Transcript: Rebuilding Post-War Iraq | Nov 18, 2020

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a blue suit, blue shirt, and striped blue tie.

A caption on screen reads "Rebuilding post-war Iraq. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO, THE U.S.-LED A SO-CALLED "COALITION OF THE WILLING" AND INVADED IRAQ, OSTENSIBLY TO GET RID OF SADDAM HUSSEIN. THAT SET IN MOTION A MULTI-YEAR OCCUPATION THAT'S STILL SEEING THOUSANDS OF U.S. TROOPS SLATED FOR WITHDRAWAL. IRAQ IS STRUGGLING TO MOVE ON, INCLUDING A YOUTH-LED UPRISING LAST OCTOBER. WITH US FOR THEIR INSIGHTS ON THE CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES IN THAT COUNTRY, WE WELCOME: IN BAGHDAD, IRAQ: LOUISA LOVELUCK, SHE IS BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF FOR THE WASHINGTON POST...

Louisa is in her thirties, with long straight brown hair. She's wearing a black blazer.

Steve continues IN WATERLOO, ONTARIO: BESSMA MOMANI, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO AND A SENIOR FELLOW AT CIGI... THE CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL GOVERNANCE AND INNOVATION...

Bessma is in her forties, with long wavy blond hair. She's wearing a black cardigan and a white blouse.

Steve continues AND IN HAMILTON, ONTARIO: WALEED NESYIF, AN IRAQI-CANADIAN FILMMAKER, MUSICIAN AND WRITER. HE WAS A TRANSLATOR AND SO-CALLED "FIXER" FOR MEDIA DURING THE IRAQ WAR, A CO-FOUNDER OF IRAQ'S FIRST INDEPENDENT ENGLISH-ARABIC NEWSPAPER, AL-MUAJAHA, AND IS ONE OF THE VOICES FEATURED IN THE DOCUMENTARY SERIES, "ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ," WHICH IS AIRING ON TVO...

Waleed is in his thirties, with short curly black hair and a goatee. He's wearing glasses and a black sweater.

Steve continues IT'S A GREAT PLEASURE TO WELCOME, BESSMA, YOU BACK, AND OUR OTHER TWO GUESTS FOR THE FIRST TIME TO OUR PROGRAM. GREAT TO MEET YOU BOTH. LET'S JUST, BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER, START WITH A CLIP FROM THE DOCUMENTARY, "ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ," WHICH WE ARE PLAYING ON TVO AND WHICH IS PLAIN AND SIMPLY ASTONISHING TO WATCH. SHELDON, IF YOU WOULD, ROLL IT.

A clip plays on screen with the caption "Once upon a time in Iraw."
In the clip, Waleed sits in a black space speaking.

He says WE WERE FREE ENOUGH DURING SADDAM'S TIME TO GO BACK AND FORTH WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT A CAR BOMB OR THIS ISLAMIC GROUP OR THAT RELIGIOUS GROUP. YOU KNOW? THAT'S WHAT SADDAM ACTUALLY PROVIDED PROPER TO IRAQ. HE WAS SAFETY AND SECURITY. FOR EVERYONE ELSE, NOT FOR HIM.

The clip ends.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "'Once upon a time in Iraq.' Mondays in November 10 PM. Also streaming at tvo.org/documentaries."

Steve says A LOT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THE INVASION. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN THE DIFFERENCE OF IRAQ TODAY VERSUS THEN?

A satellite view of the Arabian Peninsula pops up on screen, then homes in on Iraq, in the north.

The caption changes to "Waleed Nesyif. Contributor, 'Once upon a time in Iraq.'"
Then, it changes again to "Contemporary challenges."

Waleed says WELL, STEVE, IT'S A LOADED QUESTION AS YOU PROBABLY HAVE GATHERED BUT I'M GOING TO DO MY VERY BEST TO TRY TO SUMMARIZE THAT FOR YOU. LET'S START WITH SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT LIGHT. THE FIRST TIME I WENT BACK HOME AFTER LEAVING IRAQ IN 2004, WAS 2013. AND UPON MEETING AND GREETING MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS, I REALIZED TWO THINGS: THAT GREETINGS HAVE CHANGED, AND NOW I'M HAVING AWKWARD SITUATIONS. SEE, IN IRAQ, THE KISS, THE WAY WE GREET EACH OTHER, IS RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT. AND UPON GOING BACK TO THE COUNTRY, IT WAS TWO KISSES ON ONLY ONE CHEEK. SO I ENDED UP MISTAKENLY KISSING A FEW OF MY FRIENDS ON THE LIPS. THAT WAS ONE OF THE VERY FIRST STRIKING CHANGES THAT I LOOKED AT. I WAS LIKE, OKAY, WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? BUT IT WAS AN INTERESTING STUDY FOR ME BECAUSE PEOPLE DIDN'T REALIZE THAT THE CHANGE HAD OCCURRED.

The caption changes to "Waleed Nesyif. Iraqi-Canadian."

Waleed continues AND THAT KIND OF LIKE MAKES YOU THINK THAT WHEN THE OTHER CHANGES ARE SO RAPID AND SO EXTREME, THAT THE SMALL LITTLE THINGS CHANGE WITHOUT YOU KNOWING. AND AS YOU KNOW, THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS SOMETIMES. THAT ONCE YOUR SMALL LITTLE NUANCED WAY OF DEALING WITH YOURSELF IN A CULTURE CHANGES WITHOUT YOU KNOWING IT, LO AND BEHOLD YOU'RE GOING TO WAKE UP IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT COUNTRY, WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO ME IN IRAQ WHEN I WENT THERE.

