28 Apr 2012

Turkey fears Crescent


[ Crescent set to rise over the former Sunni city - Baghdad ]

Sunni Ankara and nuclear Baghdad

By Zuheir Kseibati - Friday, 27 April 2012

Following the Syrian scene which has become the arena of a conflict by proxy between the Western-American axis and the Russian-Chinese-Iranian axis, or that of a Sunni-Shiite conflict between Iran and Turkey on the regional level, Iraq seems to be prone to witness a Turkish-Iranian war by proxy - especially if the violence and the killing in Syria continue. There, on the border with Turkey, NATO is ready, but with reservations, considering that the alliance will not lead a military campaign to intervene in support of the Free Syrian Army as it has been stating so far at least. On the other hand, Erdogan’s government is aware of the fact that the conflict over regional influence with Tehran is not in its favor for the time being, especially since the West – which is seeking a deal with Iran that would see the page turned on the nuclear crisis with Tehran – is unable, even if it wants to, to sever the veins of support, from Tehran to Damascus.

Istanbul hosted the Iranians’ talks with the P5+1 states in the hope to avoid an Israeli-American attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, as the repercussions of such a war would be too great for any state in the region to contain. But the situation has shifted and Baghdad will now be hosting the nuclear talks. And when Tehran talks about the beginning of the end at the level of the nuclear issue, which has been impossible to resolve throughout many years, one can detect the imminence of the deal that was always linked to questions and suspicions surrounding prices and who exactly will pay them. There are many signs that can be seen prior to the Baghdad nuclear round at the end of May, including the following:

- The political clash between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Baghdad’s and Ankara’s exchange of protests after Erdogan accused al-Maliki of adopting a sectarian approach and after the latter talked about a hostile Turkey.
- The more al-Maliki grows closer to the Iranians, the more the President of the Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani tends to consider Turkey as being the province’s lung and attempts to reassure it, while reiterating his threats in regard to the Iraqi Kurds’ secession into their own state after he has become convinced that it would be impossible to coexist with what he perceives as being al-Maliki’s deceit.
- Iran’s use of the “deal” phase was translated into an escalation at the level of its occupation of the Emirati Islands, i.e. the Greater Tunb, the Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the latter, the announcement of the deployment of Iranian Navy forces in the Islands and the engagement of the Gulf Cooperation Council with a defiant tone.
- Tehran’s reception of al-Maliki a few days ago and the calls for full unity between Iraq and Iran. This unity would revive the Shiite Crescent proposal which includes the two countries alongside Syria and Lebanon, in parallel to what the Syrian crisis is featuring in terms of provocative signs to the beat of the killing that differentiates between a victim and another and the repercussions it is carrying on Lebanon and Iraq.

On the sidelines of the conflict over Syria, the fears of Iraq’s Kurds over a state of rivalry with and apprehension vis-à-vis Ankara have moved to a stage of doubts surrounding the outcome of Iran’s protection of al-Maliki’s authority, one which is perceived as being another copy of the Iraqi Baath’s dictatorship, but in the context of a doctrinal affiliation with the Velayat-e Faqih [Clerical rule in Iran] this time.

While Erdogan’s reception of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who is wanted by the security apparatuses in Baghdad, gave the impression that the Sunni Ankara was supporting al-Maliki’s Sunni opponents, Barzani’s statements yesterday to the Associated Press appeared to be a deadline given to the central government in Baghdad until September, i.e. the date of the elections in the Kurdistan province, to adopt difficult solutions to the disputes with the partners in the State of Law Coalition. Although this deadline-warning is hastening the option of the independent Kurdish state that is allied with Ankara, based on the right to self-determination (the South Sudanese style), it is fueling al-Maliki’s inclination to seek Tehran’s protection rather than convincing him to relinquish it to protect Iraq’s unity. Between the prime minister of the central government and the president of the province that is reconciled with Ankara, one can detect the dispute over the oil contracts and Barzani’s fear of seeing the regional equations turning in favor of Tehran, as this would place its allies and agents in a position of alliance with the West, which would have no problem sacrificing the old allies.

Syria is the arena of an international conflict which is exhausting it. While one of its facets is pressing on the veins of the old alliance between Damascus and Tehran, this might encourage Khamenei to accept a deal with the superpowers to save face for the Iranian regime via a nuclear concession, and a Syrian one in exchange for regional gains. This is exactly what is provoking the fears of the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and leaving Ankara with no other option but to confront Iranian influence by proxy, on an arena extending between the Tigris and the Euphrates. What is certain is that Khamenei’s wish for al-Maliki to have a “brighter Iraq” will not be enough to immunize Baghdad against Barzani’s rebellion against the dictatorial authority, and will not encourage the Prime Minister to wage comprehensive war against the Sunni-Turkish axis. [Arabiya newspaper]


Iran takes Iraq


Powerful Iranian Shiite Clerics to take charge of religious affair in Iraq.


Speculation grows Iranian cleric may lead Iraq's Shiites

By Paul McGeough - April 28, 2012.

