Following the statement to Asharq Al-Awsat from a high-ranking Syrian source in which he said that his country would not surrender its Iraqi dissidents and that had Syria done so in the past Nuri al-Maliki would not be the country’s Prime Minister today, and so the relationship between the two neighboring countries has deteriorated even further.
Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki was one of the Iraqi dissidents residing in Syria during the Saddam Hussein era. Damascus did not hand these dissidents over then, not out of love for them, but out of hatred for the Saddam Hussein regime. The Syrian source was clever to limit his statement on the non-surrender of [political] dissidents, to Iraqi dissidents, for had he generalized this [to other dissidents] we would have to recall what happened to the Kurdish commander Abdullah ضcalan.
There is an irony in the Syrian statement that must be highlighted here. If Damascus is so proud that it did not hand over its Iraqi dissidents to Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, then why is Syria now attacking the West, and particularly America, for overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime?
Why does Damascus, in every forum, say that the occupied [Iraqi] people have the right to resist their invaders, even though the new leaders of Iraq previously resided in Damascus, and planned to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime themselves from there?
To return to the issue of the Syrian – Iraqi crisis, we do not know if we can say that this has reached the point of no return, especially as both sides are currently following the policy of brinkmanship with regards to their statements to the media. We do not know if Damascus has calculated its escalation against al-Maliki in an intelligent manner, in that al-Maliki is not Iraq, and that due to the divisions [in Iraq] and the new Shiite coalition in Baghdad, his prospects of winning a second term in office at the forthcoming Iraqi elections are weak. Therefore, charging into conflict with al-Maliki does not necessarily mean that this conflict will be ongoing, as it may be very easy to reconcile with his successor. Perhaps this is the reason behind the Syrian escalation in response to every Iraqi statement.
This may also apply to Iran’s calculations, as it seems that Tehran is pleased with what is taking place between Baghdad and Damascus. Perhaps the Iranians want Syria to be pre-occupied, or even punished [by Iraq] as it is politically unhappy with Damascus for flirting with the Americans and negotiating with the Israelis, not to mention some of the analysis that was made behind closed doors [in Syria] regarding the outbreak of the post-election crisis in Iran. Therefore Tehran may view al-Maliki as a man at the end of his political career, looking for a lifeline, and therefore it is appropriate for him to start a conflict with the Syrians in order to preoccupy and exhaust them.
As for the Arabs, there is a mixture of confusion and gloating. One of my sources who in the past has revealed to me numerous confidential issues relating to the Middle East, told me that everybody is now watching this [conflict], including the Americans, particularly because there is a conviction that the Syrians have gotten too big for their boots, and should therefore clean up their own mess.
Therefore it seems that the Syrian – Iraqi crisis may escalate even further, it also appears that there is no party, either in the region or abroad, that wishes to break up this conflict, as everybody would prefer to watch it, especially since it is free.