. 

The professor said the U.S. campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ also included coordinated cyber-attacks on Iran and increased the “discursive narrative” relying on “old racist tropes.”  He said the U.S. “prodded the Iran’s military… hover(ing) closer and closer to Iranian waters, to borders” baiting the Iranian military to respond to justify U.S. retaliation. 

The professor recounted the tit-for-tat attacks between the Iranian and U.S. militaries of Dec. 27, 29, 31, Jan. 3 and Jan. 8.  According to the New York Times, the Iranian military, on Dec. 27, killed an American contractor at an Iraqi military base near the city of Kirkuk; the U.S. responded, on Dec. 29, with airstrikes on three Iranian-backed militias in Iran and on two in Syria and the Iranian-backed militias responded by storming the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq; the U.S. military again, on Dec. 31, attacked Iranian-backed militias; the U.S., on Jan. 3, assassinated by drone Suleimani; Iran, on Jan. 8, fired more than 20 ballistic missiles at two bases, where U.S. troops were stationed.

Baker pointed out that the Iranian-backed militias were able to surround the embassy in the Green Zone, which is about four square miles in central Baghdad under tight security, because “the supporters of these militias of these Popular Mobilization Units, of course, have close connections to the Iraqi-political elites, some the Iraqi political parties…Those  people were the ones that kind of allowed them to come in.”

Speculating on the Jan. 8 events, the professor said, “When the Iranians respond, they let the Iraqis know and when they let the Iraqi know, they do so, knowing that the Iraqis are going to tell the Americans.  So, that it was a carefully orchestrated attack, where the Iranians could say we have the capacity and capability to reach you and your forces but we’re not going to shoot you…That was kind of their thinking.”

The professor reminded the audience that since October 2019 anti-government protesters were in the streets, in the major cities, including in the south of the country where some of the most ardent supporters of the Iraqi elites were; by December, “the Iraqi politicians didn’t know what to do” and were in a “crisis of legitimacy.”

The New York Times reported, on Nov. 4, 2019, “more than 200,000 Iraqis marched in Baghdad, raging against the Iraqi government and a foreign occupier­­­­­­ — not the United States this time, but Iran.”  The same story also said, “It is a struggle, above all, between those who have profited handsomely since the American invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, and those who are struggling to get by and look on with fury as the political parties, some with ties to Iran, distribute payoffs to the well connected.”

According to the professor, the protesters were not only protesting the foreign intervention of the Iranians, and corruption, but also the lack of civilian infrastructure, meaning electricity, water and sewage.  

However, because of the assassination, the Iraqi political landscape changed.  The professor added, “But as a result of this assassination now, the United States has intervened and put itself, once again,…at the forefront of what’s happening in Iraq and it has made the obstacles that the Iraqi protesters, the Iraqi uprising had, in terms of what they wanted to do, about changing their government and their elites.  It made them completely secondary and made that problem even worse, because now what the Iraqis have … to venture into… a debate where they have to pick sides between the Americans or the Iranians.  Even though they have been adamant that what they have been actually fighting for is independence from intervention from Iran and the U.S. and the Israelis and the Saudis and the Turks….Once again, the United States and what it is attempting to do in the region become the central focus rather than this nascent democratic movement that had this possibility for an opening or change in Iraq.”

According to the Facebook page of the Long Beach Area Peace Network, it’s “a grassroots network of community organizations and individuals who are dedicated to serving the cause of world peace at home and abroad” and that it “also support(s) local and national organizations that fight for social, economic, and environmental justice.”

People who heard Professor Baker and read my story may have noticed a one-day difference for some dates between Dec. 27 and Jan. 8.  I’ve used the dates in the New York Times to be consistent.  Between New York City and Tehran, there is an eight and half-hour difference.  For example, when it’s midnight in New York, it’s 8:30 p.m. in Tehran.  

One Response to “Yousef Baker Speaks to Long Beach Area Peace Network on Iran and Iraq”

  1. elskipporoo Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at 9:20 pm #

    HOW YA DOIN BARRY?  THIS IS SKIP H.

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