A PUBLIC relations stumble between Tehran and Baghdad has intensified speculation that one of Iran's most senior clerics is about to extend his power - and Iran's theocratic system - into Iraq.
On his return from a visit to Tehran, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office released statements on his meetings with several senior Iranian officials - but it was silent on Mr Maliki's encounter with 63-year-old Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. Despite a Baghdad blackout on what is understood to have been their third meeting in recent months, Iran's government-run news agency IRNA released a photograph of Mr Maliki and Ayatollah Shahroudi - who is Iraqi by birth - greeting each other warmly. An accompanying report on the visit barely mentions Mr Maliki, but quotes Ayatollah Shahroudi urging Baghdad to support the ''Islamic Awakening'' currently under way in the Middle East. Ayatollah Shahroudi, a powerful member of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei's inner circle, is positioning himself to become the next spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, a move observers say would be impossible without Tehran's blessing and funding.

The Iraqi religious establishment, based in Najaf, south of Baghdad, opposes religious intervention in day-to-day government. But in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's theory that God's authority is vested in the supreme leader and senior religious scholars is law. Speaking privately, a senior official in Baghdad described the meeting as ''extremely significant'', revealing at least tacit support by Mr Maliki for an Iranian plan to have Ayatollah Shahroudi replace the ailing Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites. Reidar Visser, an Oslo-based analyst of Iraqi affairs, sees formidable obstacles to the Shahroudi bid, but warned: "By visiting Shahroudi, Maliki did nothing to kill the rumours about some kind of Iranian design on the holiest centre of Iraqi Shiism. "If Shahroudi should succeed … those arguing that Maliki is moving towards even greater co-ordination with the Iranian clergy would feel vindicated - and rightly so."

The plan seems to be inspired, in part, by a breakdown in relations between Mr Maliki's government and religious authorities in Najaf. Despite remaining aloof from day-to-day politics, the ayatollahs wield significant power in their real or perceived endorsement of the government and its policies.

For months now, all the senior clerics in Najaf have been abiding by an edict from Ayatollah Sistani that they not meet with politicians or government officials. Referring to the cloak-like robe worn by Arab men, a spokesman for one of the senior ayatollahs in Najaf told The Saturday Age: "We will not continue to cover their mistakes with our abaya."

Ayatollah Sistani's surrogates have recently become even more confrontational, openly attacking the Baghdad government during Friday prayers. One cleric widely linked to Ayatollah Sistani, Ahmed al-Safi, blamed government corruption for the failure to restore Iraq's electrical generation system.
"When patriotism is absent, officials sell themselves to foreigners for their kickbacks," he said while preaching at the holy city of Karbala. [smh.com.au]



12 Apr 2012


Crescent War over Syria


Sunni world tries to stop Shia march on the road to Damascus.
West helps Arabs prevent rise of Cresent over Syria.


Experts: Syria unrest widens Sunni-Shiite divide


A picture released by opposition group Hama Revolution 2011 on April 6 shows destruction in the city of Hama after reported clashes between Syrian government forces and rebel groups. The conflict in Syria, pitting majority Sunnis against rulers from an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is increasing sectarian tension that is closely linked to political discord in the region, experts say.

AFP - 7 April 2012

The conflict in Syria, pitting majority Sunnis against rulers from an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is increasing sectarian tension that is closely linked to political discord in the region, experts say.

Thousands of people have died in a crackdown by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, on a mainly Sunni uprising against his rule that erupted in March 2011.

Protests began peacefully but the movement gradually took on a militant face and has evolved into an armed revolt, though demonstrations are still held.#

How to respond to the violence in Syria has split the Arab world. Influential Sunni-ruled Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to arm the Syrian rebels and Shiite-majority Iraq opposes the move.

The Middle East is seeing "tension and regional escalation" -- part of it between Iran and Gulf Arab states -- "and another part sectarian, and they are intertwined with each other," said Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

"The situation in Syria is fuelling the Arab division," Salem said.

Iraqi analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidai also warned of a "major division" between states led by Saudi Arabia and the so-called Shiite crescent led by Iran, that is underpinned by sectarian differences.

"The tension between them is especially centred on ... states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that are trying to end Bashar al-Assad's regime because of a sectarian mindset," he said.

At last month's Arab summit in Baghdad, all the Gulf states except Kuwait sent low-level delegations to the meeting, and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani said that was a "message to the government of Iraq."

Without elaborating, he went on to accuse Iraq of "neglecting" some parts of its population, including minority Sunnis, in the formation of its government.

"Iraq is a very important state in the Arab world, but we do not agree with some of the policies against a specific component," an apparent reference to Sunnis.

On Sunday, Iraqi premier Maliki criticised the Qatari and Saudi stance on Syria, saying: "We reject any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the (Assad) regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region."

"We are against the interference of some countries in Syria's internal affairs," the Iraqi leader said.

Fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who took refuge in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region in December to avoid charges of running a death squad, left for Qatar on Sunday and then moved on to Saudi Arabia.

Baghdad slammed Doha for receiving him and called on Qatar to hand him over, but it declined to do so.

Saudi and Qatari newspapers lashed out at Maliki on Tuesday, calling for a boycott of him and his government, with one accusing him of bias against Sunnis and asking whether he was "a voice for Iran or the ruler of Iraq."

Qatar University professor Mahjub al-Zuwairi said the region "entered into a type of sectarian dispute since 2003," when a US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein. That ended decades of rule by Iraq's minority Sunnis and brought the Shiite majority to power.

The Jordanian academic referred to a "unified Gulf stance" regarding Iraq, a country he said is seen as "supporting Iran in its stance on Syrian events."

"Iraq is afraid that there will be a Salafi (fundamentalist Sunni) system after Bashar al-Assad," Sumaidai said.

Iraq is well aware of the dangers of Sunni fighters entering from Syria, having accused Damascus in the past of letting Sunni insurgents and arms transit the country for attacks inside Iraq.

