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And the provocative presence perhaps of General Suleimani, tell us about — he's an important feature in the region. Tell us a little bit about him and what this potentially means that he might be leading this battle?
Well, he developed and emerged out of the Iraq-Iran war.
He's a hard-tested veteran of the Iraq-Iran war. He worked on Iraq with Iraqis over the last two, three decades. When Saddam was in power, he was based in North Iraq, so he knows the Iraqi scene very, very well. He reports directly to Ayatollah Khomeini. And he is, as I said, directly running the show in Iraq. His presence is a statement. It's a public statement.
And in the past…
Well, the public statement is that Iraq is directly our vital sphere, like other countries where we have an interest and we have an influence.
But the way they're dealing with Iraq currently is to say, this is like Iranian cities. We have defend it. We have to be there. We move in and out as we see fit.
That strong a statement? This is like Iranian territory.
Well, I think one of their commanders have said the security of those cities are equivalent to the securities of — security of Iranian cities.
Well, so we heard General Dempsey talking about how this could be positive, a positive outcome, if it does not lead to more sectarian violence, which, of course, it could.
So describe the fine line and the fine balance here from the United States in watching what's unfolding.
Well, I think there is a lot at stake.
I think, as I said, Iran has a strategy on Iraq and on the region. It's working within that strategy. It decided to make its presence very clear. It has a thin approval from the Iraqi government because it's a reality on the ground. But the Iraqi government has approved it and welcomed the support because it needs it.
I think what is noticeable here is that the Iranians have made that statement, and it more or less went unchallenged by anybody, not even a thin protest of any kind.
But, briefly, for the U.S., what kind of position does it put the U.S. government in, watching Iran possibly take the lead in this fight against the — against…
Well, it's not taking — Iran is now taking the lead. And it's not about the benefits today, but it's about the day after.
So, at some point, ISIL will be pushed out of the Iraqi cities, but then, thanks to Iran, that took place. And nobody knows the thousands, the number — the actual number of officers and soldiers that are in Iraq today. Only three, four months ago, during a public religious ceremony, over a million Iranians went to Iraq. Nobody knew how many of them are soldiers, how many stayed in the country.
So, the reality on the ground in Iraq is that Iran's influence have passed a landmark.
And the question, as you say, is what comes the day after ISIL is kicked out, if they are.
Laith Kubba, thanks so much.
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