Following the excitement stirred by the Baker-Hamilton report, because it referred to Iran and Syria as essential partners to solving the problem in Iraq, a small question remains: Will these two be willing to voluntarily take this role upon themselves? Without asking for something in return? And, can the countries of the region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia foremost among them, help Iraq in view of the chaos there?
Iraq's Prime Minister, Nuri Maliki, answered both questions when he declared his opposition to even holding a regional conference on the situation in Iraq. The reason for this is the current Iraqi regime is not interested in the direct involvement of Arab states and Iran in its domestic affairs. In fact, part of the Shi'a leadership in Iraq considers Iran a threat. Thus, Maliki refutes to a great extent the assumption on which the authors of the American report rely, namely that Iran, as a Shi'a state, and Iraq, a country with a Shi'a majority, see eye-to-eye on how to solve the problem in Iraq.
Suffice it to say, there are theological and political differences between the Shi'a leadership in Iraq and that of Iran. One of the more serious differences is the question of dividing Iraq into ethnic-religious autonomies. While some of the Shi'a leadership and the Kurds support the division of Iraq, Iran opposes it and essentially sides with the view of the Sunni Arab minority.
Nonetheless, the Sunni minority, to which most of the violent activity in Iraq is attributed, completely rejects any cooperation with Iran. The "independent" terrorist groups, and also those associated with Al-Qaida, view Iran as an enemy, and therefore, any open and direct Iranian involvement may lead to a further escalation of their terrorist activities.
As for Syria, even though Baker claims Syria has shown clear signs of its willingness and capability to assist in restoring calm to Iraq, its role will be at best technical in nature. Even if Syria hands over some of the leaders of the Sunni terror groups allegedly based in that country, the political influence of the Sunnis in Iraq is limited, and they cannot offer political or economic incentives to the terrorists to convince them to end their attacks.
But even if the Bush administration does make an about face in its policies toward Iran and Syria, what will be the price paid? Iran will surely wish to have international pressure on its nuclear program lifted in return for cooperation on Iraq. Syria will demand an end to the international tribunal into the murders of Rafik Hariri et. al., and the resumption of Damascus' dominant role in Lebanon.
As for the moderate Arab states, they have already shown both before and during the war that they lack the power to solve crises in Arab countries in general, and particularly in Iraq. Even a "softer" crisis, like that of Lebanon, appears to be too great for Arab mediation.
The solution must be found within Iraq, among the various political and ethnic forces that constitute that nation.
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