28 Feb 2012

Iraq fears Syria overthrow more than Iran war

It is always fascinating how different things look when you change your perspective. I’ve been having some intriguing conversations in the last few days with the Shia-led Iraqi government for my Unreported World documentary in April. As I’ve mentioned before Iraq has dropped its support for President Assad’s regime in Syria but still is very nervous about his possible downfall. The switch comes just before Iraq hosts the Arab League Summit in March, and the government is trying to get closer to countries like Saudi Arabia. But a senior government source told me today that they strongly fear a sectarian war between Assad’s Allawi Shias and Sunnis in Syria could spill over into Iraq – causing more bombings and restart the sectarian killings in Iraq of five years ago. They also strongly oppose international military intervention saying the West cannot repeat the Libyan model in Syria and warn a Syrian revolution could let Al Qaeda move in there.

Given the close relations between Prime Minister Malaki and Iran you might expect his government to be fiercely opposed to military action there by the West. But Iraq is trying to stay neutral – insisting it can be friends with both sides if it comes to a fight between Washington and Tehran. Airstrikes on Iran, I was told, would not affect Iraq nearly as badly as civil war in Syria.

Of course it is worth remembering that in what America calls the Sunni Triangle here in Iraq there is enthusiastic support for the Free Syrian Army. There have been reports of arms going back across the border from Iraq to Syria – and tribal meetings this week to decide how they can support the overthrow. So as ever “Iraq” is an inadequate word when describing this country’s position on anything.


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