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Iraq’s Maliki Takes Syrian Government’s Side in Uprising

A series of bombs tore through Iraq today, killing at least 74 and wounding another 247. For some reason, the response to this violence in the United States always tends toward the proposition that we have to keep military troops in the country for an extended period. Unless I miss my guess, there are already 46,000 troops in Iraq, and that didn’t stop these bombings from occurring. So I don’t logically follow. Iraq is still a dangerous place, and it will remain a dangerous place whether our troops leave or stay. That’s what happens when you start a sectarian civil war.

But a big story went missing in the wake of these execrable suicide attacks. It turns out that the Iraqi leadership essentially backed the Syrian side of the divide over their repressive attacks on their own people. It’s credible to suggest that Iran played a role in Iraq’s decision-making.

As leaders in the Arab world and other countries condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on demonstrators in Syria, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq has struck a far friendlier tone, urging the protesters not to “sabotage” the state and hosting an official Syrian delegation […]

“The unrest in Syria has exacerbated the old sectarian divides in Iraq because the Shiite leaders have grown close to Assad and the Sunnis identify with the people,” said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East.

He added: “Maliki is very reliant on Iran for his power and Iran is backing Syria all the way. The Iranians and the Syrians were all critical to bringing him to power a year ago and keeping him in power so he finds himself in a difficult position.”

The Iraqi government is most certainly not unified on this point. The Parliament has denounced the violence in Syria, particularly the Kurdish and Sunni factions. But Maliki appears firmly in the Syrian camp, in contrast to his government’s anger at Bahrain when the Sunni minority brutalized a Shiite majority. So the sectarian lens has come to govern Iraq’s positions in the region.

More than anything, this shows how the United States lost the war. They installed a friendly government in Iraq and cannot even get them to agree when a neighbor shoots and kills their own citizens. Instead the sectarian orbit led by Iran has more sway over Iraqi foreign policy. As Juan Cole writes, this is an embarrassment to Washington. It should also make us wonder why we should sink more blood and treasure into the country. But that relationship is not likely to end soon.

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David Dayen

David Dayen