Steve says CAN I JUMP IN. HANG ON. BEFORE YOU GET TO THE MOST SERIOUS THING, THAT'S FASCINATING. WE GREET PEOPLE DIFFERENTLY IN NORTH AMERICA NOW BY BUMPING ELBOWS INSTEAD OF SHAKING HANDS BECAUSE OF COVID-19. SO THERE'S AN EXPLANATION FOR THE CHANGE IN GREETING. WHAT'S THE EXPLANATION FOR THE CHANGE IN GREETING IN IRAQ?

Waleed says IT'S A VERY GOOD QUESTION. AND I MUST BE HONEST AND SAY THAT I DON'T KNOW THE BOTTOM OF IT, BUT I DO KNOW ITS INFLUENCES FROM THE GULF COUNTRIES, FROM MEDIA, FROM IRAN, SO ON AND SO FORTH. THERE'S SO MANY INFLUENCES THAT HAVE STARTED COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, AND I BELIEVE PEOPLE JUST ADOPTED IT. BUT I DON'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS THE INFLUENCE.

Steve says THAT'S GOOD. OKAY. ALL RIGHT. A MORE SIGNIFICANT CHANGE. WHAT WAS THE SECOND THING YOU WERE GOING TO SAY?

Waleed says THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHANGE AND THE MOST DEVASTATING, I WOULD SAY, IS THE STATE OF PEOPLE. STEVE, YOU GO... YOU SPEAK TO IRAQIS RIGHT NOW, OR AT LEAST BACK THEN, AND THERE IS LIKE THIS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THAT IS HAPPENING... I'LL GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE. MY MOM INCLUDED. SHE LIVED IN BAGHDAD ALL OF HER LIFE AND SHE DIDN'T KNOW OF A SINGLE REFUGEE CAMP THAT IS IN BAGHDAD. AND YOU GO TO THESE REFUGEE CAMPS THAT ARE THERE, AND IT'S SOME OF THE MOST DEVASTATING LIVING SITUATIONS THERE ARE. AND THEN YOU START READING SOME OF THE STATISTICS AND THERE EXISTS... AND THAT'S ACCORDING TO THE GOVERNMENT IN 2008. THERE IS 2 MILLION WIDOW, 4.5 MILLION ORPHANS. THAT'S BACK IN 2008, BEFORE ISIS AND BEFORE THAT. WHEN YOU CONTRAST THAT INTO THE NUMBER OF POPULATION IN IRAQ, YOU GO, OKAY, SO WE HAVE ABOUT 15 TO 20 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION IN AN EXTREME DIRE SITUATION IN PREPARATION TO A DISASTER AND THAT IS VISIBLE IN THE STREET. YET YOU GO OVER THERE AND THERE ISN'T A SINGLE PROPER ORPHANAGE FOR KIDS, AND IT MAKES YOU WONDER, LIKE, OKAY, SO WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN? AND AS WE KNOW, THE FUTURE IS HELD IN THE HANDS OF THE YOUTH.

Steve says YEAH. OKAY. BESSMA, LET ME GET YOU INTO THIS. THANK YOU FOR STARTING THIS OUT, WALEED, THAT WAS FASCINATING ANSWERS. BESSMA, I WANT TO TAKE YOU BACK 17 YEARS AND WE KNOW OSTENSIBLY THE AMERICAN INVASION IN IRAQ WAS TO LOOK FOR WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. IN THE END IT WAS ABOUT REGIME CHANGE. CAN YOU TELL US FROM YOUR POLITICAL SCIENTIST POINT OF VIEW, HOW IS THE IRAQ CASE STUDY AN EXAMPLE OF HOW NOT TO CONDUCT REGIME CHANGE?

The caption changes to "Bessma Momani. University of Waterloo. Centre for International Governance Innovation."

Bessma says WELL, FIRST LET'S PUT ASIDE THE MORAL ARGUMENT BECAUSE ONE COULD ARGUE THAT REGIME CHANGE IS WRONG SORT OF TOP-DOWN FROM A FOREIGN OCCUPIER TO COMMIT AN OVERTHROW OF A GOVERNMENT. BUT PUT THAT ASIDE. I THINK THE BIGGEST THING WAS THERE WAS NO PLAN, QUITE LITERALLY. IN MANY WAYS WHAT HAPPENED IS THE AMERICANS... YOU COULD ARGUE HAD SOMEONE LIKE SHELAFI IN THE UNITED STATES TALK ABOUT A COUNTRY THAT HE HAD NO LOCAL KNOWLEDGE OF AND THAT ABSENCE OF LOCAL KNOWLEDGE, THE ABSENCE OF EXPERTS INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE AND OTHER DEPARTMENTS WHO ACTUALLY KNEW AND UNDERSTOOD IRAQ, WHO HAD AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE FACT THAT FOR THE PAST 10 YEARS BEFORE THE INVASION THAT THERE WAS BRUTAL SANCTIONS THAT HAD FRANKLY DEPOPULATED THE COUNTRY FROM ITS EXPERTS AND PROFESSIONALS, MADE PEOPLE VERY ANTI-AMERICAN... AFTER ALL, THERE WAS A LOT OF SUFFERING IN THOSE 10 YEARS. SO REALLY THE BIG THING IS THEY HAD NO PLAN. THEY WENT IN VERY MUCH WITH A, FRANKLY, AN ECONOMIC DESIRE TO CHANGE THE COUNTRY AND HE KEPT SELLING THEM THE ARGUMENT, NOT ONLY WOULD THEY BE GREETED WITH FLOWERS THAT IT'S SUCH AN OIL-RICH COUNTRY THAT IT WILL PAY FOR ITSELF WHICH WE KNOW, OBVIOUSLY, THIS MANY YEARS LATER, THAT'S NOT THE CASE. IT'S NOT ONLY BACK ON ITS FEET IN TERMS OF ECONOMIC OUTPUT, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT HASN'T BEEN A BOON FOR EITHER THE AMERICANS OR THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT, THERE'S A LOT OF ECONOMIC PROBLEMS. I THINK THAT'S A BIG, BIG CHALLENGE. THEN YOU HAD I THINK THE POLITICAL GUTTING OF PROFESSIONALS, OF THE MILITARY, OF INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, AND 1. 1.5 MILLION IRAQIS BECAME UNEMPLOYED OVERNIGHT, BASICALLY THE BA'ATH PARTY. IT WAS BRUTAL AT THE TOP, DON'T GET ME WRONG, THERE'S NO SHORTAGE OF BLAME TO PUT ON SADDAM AND THOSE POLITICALLY AROUND THEM. WHAT THEY FAILED TO UNDERSTAND IS THAT EVERY TEACHER, EVERY WHITE COLLAR PROFESSIONAL HAD TO HAVE A BA'ATH MEMBERSHIP, PARTY MEMBERSHIP, IN ORDER TO HAVE A JOB AND YOU EFFECTIVELY MADE THEM UNEMPLOYED OVERNIGHT. AND LASTLY THE ECONOMIC SIDE. THEY WENT IN WITH THIS IMPRESSION THAT THEY NEEDED TO LIBERALIZE THE COUNTRY AND ALLOW A FLOOD OF GOODS COME IN, MOSTLY FOR AMERICAN GAIN, RIGHT? THEY THOUGHT WE'LL JUST PUT AMERICAN TELEVISION SETS IN THE HANDS OF EVERY IRAQI. IT DEINDUSTRIALIZED THE COUNTRY. IT EFFECTIVELY REMOVED AN IMPORTANT ECONOMIC PRIDE OF IRAQ, THAT IT ACTUALLY WAS IN MANY WAYS VERY MUCH INDUSTRIALIZED IN BASIC CONSUMER GOODS. NOW THAT WAS ALL BEING IMPORTED AND IT OPENED AN AVENUE FOR IRAN TO BASICALLY NOW FLOOD THE MARKET WITH ITS PRODUCTS SO IT'S NEVER ABLE TO RECOVER FROM THAT AND IT BECOMES A STATE WHOLLY DEPENDENT ON OIL BUT OIL ONLY EMPLOYS 1 percent OF THE POPULATION, SO THERE'S NO PRODUCTIVITY. I THINK IT'S REALLY AT THE END OF THE DAY WALEED SUMMARIZED IT CORRECTLY, THE IRAQI PEOPLE HAVE PAID A BRUTAL PRICE OF THE INVASION AND OCCUPATION.