Former Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, a Shiite, said "the (Sunni-ruled) countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are playing with fire that will burn the whole region."

"These countries take a sectarian direction in their efforts, and consider the Syrian regime as Shiite, and this is a big mistake," he said.

Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt over the past 16 months have brought Islamists to power, replacing Arab nationalist regimes.

And Sumaidai said that those Islamic movements and parties are ready "to send fighters to other states such as Syria ... because there are those on the other side of the same sect."

While the Sunni-Shiite divide is a major factor in the Syrian crisis, it has also surfaced violently in Bahrain and even in Saudi Arabia itself.

Last year, Bahrain's Sunni ruling family crushed Shiite-led protests calling for reform, with backing from forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that entered the tiny Gulf kingdom.

Maliki warned at the time that the intervention in Shiite-majority Bahrain by its Sunni neighbours risked a sectarian war in the region.

And protests in Saudi Arabia's eastern oil-rich region, which has a significant Shiite population, have been violently put down.



By Dr Murtaza Haider – 7 March 2012

(Dr Haider is the Associate Dean of research at University in Toronto)

The sectarian gulf between the Sunni Arabs and Shia Iranians runs deep. Recent reports suggest that Arabs, while being motivated by their abhorrence of the Shias, appear willing to support Israel in her not-so-covert plans to attack Iran.

Peter Cohan, writing in Forbes.com, reports that “Saudi Arabia’s rage against the Shias exceeds its dislike of its Jewish neighbors” so much so that Saudis are willing to provide Israel logistics support to attack Iran later in June. Other Arab states including Jordan and Egypt may also stand behind Israel’s foray into Iran.

It was only in November 2010 when WikiLeaks revealed that Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz was egging the American leadership to take out Iran’s nuclear programme. In April 2008, WikLeaks exposed US diplomatic cables in which the current Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubair, told an American diplomat about King Abdullah’s “frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program.” According to the leaked cables Ambassador al-Jubair, while referring to Iranians, asked Americans to “cut off the head of the snake”. The Saudis never denied making these comments and observed that they could not verify the veracity of these documents.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on a whistle stop tour of the western capitols to win their support for an Israeli military foray into Iran. The American newspapers, such as New York Times, have willingly become cheerleaders encouraging Israel to follow through on its threats by publishing speculations about when and how Israel will or should attack Iran. In the past three months alone, the New York Times has published over 32 stories flirting with the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran.

While Israel’s loud threats against Iran are increasing by the day, the deafening silence of the Arab leadership on threats against Iran, a supposedly brotherly Muslim country, is also becoming hard to ignore. At the same time one is at loss to understand why Iran continues to antagonise the West who is concerned about Iran’s hard stance against Israel and her unqualified support for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Over the past three decades Iran has taken a leading role in mobilising Muslims against Israel. However, while Iran has become a pariah for supporting the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Arabs on the other hand continue to treat Shia Arabs and Iranians with contempt.

The brutal repression of Bahraini Shias, who are in majority, by the minority Sunni rulers was aided and abetted by the Saudi regime who sent the Saudi army (including retired non-commissioned soldiers from Pakistan) and heavy armaments across the causeway to help the Bahraini regime. Rulers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the uprising by the majority Shias in Bahrain against the Khalifa and his clan who are Sunni Muslims. Similarly, Saudi Arabia continues to suppress Shias in the south and deprives them of the opportunity to practice their faith freely.

While Hamas has profited from the Iranian support over the years, it too is equally hostile to Shias living in Gaza. Earlier in January, armed men belonging to Hamas attacked Shias in a house in the Sheikh Zayyad neighbourhood (between Beit Lahia and Jabalya) who were commemorating Arbaeen, the end of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussain. The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted a Gazan residence Rafik Hamad whose brother was tortured by Hamas. “The police said my brother was a heretic [Shia] and asked me to keep him at home and not let him out,” Al-Hayat quoted Hamad.

The sectarian strife is ever so obvious in the Arab-Israeli conflict where Sunni Arabs are distrustful of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which is dominated by Shia Arabs. A survey conducted in Lebanon by the Pew Research Center in 2010 revealed that while 94 per cent Lebanese Shias held a favourable view of Hezbollah, only 12 per cent of Sunni Lebanese felt the same way. Surprisingly, Christians in Lebanon were more responsive than the Sunnis to Hezbollah where one in five Lebanese Christians reported holding a favourable view of Hezbollah. Even as they faced off against a common nemesis, the Shias and Sunnis in Lebanon remained polarised along the sectarian lines.

The survey by Pew Research Center in 2010 revealed that despite Iran’s hardline stance against the West and its unreserved support for Palestinians, most Muslim respondents continued to hold an unfavourable view of Iran. Respondents in Pakistan and Indonesia were the only two exceptions where more than 50 per cent respondents held a favourable view of Iran. Most respondents in Egypt, Jordon, Lebanon, and Turkey reported an unfavourable view of Iran.

Even a smaller proportion of respondents expressed confidence in the leadership of Iranian president Ahmadinejad. Consider that only 35 per cent respondents in Pakistan expressed confidence in Ahmadinejad, even when 72 per cent Pakistanis had reported a favourable view of Iran.

