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Maliki Warns Syria Conflict Could Engulf Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Sunni Muslims take part in an anti-government demonstration in Falluja, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad February 15, 2013. (Reuters)

Iraqi Sunni Muslims take part in an anti-government demonstration in Falluja, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad February 15, 2013. (Reuters)

Iraqi Sunni Muslims take part in an anti-government demonstration in Falluja, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad February 15, 2013. (Reuters)

Baghdad/London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki warned that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East, including sparking sectarian wars in Iraq and Lebanon.

Maliki told the Associated Press that “if the world does not agree to a peaceful solution through dialogue . . . then I see no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Speaking from his office at a Saddam Hussein-era palace inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, Maliki also asserted that “neither the opposition nor the regime can finish each other off.”

He added, “The most dangerous thing in this process is that if the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan, and a sectarian war in Iraq.”

The Iraqi Prime Minister stopped short of explicitly voicing support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and strongly denied providing, or supporting the provision, of arms to the embattled Damascus regime. He stressed: “Not to the regime and not to the opposition. No weapon is being transferred through Iraqi skies, territories, or waters.”

Regarding the demonstrations in his own country, Maliki highlighted the “external” nature of the protests, emphasizing that “what is going on in Iraq is connected to what is happening in the region. It is also connected to the results of the so-called Arab Spring and some sectarian policies in the region” in what the Associated Press described as an apparent allusion to predominately Sunni countries such as Turkey and the Gulf States.

However he vowed to let the Iraqi protests continue so long as they remain peaceful, confirming that “our patience will continue because we believe that there are people in these provinces who are patriotic and they reject sectarianism, believe in the unity of the country and denounce the voices uttering sectarian words.”

While the Iraqi Prime Minister may have indirectly alluded to Turkey and Qatar in his interview, Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi Al-Amri referenced them explicitly in comments to Reuters. Amri stressed that Turkish and Qatari support for the Syrian revolution is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq, which will suffer from the fallout of an increasingly sectarian conflict in the neighboring country.

Amri, who heads the Shi’ite Badr Organization—formerly the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq—accused Ankara and Doha of supporting the Syrian opposition and arming jihadi group’s operating in the country.

He said, “Presenting money and weapons to Al-Qaeda (in Syria) by Qatar and Turkey is a declaration of armed action against Iraq” adding “these weapons will reach Iraqi chests for sure.”

Amri, whose Badr Organization laid down its weapons in 2004, asserted that “using militias again is a big mistake” stressing that “if we (Shi’ites) form militia and they (Sunnis) form militia, then Iraq will be lost.”

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a high-level official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki revealed that “Turkish–Qatari intervention is not acceptable and completely rejected and the Iraqi state has clearly expressed its view in this regard.”

The Iraqi official added that “the statements made by Minister Amri represented his personal view.”

State of Law coalition (SLC) MP Shaker Al-Daraji expressed his support for the Iraqi Transportation Minister’s statements, informing Asharq Al-Awsat that “Turkish–Qatari interference in Syrian affairs represents a dangerous precedence by any standards.”

He added, “More importantly, this represents systematic interference [in Syrian affairs] which is even more dangerous, not to mention that this affects Syria’s neighbors, including Iraq which is the closest neighboring country, enjoying long and diverse relations with Syria.”

Daraji, who is a senior member of the SLC which is led by Maliki, emphasized that “interference in Syrian affairs, particularly in light of the sensitivity of bilateral relations, is akin to interference in Iraqi affairs, albeit not necessarily being a declaration of war.”

He added: “Turkish–Qatari interference does not stop at the Syrian border, but extends to the neighboring countries and therefore this is connected to what is currently happening in Iraq in terms of the demonstrations. This is something that we have observed, particularly in terms of the different forms of material and moral support.”