Thursday, September 12, 2013

Iraq Opposes U.S. Military Strike On Syria

As the United States Congress was discussing a military strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, Iran’s new foreign minister travelled to Iraq where he received widespread support for opposing any such move. The Iranian diplomat met with a number of different Iraqi politicians all of which warned about the negative repercussions of any U.S. action against President Bashar Assad. This was a rare occasion where Iraq’s elite agreed upon Syria. In the past, each political party has carried out its own foreign policy with different groups coming out for the Syrian rebels, while others have implicitly supported Damascus. The threat of U.S. missiles has brought about rare unity on this issue.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zaris (left) and Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari (right) during their recent meeting in Sep. 2013 (Getty)

Iraq’s major political parties all backed Iran’s opposition to American military action in Syria. Tehran’s new Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zaris made his first trip abroad to Iraq in September 2013. He gave a press conference with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari where the latter said that Iraq would not be used for any attack against Syria. Zarif also met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Before Zaris’ visit, the premier said that he opposed any military strike in Syria. Zaris paid a visit to Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi as well who told the press that any action against Syria would have repercussions for Iraq and the entire region. Nujafi added that resorting to the military options would only make the Syrian war worse. The next day there was a meeting of most of Iraq’s major political parties where they all expressed reservations about any attack upon Syria. This was a rare case where all of Iraq’s elite came to a consensus. They rarely agree upon anything, which has led to paralysis in Baghdad on just about every major issue including the war next door.

Before hand, each list was following its own policy towards Syria. The Maliki government is officially neutral in the Syrian conflict, but has consistently pushed for a negotiated settlement, which would allow President Assad to stay in power. It has therefore not called on Assad to step down. It has refused to vote on resolutions condemning Syria in the Arab League. It has not followed sanctions, agreeing to sell Damascus 720,000 tons of fuel oil a month for a 50% discounted rate. It has not stopped Shiite militias from sending their fighters to help the Syrian government or thoroughly checked Iranian planes transporting weapons and supplies to Syria. Transportation Minister Hadi al-Ameri from the Badr Organization claims that his ministry is inspecting Iranian flights, but given the fact that his group is pro-Iranian and has sent 1,500 fighters to help Damascus there’s no reason to believe him. Speaker Nujafi of Mutahidun on the other hand has called for international intervention to overthrow the Syrian government. Despite all these differences the threat of an American attack has suddenly united these diverse leaders. That includes Nujafi who supports the Syrian rebels, and opposes Tehran’s influence. Yet there he was meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister agreeing with him. What brought them together is their fear of what might happen if President Obama carries through with his threat. Iraq’s Shiite parties do not want more international inference in Syria, which might tip the scales in the favor of the rebels. Nujafi on the other hand might be afraid of Iraq being used as a base by Iranian backed groups to carry out attacks both within the country and in the region against western targets. His Mutahidun party already claims Shiite militias are operating throughout Iraq. Any missile strike on Syria, might give the militants a new excuse to increase their activities further destabilizing Iraq.

Since Premier Maliki has implicitly supported the Syrian government it was no surprise that he would oppose any U.S. action, but it was striking to see other leaders like Speaker Nujafi agreeing with not only the prime minister, but the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. Iraq’s leaders hardly ever find consensus on an issue, especially when Iran is involved, yet the Obama administration has united them. That’s likely to end as soon as the threat of American intervention has passed. Then all the major leaders will return to their own positions and arguments over what should happen next door. This is all occurring while Syria is having serious blowback on Iraq. Unfortunately the fractured nature of Iraq’s elite means that they can’t agree on how to deal with it, and counter these negative influences.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq’s Sadr rejects US call for Assad to go,” 8/19/11

Arango, Tim, “Syrian War’s Spillover Threatens a Fragile Iraq,” New York Times, 9/24/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Political solution necessary for Syria, Premier Maliki,” 9/8/13
- “Right of Syrian people in multiple democratic regime stressed, Maliki,” 8/31/12

Gwertzman, Bernard, “Difficult Time Ahead for Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relations, 1/10/13

Al-Khoei, Hayder, “Syria: the view from Iraq,” European Council On Foreign Relations,” 6/14/13

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- “Syrian and Iraqi Conflicts Show Signs of Merging,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 3/7/13

Lederer, Edith and Daniszewski, John, “Iraq Floats Plan to Get Syrian Opponents Talking,” Associated Press, 9/29/12

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National Iraqi News Agency, “Three presidencies, political blocs’ leaders reject possible military strike on Syria,” 9/10/13

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Al Rayy, “Transportation: We searched more than 12 Iranian planes bound for Syria and have not found weapons,” 9/10/13

Reuters, “Arab states urge international action against Syrian government,” 9/1/13
- “Iraq Says It Can’t Halt Arms to Syria,” 7/13/13
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Sadah, Ali Abel, “Iraqi Speaker: Maliki Could Resort To Military Force Against Opponents,” Al-Monitor, 4/10/13

Saigol, Lina and Peel, Michael, “Iraq sends crucial fuel oil to Syria,” Financial Times, 10/8/12

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Smyth, Phillip, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Breaking Badr, The New Season: Confirmation of the Badr Organization’s Involvement in Syria,” Jihadology, 8/12/13


Anonymous said...

