It was a bloody Monday all across Iraq; two suicide bombers, 11 car bombs, and 19 VBIEDs (Pentagon speak for “vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices”) – with nearly 70 people dead and over 300 wounded.
Car bombs in Najaf, another one inside Kut’s main market, a bomb set off near the convoy of the mayor of Baquba, two suicide bombers attacking an Iraqi counter-terrorism unit in Tikrit, a bomb exploding near a government convoy in the Mansur neighborhood in Baghdad – the fact that bloody Monday happened less than two weeks after the Nuri al-Maliki government announced negotiations were on for Washington to keep at least some of the current 48,000 US troops in Iraq after the end of 2011 deadline for American withdrawal raises the inevitable question: who profits from it?
Al-Qaeda in Iraq might profit if its strategy is to keep the US enmeshed in the Iraqi quagmire – as the key accusation already flying across the Potomac concerns the “capability” of the Iraqi security forces, with the “overwhelmed by insurgents” scenario monopolizing the narrative. United States neo-conservatives, armchair hawks, most inside the Pentagon and virtually all Republicans also profit – for the same reasons.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq spokesman Mohamed al-Adnani may have lent credence to this hypothesis, alerting last week in an Islamist website, “Do not worry, the days of Zarqawi are going to return soon.”
Yet if this was a real al-Qaeda in Iraq call, it is destined to fail, just as al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – killed in 2006 – miserably failed, his gory methods fought by Sunni Iraqis themselves. It makes no sense for al-Qaeda in Iraq – not to mention the fact it’s deeply un-Islamic – to indiscriminately bomb majority Sunni and Shi’ite areas alike, with plenty of civilian casualties, during the holy Muslim fast month of Ramadan.
Stability is always relative
Iraq’s bloody Monday follows Syria’s bloody Friday – and many in Baghdad are losing sleep about what is going on in Syria.
Yet as uneasy as Maliki may be with the exploits of President Bashar al-Assad’s vicious security apparatus, his government is not applying any pressure on Damascus (unlike the Kurds and the majority-Sunni Iraqiya Party, which have vehemently criticized the Assad regime.)
There are plenty of reasons for it. When still in exile during Saddam Hussein times, Maliki was always very much welcomed by the Assad dynastic regime. Maliki – and most Iraqi Shi’ites – fear a Sunni Salafi takeover in the, for the moment unlikely, event the Syrian regime, controlled by the Shi’ite Allawite sect, falls.
Shi’ite Tehran, for its part, also fears the same scenario. But this does not necessarily mean – as it is widely speculated in the US – that Iran, which indeed brokered the formation of Maliki’s parliamentary majority in Baghdad, is manipulating everything in the shadows.
Maliki – who is personally in charge of the Defense Ministry and the security apparatus – is close to Tehran. But he is above all an Iraqi nationalist. His position is much more nuanced – calling for reforms but at the same time warning that the Assad government must not be destabilized, with the country plunging into chaos.
Yet the Assad regime’s bloodlust could be mistaken for a pathological case. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey is no Maliki – and he’s about to run out of patience. Apparently the Assad regime had bought some time after Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Damascus last week (see Why the regime won’t fall Asia Times Online, August 13, 2011).
But after regime forces intensified the siege of Latakia over the weekend, Davutoglu may have had enough. Ominously, this Monday, he announced, “This is our final word to the Syrian authorities: Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally. If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken.”
What’s next? Turkey invades Syria with help from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?
The possibility that the Assad regime as a whole may be in a suicidal binge boggles the mind. But the regime is fighting for its life; real democratic reforms would mean it is finished. As demonstrations keep rolling on, and may be about to reach the second-largest city, Aleppo, the official line remains; this is an armed rebellion by Sunni Islamists financed from abroad (that is, Saudi Arabia and wealthy individuals in the Persian Gulf).
This is partially true – concerning the more radical strands of the Muslim Brotherhood/Salafi nebula. But it does not explain what Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek defines as a “Spartacus revolution of slaves against their masters”, which started in the countryside, among the disinherited, and then spread to the globally connected youth and urban intellectuals.
When a “stable” Baghdad looks at an “unstable” Syria now it tries to evaluate how popular is the uprising – and to what degree the relentless repression may cause, for instance, a refugee crisis in reverse, mirroring the sectarian war in Iraq which created a refugee wave of Iraqis crossing the border to Syria in 2006/2007.
Baghdad also tries to evaluate the stakes in the game played by the House of Saud – consumed by its cosmic paranoia of the “Shi’ite crescent” bent on smashing Sunni regimes. To say that Riyadh is hostile towards Baghdad is an understatement.
And then there’s – once again – Kuwait, which in Ottoman times was a mere annex to what later became Iraq. Members of parliament in Baghdad are now openly accusing Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil by practicing slant drilling inside Iraqi territory. One may imagine history repeating itself again as tragedy – not farce, because this is exactly what Saddam bitterly complained about Kuwait, in 1990, and the key reason for the Iraqi invasion that led to the first Gulf war.
So yes, Baghdad knows by experience this is a very dangerous neighborhood. Ergo, it needs powerful armed forces. History will be made once again as tragic farce if to pursue this aim Baghdad needs to ask for Washington’s help – the very superpower that virtually destroyed Iraq.