Sunday, December 18, 2011

Syrian fulcrum

The historic US withdrawal from Iraq will have significant consequences. It was inevitable that the US would withdraw, since that was Obama's policy from the start. But, the consequent power vacuum will tempt some to try to replace the US by bringing down or subverting the Iraqi Government. The US has helped train a large Iraqi army, but although they look impressive there are big questions about their loyalty and fighting capability. Since Iraq has a Shia majority and since the Government is Shia- dominated, there is no real reason why Iran, Iraq's most powerful neighbor, should invade or use military force to take over Iraq. It will have enough influence with the Shia Government to ensure that its wishes are followed. However, there are still Shia extremists, such as the forces of Mohtada Sadr, that might be tempted to try to overthrow the relatively moderate Shia Government, and the Sunni forces, which have been relatively quiescent lately, might try to reestablish the status quo ante, i.e. a Sunni dictatorship or an al Qaeda insurrection.

Aside from these possibilities, the fact is that Iraq under the Shia Government will likely cooperate with Iran. That means that for the first time there will be a continuous Shia arc from Iran thru Iraq and Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon. This will allow the transfer of arms, materiel and fighters with greater ease than before Saddam was overthrown and the US forces were in Iraq. Such a facilitation of Iran's interests would have a negative effect on the outcome in Syria, possibly prolonging Assad's pro-Iranian regime and bolstering Hizbollah. So this would have very negative consequences for Israel and the West. But, if the Iraqi regime does not allow Iranian arms to flow thru their country, then the Assad regime in Syria might collapse, with negative consequences for Iran, and positive consequences for Israel. Also, the Syrian opposition forces have stated that they will not be allies of Iran. The outcome in Syria is the key to near future consequences in the region.

It is a great shame that so far the UN has failed to take any concerted action on Syria, unlike the former comparable situation in Libya. According to UN estimates the number of people killed in Syria has risen to 5,000, and Russia has just introduced a compromise resolution in the UN Security Council that is currently being discussed. What prompted this change in Russian policy? One can be sure that the Russian Government has reassessed the situation, and with the growth of counter-attacks by the independent Syrian Army made up deserters and the support given by Turkey to the opposition, the Russians have concluded that the survival of Assad is in doubt. Therefore they have softened their position. With the Americans out of Iraq we will now see, with Syria as the fulcrum in the Middle East, which way it will go.


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