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Syrian conflict taking a heavy toll on Iraq



If Iraq finds itself affected and sucked into an unfolding proxy war over Syria the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has none but himself to blame. He and his government have failed to play their roles that were certainly expected of them. Sharing a common border with Iran, Syria and Turkey, Iraq today faces some serious dangers to its national interests, stability and security. Its already fractious domestic polity is threatening to split furthermore along its inherent sectarian and ethnic fault lines. And irrespective of what finally transpires in neighbouring Syria, Iraq certainly will be the biggest loser.

More than dividing the Arab and Muslim world along the Shia and Sunni sectarianism, the effect of the conflict in Syria has, thus far, been telling on Iraq in particular. Baghdad today finds itself caught between the devil and deep sea, rather a nut cracker. Maliki has proved how correct is the notion the world has always nursed about him. He is indeed unfit for the position he is occupying and few Iraqis will differ over the fact that Iraq would have been better off without Maliki.

Iraq could have played a central role in resolving the Syrian crisis and emerge a key player in the region. Unfortunately, on the contrary, it allowed itself to be used only as a conduit in complicating the Syrian imbroglio and become a playground of foreign powers. The consequences so far have been catastrophic for Iraq. Maliki was evidently influenced by the fear of a conceived threat a "Sunni controlled Syria across the border
would pose."

And in allowing his country to be used for supplying of weapons, funds and even fighters Maliki has not only worked as an agent in complicating the situation in Syria but has also led Iraq into a proxy war unfolding between the Shia and Sunni axis in which a few Western powers, the United States, Russia and China have perceptible roles. In the regional politics of Middle East Maliki's myopia has made Iraq rather pariah.

His shortsightedness has already started to bite back. Iraq today is more divided than ever. The Arab Sunnis in Iraq, especially those from the northern part which borders with Syria, have already started to send men and weapons, pouring in from the West, to join the uprising primarily to return what Ranj Alaaldin a Middle East political and security risk analyst says the favour to brethren who supported and formed a key part of the post-2003 Iraqi insurgency.

Even the Kurds in Iraq, much to Maliki's chagrin and discomfort, have joined to play their roles and are working in directions diametrically opposite to Maliki's. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is now training scores of anti-Assad Syrian Kurdish fighters. These fighters are being trained by the "elite Peshmerga forces to prepare Syrian Kurds for the power vacuum in Syria as well as the stabilisation of an autonomous Syrian Kurdish region."

The KRG's move has created an extremely volatile situation in Iraq. The standoff between the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds is now deeper than ever and a battle line between them is today more than just perceptible. A civil war between the Kurds and Iraqis was providentially averted recently when the Iraqi army was "stopped by KRG forces and forced to retreat". Maliki had sent the army to take control of a crossing point along Syrian border in the Kurdish region through which the KRG has been sending anti-Assad Syrian Kurdish fighters and weapons.

The standoff between Arab Iraqis and Kurds in Iraq has a long history and has received a fresh impetus in the wake of Maliki's show of defiance against the United States. In an attempt to showcase his aggressiveness and to play a greater role in the region Maliki purchased Russian arms worth $4.2bn. Washington evidently did not like Maliki's purchase. But the Kurds were upset as they feared that the weapons could possibly be used against them.

Though an outbreak of a conflict with the Kurds was averted the standoff continues to simmer on the back burner. A multi-dimensional war of attrition in Iraq rages on among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Iraq probably never looked so divided and in such shambles ever before. Maliki cannot void nor refuse his culpability.

Central to the affliction that plagues Iraq today is Maliki's ineptitude and its confused foreign policy. Alaaldin is emphatic in his conviction. Iraq has no national foreign policy. For the past decade, a lack of unity among its ruling elite has failed to allow for a unified approach towards its international relations one that could have protected the country from becoming a playground for outside powers, with disastrous consequences for its political and security stability.

We cannot but agree with Alaaldin that the Iraqi state, a decade on since the US-led invasion in 2003, continues to linger between moribund and nonexistent. Iraq could be leveraging its strategic location and rich resources by maximising on the vulnerability of its regional neighbours in what has emerged as a critical geopolitical proxy war.

But the decentralised and conflicting foreign policy ambitions of Iraq's autonomous political actors has allowed for the country's broader national interests to be sacrificed, as they look toward the Syria conflict as an opportunity to weaken opponents within Iraq, rather than beyond.


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