And while it may appear that only western countries are opposed to Iran acquiring the nuclear weapons technology, polling data suggests that most Muslim countries are equally alarmed by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. The Pew Research Center survey revealed that more than 80 per cent Egyptians and over 74 per cent Jordanians felt threatened by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. Of the surveyed Muslim majority countries, most respondents in all countries, with the exception of Pakistan, reported feeling threatened by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These trends indeed are quite surprising if one were to ignore the sectarian strife between Shias and Sunnis. However, when one acknowledges the sectarian differences between the Shias and Sunnis, one is able to appreciate the motivation for Sunni Arabs to oppose a nuclear-armed Iran.

Iran once again is increasingly getting isolated on the global stage. It was not long ago when in 1988 the US shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 persons aboard. The dead included Iranian nationals, as well as 13 Emiratis, 10 Indians, 6 Pakistanis, 6 Yugoslavians and an Italian. Despite this act of naked aggression, the global response was mute at best. Iranians stand equally isolated from the world today as they did in 1988.

As Israel continues to think aloud about the idea of attacking Iran, Arab Muslims are also not averse to attacking Iran to prevent her from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. No fewer than 71 per cent respondents to the Pew survey in Nigeria, much more than the ones in the US, favoured a military action against Iran in 2010; note that 50 per cent of Nigerians are Muslims. In Egypt, only 16 per cent of the respondents opposed the idea of attacking Iran. Similarly, only one in five Jordanians opposed attacking Iran to disrupt her alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons technology.

I wonder if Arabs, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, would have held such hostile views for another Sunni Muslim country suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons technology. Given the fact that Iran is a Shia majority country and that hardline Sunnis consider Shias heretics, one can appreciate that because of the sectarian strife Sunni Muslims are equally predisposed to attacking the Shia Iran. This has happened in the past as well when all Arab countries backed Saddam Hussain against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war that killed millions on both sides of the conflict.

Given the overt abhorrence of Shias common amongst Arabs, Palestinians have not been immune to the sectarian strife, Iran’s policy to antagonise the West and Israel while it tries to appease Arabs makes no sense at all. Iran now stands almost alone in the community of nations. The world, including Iran’s Arab neighbours, is becoming increasingly wary of its nuclear program and Iran’s efforts to assume the leadership of billion-plus Muslims whose overwhelming majority follows Sunni Islam.

A prudent foreign policy would require Iran to reconsider support for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. It may require Iran to leave the Arab-Israeli conflict to Arabs who have never welcomed Iranian interference in the dispute between Arabs and Israel. Iranians should instead champion the rights of Shias who are increasingly becoming victims of targeted killings at the hands of other Muslims.


Sunni vs Shia: Conflict Escalates

Yekaterina Kudashkina - 13 March 2012

(Interview with Silvia Colombo, Analyst and Expert in Middle East Policies with Italian Institute of Foreign Relations.)

I think Bahrain is the perfect case, which would confirm at this interpretation that we must remember that the all Arab Spring started in other places, in Tunisia, Egypt where the confrontation between Sunni and Shia is not so relevant and so then it spread also to the Middle East and to the Gulf in particular where the Sunni minority is ruling over Shia majority in some cases like in Bahrain or also there are very powerful Shia communities in Saudi Arabia, so there the confrontation started to become more sectarian, and we also have Lebanon very close where Sunni-Shia problems have always been present. So, now people start talking about general conflict between Sunnis and Shia, and I think that we must keep that into our perspective but that does not explain the whole story also about the conflict in Bahrain, which when it started 1 year ago it was part and parcel of Arab Spring, where political revendications and frustration erupted against the ruling
family, and these protests were made of Sunni and Shia together marching on the streets and calling for more freedoms. So, then the ruling family tried to portray this upheaval as Shia majority confrontation to the power of Al Khalifa, but this is not how it started. It was depicted, it was portrayed like that and now of course with all the tensions we have in the Gulf and the fears that these upheavals and these protests could lead to another hole of the balance between Sunni and Shia, we hear more and more talking about sectarian conflict, but I think this is just a bit of an explanation and one reason how to interpret the broader conflict which is going on in the Middle East in particular. Of course sectarian armies are very important because of the long history and the social political reality on the ground.

But what could the international community do about it?

I mean, we as an international community cannot do anything in terms of the balance of power between the Shia and Sunni. This is the reality we cannot really cope with, we cannot really divide the policy to deal with that. So, I think that it is misleading in the sense that it is part of tempt by the ruling family for example in Bahrain or the Gulf in general to keep West more outside from this conflict saying “yes, it is just something which belongs to us. Our social political reality and you cannot do anything. We can solve it. This is the only way we can deal with it”. As I said this is not how it started, this is not the core of revendication, so we must pay attention to other things going on and the only thing we can do as Western world is to insist on the elements, which are not sectarian and try to downplay the sectarian conflict.

Do I get you right that the explanation of a Sunni-Shia opposition when we are talking about the standout between Saudi Arabia and Iran is also too superficial?

This is of course very relevant for this part of the world but what I am trying to say is that it has become like this also because it was portrayed and it was made up in the certain sense by the all evolution of the story. In the beginning the revendications in Bahrain for example were very close, similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt where most of the young people were Shiah of course but they were marching and asking for more freedoms and for dignity next to Sunni young people. So, then it became much more sectarian because of course it was portrayed like this in a certain sense and it was easier for the ruling families in the Gulf to describe it like this and to justify also their intervention. Also on the other side, for example, in Iran it is said that there was an attempt by the Sunni minority to crash the Shia majority in these countries, so Western, an exterior intervention has happened in Bahrain when the Saudis and the Emirates forces entered the kingdom, so it was exploited on both sides in their confrontation, then the result is that we tended to forget and go to the core and to the really the deep aspirations of the people that were fighting and were in jail in Bahrain for example and with the fact that the situation is very tense, we cannot see a solution to this ongoing crisis.


