Sunday, August 26, 2007

Syrian journalist sees a focus on Syria-Iran-Turkey support for Maliki

Following up on last week's visit by Maliki to Damascus, Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi, writing in Al-Hayat, says his diplomatic and other sources think the meetings showed Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and Syrian president Assad to be pretty much on the same page as far as current regional political, security and economic needs are concerned (and this represents an important change from recent indications of Damascus-Baghdad tensions), but at the same time he notes that the Syrian attitude also has to be seen in the context of its overall relationship with Washington.

The thinking goes like this:

For his part, Maliki has shown that he is aware more than ever that he needs the active support of Iran, Syria and Turkey if he is to achieve stability. This includes (he says without elaboration) a conviction that the PKK issue with Turkey has to be resolved. Maliki's new focus on the need for regional cooperation is the result of the escalating pressure from Washington. In fact Hamidi says the embarassing back-and-forth between Bush and Maliki both during the Iran visit and the Damascus visit had the effect of enhancing the impression of Maliki as a non-puppet, capable of forming this kind of regional understanding with Iran, Syria and Turkey. He doesn't actually say the Bush-Maliki exchanges were play-acting, but he does say this helped position Maliki within this additional "room for maneuver".

Assad, for his part, is increasingly worried about the security threat from an Iraq in chaos. In this connection, Hamidi mentions the general fears of a second "return" of the takfiiri mujahideen, the first having been from Afghanistan, threatening Saudi Arabia, and the second being from Iraq, threatening mainly the Levant. And he says the Fatah al-Islam fighting in Lebanon has helped crystalize this fear. Hamidi says the common fear of terrorism resulted in signs, at least, of increased seriousness about cooperation on border security and other security-cooperation issues. And there is the issue not only of the security implications, but also the economic implications of hosting an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, and of the need for cooperation to deal with the economic issues as well. He mentions agreement to re-open the Kirkuk-pipeline, as an example of this.

The other political influence has been Iranian pressure on Syria to be more forthcoming and unconditional in its support for the Maliki government, giving it Arab "legitimacy", their common fear being that a breakdown in the political process would be to the detriment of both of them. This is still based on "hopes" for progress on amending the Iraqi constitution, to diminish the threat of breakup, abolishing the de-Baathification law and other "reconciliation" measures.

A small indication of the change in Syrian attitude, Hamidi says, was apparent in the shift in language used by the Syrian Prime Minister, who initially said a scheduled US withdrawal would be a major help in achieving Iraqi stability, but at the end of the meetings turned this around and said national reconciliation would be a major help in speeding the foreign withdrawal. In fact, Hamidi notes, withdrawal of the foreign troops wasn't specifically mentioned in the final communique.

And this brings us to the double-edged or ambiguous quality that Hamidi sees in the new Syrian approach. He puts it this way:
It is true that there is anxiety [on the part of the Syrian regime] about the security threat coming from Iraq, and that there is a desire to create a regional network [referring to Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria] to prevent the collapse of the Maliki government and of the political process, and the breakup of the country, and [a desire for] cooperation among Syria Turkey and Iran in that respect, and [it is also true that this involves] national economic needs [in each of the countries]. However, it is also true that any security/political success in Iraq, related to this cooperation from the neighbors, will have positive reverberations in Washington on the eve of the Crocker/Petraeus report due the middle of next month, and there is a conviction [I think he means on the part of the Syrian regime] that these positive reverberations will serve to diminish the negative reactions [in Washington] to any negative developments in Lebanon, for instance from any failure to smooth over the main political demands of the two sides, and the possible emergence of the "two-governments" outcome.
In any event, Hamidi concludes, the coming weeks should show whether the new indications of cooperation are the genuine or not.


Post a Comment

<< Home