London-Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has stressed the importance of confronting Iran’s expansionist policies in the region by resorting to the U.S. to strengthen the military capabilities of Gulf countries.
Khalilzad told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview that Iraqi Shi’ite officials have complained of Iran’s interference in their country’s affairs, saying the militias backed by Tehran might turn against each other in the future over a dispute on oil.
“It is wrong not to create safe and no-fly zones in Syria,” he said. “We have experience in such matters. We implemented it in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when Saddam moved against the Kurds and forced them to escape to Turkey.”
“We planned at the Pentagon to create a no-fly zone, a move that stopped many Kurds from heading to Turkey and then to Europe,” he said.
“The same should have been done in Syria,” the diplomat said, adding “it would have led to a possibility of a better settlement and would have led to the formation of a government that represents Syrians better.”
Asked what would happen if diplomacy fails in Syria, he said: “More conflicts and more refugees.”
“I think that it is not too late to take measures that would convince Bashar Assad to approve not just reaching a ceasefire but also a settlement acceptable by most Syrians.”
“I believe that there is a need for a regional settlement between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Khalilzad said. “But as long as there is no solution in Syria, there won’t be any solution in Iraq.”
Asked how a settlement could be reached with Iran, which has an expansionist policy, he said: “The settlement is possible if there is a change in Iranian policies. Change could take place if their (Iranians) activities in Iraq and Syria become costlier and if there is a balance of power in the region which stops Iran from seeking to control the region.”
Khalilzad said the negotiation between the three powers requires a U.S. move “to strengthen the capabilities of its traditional Arab allies.”
“Confronting Iran’s aggressive attitude and at the same time allowing it to participate (in resolving the regional disputes) is the right policy,” he said.
“Some parties in Iran, mainly the people, want better relations with the rest of the world, including the U.S.,” Khalilzad said.
When told about Iran’s disrespect for Iraqi sovereignty, he told his interviewer that Shi’ite Iraqi politicians want good relations with the U.S. and with Iran.
“They don’t want to be dependent on Iran and humiliated by it,” he said. “They want to be independent.”
“Some of them have expressed concern over the role that Iranian-backed militias play in Iraq … although they believe that they need the militias in their continuous fight with ISIS,” he said.
“They fear that such militias backed by Iran could be a source of instability for Shi’ites,” Khalilzad stated.
“As a result of Iranian policies, there could be inter-Shi’ite strife and for example some of these militias could fight each other because of oil,” he said.
“That’s why Iraqi Shi’ite leaders are concerned and are looking forward to a balance in relations, mainly with the U.S.” he added.