4 January 2012

Turkey Warns of Sunni-Shiite War

Turkey has warned of a sectarian Cold War in the Middle East, amid growing rivalry between Shiite Iran and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia for regional influence.

"Let me openly say that there are some willing to start a regional Cold War," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told state-run Anatolian news agency.

"We are determined to prevent a regional Cold War.

“Sectarian regional tensions would be suicide for the whole region," he warned.

Tension has grown between Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran.

Gulf Arab countries are concerned over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which the West accuses Tehran of masking it for nuclear weapons.

Tehran says its program only aims to generate electricity.

Iran has faced accusations of sparking unrest in Shiite-majority Bahrain last year, which prompted Saudi Arabia to send troops to help stabilize the tiny Gulf country.

Tension has sharply grown between the two rivals after the US accused Iran of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, a claim denied by Tehran.

"Turkey is fiercely against new regional Shiite-Sunni tensions, or an anti-Iran or similar tensions arising like in the Gulf," said Davutoglu, who arrived in Tehran on Thursday for talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Tension has also grown between the West and Iran after an Iranian threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz, a critical route for oil transfer, if the West imposed new sanctions over its nuclear program.

Sectarian Iraq

The top Turkish diplomat singled out the case of neighboring Iraq, which is splitting up into sectarian and ethnic fiefdoms.

"Our Iraq policy foresees close contact with all sides,” Davutoglu said.

Sectarian tension has grown in Iraq following the 2003 US invasion to topple the Saddam Hussein regime, claiming thousands of lives.

Following the US invasion, the Kurds consolidated their autonomy in the north, Shiites dominated across the south and Baghdad, and Sunnis are exploring whether to set up their own autonomous region in the centre and west.

Tension has escalated after Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, Shiite, issues an arrest warrant against Sunni Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashimi.

At least 24 people were killed Thursday after two bomb explosions rocked Shiite areas in Baghdad.

“No one should make a mistake here,” Davotoglu said.

Sunni-majority Turkey is worried that Iran’s growing influence in Iraq could result in escalating tension among Iraqi sects, resulting in the country’s partition.

“No one should act with a conviction that one ideology, one sect, one ethnicity could dominate in any country as it was the case in the past. The societies in the region want a new political understanding."

Tehran has criticized Ankara for siding with the West against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who is facing popular protests to quit power.

“We have different opinions on Syria but our stance has principles. They have their own perspectives and principles. We may discuss them,” Davutoglu said.
“Everybody in this region is a friend and brother. If Bashar al-Assad had not launched this war against his own people, we would not be facing such a problem.”


Financial Times - 8 April 2012

The world must unite to save Syria

The forces of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, have been killing Syrians mercilessly for 13 months while the world has fumbled for a credible strategy to remove him from office. The rhetoric has been strong: he must go; this is his last chance; his loss of legitimacy is irrevocable. Such phrases have been heard time and again over the past year.

But the Syrian dictator hangs on, his supporters now predicting, and his enemies fearing, that he could be in power for years. He is undeterred by increasing isolation and by the sanctions piling up against his cronies, even though these have frozen Syria’s oil exports and crippled its economy.

His friends in Russia (a source of diplomatic backing) and Iran (a source of funding, military advice and possibly also weaponry) remain committed to his survival. His international opponents know that Syria’s crisis is not only a humanitarian tragedy: the fall of Mr Assad would bring significant strategic gains to the US and Europe, altering the balance of power in the Middle East by removing Iran’s most Arab ally. Yet, while western governments float ideas like setting up humanitarian corridors and safe havens, they quickly roll back, unable to bring Russia on board and, in any case, lacking the political will for Libya-style military involvement.

The world’s failure in Syria is manifested in an escalating death toll that has now exceeded 9,000, with many thousands more wounded, arrested and tortured. It is a symptom of this failure that major powers have rallied round an initiative that very few diplomats believe has a chance of success. The six-point proposal put forward by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general now acting as envoy on Syria for the UN and the Arab League, is the only plan on the table today.

In theory, the proposal, which starts with a ceasefire leading to political dialogue, reasonably seeks to bridge the positions of western powers and that of Russia and China. In practice, however, it is likely to be exploited at every turn by Mr Assad and risks providing him with a cover for continued brutality.

The Syrian regime claims to have accepted Mr Annan’s plan. However, ahead of the ceasefire that comes into effect this week, forces have been pounding rebellious towns and villages. The plan itself has problematic aspects. It calls for a two-hour daily humanitarian pause when it should demand unfettered access for humanitarian agencies. It puts as much onus on a loose network of armed opposition men, with no central leadership or command, as it does on an organised army. This leaves ample room for the regime to claim its opponents are not abiding by the ceasefire.

If the Annan plan is to have any chance of imposing a diplomatic solution, the UN must deploy several hundred monitors who will need their own security and, above all, unfettered access across Syrian territory. Should a dialogue begin, a political transition must be clearly defined as the objective and the talks cannot be open-ended.

