Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Iraq, Iran and Syria- oh my

Finally some relatively good news out of Iraq: it seems that Syria is willing to help stabilize Iraq. And what’s more, Iran has invited Syria and Iraq to a summit in order to discuss ways to curb violence in Iraq.

As many of you are aware the violence in Iraq has implications beyond the country's borders; A massive flow of refugees from Iraq would likely destabilize its neighbors, the divisions in Iraq are mirrored in its neighbors allowing for the possibility that these groups will react violently in solidarity with their Iraqi counterparts, and neighboring states may intervene militarily in the civil war turning the conflict into a regional one. I’m told Ken Pollack and Dan Byman are coming out with a longer treatment of the subject but in the meantime read this for more details on how an Iraq conflict could spill over into other countries in the region.

Any successful solution must involve neighboring countries, especially Iran and Syria; however, Syria especially, has been very reluctant to help Iraq and by many accounts has in fact been supporting insurgents in Iraq. A little aside: A couple of months ago I was at Brookings listening to the Deputy PM of Iraq Barham Salih speak when someone asked what Iraq’s relations with its neighbors were like. Dr. Salih was most diplomatic in his response, refusing to say a single negative word about Iraq’s neighbors, Iran included, yet he had this to say about Syria:

"We want to have good neighborly relations, but what their [Syria’s] practices are, are not at all consistent with what they claim to be a concern for Iraq. They are getting a lot of Iraqis killed, and that is not unacceptable..."

So it is quite a relief to hear the Syrian foreign minister promising to cooperate with Iraqi officials to help curb the violence in Iraq though I suppose at the end of the day it could be nothing more than posturing. Furthermore, today The Washington Post is reporting that Iraq will restore diplomatic ties with Syria after breaking them about twenty-five years ago.

Naturally any solution to the Iraq conflict will have to involve a country that has 140,000 of its troops in Iraq. Problem is that Bush has been reluctant to hold any high level meetings with Syria, let alone Iran.

Enter the infamous Iraq Study Group. James Baker, its co-chair, has long been an advocate of engaging “unfriendly” states in dialogue . So it no surprise that Baker et al have met several times with Syrian officials to determine how Syria might best cooperate with the United States when it comes to stabilizing Iraq. This seems to indicate that the ISG will recommend greater cooperation with Syria and Iran in its report to the President. Good, right?

Potentially. It seems that Bush has set up his own little Iraq study group. Critics argue that this offers the administration a way out of implementing any unfavorable recommendations that the Baker IWG may come up with such as say starting negotiations with Iran and Syria.


Just saw this story in the London-based daily Asharq al Awsat:

"Kurdish lawmaker Mahmood Othman has criticised politicians in parliament and government for courting intervention from neighbouring countries. He said some politicians urge countries in the region to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs while others ask them to provide assistance. Othman said this is unacceptable because it's not in the interests of all Iraqis."
So it appears that not all Iraqis favor assistance from the neighbors. Though its interesting to note that the criticism came from an MP whose region is relatively peaceful and stable at this time, to the point that it is actively pursuing foreign investment.

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