As Vice President Joe Biden warns it will take a "hell of a long fight" for the United States to stop militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, we speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield." We talk about how the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that helped create the threat now posed by the Islamic State. We also discuss the role of Baathist forces in ISIS, Obama's targeting of journalists, and the trial of four former Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad's Nisoor Square.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday it will take a, quote, "hell of a long fight" for the United States and its allies to stop the advance of militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But during the same speech, Biden admitted the Islamic State poses no existential threat to the nation's security. His comment comes as Australia becomes the latest country to join the U.S.-led fight. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australian planes will take part in the air campaign and that special forces would be deployed.
PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT: The Americans certainly have quite a substantial special forces component on the ground already. My understanding is that there are U.K. and Canadian special forces already inside Iraq. So, we'll be operating on a much smaller scale, but in an entirely comparable way to the United States special forces.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Turkey's Parliament has authorized the government to order military action against the Islamic State. The mandate also allows foreign troops to launch operations from Turkey. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,ISIS militants have seized more than 350 North Syrian villages in the past 16 days, displacing at least 300,000 people.
To talk more about the crisis in the Middle East, we're joined by Jeremy Scahill, who first reported from inside Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion. He's co-founder of the TheIntercept.org and author of the book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. The paperback version of the book has just been published.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: And congratulations on the book being published as a paperback. Talk about the war in Syria and Iraq now.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, first of all, it's sort of like the terrorist flavor of the month that we're dealing with here. You know, first we had al-Qaeda as this huge global threat. Then it was ISIS. And then the Khorasan group was produced. And the thing is, almost no one in Syria had ever heard of the Khorasan group. In fact, my understanding is that it was a term that was sort of used in the U.S. intelligence community and actually isn't the name of the people that they claim to be attacking.
And what the entire policy boils down to is that the Obama administration has, in a very Orwellian way, changed the definition of commonly understood terms--primarily, the term "imminent." They were saying that the Khorasan group represented an imminent threat to the United States. But we know from a leaked white paper, that was put out in advance of John Brennan's confirmation to be the CIA director, that the Justice Department actually has officially changed the definition of the word "imminent" so that it does not need to involve an immediate threat against the United States, that it could be a perception that maybe one day these individuals could possibly attempt to plot -- not even carry out -- a terrorist attack against the United States. That flimsy justification has been used now to expand this war from Iraq to Syria, potentially beyond.
You know, the Obama administration, in engaging in this policy, is continuing a Bush administration outcome of the decision to invade Iraq. And that is, they're empowering the very threat that they claim to be fighting. Who is ISIS? What is this group made up of? Is it just people that are radical Islamists that want to behead American journalists? No. One of the top -- and this almost is never mentioned in corporate media coverage of this -- one of the top military commanders of ISIS is a man named Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri al-Takriti. Who is Izzat Ibrahim? Izzat Ibrahim is the leading Baathist, who was on the deck of cards, that the United States has not captured. He was one of Saddam Hussein's top military commanders. He was not just some ragamuffin Baathist. He actually was a hardcore general in the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War, and he was a secular Baathist.
Why is he fighting with ISIS? Well, when Bush decided to invade Iraq, and then he put Paul Bremer, who was a radical neocon ideologue who had cut his teeth working for Henry Kissinger -- when Paul Bremer was put in charge of the occupation of Iraq, one of the first things he did was to fire 250,000 Iraqi soldiers simply because they were members of the Baath Party. As one senior U.S. official at the time said, it was the day we made a quarter of a million enemies in Iraq. All of these Baathists have been jerked around by the United States, and the Sunnis in western Iraq, jerked around by the United States for a very long time. There was the period of the so-called surge, where the U.S. actually paid Sunnis not to kill the United States, you know, U.S. soldiers. And so, but then the U.S. turned around and put in power a Shiite-led government under Nouri al-Maliki that effectively operated a network of death squads that systematically attacked Sunnis.
So the point I'm making here is, yes, there's an element of ISIS -- I don't know how dominant it is within the group -- that is, you know, trying to establish the caliphate. And they are beheading people. And they are imposing a very strict interpretation of sharia law. But there are also -- and I would suspect that they're best military figures -- there is also a large contingent of people that are fighting the same battle that they were fighting when the United States originally invaded. The fact is, there was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq before George W. Bush took -- made the decision to invade it, except in the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq, which was not under Saddam Hussein's control. In fact, it was under the control of U.S.-backed entities. And that was Ansar al-Islam. Saddam Hussein's forces were fighting that group.
So, what am I saying here? What I'm saying is that the United States, through its policies, created the very threat that it claims to be fighting now, and in continuing this policy, what President Obama is doing is embracing the very lies that made the Cheney-Bush Iraq War possible. And in the process, he's creating yet another generation of people in the Islamic world who are going to grow up in a society where they believe that their religion is being targeted, where they believe that the United States is a gratuitous enemy. And so, this is sort of an epic formula for blowback.
AMY GOODMAN: According to Yahoo News, the Obama administration has acknowledged a policy announced last year calling for "near certainty" for no civilian casualties in drone strikes will not apply to the current bombing. The admission came in response to queries about a strike that killed up to a dozen civilians in the Syrian village of Kafr Deryan last week.
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