Steve says LET ME GET LOUISA TO PICK UP THE STORY FROM THERE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FACT THAT YOU ARE THERE AND YOU UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION EXTREMELY WELL. WHAT IMPACT DO YOU THINK COVID-19 AND THE EXTREME DROP IN OIL DEMAND HAS HAD ON IRAQ'S ECONOMY?

The caption changes to "Louisa Loveluck. Washington Post."

Louisa says WELL, I THINK THE ECONOMY REALLY IS IN DIRE STRAITS, AND AS BESSMA SAID, ONE OF THE THINGS PEOPLE KNOW IS IRAQ IS AN OIL-RICH COUNTRY AND UNFORTUNATELY THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT HAS A GOOD ECONOMY. SUCCESSIVE ADMINISTRATIONS, OFTEN THROUGH TIMES OF MAJOR CRISES, A LOT HAS BEEN GOING ON, THEY HAVE FAILED TO DO THE NECESSARY THINGS TO MAKE THE REFORMS THAT THEY NEEDED TO MAKE THIS A VIABLE ECONOMY THAT CAN SUSTAIN ITS PEOPLE, AND 90 percent OF THE BUDGET IS FUNDED BY OIL WEALTH AND WITH THE ADVENT OF THE CORONAVIRUS, THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC AND THE PLUNGING OF OIL PRICES THAT WE'VE SEEN AFFECTING COUNTRIES ACROSS THE REGION, IRAQ SIMPLY CANNOT PAY ITS BILLS RIGHT NOW. IT'S AN INCREDIBLY SERIOUS SITUATION. EVERY MONTH THE PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS ARE FINDING THEIR SALARIES DELAYED, OFTEN BY WEEKS, IF NOT MORE. THERE ARE SHORT-TERM MEASURES. THEY ARE ARGUING EMERGENCY FINANCING. THE GOVERNMENT IS PROPOSING REFORMS THAT PUT FORWARD A WHITE PAPER. THE DECISIONS THAT IT'S GOING TO NEED TO TAKE ARE GOING TO BE PAINFUL IN ADDITION TO... A LOT OF PEOPLE BENEFIT FROM IT WHEN PERHAPS THEY SHOULDN'T. THERE ARE LOTS OF SORT OF PERKS THAT PEOPLE MIGHT LOSE IF THEY ARE TO SORT OF RECOVER THIS ECONOMY AND GET IT AT LEAST ON A ROAD TO RECOVERY. I DON'T SEE THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS THE POLITICAL WILL OR EVEN ABILITY TO DO THAT. BUT THE CATCH-22 IS IF IT DOESN'T, IT'S HARD TO SAY WHERE THIS COUNTRY WILL GO BUT IT WON'T BE GOOD.

Steve says WALEED, LET ME GET YOU PICK UP THE STORY, HOW YOU THINK MINORITY GROUPS ARE FARING IN IRAQ TODAY?

