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Squaring up on Syria
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM ^ | 9/6/2012 | Salah Nasrawi

Posted on 09/09/2012 7:42:21 AM PDT by EBH

With Egypt stepping into the Syrian quagmire, Shia-Sunni rivalries are increasing as a result of the Syrian civil war, writes Salah Nasrawi --------------------------------------------------------- With Syria's civil war degenerating into a sectarian showdown, tensions are building across the Middle East over its fallout, with growing signs that key regional players are increasingly taking sides in the conflict.

Regional rivalries over Syria's protracted war, which is pitching the country's Sunni majority against the minority Alawite-dominated regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, is complicating the conflict and raising alarms about its potential for Middle East instability.

New signs have emerged that Iraq and Iran are now teaming up to increase their help to the embattled Al-Assad regime, in stark contrast with Egypt, whose newly installed Islamist leadership is joining other Arab Sunni governments in seeking to get rid of the Syrian regime.

Last week, the Iraqi Shia-led government and Iranian leaders renewed pledges to support Al-Assad, who is facing a mostly Sunni uprising backed by Sunni governments in Turkey and the Gulf.

The new development came after Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi announced that Al-Assad had "lost legitimacy" in his fight to crush the 17-month-old revolt and bluntly called on him to go.

Mursi, a senior leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Sunni world's most powerful Islamist organisation, stunned his Iranian hosts at a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran last Thursday by likening the uprising in Syria to the struggle of the Palestinians.

That contradicts the line put out by Iran and Iraq, who have resisted efforts to oust Al-Assad and fear that the fall of the Alawite-dominated regime in Syria would embolden the country's Sunnis and upset the region's shaky sectarian geopolitics.

In response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose Shia nation is Al-Assad's main ally, described the anti-Assad uprising as "a proxy war" waged by governments that "provide money and arms to irresponsible groups."

Syria and its allies accuse Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of giving financial support and arms supplies to the armed insurgent groups on the ground in Syria. The three countries are reportedly running a clandestine base in Turkey that is working to topple Al-Assad.

Khamenei, who appeared to criticise Mursi for being too harsh on Al-Assad, said the Syrian uprising was led by the United States "with the aim of serving the interests of the Zionists against the resistance in the region."

In a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki who had traveled to Iran to participate in the summit, Khamenei said Iran, which has assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Iraq, which holds the presidency of the Arab League, can play effective roles in resolving regional issues.

In addressing the summit, Al-Maliki submitted a plan to end the conflict in Syria based on a halt to the violence and the formation of a national unity government that could include Al-Assad.

Under the plan, the Syrian regime would negotiate with opposition groups and elections would take place under international and Arab League supervision.

The proposal rejected foreign military intervention, included an agreement by all parties in Syria to end the violence, and incorporated calls for all countries to "stop interfering in Syria's internal affairs."

Iraq, which shares a 375-mile (600-kilometre) border with Syria, has repeatedly cautioned that the crisis in Syria could spill over into other regional and neighbouring states if they do not work seriously to stop the violence and promote talks.

Last month, Iraq's military dispatched additional troops to tighten border controls with Syria in an attempt to staunch the spillover from the Syrian crisis. Thousands of Sunni Muslim fighters, including Al-Qaeda jihadists from Iraq, are believed to be fighting alongside the rebels in Syria.

They are widely expected to turn their guns against Shia-ruled Iraq once the Al-Assad regime has been removed in Syria.

Fearful of the potential rise of a hard-line Sunni regime next door, Iraq's Shia groups are reportedly rearming in southern Iraq. Reports in the local media suggest that Iraqi Sunni groups are setting up a "Free Iraqi Army" that would be ready to operate following Al-Assad's downfall.

Several top Shia religious leaders have also issued fatwas, or religious rulings, banning their followers in southern Iraq from selling their weapons after local media reports said there have been massive transfers of weapons to Syrian opposition groups throughout the area.

These are unconfirmed reports, but they send chilling signs of how ugly the Syrian conflict could turn out to be.

The new wrangling that involves Iraq, Iran and Egypt shows how sharply different visions of Syria's future could increase polarisation and fan the flames of religious tension in the region.

For now, the row could forestall proposals made by Mursi earlier to end the conflict in Syria that would include Iran together with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The quartet idea was seen as a good option for resolving the conflict, as it seemed to transcend the regional sectarian divide. However, it is far from guaranteed to succeed because both Al-Assad and his opponents see victory as the only desirable outcome in Syria.

