One Country and Two Fronts

August 13, 2012

The international community, the Middle East and Iraq are split over Syria. Every country seems to have an agenda or vision for Syria that either supports or opposes the current regime. The only country that is split is Iraq.

On one hand, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others backed by the U.S., UK and Europe would like to see an end to the Assad regime and a new Syria emerge — though Turkey has fears of the Kurdish factor.

This camp would like to have Iraq on its side or rally as many Iraqis as possible in their attempt to have a new Syrian Sunni-dominated regime — something Iraq’s Shia are uncomfortable with.

As a result, the Iraqis are split along their usual Sunni, Shia and Kurdish lines.

The Sunnis want to see a new Sunni regime, and hence are with Turkey and the rest of the Sunni camp. Turkey’s dilemma is in the Kurdish factor of the country. On the ground, the successful toppling of the Assad regime means stronger Kurds on Turkey’s border, a phobia Turkey has not managed to cure.

In contrast, Iran — the only other ally of the Syrian regime — is trying its best to keep the regime in place in order to not lose the important foothold it has in Syria. Iran is sending all kinds of messages to Kurds and other Iraqis to be part of its front to maintain the Syrian regime.

In this regard, Tehran called a rather desperate meeting about Syria and gathered the most unlikely states interested in or connected to Syria, Iran and the region. Apart from Russia and China, Iraq was the only country that had a direct connection to the crisis.

And it is split along sectarian lines. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, Iraqi Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzaie, a Shia, told Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) that the current unrest in Syria was the “result of a plot aimed to stir ethnic and sectarian strife in the country.”

He added, “This conspiracy is not limited to Syria and insecurity can prevail in the entire region if Muslim world elites do not take vigilant and due action.”

This stance largely represents Iraq’s Shia view of Syria. In contrast, Iraqi Sunnis are in tune with what Turkey says and hold quite the opposite view about Syria.

The Kurds, as usual, are in a dilemma. On the one hand, they try to stay away from it all; on the other, they are helping keep the Kurdish areas as stable and peaceful as possible.

This division is putting Iraq at a tough crossroads: whether to unite their external policy on Syria and take a side with either Iran or Turkey, or remain divided and see how the crisis unfolds.

Either way, Iraqis have to be in agreement with themselves in order to become players in regional politics and not have their country be a battleground of conflicting regional forces.

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