Waleed says THAT'S A VERY GOOD QUESTION. LET'S TAKE THE FIRST... FOR THE SAKE OF THE VIEWERS, LET'S JUST COUNT SOME OF THE MINORITIES THAT WE HAVE. MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WHEN YOU THINK OF IRAQ, YOU THINK OF IRAQ AS A MUSLIM COUNTRY. YES, THE MAJORITY ARE MUSLIMS, BUT THE REALITY IS THAT WE HAVE MANY, MANY OTHER ETHNIC AS WELL AS RELIGIOUS MINORITIES. KURDS BEING A HUGE NUMBER. THE TURKMEN. AND THEN OF COURSE WE HAVE THE ASSYRIANS AND THE YAZIDIS. THE YAZIDIS, THE LAST ONES I THINK THE WORLD HAS KNOWN ABOUT THEM UNFORTUNATELY DUE TO WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE PEOPLE BECAUSE OF ISIS, THE DEGRADATION, SLAUGHTER, AND GENOCIDE THAT BEFELL THEM. I WOULD SAY THE ETHNIC GROUPS OR THE MINORITIES IN IRAQ ARE ALL SUFFERING EQUALLY, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF PROBABLY, TO A LESSER EXTENT, THE KURDS, BECAUSE THEY HAVE A LITTLE BIT MORE AUTONOMY OVER THERE. BUT NONETHELESS, I DON'T BELIEVE THAT KURDISH PEOPLE ARE LIVING THE LIFE THAT WE IN IRAQ, YOU KNOW, IT'S LIKE WE EXPECT THEM TO BE LIVING. OH, KURDISTAN IS FANTASTIC RIGHT NOW, IT'S SAFE, IT'S PEACEFUL. BUT THE REALITY IS, THEY'RE SUFFERING THROUGH THE ECONOMIC HARDSHIPS AS WELL. NOT TO THE SAME EXTENT AS THE OTHER IRAQIS, LIKE IN OTHER PARTS OF IRAQ, BUT NONETHELESS, THEY ARE. I THINK THE GROUPS HIT THE HARDEST PROBABLY ARE THE CHRISTIAN IRAQIS, THE ASSYRIANS, SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY'VE BEEN MARGINALIZED. LET'S THINK OF SOMETHING OVER HERE AND THAT'S FOR THE SAKE OF THE VIEWERS, TRUE IRAQIS ARE NOT ARABS. LIKE ASSYRIANS ARE ACTUALLY THE ORIGINAL IRAQIS THAT COME FROM THE ASSYRIAN ENTIRE. THE SAME GROUPS HAVE BECOME A MINORITY AND NOW THEY'RE MARGINALIZED AS WELL. SO IT'S A VERY COMPLICATED SITUATION, I WOULD SAY, AND IRAQ, AS A STATUS QUO RIGHT NOW, IS UNFAIR AND UNFAVOURABLE TOWARD EVERYONE, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF SEVERAL OF THE PARTIES OR MEMBERS THAT BELONG TO POLITICAL PARTIES AND RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS THAT ARE BENEFITING FROM THAT BUT THAT'S NO DIFFERENT FROM THE TIME OF SADDAM WHERE ONLY FEW, THE CREAM OF THE CROP IN IRAQ, BENEFITTED FROM EVERYTHING WHILE EVERYBODY ELSE SUFFERED.

Steve says BESSMA, YOU GAVE US A REALLY TERRIFIC, I GUESS WHAT THEY'D CALL IN YOUR BUSINESS, A TOUR OF ALL THE REASONS WHY THE IRAQ INVASION TURNED OUT TO BE SUCH A FAILURE 17 YEARS AGO. LET ME BRING YOU TO TODAY NOW. HOW CONCERNED WOULD YOU BE AS AN OBSERVER OF WORLD AFFAIRS OF IRAQ TURNED INTO ANOTHER PLAYGROUND FOR PROXY WARS BY DIFFERING POWERS ALL OVER THE PLACE?

The caption changes to "Bessma Momani, @b_momani."

Bessma says IT'S A DISASTER. IT'S A DISASTER. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT IT IS TODAY. IT'S A PLACE OF PROXY FOR MOSTLY THE AMERICANS AND THE IRANIANS WHO FRANKLY AREN'T BRAVE ENOUGH TO FIGHT EACH OTHER IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES BUT USE OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST, IRAQ BY BEING FAR THE PLACE WHERE MOST OF THIS IS HAPPENING IN TERMS OF A PLAYGROUND IF YOU WILL, LEBANON, SYRIA, AND TO A LESSER EXTENT IN YEMEN. THIS IS A REAL BIG CHALLENGE AND OF COURSE THIS REALLY PLAYS INTO WHAT BOTH WANT, WHICH IS LOW COST TO THEM BUT HIGH COST TO THE CIVILIAN IRAQIS ON THE GROUND. YOU KNOW, IRAN, OF COURSE, HAS BECOME SUCH AN IMPORTANT INFLUENCE INSIDE THE COUNTRY, TO THE DETRIMENT OF IRAQ, PARTICULARLY IN TERMS OF ITS SOVEREIGNTY, ITS SORT OF NATIONALIST DESIRE TO BASICALLY STAND ON ITS OWN TWO FEET AS I SORT OF ALLUDED TO. A LOT OF THAT IS ECONOMIC, BUT IT'S ALSO VERY POLITICAL. THEY HAVE BASICALLY BOUGHT SO MANY OF THE POLITICIANS IN IRAQ. SOME OF THAT HAS... I DON'T WANT TO SAY RELIGIOUS LOYALTY, BECAUSE I THINK IT'S DEEPER THAN THAT. IT'S VERY MUCH POLITICAL. THEY ARE OFFERING MONEY. THEY HAVE BOUGHT THESE POLITICIANS. AND AT THE EXPENSE OF THE IRAQIS, WHO FRANKLY WANT TO HAVE IN SO MANY CASES... I KNOW WE'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE YOUTH MOVEMENT... WHO WANT TO HAVE A COUNTRY THAT NOT ONLY STANDS ON ITS TWO FEET BUT MAKES POLICIES IN THE INTERESTS OF IRAQIS, NOT IRANIANS. THAT IS A REAL BIG CHALLENGE AND THAT'S ONE OF THE WORST LEGACIES THE AMERICANS MADE. THEY EFFECTIVELY MADE THESE TWO COUNTRIES THAT FOUGHT A WAR AT THE POLITICAL LEVEL TO BE BEST FRIENDS, AND THAT IS REALLY I THINK A CONSEQUENCE OF HOW NOT UNDERSTANDING LOCAL DYNAMICS AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, CREATING THOSE KIND OF AVENUES OF DESTROYING THE ECONOMY THAT ALLOW THE IRANIANS TO PENETRATE.

