Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki found himself in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s cross-hairslast week when the two leaders engaged in “spirited discussions” regarding Iran’s use of Iraqi airspace to supply resources to the Syrian government.
In his comments to the global media, Secretary Kerry stated the US belief that Iranian support was hurting western-backed rebel groups and raising questions about Iraq’s reliability as “a partner.”
The US government has long been concerned that Iran was using its humanitarian flights to Syria to provide weapons to the Assad regime. In order to prevent such weapons transfers, Washington had convinced Iraq to inspect Iranian planes using its airspace to ensure they were only carrying aid for the Syrian civilians.
However, Iraq’s compliance has been quite sparse and the US clearly believes that military supplies are freely flowing to the Syrian government.
Washington, therefore, wants Baghdad to increase these inspections and is using two arguments – loyalty and self-preservation – to motivate the Maliki administration.
The former is obvious since the current Iraqi government would not have been possible without US support, exchequer and lives. Hence, the US believes that now is the time for Maliki to show his gratitude and Iraq’s reliability as a partner by supporting its request.
The latter argument is a little shaky since it’s based on some uncertain factors. This line of reasoning is that allowing these flights will increase anti-Iraq fervor among the rebels, weaken the western-backed opposition, empower al Qaeda and, subsequently, hurt Iraqi stability.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this logic but the fact is that it ignores some basic facts.
Firstly, the Syrian opposition is already rife with al Qaeda linked extremists. Groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra – a designated terrorist organization – are quite popular among the rebels and unless Washington can show Iraq how it will prevent them from getting access to western weapons, it makes sense for Baghdad to play both sides of the fence.
Secondly, even if the US was able to prove its logic, the Iraqi prime minister is unlikely to support this policy because of his long-term relationships with Iran and Syria. This dependence is also rising with a declining US presence in Iraq as Maliki relies on his Shia neighbors to maintain his power base – especially valuable because of the upcoming provincial elections.
Finally, even if Iraq were to increase these inspections and the rebels won in Syria, a Sunni-led government could encourage Sunnis in Iraq to rise up against the Shia-led Iraqi power structure and the current government will do whatever it can to prevent this development.
Therefore, the bottom-line is that, in the present circumstances, Iraq is unlikely to begin across-the-board inspections of these flights.
This inaction – or relative non-compliance – presents a major problem for the United States as Washington increases its support for the Syrian rebels. Indeed, one could argue the Secretary Kerry’s proposal and recent statements from Congressman Mike Rogers and Senators Carl Levin and John McCain essentially telegraph a more active US role in the conflict.
Unless Iraqi participation in this conflict is minimized, Washington could well be forced into a clash with a nation that it freed from a tyrannical regime at a cost of trillions of dollars and over four thousand American lives just a decade ago. If that happens, then the Iraq invasion may well turn out to be biggest ever blunder in the history of US foreign policy.