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Interview with Fawaz Gerges

Aired August 9, 2003 - 07:32   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we want to talk more about who is to blame for the continuing attacks in Iraq. The FBI now saying al Qaeda may be to blame for that huge explosion at the Jordanian embassy. And, as you heard Harris say, it has a possible suspect, too, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While there are still doubts about that, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is saying this morning that the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad did have all the markings of a terrorist attack.
For reaction, we're joined by Fawaz Gerges.

He's the chairman of Middle Eastern studies and Arab politics at Sarah Lawrence College.

And I understand you just returned from the Middle East, so welcome.


COSTELLO: I want to talk about this possible al Qaeda link, this man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He's the al Qaeda operative who supposedly received the medical treatment before the war in Iraq and he received that treatment in Iraq.

Is it possible that he's now back in and orchestrating things in the conquered Iraq?

GERGES: Well, I think, of course, theoretically it's possible. But I think at this stage it's very difficult to say for sure who was behind this terrorist attack. I think there are three what I call strong possibilities. The first possibility points to elements of the old regime who resent Jordan's support for the U.S. war on Iraq and, of course, by attacking the Jordanian embassy, I think the elements of the old regime are sending a deadly message to Jordan not to join their counterparts, their American counterparts, and send peacekeeping forces to Iraq.

A second possibility, as you said, points to militant Islamists who basically resent Jordan's arrest of dozens of their comrades and colleagues. As you know, Jordan has been, I mean, fully collaborating with the United States in the war against terrorism and dozens of militant Islamists are imprisoned in Jordan. And, of course, al- Zarqawi is a legitimate, I suppose, culprit, because he is not only a Jordanian citizen, but he resents Jordan's support for the U.S. war and his and Jordan's attacks against Islamists.

I think a third possibility that has been pointed out by Jordanian officials in the last few days has to do with the so-called new enemies that Jordan has in Iraq. Jordanian officials have insinuated that many elements inside or within the new Iraqi leadership resent Jordan's role in Iraq and in particular the argument that Jordan is trying to revive the old monarchy. As you know, Iraq was ruled by a monarchy, a Hashemite monarchy, from the 1920s until 1958. So there are three major...

COSTELLO: Yes, that the British government put into place.

GERGES: Excuse me?

COSTELLO: That the British government put into place.

GERGES: Absolutely. Absolutely. Jordan, Iraq, like Jordan, was ruled by a Hashemite monarchy from the 1920s until 1958, when the military moved in and toppled and destroyed all the royal forces in Iraq.

COSTELLO: Yes, but, you know, that third possibility you're talking about seems a little farfetched. Some are also saying that because Jordan granted sanctuary to Saddam's daughters that's another reason that the attack was made on the Jordanian embassy.

GERGES: Absolutely, and in the last few days, too, as I suggested, the Jordanian officials insinuated in the Arab press that they have new enemies. And what they mean by that new enemies, including forces loyal to Ahmed Chalabi, a U.S. ally and a member of the Iraqi Interim Council, and some Shia who resents Jordan's quote, unquote, alleged attempt to revive the monarchy in Iraq.

I think this is a very farfetched proposition. A more likely scenario is that other elements of the old regime or militant Islamists who resent Jordan's support for the U.S. war.

COSTELLO: OK, let's talk more about those militant Islamists. How likely is it that al Qaeda is at work in Iraq?

GERGES: Well, let me contextualize this question in a broader context. I think although the attacks on American forces are loosely coordinated, it seems to me that the attacks on American forces are loosely coordinated. It seems to me that the attacks against American forces, there is a broad spectrum of political and ideological orientation which is really against, I mean, poised against the United States in Iraq.

As you know, the United States has focused mainly on elements of the old regime, of course, who predominate in the resistance. I think a second component that has really not received a major attention has to do with Iraqi Islamists and Arab Islamists who joined the fight against the U.S. forces in Iraq. And unfortunately, I think administration officials do not really seem to appreciate the vital role played by Iraqi Islamists and their Arab counterparts in the attacks against the U.S. forces in Iraq.

COSTELLO: Well, let's be cynical now, then, because it might be important to the U.S. government to prove that al Qaeda is at work in Iraq, right?

GERGES: Yes, absolutely. What I am suggesting here, that is the focus on al Qaeda misses the bigger point. The bigger point is that there are indigenous Islamist militant forces in Iraq and throughout the Arab world who basically have joined the fight against the United States. And I think the al Qaeda link is really irrelevant here because they are, you have hundreds and thousands of Islamists who basically do not substance to al Qaeda but, of course, resent the American military invasion of Iraq and are willing to go into Iraq and fight the United States. And I...

COSTELLO: All right, we'll see what the FBI investigators find out when they go start investigating at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad.

Gerges -- or Fawaz Gerges, who is chairman of the Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, thank you for joining us this morning.

We appreciate it.


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