Steve says LOUISA, I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT MILITARY PRESENCE THERE RIGHT NOW. I THINK IT'S FAIR TO SAY BARACK OBAMA SAW HIS MISSION AS MAKING SURE THAT AMERICA DIDN'T GET INTO ANY MORE WARS WHEN HE TOOK OVER, AND I THINK IT'S ALSO FAIR TO SAY THAT DONALD TRUMP SAW HIS MISSION, IN TERMS OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, AS BRINGING AMERICAN TROOPS HOME. AND I GATHER THERE'S GOING TO BE ANOTHER TROOP WITHDRAWAL IN THE NEAR FUTURE, DOWN FROM 3,000 TO 2500 U.S. TROOPS BY EARLY NEXT YEAR. WHAT'S THE THINKING ON THE GROUND IN IRAQ ABOUT THAT MOVE?

The caption changes to "Louisa Loveluck, @leloveluck."

Louisa says I THINK A LOT WILL HINGE HERE ON HOW THIS TROOP DRAWDOWN NOW TAKES PLACE. THE FACT OF A DRAWDOWN IS NOT NECESSARILY A NEW THING. IT'S BEEN SEVERAL YEARS SINCE THE ISLAMIC STATE WERE FORMALLY DEFEATED HERE. AND IN THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED, THERE HAVE BEEN, YOU KNOW, WITHDRAWALS ON A SORT OF STEADY ONGOING BASIS. YOU HAVE SEEN THE U.S.-LED COALITION TAKE MORE OF A BACK SEAT IN THE MILITARY OPERATION. SO THIS HAS BEEN HAPPENING FOR A WHILE. WHAT IS DIFFERENT NOW, AS YOUR GUESTS HAVE SAID, IS THE CONTEXT, IS TENSIONS ACROSS THE REGION BETWEEN IRAN AND THE UNITED STATES, THIS IS AN AREA WHERE THE FACT OF THE U.S. TROOP PRESENCE HAS BEEN USED TO HIT THE UNITED STATES BY IRAN. THE TWO HAVE SORT OF [indiscernible] REPEATEDLY. AND IF THERE IS ANY DEGREE OF CHAOS OR UNCERTAINTY IN THE DRAWDOWN, I THINK THAT COULD SPARK FURTHER INSTABILITY, IT COULD BE CAPITALIZED BY THE IRAN-BACKED MILITIAS WHO ARE STATIONED HERE AND DO HAVE THEIR EYES ON THE COALITION. I THINK ONE THING THAT, YOU KNOW, IS IMPORTANT TO POINT OUT, AS OUR COLLEAGUES ARE SAYING, IS WE TALK ABOUT U.S. DRAWDOWNS, WE TALK ABOUT IRANIAN [indiscernible] ON IRAQ, AND IT'S LIKE A PLAY STAGE FOR TWO COMPETING FACTIONS AND IT IS A COUNTRY OF 40 MILLION PEOPLE, CIVILIANS. THIS IS A COUNTRY, THIS IS A SOVEREIGN COUNTRY, AND EVERY SINGLE TIME THESE TWO SIDES SPAR ON IRAQI SOIL, IT IS IRAQI CIVILIANS WHO SUFFER THE MOST. LAST NIGHT AS I WAS SITTING HERE A BARRAGE OF ROCKETS WERE FIRED I BELIEVE BY AN IRAN-BACKED MILITIA ACROSS THE WATER FROM US. NO AMERICANS WERE WOUNDED, NO COALITION TROOPS WERE WOUNDED. THE ONLY PERSON WHO WAS KILLED, TO OUR KNOWLEDGE, WAS A BABY. THERE WAS A YOUNG GIRL WHO WAS HIT WHEN THE SHRAPNEL WAS PUSHED BACK BY A U.S. DEFENCE SYSTEM, SHE WAS KILLED AS SHE WAS LEAVING A PLAY PARK, AND THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THESE TWO [indiscernible] IF THERE IS CHAOS IN THIS DRAWDOWN, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN.

Steve says LOUISA, COULD YOU FOLLOW UP ON THAT. IF THERE ARE FEWER U.S. TROOPS THERE PRESUMABLY TO... I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE RIGHT EXPRESSION IS... KEEP THE PEACE OR TRY TO KEEP EACH SIDE AT BAY OR WHATEVER... IF THAT DOES HAPPEN, DO YOU ANTICIPATE MORE VIOLENCE OR DO THE EXPERTS ANTICIPATE SOMETHING MOVING IN TO FILL THAT VACUUM?

Louisa says NOT NECESSARILY. AS I SAY, A LOT WILL DEPEND ON SORT OF THE NATION OF THE DRAWDOWN, THE WAY IN WHICH IT IS CONDUCTED. U.S. FORCES OR THE U.S. COALITION ARE IN THE COUNTRY TO FIGHT THE ISLAMIC STATE. THAT IS THEIR EXPLICIT MISSION. THE ISLAMIC STATE IS LARGELY DEFEATED NOW. THEY ARE NOT ALL GONE. THERE ARE CERTAINLY MILITANTS IN THIS COUNTRY. THEY CERTAINLY POSE A RISK OF MOUNTING A COMEBACK. I THINK THE QUESTION IRAQIS ARE GOING TO BE ASKING THE MILITARY, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THIS DRAWDOWN, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO HELP US? BY AND LARGE THE U.S. MILITARY WILL SAY IT LEADS THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIS IN CAPABLE HANDS WHEN IT COMES TO THE IRAQI MILITARY. BUT THERE IS A SKILL GAP. THE COALITION OFFERED VETERAN INTELLIGENCE SUPPORT. IT OFFERS BETTER TARGETS FOR AIR STRIKES. IF YOU ARE TO TAKE THIS AWAY, AND PARTICULARLY TAKE IT AWAY QUICKLY, THERE IS A CHANCE THE ISLAMIC STATE WILL MAKE GROUND AGAIN, NOT NECESSARILY A CALIPHATE AGAIN, BUT IT WILL MAKE THINGS MORE UNSTABLE AND AGAIN THE COUNTRY WILL SUFFER.