But is also important to bolster the Annan plan and that requires not ruling out more robust alternatives, however complicated and unattractive they may be. Western governments are now relying on Russian leverage to force Syrian compliance and Moscow says it wants the Annan blueprint to work. But to what end? The outcome it is seeking is the survival of the regime, not its demise. Mr Assad must be told that if the Annan plan fails to produce a peaceful transition, then the US and European governments, working with Turkey and willing Arab partners, will put the options of arming the opposition and creating safe havens for the rebels on the table – and that this time they will be serious about them. [ft.com]


Huffington Post - 11 April 2012

Syria: The Battleground Between Sunnis and Shiites

Professor Alon Ben-Meir, Senior Fellow, NYU's Center for Global Affairs

In a late 2011 article [see below], I argued that Syria's upheaval thrusts Turkey and Iran into a collision course because they have opposing geostrategic interests in an outcome that neither party can afford to ignore. Four months later, it has become increasingly clear that the Syrian uprising transcends Iran's and Turkey's strategic interests, as it has become the battleground between the Sunni and Shiite communities throughout the Middle East. The Syrian uprising has drawn a clear sectarian line: the Sunni axis led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the Shiite axis led by Iran. The new political order that will eventually emerge in Syria will determine not only the ultimate success or failure of Iran's aspiration to become the region's hegemon but whether or not the Sunni Arab world will maintain its dominance. Hence, the conflict will be long, costly and bloody, reflecting the troubled history between the two sides that has extended over a millennium.

History may not repeat itself, but it remains instructive. The Sunni-Shiite schism goes back more than a thousand years, starting with the dispute over the Islamic Caliphate following the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 and carrying through to the conflict between the Shiite Safavid dynasty in Persia and the Sunni Ottoman dynasty in Turkey in the 16th and 17th centuries. This conflict has, in fact, shaped the geography of Shiite Islam to this day: Persia and its periphery are Shiite and Sunnis are located to its East and West. There were periods of conflict and periods of peace, such as the epoch that existed between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the secular Pahlavi dynasty in Iran in the 1920s. This period was broken by Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, whose vigorous attempt to export the revolution to its Sunni Arab neighbors and the latter's fierce resistance manifested in the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Given this enduring rivalry, the superficial political effort made by Turkey and Saudi Arabia to obscure the conflict between the Sunni and Shiites has now been thrown into the spotlight for all to see.

There is no greater evidence of the intense conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites than the violent clash in Bahrain where Saudi Arabia directly interfered militarily to quell the Shiite uprising to ensure continued Sunni dominance. However small Bahrain is, it represents a microcosm of the Sunni-Shiite conflict that has engulfed the region. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq continues to terrorize the Shiite majority, resulting in a weekly death of dozens of innocent civilians on both sides. The Shiite's Hezbollah group in Lebanon continues to support the Syrian government's violent crackdown on its citizens, killing by most estimates more than 10,000. Sunni Hamas, which has enjoyed financial and military support from Iran while simultaneously receiving political and logistical support from the Syrian Alawite regime (an offshoot of Shiite Islam), has left its headquarters in Damascus and now openly condemns the Syrian Authority's bloodletting against its Sunni population.

Diplomatic tension rose last week between Ankara and Tehran over statements from Iranian officials about moving the nuclear talks to a more "neutral territory" such as Syria, Iraq or China, resulting in an angered Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who bluntly criticized the Iranians' "lack of honesty." A dichotomy on Syria exists between Iran and Turkey: whereas the former supports the Assad regime with everything he needs, the latter hosts the main opposition body, the Syrian National Council (SNC). This is a reflection of their individual national interests to dominate a country that provides both of them an opportunity to assert themselves as the region's hegemon and attempt to offer a model to the newly-emerging Arab regime to emulate. Above all else, however, the Sunni Islamic movement, just as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), adamantly opposes a Shiite dominance in its neighborhood.

At greater stake in Syria is the national interest of Saudi Arabia as the conservative leader of the Arab Sunni world. A consolidation of Iran's grip over Syria would transcend the Shiite influence over the entire crescent of landmass between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. Though Saudi Arabia paid not much heed to Saddam Hussein's ultimate fate (who once threatened to invade the kingdom), handing Iraq to Shiite Iran on a golden platter in the wake of the Iraq war of 2003 was, and remains, deeply troubling to Riyadh. The fact that Iraq is ruled by a Shiite regime closely allied with Tehran explains why Saudi Arabia has provided refuge to Iraq's top Sunni political figure, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, whose political conflict with the Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki resulted in him being sought by Iraqi authorities on terrorism charges. It is critical for Saudi Arabia to pull Syria out of Iran's belly, which explains why the Saudi government is supportive of arming the rebels in Syria in the hope of toppling the Assad regime. Moreover, there is no love lost between Iran and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood (MB) -- a regional Islamic Sunni movement whose local parties will certainly form the new regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

Although all three countries are undergoing a difficult transitional process, they would cheer the collapse of the Assad regime and would do whatever they could to support the emergence of a Sunni government in Syria. The new transitional governments in Libya as well as Tunisia recognize the SNC as the legitimate authority of Syria. Similarly, the turmoil in Egypt did not prevent the MB from clearly indicating that they simply do not see eye to eye with Iran. In fact, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee in the Egyptian parliament, the MB Freedom and Justice Party member Dr. Essam al-Arian, stated ominously that the Arab Spring would also reach Iran.

