Monday, October 10, 2011

Syria's Other Ally: Iraq

If the US expected any kind of gratitude from Iraq--it's not going to happen.
If the US thought Iraq would empathize with Syrians protesting against a murderous regime--they badly overestimated Iraq.

Iraq, freed from the murderous dictator Saddam Hussein are backing Assad against Syrian protesters:
More than six months after the start of the Syrian uprising, Iraq is offering key moral and financial support to the country’s embattled president, undermining a central U.S. policy objective and raising fresh concerns that Iraq is drifting further into the orbit of an American arch rival — Iran.

Iraq’s stance has dealt an embarrassing setback to the Obama administration, which has sought to enlist Muslim allies in its campaign to isolate Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. While other Arab states have downgraded ties with Assad, Iraq has moved in the opposite direction, hosting official visits by Syrians, signing pacts to expand business ties and offering political support.

After Iraq sent conflicting signals about its support for Assad last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke firmly against regime change in Syria in an interview broadcast on Iraqi television Sept. 30. “We believe that Syria will be able to overcome its crisis through reforms,” Maliki said, rejecting U.S. calls for the Syrian leader to step down. His words echoed those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who weeks earlier proposed that Syrians should “implement the necessary reforms by themselves.”
Iraq is following Iran's example, publicly criticizing the brutality of the Assad regime--but at the same time, trying to develop trade and pipeline deals with Syria.

I't looking like Syria is not Iran's only friend after all.
When Iran warned Turkey to watch its step, it counted Iraq as a close ally:
"If Turkey does not distance itself from this unconventional political behavior it will have both the Turkish people turning away from it domestically and the neighboring countries of Syria, Iraq and Iran (reassessing) their political ties."
This comes in the face of the recall in August of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.

So why exactly is Iraq siding with a leader in the mold of their own Saddam Hussein?
Middle Eastern experts note that Maliki — a Shiite Muslim who lived in exile in Syria for nearly 15 years — has strategic and sectarian reasons for avoiding a direct confrontation with Assad. Members of Iraq’s Shiite majority and Syria’s ruling Alawite Shiite sect share a common worry about Sunni-led insurgencies. Some Iraqis fear that a violent overthrow of Syrian Alawites will trigger unrest across the border in Iraq.

But other experts say Iraq’s support for Syria underscores the influence of Iran, which has staked billions of dollars on ensuring Assad’s survival. Pollock, the former State Department adviser, said Iraqi leaders fear repercussions from Iran and its Syrian protege as much they covet increased revenue from trade.

...Iraqi leaders know that hostility toward Syria could invite reprisals against politicians and ordinary civilians in Baghdad, or perhaps against the estimated 1 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, he said.

Interestingly, an article in The New York Times claims that Iran's influence on Iraq is limited:
As the United States draws down its forces in Iraq, fears abound that Iran will simply move into the vacuum and extend its already substantial political influence more deeply through the soft powers of culture and commerce. But here, in this region that is a center of Shiite Islam, some officials say that Iran wore out its welcome long ago.

Surely, Iran has emerged empowered in Iraq over the last eight years, and it has a sympathetic Shiite-dominated government to show for it, as well as close ties to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. But for what so far are rather obscure reasons — perhaps the struggling Iranian economy and mistrust toward Iranians that has been nurtured for centuries — it has been unable to extend its reach.
If so, then Iraq's overtures to Syria are based on its own self-interest--and fear of Iran as opposed to a genuine alliance.

Still, as much as this is a slap in the face to Bush, Obama is the one in charge now.
And the fact that Iraq is acting in direct opposition to Obama's slowly developing attempt to oust Assad is just one more indication of how little respect--and fear of reprisal--Obama generates in the Middle East.

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