Steve says BESSMA DID MENTION A MOMENT AGO WE WANTED TO TALK ABOUT THE YOUTH MOVEMENT IN IRAQ. LET'S DO THAT RIGHT NOW. WALEED, I'LL GET YOU TO START ON THIS. THERE WAS SOMETHING CALLED THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION LAST YEAR. WHAT WAS THE ROOT OF THE ISSUES INVOLVED IN THAT?

The caption changes to "The October Revolution."

Waleed says WELL, I THINK OUR TWO OTHER PANELISTS HAVE COVERED THIS VERY, VERY WELL IN THE SENSE, WHEN YOU HAVE 17 YEARS OF ABSOLUTE OBLITERATION OF A SOCIETY AND A COUNTRY, AND AS I MENTIONED TO YOU, THERE ARE KIDS THAT HAVE BEEN BORN SINCE 2003 AND UP. MOST OF THESE KIDS IF THEY BECAME ORPHANS HAVE SEEN NOTHING BUT WAR, CHAOS AND DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. SO IN A SENSE, IT'S A RECIPE FOR DISASTER THAT THIS COULD LEAD INTO ONE OF THE TWO CONCLUSIONS. I WAS A CYNIC BEFORE WHERE I THOUGHT IRAQIS WILL NEVER RALLY UP, WILL NEVER ACTUALLY STAND TOGETHER AND THEN RISE UP TO THAT BECAUSE, TO BESSMA'S POINT, I WAS LOOKING AT THE OLDER GENERATION, AND THEY'RE ALL KIND OF LIKE OLIGARCHIC OR WHAT AN OLIGARCH WANTS TO BE. SO THEY WERE FIXING THEIR MINDS ON HOW ECONOMICALLY WE CAN SURVIVE, SO ON AND SO FORTH. AND THEN LO AND BEHOLD, I WAS REALLY SURPRISED WHEN IT HAPPENED. THEN YOU SEE THE YOUTH MOVEMENT RISING, STANDING UP, AND I WAS ONE OF THE PEOPLE AT THE BEGINNING, I WAS LIKE, OH, THERE MUST BE A PLAY OVER THERE. IT WILL BE POLITICIZED. IT WILL BE THIS. IT WILL BE THEN. BUT THEN I HAD FRIENDS ON THE GROUND OVER THERE AND THEY WERE SENDING ME VIDEOS, THEY WERE TELLING ME WHAT'S GOING ON, AND IT'S REAL. WHAT THEY'VE DONE WAS UNBELIEVABLE. LIKE, THE PLACE, TAHRIR SQUARE, AND LOUISA PROBABLY HAS BEEN THERE. LIKE, I USED TO GO THERE, BUY TV AND MUSIC AND STUFF LIKE THAT. IT BECAME ONE OF THE FILTHIEST PLACES IN BAGHDAD. AND NOW, AFTER THE PROTESTERS WERE THERE, THEY HAVE PROVEN THAT RECONSTRUCTION CAN ACTUALLY HAPPEN IN IRAQ AND BAGHDAD CAN BE BEAUTIFIED, IF YOU WILL, IF THE PEOPLE PUT THEIR MINDS TO IT. IT DESTROYED A FEW MYTHS WHICH WERE VERY IMPORTANT, LIKE GENDER DIFFERENCES, RIGHT? YOU SEE GIRLS AND BOYS TOGETHER HAND IN HAND DOING THIS. RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES. SECTARIANISM. ALL OF THAT GOT DECIMATED BY THE YOUTH. AND IT'S ALL TO YOUR POINT THAT YOU WERE MENTIONING: EDUCATION IS HIGHER AMONGST THIS POPULATION BECAUSE OF THE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA AND ALL OF THAT. AND THEY ARE A LARGELY UNDERESTIMATED SEGMENT OF THE SOCIETY WHERE THEY'RE MARGINALIZED, NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT THEM. BUT AT THE SAME TIME THEY'VE BEEN ACTUALLY KEEPING TABS ON WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE WORLD. AND I WOULD SAY THAT THEY ARE VERY UNIQUE. LIKE, THIS REVOLUTION IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN THE ARAB SPRING. I WOULD NOT REALLY ASSOCIATE IT TO THE ARAB SPRING. BUT UNFORTUNATELY RIGHT NOW, YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE COVID HAPPENING, SO THAT PUT A HALT TO IT. BUT WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT AT THAT TIME, UP UNTIL IT ENDED, IS THAT PEOPLE WERE WILLING TO ACTUALLY GIVE THEIR LIVES, WHICH TO ME, IT REMINDS ME OF WHAT HAPPENED IN ALGERIA BACK IN 1954. IT WAS ONLY WHEN THE LACK OF HOPE WAS ABSOLUTE THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY WENT AHEAD AND MOVED.

A picture shows massive protests by thousands of people around a public square.

Steve says NOW, BESSMA, THAT WAS THEN. THIS IS NOW. WHAT'S THE STATUS OF THIS YOUTH MOVEMENT AND THE KIND OF, WELL, THE STATUS OF THE PROTEST MOVEMENT TODAY?