As international sanctions began to bite and the Iranian leadership began to feel the pain, they agreed to re-engage in negotiations with the P5+1 over their nuclear program. Equally motivating to Tehran, however, is the situation in Syria. The deteriorating conditions of Syria and Iran's nuclear issue have become intertwined because the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons is driven not merely by national security considerations but essentially by Tehran's desire to secure nuclear weapons to bolster its regional hegemony. Assad's Syria is key to this strategy, and its fall would further increase Iran's isolation in a mostly-Sunni neighborhood and cut the direct links between Tehran and its Hezbollah ally in Lebanon. Also, once Assad's Syria is unraveled, the current substantial Iranian influence on Iraqi politics would weaken at a much quicker pace. Indeed, it is more than likely that Iraqi nationalism would eventually trump its internal Sunni-Shiite divide as Iraq historically takes pride in its unique place in Arab culture as the cradle of Arab civilization.

It follows that Iran may well be willing to demonstrate some flexibility in the Istanbul talks on the nuclear issue by using its Russian patrons to convince the West to curb the pressure on Syria to save the Assad regime, and buying time to prevent an attack on their nuclear facilities by Israel and/or the US. From the Iranian perspective they can always resume the nuclear program at a later date once the Assad regime is re-stabilized and in so doing, can safeguard the Shiite crescent. One can only hope that the West would not fall for the manipulative mastery of the Iranians. Note that the sacrifice of a temporary pause in the nuclear program in return for higher political purpose was also tried successfully by Tehran in 2003.

In the wake of the imminent collapse of the Kofi Annan plan to end the conflict in Syria the leading Sunni countries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, now have the opportunity and the obligation to bring an end to the Assad regime, end the massacre and pave the way for the emergence of a Sunni government in Damascus. To achieve that, both nations (deriving their legitimacy from the Arab League) must provide military assistance to the rebels while Turkey should carve a significant landmass along its border and along with its NATO allies, enforce a no-fly zone to protect the Syrian refugees and the Free Syrian Army. Moreover, both nations should make every effort to enlist the international community to bestow legitimacy on the SNC to provide the foundation for a transitional government. Such an effort will save Syria as well as the national interest of the Sunni states in the region while depriving Iran of its aspiration to become a regional hegemon potentially equipped with nuclear weapons.

Anything short of that would mean handing Iran a complete victory and surrendering the Middle East to an inevitable, but wider, violent conflict in the future between the two axes of Sunnis and Shiites.





Professor Alon Ben-Meir - November 28, 2011

The Arab Spring is changing the political and strategic map of the Middle East as we know it in ways that will persist for decades to come. Notwithstanding the domestic developments in each country, the Arab Spring is uprooting long-standing authoritarian regimes, antagonists and protagonists to the West alike, and is creating a vacuum that regional powers will quickly attempt to fill. Each of the regional powers in the Middle East - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Israel - are poised to exploit the uprising to their advantage. New regional alliances could emerge, as could a new "cold war" and the potential of violence between the competing powers. What is certain now, however, is that the Syrian upheaval thrusts Turkey and Iran into a collision course because they have opposing geostrategic interests that neither of them can afford to ignore.

The entry of Arab powers--Egypt and Saudi Arabia--into this rivalry might be delayed, but not for long. Once Egypt gets its act together and manages to sort out its internal socio-political and religious combustion, it will reassume its traditional leadership role in the Arab states. Though poor in resources, Egypt has always been the epicenter of the Arab world. Ideologies ranging from Arab nationalism to Islamic fundamentalism originated from Egypt and its political direction, from confrontation with the West and Israel to peaceful relations with them, have dominated the Arab political sphere. Despite gestures towards Turkey and Iran, Egypt will inevitably resume its role as a rival of both if it is to regain regional leadership. Unlike Egypt, Saudi Arabia will continue to lead as the custodian of Sunni Islam and exert significant political and religious influence throughout the Arab world, especially in the Gulf because of its riches and ability to
"buy its way" through the thickets of Arab politics. Despite the socio-economic and political differences between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, they will no doubt attempt to maintain the veneer of good relations required by their natural affinity and shared concerns about the Israeli-Arab conflict: Turkey's desire to lead the Sunni Muslim world, and in particular, Iran's ambitions to become the region's hegemon equipped with nuclear weapons.

Conversely, Israel is the only regional power that does not have the will, capacity or the prospect to become the region's hegemon and yet, it will maintain its military superiority. Though not slated for regional dominance, Israel could still utilize the Arab Spring, should its leaders muster a moment of lucidity, to advance the inevitably-required solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than allow the Arab Spring to become the cause of a Palestinian uprising to end the occupation. In spite of their different reasons or motivations, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel share a strategic interest to undermine Iran's pursuit of hegemony, not only because of its nuclear ambitions, but also its drive to destabilize the region through the spread of terrorism and its extremist brand of Islamic regimes. Therefore, all three would likely welcome any effort to cut the Syrian "line" from Tehran's axis in the region.

It is the non-Arab states other than Israel, Turkey and Iran, that are now on a collision course as they survey the Arab Spring manifesting itself in Syria which provides them both an opening to assert themselves as the region's hegemon while attempting to offer a model to emulate for the newly emerging Arab regimes. Iran was quick to proclaim that the Arab Spring was part of the "Islamic revival" and overlooked no opportunity to describe the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain as an extension of the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution (which it failed to export). Turkey on the other hand is eager to suggest that it has created a perfect model of governance by successfully combining Islam and democracy while ushering in significant economic developments.

