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Iraq: Iran's alternative to Syria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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There is a debate currently taking place at the highest levels, regarding the extent to which Iran will go to defend its ally Syria, and ensure that it avoids collapse, following the unprecedented popular uprising taking place in the country today. I posed this question to an official responsible for the Syrian file in the region, and his answer was surprising!

The official said that there are indications suggesting that Iran has begun to prepare Iraq to be its closest ally in the region, in the event of the Syrian regime collapsing. Therefore today we can note the role being played by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, especially as some Sunni areas in Iraq are now witnessing deaths occurring every week at the hands of these militias, who are playing a greater and greater role with the approach of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Of course, preparing Iraq as an alternative to Syria means that Iranian foreign policy is not as concerned with resisting Israel – as Iran’s mullahs claim, in addition to their agents in the region such as Hassan Nasrallah – so much as Tehran is concerned with extending its influence in the Arabian Gulf. This has been Iran’s primary goal since the Khomeini revolution. Tehran has not fired a single shot at Israel since the Khomeini revolution took place, on the contrary Iran has in fact bought weapons from the Israelis, in what was known as the “Iran-Contra Affair.” The latest scandal is the revelation that Israeli ships have been docking at Iranian ports over the last ten years, and this was something that was only revealed last month.

Therefore, Iran turning to Iraq [in the event of the Syrian regime’s collapse] means that the objectives of the Iranian revolution are still in place, namely extending Iranian influence in the Arabian Gulf region. Another Iranian benefit to replacing Syria with Iraq is that the latter is rich and not in need of Iranian financial support like that required by the Syrian regime today. Likewise Iraq, should the al-Assad regime collapse, would offer strategic backing to Hezbollah, in terms of stockpiling and transporting arms [into Lebanon]. Iraq is also strategically located for launching operations against Iranian targets in the Gulf, including Jordan. It also means that Iran can encircle post-Assad Syria utilizing the Iraqi border, especially if the next Syrian government opposes Hezbollah and the Iranian axis in the region.

However I do not believe that this means that the Americans should extend their presence in Iraq, on the contrary Washington must withdraw from there. There is an urgent need to reform the political situation in Iraq, and ensure that the followers of Iraq – most prominently the Nouri al-Maliki regime – are not allowed to solely control the pillars of the Iraqi state, particularly as the majority of Iraq’s Shiite community are Arabists and are keen to ensure that their country does not become nothing more than a stage for Iran. This is a fact that is supported by historical and current evidence, most notably the size of the demonstrations currently taking place in Iraq against the Nouri al-Maliki government.

Thus, Iran’s new direction in Iraq must not be addressed through sectarian retrenchment, as happened in Lebanon, but through serious political solutions. This requires a genuine [political] reconciliation project in Iraq, in spite of the Nouri al-Maliki regime. So who will take advantage of this opportunity today, and carry out this vision? That is the question.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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