Bessma says LET ME JUST CONCUR WITH WHAT WALEED SAID. THIS IS WHERE I THINK THERE IS A CONNECTION TO THE ARAB SPRING, IS THEY NO LONGER BELIEVE IN BLAMING THE ISMS FOR ALL THE PROBLEMS. THEY'RE NOT WILLING TO ACCEPT THE ARGUMENT, AND WALEED POINTED OUT, THEY'RE NOT JUST BORN AFTER 2003. THEY ALSO LIVED THROUGH THE ISIS RISE AND FALL, WHICH ACTUALLY SPURRED A NEW SENSE OF NATIONAL IDENTITY IN IRAQIS. IT FORCED PEOPLE TO KIND OF TALK ABOUT, YOU KNOW, OTHER-ING AND HOW ISIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF WHERE TERRIBLE LOYALTIES CAN GO, AND SO RE-ESTABLISHING THAT IRAQI SENSE OF IDENTITY IS SOMETHING THAT THE IRAQI YOUTH HAD IN TAHRIR SQUARE THAT I THINK WAS REALLY QUITE REMARKABLE AND I SAW THAT SIMILARLY IN OTHER PARTS OF THE ARAB WORLD DURING THEIR ARAB SPRING. THEY WERE NO LONGER GOING TO BLAME WESTERN IMPERIALISM AND ALL THESE ISMS. THEY WERE SAYING YOU IN THE CENTRE OF GOVERNMENT HAVE CONTROL OF THIS WEALTH. WE ARE ONE OF THE TOP 5 OIL EXPORTERS IN THE WORLD AND, LOOK, WE CAN PUT, AS WALEED SAID, MORE GOOD GOVERNANCE IN THE SQUARE OF TAHRIR THAT YOU CAN PUT IN THE ENTIRE CAPITAL OF BAGHDAD. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? SO THAT REALLY LAYING BLAME AT THE DOORSTEP OF THE IRAQI PARLIAMENT, WHICH AT THE END OF THE DAY IS, FRANKLY, I MEAN, IT'S A DEMOCRACY, IT'S COMPLETELY HIJACKED BY IRANIAN INTERESTS AND ALSO ENORMOUS CORRUPTION, ENORMOUS CORRUPTION. I THINK THAT'S REALLY I THINK A WORD WE HAVEN'T HEARD TODAY, BUT I HAVE TO SAY IS REALLY ENDEMIC TO IRAQ PARTLY BECAUSE OF THE OIL THAT PLAYS INTO THAT. BUT WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE PROTEST MOVEMENT TODAY. FRANKLY, YOU KNOW, IT'S BEEN A YEAR. SO MANY YOUNG IRAQI LIVES HAVE BEEN LOST. WE'VE SEEN IRANIAN BACKED MILITIA TAKE BASICALLY SNIPERS TOP OF BUILDINGS KILLING PEOPLE. WE'VE SEEN ABDUCTIONS OF ACTIVISTS, SOME OF THEM WOMEN TOO, TAKEN FROM THEIR OWN HOMES AND KILLED. ALL OF THAT HAS KIND OF DEMORALIZED IRAQIS. ADD COVID TO IT. OBVIOUSLY, YOU DON'T WANT TO HAVE MEETINGS IN GROUPS. AND YOU HAVE BASICALLY A CARETAKER GOVERNMENT NOW THAT ARE WAITING TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. WHAT I HOPE IS THAT NOW THE YOUTH MOVEMENT... THIS IS THE REAL CHALLENGE AND ALWAYS THE ARAB SPRING DILEMMA IS SORT OF WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE STREET MOVEMENT, HOW DO YOU MOBILIZE THAT INTO A POLITICAL PROCESS. IRAQ IS UNIQUE, UNLIKE THE OTHER ARAB SPRING COUNTRIES, THEY KIND OF HAVE A DEMOCRACY, IT ISN'T PERFECT. CAN THEY PUT FORWARD CANDIDATE, SUPPORT CANDIDATES, AND GO AND VOTE TO ACTUALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE? THAT'S GOING TO BE THE REAL I THINK MARKER OF CHANGE AND MATURITY OF A MOVEMENT. I DON'T KNOW IF THEY'RE THERE YET. WE WILL SEE. BUT CERTAINLY THEY'VE CHANGED THE CONVERSATION BECAUSE THE CONVERSATION AT LEAST IN BAGHDAD TODAY, EVEN AMONGST MPs, IS AT LEAST THEY'RE EMBARRASSED BY WHAT THE MOVEMENT HAS SHOWN THE IRAQI YOUTH MOVEMENT HAS SHOWN THAT THEY'RE BASICALLY AT THE BECK AND CALL OF IRAN RATHER THAN REALLY FOLLOWING A DOMESTIC POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC AGENDA, AS THEY SHOULD.

Steve says WE'VE GOT ABOUT FIVE MINUTES LEFT HERE AND, LOUISA, I WANT TO... LET ME JUST SAY RIGHT OFF THE TOP HERE THAT YOUR EXCELLENT REPORTING FROM THE AREA NOTWITHSTANDING, THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT LESS INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION ON IRAQ THESE DAYS, CLEARLY, THAN THERE WAS IN THE INITIAL YEARS AFTER THE COALITION-LED INVASION. BUT IT SEEMS THAT THE WORLD IS A LOT LESS INTERESTED AND IT SEEMS THERE ARE MANY FEWER MEDIA ORGANIZATIONS WHICH ARE TRYING TO PUT PEOPLE IN THE REGION AND DO STORIES AND UNDERSTAND WHAT'S GOING ON THERE. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

