Iraq Backs Syria . . . at Iran’s Urging

by Andrew C. McCarthy

The Bush administration repeatedly stated that our benchmark for success in Iraq was the creation of “a unified democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror” — to quote the 2007 Iraq Strategy Review published by the National Security Council. President Bush himself insisted that “by helping Iraqis build a democracy” we would not only “undermine the terrorists” but “gain an ally in the war on terror,” and “inspire reformers across the Middle East” — and, he added, “this will make the American people more secure.

I have argued, to the contrary, that newly “democratic” Iraq is becoming an Islamist satellite of Iran, hostile to the U.S., hostile to Israel, and hostile to non-Muslims, homosexuals, and other minorities. I won’t rehearse the back-up for those claims. I simply point to this report from last Friday’s New York Times, detailing that under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (the Islamist prime minister the U.S. has backed in the interest of promoting democracy), Iraq — nudged by Iran — is supporting the Assad regime in its brutal crackdown in Syria:

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.

Mr. Maliki’s support for Mr. Assad has illustrated how much Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran. And it has also aggravated the fault line between Iraq’s Shiite majority, whose leaders have accepted Mr. Assad’s account that Al Qaeda is behind the uprising, and the Sunni minority, whose leaders have condemned the Syrian crackdown.

“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.”

Iraq and Syria have not had close relations for years, long before the American invasion. During the sectarian violence here that broke out after the invasion, Iraqi leaders blamed Syria for allowing suicide bombers and other militants to enter the country.

But Syria and Iran have had close ties, a factor in the recalibration of relations between Syria and Iraq. Last year, Iran pressured Mr. Assad into supporting Mr. Maliki for prime minister, which eventually helped him gain a second term. Since then, Mr. Maliki and Mr. Assad have strengthened relations, signing trade deals and increasing Syrian investment in Iraq.

The rest is here, including Maliki’s interesting take on Syrian “democracy,” which bodes ill for the future of Iraqi “democracy.” (“Mr. Maliki said that the protesters should use the democratic process, not riots, to voice their displeasure, though Syria does not allow competitive, free elections. He put most of the blame on the protesters and said little about the government’s ending the bloodshed.”) 

There is no doubt that Assad’s opposition includes Sunni Islamist elements allied with the Muslim Brotherhood (which the late, unlamented Assad the elder mercilessly crushed), and some al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists, too. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking that, if Assad were toppled, whatever came after him would necessarily be good for the U.S. But the fact is that the Iranian regime is the number one American enemy in the region — promoting anti-American terrorism by both Shiite and Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaeda, with which Iran’s government has been cooperating since the early nineties. If Iraq is supporting Assad, Iraq is supporting Iran’s terrorist rulers, and that means Iraq is no ally of the United States. But I think we already knew that.