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Monday, January 22, 2007



 

 

 

   Halted Support for US Iraq Strategy

  Even as US allies in West Asia expressed support for the US’s new Iraq strategy, Riyadh haltingly expressed support but also doubted the even-handedness of the government in Baghdad to deal with the Sunni population or its capacity to stop sectarian violence.
 

 

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Even as US allies in West Asia expressed support for the US’s new Iraq strategy, Riyadh haltingly expressed support but also doubted the even-handedness of the government in Baghdad to deal with the Sunni population or its capacity to stop sectarian violence.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) along with Egypt and Jordan met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and issued a statement welcoming “the commitment” of the US to stabilize Iraq. The GCC was careful not to commit itself to stabilize or rebuild Iraq but Saudi Arabia said that it will consider deploying troops to protect Sunnis should the US withdraw prematurely. Riyadh was also skeptical about US moves to boost the image and stature of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said his nation agreed “with the full objectives” of the new plan. Distancing his nation from any effort to help Iraq, al-Faisal also warned that the plan will work only if the “objectives can be accomplished” by “Iraqis themselves.”

In the meanwhile, the first contingent of additional US troops arrived in Baghdad amid veiled criticism from al-Maliki about the US not arming the Iraqi Army. Some say that this outburst is frustration on losing control of the five Iranian diplomats, accused of being Revolutionary Guards and captured by American forces. Other says that he is frustrated at not being able to take control even though Iraqis are fully capable of taking care of themselves if given the means such as arms, training, and finances. The US Army is also willing to reduce its engagement for a “phased withdrawal” but has reported increasing cases of desertion in the Iraqi Army (similar to Afghanistan). Earlier today, al-Maliki is reportedly dropped his protection of a rabid anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr running a militia called the Mahdi Army after the US intelligence personnel convinced him that the group has been infiltrated by suicide bombers who have killed, driven away, and aggrandized property and money of innocent Sunni Muslims as retribution of attacks by Sunni insurgents. The Americans seemed to have convinced the Iraqi PM that his peers in Sunni nations are ambivalent to support him and have cited his continued support of al-Sadr as evidence. Al-Maliki controlled Iraqi Special Forces and US Marines targeted and either captured or killed five top Mahadi Army leaders and also joined forces with American forces to go on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep to flush out Mahadi Army and Badr Brigade rebels holed up within buildings.

Washington’s regional allies are also worried that the Shia majority government in Baghdad may use the arms against the ethnic Sunnis and this is perhaps also stopping the US from going all out to arm the Iraqis. This is the reason for US President George Bush’s new plan calling for a greater role for the Sunnis in administration and the government. While well intentioned, this objective does not meet much acceptance with the Shia or Kurds who flank the land-locked and resource-deficit Sunni population and this is the reason for al-Faisal’s skeptical statement about Iraqis accomplishing the objectives themselves.

Riyadh has also formed a regional coalition including Egypt and Jordan to counter Iranian meddling in Iraq. It has also alerted some regiments to move into Iraq very quickly if the sectarian violence becomes uncontrollable but it is unclear what the objectives of the troops will be. If they invade Iraq to protect the Sunnis, the Tehran and Syria is sure to respond in kind to protect the Shia population. If the enter Iraq as part of a larger mandate for peacekeeping then other nations may also join in but the charter of this deployment will take months if not years to develop. Any trouble from the Kurds in the North will automatically invite the Turks to enter the fray to secure their Kurd majority areas.

In parallel, Riyadh is also seeking Washington’s support to produce a “regional initiative” in cooperation with the Arab League to stabilize Iraq by disrupting Tehran’s alleged links with the administration in Baghdad. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also written to the Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz about his nation’s promised support to resolve the Iraqi turmoil. Amid increasing reports talking about a {US-Israel plan to attack Iranian nuclear, defense, and economic targets in wide-ranging pattern Israel Plans to Strike Iran, Ahmadinejad has also reportedly asked Abdullah to facilitate better relations with Washington. Despite Riyadh’s opposition to Tehran influence in Iraq and its guarded hostility to Shia domination of Muslims, it is also opposed the proposed military plans to attack Iran.

Tehran also seems to be anticipating an attack and is gearing its forces into a missile exercise thereby putting Tel Aviv and Washington on notice on what it intends to do in case of an attack. It has also been vocal to rubbish the UNSC resolution imposing limited non-military sanctions on it while drummed up its rhetoric on its nuclear program. While any nation is entitled to defend itself from aggression, it is frustrating to see Ahmadinejad ratcheting up tensions in a brinkmanship game that threatens to run the whole region and global economy into major crisis. Fortunately, the Iranian polity, which is more pluralistic and intelligent than most nations in the region, has taken notice and seems to be resigned to sacrificing Ahmadinejad to protect the larger interests of the nation. Over 290 members of parliament (MPs), including 150 of Ahmadinejad’s right-wing supporters, signed a letter criticizing his disastrous economic policy that has runaway inflation and unemployment; foreign policy that has brought another US aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf, a distribution of Patriot anti-missile missiles to regional enemies, and several squadron of fighter jets to Turkey, and a threat of war; and sharp international division of the Muslim community on sectarian lines. The voter base in Iran also penalized Ahmadinejad by electing candidates of moderate political rival Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to the Assembly of Experts in preference to hand-picked candidates of Ahmadinejad. Further, his lack of attention to the decrepit and near bankrupt processing facilities thus negating his promise to share oil revenues with the population has also angered many who want to take advantage of their natural resources for growth just as Venezuelans are.

The success of the new Bush plan will depend on these developments in Iran. If Washington increases the pitch, Ahmadinejad will exploit it to deepen his shallow support. If Israel gets too involved, at least overtly, he will be able to unify the Arabs under his banner. On the other hand, if Washington empowers the Saudi-led coalition and the Arab League to be more forceful and take more leadership, they may at worst reign in Ahmadinejad and at best convince Iranian leadership to change their President.

 

 

 

 

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