Louisa says I MEAN, I WOULD PUSH BACK SLIGHTLY AT THE PREMISE OF YOUR QUESTION. I THINK THE YOUTH PROTEST ARE A VERY GOOD EXAMPLE OF THAT. I HAVE HEARD FROM MANY PEOPLE SINCE THOSE EVENTS THAT IT WASN'T COVERED, THAT THE MEDIA WEREN'T THERE, AND IT WAS NOT IN THE HEADLINES EVERY DAY, AS I REALLY BELIEVE IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST CONSEQUENTIAL DEVELOPMENTS IN RECENT IRAQ. WE WERE THERE. EVERY MAJOR OUTLET WAS THERE IF NOT FILING EVERY DAY, MOST DAYS, TAKING THE RISKS, BEING SHOT AT AND DOING ALL OF THAT STUFF AMID APPALLING STREET VIOLENCE. BUT WHAT WE SEE, AND I THINK THIS REALLY SPEAKS TO KIND OF THE PREMISE OF THIS PROGRAM, IS THAT THERE IS A FATIGUE I THINK IN MUCH OF THE WEST WITH THE IDEA OF READING ABOUT IRAQ. IT'S CERTAINLY BORN OUT IN THE NUMBER OF STORIES THAT ARE AROUND BUT NOT READ. PEOPLE HAVE COME TO SEE IRAQ AS SOMETHING WHICH IS MAYBE DEPRESSING, IT'S COMPLICATED, IT'S NOT GOING TO BE A DIFFERENT STORY TO THE ONE THEY READ YESTERDAY OR THE YEAR BEFORE OR FOUR OR FIVE YEARS BEFORE, AND THE STORIES OF THESE MOVEMENTS, THERE WAS A LOT OF VIOLENCE, THERE WAS A LOT THAT WAS SORT OF TROUBLING THAT WE WERE COVERING OUT ON THE STREETS, BUT IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST HOPEFUL STORIES COMING OUT OF IRAQ FOR SUCH A LONG TIME. BUT I THINK IT WAS HARD TO GET PEOPLE TO REALLY CONNECT WITH THAT BECAUSE THERE'S AN ASSUMPTION THAT IF YOU SEE A HEADLINE ABOUT GUNFIRE IN IRAQ, THEN IT'S GOING TO BE ANOTHER DEPRESSING STORY AND PEOPLE JUST DON'T CLICK.

Steve says HOW DEPRESSING IS THAT FOR YOU? I MEAN, YOU'RE PUTTING YOUR LIFE ON THE LINE EVERY DAY TO TELL THESE STORIES?

Louisa says YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT [indiscernible] LIKE THIS ARE IMPORTANT TO OUR UNDERSTANDING THAT THERE IS A THROUGH-LINE FROM 2003 TO HERE. ALL THIS STUFF THAT MAYBE SEEMS A LITTLE BIT OF THE SAME FROM THE OUTSIDE, IT'S DEVELOPMENT FROM DEVELOPMENT, AND THE THING ABOUT THE PROTEST MOVEMENT WHICH IS IMPORTANT IS IT IS A DIRECT LEGACY OF 2003. I THINK ANYONE WHO CARED ABOUT THE INVASION BACK THEN SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE SORT OF DEVELOPMENTS THAT LED AN ENTIRE GENERATION TO REJECT THE SYSTEM THAT THE INVASION INSTALLED AND I THINK THAT [inaudible]...

Steve says WALEED, IN OUR LAST MINUTE HERE, GIVEN EVERYTHING YOU'VE HEARD ON THE PROGRAM TONIGHT, GIVEN EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT IRAQ TODAY, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS POSSIBLE IN THE DAYS AHEAD?

The caption changes to "Looking ahead."

Waleed sighs deeply, then says I BELIEVE IF WE ARE LEFT ALONE, MY PEOPLE ARE MORE THAN CAPABLE OF STANDING UP FOR THEMSELVES AND BEING ABLE TO LIBERATE THEMSELVES. WE MIGHT NEED A LITTLE BIT OF HELP, BUT WE NEED TO BE LEFT ALONE. AND THE OTHER THING THAT I ASK OF THE WORLD, AND CANADIANS IN PARTICULAR, WE'RE NOT A NEWSFLASH, WE'RE NOT LIKE SOME STATISTICS. THAT'S THE REASON WE MADE THE DOCUMENTARY, WE WANTED TO HUMANIZE IT, AND I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR PUTTING A HUMAN FACE ON THIS AS WELL. THERE IS ONE THING I WANTED TO MENTION WHICH BESSMA HAD MENTIONED IS THE AMERICANS DID NOT HAVE A PLAN. I DISAGREE WITH THAT. I THINK EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN IRAQ IS ACTUALLY PURPOSEFUL, WHETHER IT'S ORGANIZED CHAOS OR NOT. BUT I'VE HAD THE CHANCE OF ASKING PAUL BREMER AT THE FIRST YEAR OF THE INVASION WHY THE BORDER IS NOT PROTECTED AND HE HAD NO ANSWER. AND ONE OF MY JOBS WAS TO BRING JOURNALISTS FROM THE JORDANIAN OR THE SYRIAN BORDER TO BAGHDAD WHEN IT WAS OPEN. YEAH. IF WE'RE LEFT ALONE, WE CAN RALLY UP AND ACTUALLY STAND UP. WE HAVE DONE IT FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, AND I DON'T THINK WE NEED THE WORLD'S HELP, BUT IF INTERFERENCE CONTINUES, THEN NOBODY IS GOING TO SEE THE END OF THIS.

The caption changes to "Producer: Preeti Bhuyan, @PreetiBhuyan. Student Intern: Danielle Neri."

Steve says WE'LL KEEP WATCHING AND WE'RE GRATEFUL TO THE THREE OF YOU FOR SHARING YOUR VIEWS ABOUT THIS ABOUT THIS IMPORTANT TOPIC TONIGHT ON TVO, LOUISA LOVELUCK WITH THE WASHINGTON POST. WALEED NESYIF, "ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ," WE REALLY HOPE PEOPLE WILL WATCH THAT ON TVO. AND BESSMA MOMANI FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO. ALL GOOD WISHES TO ALL THREE OF YOU. THANKS SO MUCH.

Waleed says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Bessma says THANK YOU.

Louisa says THANK YOU.

Watch: Rebuilding Post-War Iraq