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.
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