Iraq on Syria Strikes: We’ve seen this Movie and it doesn’t End Well

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iraq’s foreign ministry came out strongly against the US, British and French missile strikes on Syria. In a statement issued Saturday, the ministry called the attacks “an extremely dangerous step”that could result in a weakening of regional security.

Spokesman Ahmad Mahjub said, “The ministry underlines the necessity for a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.” Strikes like those launched Friday, he said, “give terrorism a new opportunity to spread after its defeat in Iraq and its substantial retreat in Syria.” He said Iraq calls on the Arab League to take a clear stance against this dangerous development.

The Iraqis are clearly afraid that the North Atlantic intervention will embolden ISIL/ Daesh to start back up its operations.

Iraq is also worried about instability in Syria that might affect its border with that country. Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told Alarabiya, “The outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011 was the principle cause of the rise of Daesh (ISIL) and its spread and its entry into Iraq in the middle of 2014, and the continuation of strife.” He added, “The intervention of numerous countries in Syria played a role in nourishing Daesh (ISIL), and we see a necessity for finding a political solution in Syria to achieve stability and to finish off the remnants of Daesh in the regions neighboring Iraq.” He said that Iraq’s focus was to avoid doing anything that might help ISIL remain in eastern Syria.

He said that Iraq had a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Syria and sees foreign interventions there as having worsened the situation.

The Iraqi government tilts to Iran, the leader of which, Ali Khamenei, denounced the strikes as “a supreme crime” and warned that they would fail, just as the 2003 US invasion of Iraq failed. Iraq also does have some 5000 US military personnel at an Iraq Command in Baghdad, who were key to the defeat of ISIL in the Sunni Arab north of the country and are still helping with mop up operations. Also key to the fight, however, were Shiite militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

While it is not surprising that the ruling Da`wa (Islamic Call) Party took a more subdued version of the Iranian position, it appears that even Sunni Iraqi parties are condemning the move. Given that the al-Assad government was fighting the hard line Saudi-backed Army of Islam in Douma when it deployed the chlorine gas, it may be that traumatized Iraqi Sunnis just have no sympathy with the extreme religious Right.

In accordance with Syrian, Russian and Iranian propaganda, some some Iraqi newspapers attempted to cast doubt on the reality of the Douma chem attack or to muddy the waters as to its provenance. They complained that the reports of the use of chemical weapons is coming out of Israeli, Western and Gulf media, and observed, “not again!” The reference is the the 2003 false allegations by the Bush administration that Iraq had chemical weapons stockpiles or “weapons of mass destruction” (a propaganda term), which were the pretext for the US invasion of Iraq.

In the Egyptian parliament, MP Emad Saad Hamouda said that the Tripartite aggression on Syria depended on the same sort of lies that had been deployed by the Bush administration in its attack on Iraq in 2003. He said that Egypt rejects the imposition of any foreign countries’ policies on Syria, with which Egypt has long and close associations. (Since the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew a Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013 and then declared most of the religious Right terrorists, and since the secular, putatively socialist Baath Party in Syria has been facing a rebellion led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other elements of the religious Right, the Egyptian government and press have tilted toward Bashar al-Assad in recent years. This development has sparked some disputes with Egypt’s financial patrons in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, who also hate the populist Eygptian Muslim Brotherhood but who have funded hard line Syrian Salafi guerrillas in a bid to overthrow the al-Assad regime).

These reactions show how profoundly the George W. Bush administration damaged American credibility on the world stage by its gotten-up war on Iraq. At a time of rising China, resurgent Russia, profound doubts about President Trump, and the rise of algorithmic fake news on social media, the United States cannot afford this major and lasting hit to its credibility. Those Americans who are now thinking more positively about Bush (why?) should reconsider.

Washington keeps hoping that post-American Iraq will emerge as a strong US ally in the region. The reality is mixed. Iraq’s Shiite elites, along with most Kurds and Sunnis, are happy to ally against al-Qaeda and ISIL and other Sunni/Wahhabi extremist groups. But Iraqi Shiites and Kurds are not willing to line up against Iran or Iranian allies like Baathist Syria. That is a key contradiction in US policy in the region, to the extent that there is any policy.


