You can change friends but not neighbors


American Express


Editorial You can change friends but not neighbors

February 15, 2007 - Globe  -  by Bashdar Ismaeel 

Four years of trying to placate a fragmented Iraqi nation in the midst of instability, bloodshed and economic ruin has been a tough order. 

Combine the manipulation and consistent  meddling by neighbouring countries and  the task of realising the vision of a  democratic and pluralistic Iraq became a  mere improbable if not impossible dream. 

On the infamous axis of evil, the dramatic  collapse of Saddam's rule was an ominous  sign to Iran and Syria that should democracy truly flourish in the Mesopotamian plains then  such antagonistic states would be natural  candidates for regime change. 

Suffering from long-term political isolation  and historically frosty relationships with the  US, Iran in particular has been under close  scrutiny around its alleged nuclear program  and outspoken political ideals. Iran would  have a natural interest in the outcome of Iraq  with a liberated Afghanistan to its east and a newly liberated Iraq to its west with the formidable might of the US military on either side. 

Iran wants to develop a stake in the 'new' Iraq whilst simultaneously undermining the presence and credibility of the US. An indirect influence of southern Iraq will at the minimum ensure a Shiite hegemony in the area. At the same time, with US hands firmly tied, Iran can gain much-needed breathing space as it continues its nuclear programme apace and placates its role as a regional super power. 

Turkey's primary fear is undoubtedly the growing power and strategic standing of the Iraqi Kurds, whom after decades of persecution have taken the limelight in the post-Saddam era. A federal Iraq with a stable and dominant north supported by masses of oil wealth for them is a prelude to a disaster that they want to avoid at all costs. Perhaps in less poignant terms, both Syrian and Iran share their concerns. 

The US has long accused Syria of failing to enforce adequate security measures and aiding and betting insurgents whilst the covert role of Iran in creating havoc in Iraq has received much public attention. Both deny any interest in creating such chaos in Iraq and often send assuring messages to highlight their stake in bringing peace to Iraq and point to good diplomatic ties, however even the Iraqi administration is taking an increasingly tougher stance. 

It is apparent that beneath the surface both countries have contributed heavily to the current mayhem engulfing Iraq. Ironically, although some neighbouring countries have voiced fear of the ramifications of a civil war, others have in essence fuelled an eventuality that simultaneously drains US military resources and diminishes US public support through a rapid loss of lives. 

Rather than fear the likely blueprint of a future Iraq - Iran, Turkey, Syria and to a lesser extent other neighbouring countries want to ensure their influence and credence in forging an Iraq that adheres to its vision. 

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad boldly claimed that the last chance to avert a civil war in Iraq was through US-Syrian cooperation. Its clear that Assad's trying to gain recognition and credibility as a significant Middle Eastern power to gain respectively particularly by the US to break its isolation and emerge as a key facilitator using its influence in Palestine and Lebanon. In turn if Syria is taking seriously on the negotiation table, it can use its leverage on the US and Israel for peace talks and a return of the Golan Heights. 

The US bipartisan Iraqi Study Group, strongly recommended the formation of diplomatic ties and more positive overtures to Iran and Syria in order to utilise their influence in curbing Sunni and Shiite extremists involved in current sectarian strife. However, president Bush chose a more conferential role particularly with Iran, vowing to rout Iranian operatives in Iraq. Instead of an olive branch, the Gulf saw another formidable US carrier as a show of strength to Iran and as a warning that US hands are far from tied. 

In the midst of growing pressure on Bush and with wide belief that the new security offensive could be his last chance, congressional confrontation has been clear and although Defence Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that alternatives were been sought, its becoming apparent that if such a bold surge of troops and an elaborate security plan fails to curb insurgency in Iraq, pressure at home and a renewed morale boost for extremists will spill the end of the US adventure and probably drag Iraq into a civil war with it. 

Iraq has become a staging ground for not just an internal battle between fractious sides, but also a forum for the expression of greater middle eastern issues - the influence of radical Shiites Hezbollah, Islamic extremists, the race for nuclear supremacy, the ubiquitous Palestinian headache and the changing shape of global politics. 

Iraq is a tough cookie to crack but this is nothing compared with the greater battle to reach a stable and peaceful Middle East.

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Awene The most admired Independent Kurdish Newspaper from the heart of Kurdistan.

Khatuzeen Center For Kurdish Women’s Issues

President Bashar al-Assad, pictured in 2006, told a meeting of his ruling Baath party that Syria wants good relations with Iraq and is committed to its neighbour's security, the official SANA news agency said. AFP PHOTO


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