Iraq Opposes U.S. Military Strike On Syria?

Is it Iraqi proxy or Iran?

The photo you put speaks loudly who Opposes U.S. Military Strike On Syria?
Speaking during his first visit abroad since he was appointed last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javed Zarif .............Standing alongside him, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari ......

Joel Wing said...

Iraq has aligned itself with Iran on Syria, but it's being driven by its own internal dynamics. The main Shiite religious parties in Iraq are afraid that Islamists will come to power in Syria if Assad falls and that they will be a threat to Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq has already been able to revive itself partially because of Syria. Iraq would be against that whether Iran existed or not. Maliki therefore is not stopping Iranian weapons being shipped through Iraq to Syria, he's not stopping Iraqi militiamen going to fight there, Iraq is selling fuel at discounted prices, etc.

I do not agree with the position that Iran is telling Iraq to do this. Baghdad has its own motivations for its policy.

It's also important to know that every major Iraqi party has its own policy towards Syria. The KDP, PUK, State of Law, Badr, Mutahidun, Iraqiya, etc.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with your statement, those parties you listed were well supported funded on their early days of creations, so they “Parties” NOT Iraq as a nation has aligned themselves with Iran on Syria>
As for the Kurdish parties they have their own graveness of the status of Kurds in Syria which they oppressed (they have nor National identity Card issued for them neither Passports) also they have the gaol for Kurdish states which cover parts from Iraqi, Syria Turkey ,Iran.

Joel Wing said...

The Iraqi parties have a range of opinions and policies on Syria. Some are aligned with Iran's policy towards the war, and some are not. State of Law wants to implicitly support Assad because it's afraid of Islamists coming to power. However it has not used government forces inside Syria and has not sent any of its own fighters there either. Maliki is using the power of the state not to stand in the way of those parties that also support Syria, and tried to unsuccessfully police the border so the conflict doesn't spill over into Iraq. Badr on the other hand has sent several hundred fighters to Syria and its leader Transportation Minister Ameri lets Iranian planes fly across Iraq to Syria carrying weapons. Sadr has called for Assad's downfall, but has not sent any of his militia to fight in Syria. The Supreme Council also has not sent any of its men. Mutahidun has called for Assad's fall partly because it is aligned with Turkey which is also anti-Assad, but also because many of its base support the rebels there. Allawi has also called for Assad to be deposed. The KDP has tried to push its own party the KDP-S in Syria and created the Kurdish National Council as an umbrella organization but both have failed as the PKK-PYD is the strongest party in Syrian Kurdish areas and rejected Barzani's advances. The PUK in response has tried to reach out to the PKK-PYD to maintain its balance with the KDP.

Again, if Iran didn't exist, I think many of the Shiite religious parties would be opposed to Assad's fall because of their fears of what would come next. Also don't forget the Shiite parties have a range of opinions about Iran as well. Dawa and Maliki are friendly with Iran, but also resent Tehran's attempts to control everything. Badr on the other hand is directly aligned with Iran. The picture is much more complicated than Iran funded the religious parties therefore they all take orders from it.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with your conclusions in the last one.

Although Bashar Al-Asad as his father and there regime machine just like the Tyrant Saddam and his regime .

But on the ground in Syria today there is not good player that give hope that Syrian will better off Al-Assad regime. We see and hear deals with the most corrupted regimes in ME who still till today a bearding land of terrorists (you need to do your homework to find well) do you think corrupted Prince or Ameer will help good guys showing them billions? For what?
Those Syrian refugees just like Iraqi ten years ago pigging for food and shelter when UN agencies looking and asking for help to host them.

The worries, of the loses of innocent lives if bombing starting and the aftermath chaos, Just what we end in Iraq, especially as you called those American who sent to Iraq was a joke, will continue with American Think Tank, like Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy , I am a Research Assistant for the Iraq Project at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Dr Elizabeth O’Bagy

Joel Wing said...

Just to add to the complicated manner of Middle East politics, Syria and Iran have been allied since the 1980s when the Iran-Iraq War brought the two together. That did not stop Syria from opposing the U.S. and Iraqi governments after the 2003 invasion and being one of the largest supporters of the insurgency including Al Qaeda in Iraq. It wasn't too long ago that Maliki was accusing Assad of being behind major bombings throughout Baghdad. Syria therefore was supporting people who were fighting those backed by Iran. Now ironically Al Qaeda in Iraq has turned on Assad.

Anonymous said...

Hope the war with Syria will not give birth to this sort of Democracy in Syria

Anonymous said...

John McCain on Syria at Town Hall