In an interview on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki warned that if the Syrian rebels are triumphant in the civil war that Syria has been embroiled in, it will only serve to destabilize the Middle East further and has the potential to spark a sectarian war in his own country of Iraq as well as Lebanon and a division in Jordan. And now, it seems his worry has transitioned over into action as Iraqi forces open fired on the Free Syrian Army on Friday.
According to an Al-Arabiya correspondent, Maliki’s government was deploying large reinforcements in Baghdad near the Syrian borders. Iraqi snipers also took up positions near the Syrian-Iraqi border, while other Iraqi forces shelled the Free Syrian Army.
Prior to this, Iraq had maintained a neutral stance regarding the civil war, not fully supporting either side but holding that if either the opposition nor the regime found a peaceful solution via dialogue, there would be “no light at the end of the tunnel.”
According to Maliki, "Neither the opposition nor the regime can finish each other off.”
However, their “neutral stance” has been a shaky one, considering that Iraq has continued to allow Iran to use its airspace to fly over what is believed to be weapons for the Assad regime’s forces. The planes have also not been searched, despite the US’ pressure to do so.
It is clear from Maliki, who has worked together closely with Obama since the US’ withdrawal from the nation, that a good relationship with the U.S. does not supercede his identity as a Shia, and that when it comes down to it, he will support a country with a leadership which mirrors his own beliefs. Even in his own country, he has been accused of marginalizing the Sunni minority.
On the other hand, Maliki’s trepidation over a spill-over of the Syrian sectarian-based violence into neighboring Iraq is valid in its place as well. As the U.S. brokered constitution continues to demonstrate its failure in design, strife between Sunnis, Shias, and arguably, Kurds is heightening once again and has the potential to lead Iraq into a much darker abyss. Bombings and shootings are once again an every-day occurrence, with at least five killed in a double car bombing in the Shia-populated city of Diwaniya on Friday.
But what does that mean for America, which supports the Maliki government and the Syrian rebels? Well, for one, it means that America needs to decide whether they are going to support Shia governments or Sunni governments in the Middle East, considering that both, the Syrian civil war and Maliki’s support for Assad are deeply rooted in the Sunni-Shia strife (as is Iran’s support and Lebanon’s Hezbollah’s support). Although much of the conflict in the Middle East is political, it is heavily exacerbated by, and manipulated by sectarian differences. The U.S. can’t go on sending invariably mixed signals of support to Shia leaders while simultaneously supporting Sunni leaders, who often are at odds with each other as it is.