Talabani rejects ISG Report
Sunni Gunmen Kill Shiite family in Baghdad
My editorial in Sunday’s Mercury News treated the issue of the US talking to Syria and Iran about the crisis in Iraq, as the Iraq Study Group urged.
‘ Baker said of Syria, “There is a strong indication they would be in a position to help us and might want to help us.” The initial response from Syria was in fact positive. Syria’s vice president said Wednesday that both his country and its ally Iran are prepared to help. Referring to his nation and Iran, Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said, “The two countries are Iraq’s neighbors, and without getting them involved it will not be easy to find a solution to the predicament in Iraq.” He added, speaking to a conference in Damascus, “We are not so arrogant to say that Syria and Iran can solve Iraq’s problem . . . The entire international community may not be able to solve it. But let them (the Americans) be a little bit modest and accept whoever has the capability to help.”
Syria has an 800-mile border with Iraq. Some of the estimated 1,300 foreign devotees of anti-American jihad in Iraq have slipped across that border. It is not clear that the secular Baath Arab nationalist regime in Damascus is actively encouraging wild-eyed Sunni fundamentalists. But it likely could do a better job of policing key border crossings if it had an incentive. Syria also is in a position to mediate between the United States and the remnants of the Iraqi Baath high command, who are responsible for much more of Iraq’s violence than the newly minted Al-Qaida wannabes of Ramadi and Tikrit.
Washington is at odds with Damascus not only over Iraq, but also on two other fronts. Syria is a major ally of Lebanon’s militant Shiite party, Hezbollah, and stands accused of having allowed Iran to provide the latter with missiles and other weaponry for use against Israel. It has also been accused of complicity in a string of assassinations against anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon, most notably former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria also supports the Palestinians in their dispute with Israel.
Baker, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group (ISG), argued that such disputes should not forestall “tough” negotiations with Syria and Iran, noting that the United States kept talking to the Soviet Union even during the darkest days of the Cold War. Moreover, the group’s report is not advocating that the United States capitulate on any of these major outstanding issues. In fact, the Baker-Hamilton commission insists that the investigation of Hariri’s assassination must be vigorously pursued.
What would Syria get out of such cooperation? As the ISG report notes, it is not in Syria’s interest for Iraq to collapse into warring sectarian and ethnic factions. Syria, a country of 19 million, is itself an ethnic mosaic, with 2 million Kurds, and significant Alawi Shiite and Christian populations, despite a Sunni majority. The secular, Arab nationalist Baath government is run largely by Alawis, who adhere to a form of folk Shiism. The main challengers to the regime have been fundamentalist Sunni organizations of a sort now establishing themselves in western and northern Iraq. A breakup of Iraq would potentially roil Syria’s ethnic groups as well.
The commission urges that Israel restore to Syria the disputed Golan Heights, as a way of bringing the Damascus regime in from the cold. Israel captured the territory in 1967, but the United Nations charter forbids the permanent acquisition of a neighbor’s territory through warfare. Settling the dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the commission argues, is necessary to the achievement of genuine stability in the region, including Iraq.
The ISG is certainly correct that Syria will never accept the permanent loss of the Golan Heights, and that its return is a necessary condition for a normalization of the situation in the Middle East. The prospect of such a settlement would give Syria further incentive to cooperate on Iraq. It could not hope to get the Golan back, however, without making very substantial concessions to Israel and giving up its sponsorship of violent Palestinian groups. It would also have to agree not to re-arm Hezbollah in Lebanon. ‘
I also discuss the Iranian dimension.
Jalal Talabani lashed out at the Iraq Study Group report on Sunday. Talabani represented himself as being upset about the plan to embed US troops in Iraqi army units. But I believe that is only a pretext for his real objection. The report supports a relatively strong central government with central control of oil resources, which would be a threat to Kurdish plans for virtual independence from Baghdad.
The Mail and Guardian also says,
‘ On Sunday, up to 30 armed gunmen killed nine members of two Shi’ite families in the western Jihad neighbourhood, along the route to Baghdad’s airport. The daylight attack came a day after claims that Shi’ite militias raided the mixed suburb of Hurriya, forcing dozens of Sunni families to flee into the neighbouring Amil district. ‘
‘ BAGHDAD – A total of 40 bodies — many of them shot and tortured — were found across Baghdad on Saturday . . .
BAGHDAD – Shi’ite militias attacked Sunni homes in Baghdad’s religiously mixed Hurriya district on Saturday, Interior Ministry officials and witnesses said. More than 30 families fled after the militias torched homes and killed at least one person, witnesses and officials said. . .
RABIA – A suicide bomber driving a pick-up truck rammed his vehicle into a parking of fuel trucks, setting four oil trucks on fire, police said.
RAMADI – Gunmen attacked a residential district with mortar rounds, wounding three people in the city of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, police said. ‘
Sudarsan Raghavan at WaPo says that Sunni Arab minorities in mixed Sunni-Shiite Baghdad districts are being ethnically cleansed by the Mahdi Army. He says that Shiites are moving into traditionally Sunni West Baghdad.
Moves are afoot to dump Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister in Iraq. Since he does not actually have a majority in parliament, it would be relatively easy to do if enough blocs are willing to ally.
On Sunday, Muqtada al-Sadr lashed out at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for ruling in a high-handed fashion. He said that Maliki shouldn’t have met with Bush, and that he should have submitted the plan for a UN extension of the Coalition mandate in Iraq to parliament for approval. He called again for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.