Iraq declines to Cut Syria Off

As Syria passed another bloody Friday of protests, Arab journalists and now the New York Times are noting that the Iraqi government of PM Nouri al-Maliki has declined to withdraw its ambassador from Damascus or to put any significant pressure on Syria with regard to the suppression of protests. The NYT speculates that Baghdad has succumbed to pressure from Iran, Syria’s chief ally and the broker of al-Maliki’s own parliamentary majority.

In contrast, Agence France Presse attributes the Shiite government’s reluctance to take a stand against Bashar al-Asad to fears that hard line Salafi Sunnis might come to power in Damascus if al-Asad falls, and to feelings of solidarity with a fellow Shiite (al-Asad belongs to the folk-Shiite Allawite sect, which differs substantially from the bookish Twelver Shiism of Iraq and Iran, but which is closer to them than it is to Sunnism).

Al-Maliki has called for reforms in Syria, and a foreign ministry official has urged the regime to compromise with protesters, careful to condemn violent dissidents as well as government crackdowns. But recently he has warned the protest movement against undermining the Syrian government.

In contrast to the Iraqi executive, the parliament has recently strongly deplored the government’s use of violence against protesters. Two major blocs in parliament, the Kurdistan Alliance and the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya Party, are not Shiite and have ties to protesters in Syria, whether Kurds or Sunni Arabs. The Speaker of parliament is a Sunni Arab from Mosul who has strongly condemned the Baath government’s repression.

For its part, Iran denies having pressured Iraq to support Syria with a grant of $10 billion.

Patrick Seale, one of our great experts on the region, explains how the Middle East region appears in turmoil or hostile from Baghdad’s point of view.

At a time when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on US allies to withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus and to impose trade sanctions on Syria, al-Maliki’s maverick political line is surely an embarrassment to Washington.

12 Responses

  1. Do you mean to tell me that the U.S. takes issue with “a strong and independent Iraq”? Part of being independent, is being able to make the decisions that are in your best interest.

  2. I think the US basically handed over Iraq to Iran.

    It shouldn’t be expecting the Iraqi government to be much complying with its policies or ideals, and I think the US knows quite well this mess it has created.

  3. IS it not also possible that Iraq hesitates to break connections with Syria because of the huge number of Iraqi refugees within Syria? The U.S. advised all Americans to leave Syria; could Iraq follow suit? And just where would those refugees now settle once back in Iraq?

  4. One has to account for the anti-Shia aspect to the Syria situation, and Maliki is a tool but he’s not an idiot. A real revolution in Syria would be a setback to Shias throughout the region, who have barely begun to emerge from a millenium of nearly genocidal oppression.

  5. I’m still wondering what the effects of the sanctions on the Assad regime are. Iraq in the 90s I think is a great example of sanctions weakening the economy, but also having the effect of strengthening the Saddam regime, since everyone (esp. the poor), became even more dependent on the regime for sustenance. I think we can all agree that’s a situation we want to avoid.

  6. “….. al-Maliki‚Äôs maverick political line is surely an embarrassment to Washington.” It just seems to be one more way to tell the U.S. to get out. That would save us billions over the coming months.

    The U.S. should leave and turn the military bases over to the people we have made homeless. That includes that gawd awful embassy. It would provide a home for a few thousand
    people at the very least with room for a market, assorted stores, etc.

  7. Prof Cole we know the US MSM has barely focused on just how many Iraqi people have died, been injured and displaced as a direct result of the US immoral and illegal invasion. Why so much distance between the 2006 Lancet Report and the Pentagon’s more recent report.

    So telling that the majority of Americans barely even think or care about this. Pathetic and dangerous.

    So absurd to hear Hillary Clinton make comments about Asad’s integrity, killing of innocents etc. She is drowning in the blood of Iraqi people and American soldiers who have died in that needless war

  8. Syria will become another Lebanon, dysfunctional and racked with sectarian conflict, that’s why Turkey is being circumspect. Easy for Abdullah when he’s 1500k and a couple of countries away from Damascus.

    We should always remember that much of the ME was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for centuries. So the Turks know a lot more about the region and the various communities than does the “West”.

    The Western elites should stop trying to shoehorn Turkey into the EU, it doesn’t belong there, its not wanted there and I suspect that most Turks don’t want to be there. Turkey can play a far more constructive role within the ME region as a fully independent sovereign nation than as a member of a “Grande (and rapidly failing) Experimentieren”.

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