Though it was hazy on many details, the idea meant that Mursi should have worked much more actively in order to win Iran's cooperation in mediating an end to the Syrian crisis that would avoid terrible sectarian conflict in the region.

Moreover, Mursi's efforts were hoped to bring the region's crucial Sunni and Shia players together as events in Syria unfold, especially with a view to the aftermath of the crisis.

The initiative was hailed by many inside and outside Egypt as a major diplomatic bid by Egypt's first elected president and first Islamist leader to recapture Egypt's leadership that many believe had been ceded to Saudi Arabia and even the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar.

Now Mursi has backed himself into a corner in Syria, and there are few good options for a breakthrough as regional and international diplomacy scrambles to contain the violence and keep the conflict from spilling across borders.

Given that his plan for regional mediation had little chance to succeed, it's hard to know whether by annoying Iran and Iraq in his Tehran speech Mursi has changed his calculus on Syria.

By slamming Al-Assad and berating Shia Iran for its support of the regime, Mursi seems to have been appeasing many of his own sceptics. Turkey had been cautious about his overture, apparently for fear that it could undermine its own assumed leadership role in the crisis.

It was also always doubtful that Saudi Arabia would sit down with its arch enemy, Shia Iran, while Washington had killed off a previous bid to involve Iran by the UN's former Syria envoy Kofi Annan.

Inside Egypt, Sunni Muslim Salafis who do not hide their hatred of Shias and staunchly support efforts to oust Syria's Alawite regime were quick to welcome Mursi's denunciation of Al-Assad.

Whatever the calculations may be, Mursi seems to have shot down his own Syrian initiative and probably lost his chance to reassert Egypt's role as a key Middle Eastern player.

That could give a new push to regional polarisation. Some Iranian officials have warned that Tehran, which has signed a military cooperation pact with Damascus, will do what ever it takes to prevent Al-Assad's downfall.

By floating his spoiler plan that includes Al-Assad in the resolution of the Syrian conflict, Iraq's Al-Maliki is showing his solidarity with Al-Assad. Lebanon's Shia group Hizbullah has also showed strong backing for the Syrian leader.

In the meantime, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue to fund arms for the Syrian opposition. None of this augurs well for a breakthrough in the standoff in Syria, or for Middle Eastern sectarian harmony.

With each camp throwing its weight behind one of the warring parties in Syria, the region looks to be plunging into a sharper divide than ever along sectarian lines.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events

1 posted on 09/09/2012 7:42:22 AM PDT by EBH
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-ahhh-feel those breezes from the “Arab spring”-—

2 posted on 09/09/2012 7:48:11 AM PDT by rellimpank (--don't believe anything the media or government says about firearms or explosives--)
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To: rellimpank

I see Iraq’s Vice President was sentenced to death....he’s hiding in Turkey.

3 posted on 09/09/2012 8:05:43 AM PDT by EBH (Courage, Trust, Sacred Honor, Truth, Freedom)
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4 posted on 09/09/2012 8:12:39 AM PDT by dalebert
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great foreign policy from Obama and Clinton..great job leading the world....

5 posted on 09/09/2012 8:13:48 AM PDT by dalebert
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Finally some good news out of the middle east. They are all back to hating each other.

6 posted on 09/09/2012 8:51:33 AM PDT by Vince Ferrer
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To: dalebert

I know as I read this I was we’re backing Iraq against Iran, we’re backing Syrian rebels against Syria...and Iraq and Iran are backing Syria?

So ...we’re on both sides fighting ourselves?

7 posted on 09/09/2012 8:59:19 AM PDT by EBH (Courage, Trust, Sacred Honor, Truth, Freedom)
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Yes we should supply both sides with weapons to kill each other. I think its a great plan.

Lovely religion when they can’t even get along with each other.

8 posted on 09/09/2012 10:59:49 AM PDT by oldasrocks (They should lock all of you up and only let out us properly medicated people.)
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-——By floating his spoiler plan that includes Al-Assad in the resolution of the Syrian conflict, Iraq’s Al-Maliki is-——

Pretending to be a player. He knows damn well that the GCC and Turkey will end up the victors. Assad is toast.

The question is will Assad leave and live or stick around and die

9 posted on 09/09/2012 11:10:41 AM PDT by bert ((K.E. N.P. N.C. +12 ..... Present failure and impending death yield irrational action))
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