Bonus video:

Nic Robertson, CNN: “Why war in Syria is so complex”

13 Responses

  1. I have now spent several hours with international, mainly European, journals, reading their accounts of these strikes. While most of the articles are supportive or sympathetic to the strikes the comment sections are almost uniformly opposed to the pre-empting of the OPCW investigation and the absence of any authorisation from the US, UK, or French legislative institutions. Many contain forensic unpicking of the ‘evidence’. More significantly, the strikes are broadly seen as a dangerous attack on both Democracy and International Law. I find this salutary and encouraging. NB. I don’t know if the same applies to social media since I use none.

    • Polling suggests that between 66% and 80% of the British public opposed the strikes on Syria. It likely could not have gotten through parliament.

      • It has gone unnoticed that the Syria airstrikes occurred on April 15th, the 32nd anniversary of Pres. Reagan’s unilateral decision to bomb Libya – without any type of Congressional approval – from an RAF base in England. Two F-111 pilots died in the Libya raid and 60 Libyans were casualties.

        Libya lodged a protest with the United Nations and the General Assembly condemned the USAF action as in violation of international law. Subsequently, the United States resolved legal claims by the victims of that raid as part of a global settlement between the U.S. government and Libya that included payment of compensation for victims of alleged Libyan complicity in the Lockerbie aircraft bombing. That settlement included the re-establishment of normal diplomatic relations between the governments of the U.S. and Libya.

        Reagan received widespread acclaim for authorizing the Libya air attack – however a key difference with that raid was that it was in response to the Lockerbie terror bombing in which numerous U.S. citizens died and a subsequent bombing at a German discotheque that killed an American U.S. Army sergeant.

        In the instant case, there had been no claim by the Trump administration that U.S. citizens were being endangered by the use of poison gas in Syria. It is a key distinction which places the recent airstrikes on very tenuous legal grounds.

        I really do not see the polling of U.S. or British public as very relevant – rather the inquiry should be whether violations of the U.S. Constitution or British law were committed so as to render the bombings impeachable offenses.

        • @John O’Dwyer:

          I stand corrected.

          It was the 1985 Rome and Vienna airport terror attacks that were aided and abetted by Libya that the Reagan administration used as a partial basis for the 1986 Libya raid

  2. Juan, thank you for giving us additional perspectives on the recent attacks on Syria. Your ability to read the journals of the region in the original languages and report what you find to us is very valuable.

    In that spirit, I offer this link to a post by former UK diplomat Craig Murray, in which he addresses the legal arguments the British Government has made supporting their participation in the bombing of Syria:

    link to

  3. of course it won’t end well, it didn’t start well and it has no real meaning. It won’t stop the use of chemicals, its just a p.r. stunt put on by Trump and friends. it probably makes the P.M. of G.B. feel important, like they still have some control over the world and I’d suggest ditto for the President of France. Neither of these 3 have any experience in war and have lived fairly privileged lives.

    Some one ought to take these war mongers out into a war and leave them there with civilians for a week or so. They might change their minds. Nothing is achieved by any of this. They just want to ensure their supply of oil continues.

  4. The CNN video describes the Free Syrian Army as ‘moderate’. I’m not sure the Kurds in Afrin, presently enjoying the attentions of the Turkish-backed FSA, would agree.

  5. OK, it appears that Mattis trumped Bolton – this time – and we’ve avoided a needless military conflict with Russia. But the problem remains and it’s only a matter of time before we’re again close to a clash. So I have a suggestion. Yes, it’s a bit batspit crazy but hear me out.

    One of the motivations behind Putin’s unflagging support for Assad dates back to Czarist times: The desire for a warm water port. OK, so what if Netanyahu phoned Putin to offer a port facility where the Russian navy could dock?

    The 2 countries have turned the page on their Cold War hostility and their respective militaries work together to keep out of each other’s way in Syria. Russia could still project power and go after ISIS – one of its professed goals – without needing to get its hands dirty supporting a regime that deploys chemical weapons. It also would remove the risk of a conflict with the US in the event that the West again retaliates against Assad if he again uses unconventional weapons.

    Yes, I know there are any number of reasons why this is unrealistic. But “realism” of the sort practices by the great powers competing for influence in the region isn’t winning special points on my final exam.

  6. IMHO this is less about Syria and more important to Trump to send a message to Iran and N. Korea. For a long time Bolton has favored military action in Iran and now he appears to have the means to attain this.

  7. It is worth keeping in mind that if this had escalated into a broader US/Iran war Iraq would quickly become a major battlefield. The opposition of Iraqi parties to this is likely based les in ideology, though the Syrian rebels are less than popular with Iraqi Shia, as it is on a simple desire not to see their country become a battleground yet again.

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