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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Tue: A Syrian-Iraqi Axis?
Iraqi Opposition in Cairo Snubs Maliki Initiative, Syria Creates "Iraq Bureau"?
By AMER MOHSEN 04/15/2009 6:22 PM ET
A new suicide bombing, this time in Kirkuk, took the lives of at least ten Iraqi policemen, al-Jazeera reports. The suicide bomber reportedly targeted a police patrol that is charged with protecting oil installations in the region, and according to the news channel, local security sources indicate that the death tally is likely to increase.

In other news, a recent trend of rapprochement between the Iraqi government and neighboring Arab countries may slow, or even reverse, due to regional tensions and their reflection on Iraq's relationship with Arab states.

Az-Zaman focused in its front page on Egyptian statements to the effect that the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad will not be re-opened as soon as previously expected. A “high level Egyptian diplomatic source” told the paper that the appointment of a new Ambassador “necessitates a political decision, and perhaps strictly from the President.” The source added that, given running tensions between Egypt and Iran, “it is doubtful that the Egyptian Ambassador will return in the current heated atmosphere.”

These statements come as Iraqi opposition leaders residing in Egypt rejected the government’s call for “reconciliation” and their assimilation within the "political process.” A high-level Iraqi delegate was sent to Egypt recently, the paper reported, to negotiate with “moderate” opposition leaderships taking refuge in the country (including Arab nationalists, liberals and independents.) Some factions, the paper reports, set out conditions before acknowledging the current Iraqi government (including the suspension of the current constitution,) while others refused to sit with the government’s envoy, insisting that they will hold no talks with the current government, which they consider to be illegitimate.

“A source in the Iraqi resistance” residing in Cairo, told the daily that the government is trying to build bridges with unrepresentative individuals and minor political movements for the mere purpose of garnering “media victories” and giving the impression that its reconciliation efforts are bearing fruit.

One Iraqi activist in Cairo who did meet with Baghdad’s envoy, Ahmad al-Habbubi, said that Akram al-Hakeem came to his house – in the presence of several opposition members – and expressed his wish that the exiled opposition return to Iraq. “Iraq is your country and we are a patriotic government” he allegedly said, to which al-Habbubi claims to have answered “yes, Iraq is our country, but the government is not patriotic, for it is based upon sectarian power-sharing.” According to al-Habbubi, al-Hakeem listened to his remarks and conditions without giving a response.

On the other hand, 'Abd al-Kareem al-'Aluji, who belong to the more radical Arab Nationalists’ group, said that he refuses to meet with any representatives of the Iraqi government until the end of the US occupation, opining that the government’s efforts to build bridges with the exiled opposition will fail “because (the government) has no credibility.”

Tensions between the Iraqi government and (Sunni) Arab neighbors are best exemplified in the coverage of al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, which is close to the Shi'a I’tilaf and has adopted a vigorous anti-Saudi line since problems between al-Maliki and King Abdullah surfaced weeks ago during an Arab summit.

On its front page today, the daily published an intriguing piece: “Syria demands from Iraqi Ba'thist leaderships residing on its territory to refrain from dealing with Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Based on unnamed “knowledgeable political sources in Damascus,” the paper made the claim that Iraqi Ba'thists in Syria recently met with Israeli officials in Doha and “offered many concessions in return for being brought back to power.” Syrian authorities are allegedly banning Iraqis hosted in Syria from contacting Saudi Arabia “given that its attitude has recently taken a clear sectarian direction.”

The claim is dubious on several levels, and it is well-known that Arab and neighboring countries (as well as the US) have based their policy towards Iraq on sectarian and ethnic considerations since the 2003 invasion. But the paper has been promoting the idea that an emerging Syrian-Iraqi “axis” is crystallizing to stem the influence of Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region.

While relations between the Syrian regime and “the new Iraq” were slow to take-off and have been punctuated by crises, an intensification of Syrian initiatives towards the Iraqi government has taken place recently; including a long-awaited visit by the Syrian Prime Minister and the formation of multiple Syrian-Iraqi committees to coordinate political and economic projects. A level of cooperation that has not been achieved with any other Arab neighbor. It is also well known that the Iraqi Premier, Nuri al-Maliki, has spent a good deal of his exile in Damascus and had extensive dealings with Syrian authorities while in the opposition.

The paper added that the Syrian government has allocated the funds for a political office dedicated to Iraqi affairs, which will be headed by veteran Syrian diplomat Faruq al-Shar', “for the purpose of crystallizing a new relationship (with Iraq) to combat the sectarian ideas emanating from the Gulf countries.”


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