Syria, bordering both countries, is already the battle ground between Iran and Turkey who are determined to shape the outcome of the upheaval there to safeguard their national vested interests and ambitions. Neither Tehran nor Ankara is publicly assaulting the other, but both governments harbor tremendous concerns and suspicions of each other. Although Iran and Turkey have major stakes in Syria, for Iran the possible fall of the Assad regime would not only increase Iran's isolation and cut direct links between Tehran and its Hezbollah ally in Lebanon, but also inflict a major blow to its regional ambitions. This explains, for instance, why the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's air division threatened this week that Iran will target the NATO missile defense installations in Turkey if its nuclear program is attacked by the United States and/or Israel.

The aforementioned suggests why even Iran's verbal support of the Arab Spring is absent when it comes to its ally, Syria. Tehran continues to provide the Assad regime with weapons, logistical support and cash to crush the protests. The decision by the Obama administration to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of this year offers Iran an added advantage to further expand its support of the Assad regime, and more importantly, to expand its influence in Damascus while maintaining and strengthening its contiguous Shiite-controlled landmass extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. However, if and when Tehran reaches the conclusion that the Assad regime is doomed, it will most likely shift tactics in an effort to shape the developments in a post-Assad Syria. For this reason, President Ahmadinejad, while supporting Assad to quell the uprising at all costs, made a statement condemning the "killing and massacre" in Syria to ingratiate
himself in the eyes of the Syrian public.

On the other hand, Erdogan's Turkey, much like Iran, aspires to export its "Islamic model" to the Arab Spring countries. After a grace period in which Ankara attempted to pressure Assad to reform, Turkey has now finally abandoned him to his own devices. Not only has Ankara hosted the establishment of an opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), it now provides logistical support to the rebel Syrian Free Army which has a camp on the Turkish side of the border. Moreover, although it was initially reluctant to take severe measures against Damascus, following the Arab League's decisions to impose a diplomatic and economic boycott on Syria, Turkey is now gearing up to take further punitive actions. Ankara is planning to impose a new set of sanctions while preparing to intervene militarily to establish a safe haven in northern Syria for refugees and Syrian military defectors.

Having given up on President Assad, Turkey will do everything in its power to curry favor with the Syrian public to place itself in a preferred position to influence the new, emerging post-Assad political order. Iran, on the other hand, will stop short of nothing to continue its unqualified support of the Syrian regime as long as it believes that Assad might still have a chance of survival. Ankara and Tehran are determined to maintain their sphere of influence over Syria because both know how serious the implications would be to their national security interest and regional aspirations which place them on a direct collision course.

The United States, which had earlier been held back from stiffening its sanctions against Assad by Turkey, should now work closely with Turkey to hasten Assad's departure, especially in the wake of the Arab League's decision to impose their own punitive measures. This represents a golden opportunity to loosen Tehran's grip on Damascus and extract Syria from Iran's belly at a time when Iran is in dire need of holding on to its slipping regional influence.

To be sure, Iran is more vulnerable today than it has been in a long time. Faced with serious charges by the IAEA to pursue nuclear weapons, increased international sanctions and growing isolation, the loss of its Syrian connection will inflict a fatal setback to Iran's regional ambitions. The question is, will Turkey be up to the task and will the US aid Ankara in indirectly engineering such an outcome?


Sunni Muslim rulers snub Iraq at Arab League summit

BAGHDAD – Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring.

Mideast upheaval knocks Saudi Arabia off balance

Iran's meddling "is very dangerous." Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal

The decades-old rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia-controlled Iran for prominence in the region is one of the volatile subplots embedded in the "Arab Spring."This was evident Thursday when Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries, which have complained of Iranian manipulation of the Shiite-majority government in Iraq, sent lower-level delegations to the Arab League summit in Baghdad.

Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to embrace the 'Arab Spring,' which has ousted its allies. But the tumult has also offered it a chance to weaken rival Iran. The Saudi royal family prizes stability as much as the oil that secures its wealth, but political upheaval across the Middle East has shaken the kingdom's sense of balance, forcing it to press for radical change in Syria and confront a bid by longtime nemesis Iran to wield greater influence. Intrigue between Riyadh and Tehran has sharpened. The kingdom blames Tehran for training Islamic militants and for stirring sectarianism in eastern Saudi Arabia and in neighboring Yemen and Bahrain. The bloodshed in Syria has enraged the monarchy, but also provided a moral cover as it attempts to undercut Iran by weakening its strategic proxy, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Saudis Seek to Funnel Arms to Syria Rebels

MARCH 2012. Syria's fighting has already added to the rancor between Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies, who support the country's largely Sunni opposition, and Shiite Iran, whose government backs Mr. Assad. Saudi Arabia has argued strongly for weapons supplies to Sunni protestors.


Arab summit appears divided over approach to Syria

AP - 28 March 2012.

Arab leaders gathering here Thursday will call for Syria to implement a cease-fire, but there's little faith that President Bashar Assad will do anything to halt his crackdown on the year-old uprising.

That could set the stage for Gulf Arab nations, eager to see Assad's downfall, to take stronger action on their own.

Arab governments are divided over how strongly to intervene to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and their divisions illustrate how the conflict has become a proxy in the region's wider rivalry — the one between Arabs and powerhouse Iran.

Sunni-led nations of the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar — hoping to break Syria out of its alliance with Shiite Iran — are believed to be considering arming the Syrian rebels to fight back against Assad's forces. But other Arab nations are reluctant to openly call for that step yet.

Iraq, the host of the one-day Arab League summit, is in a particularly tight spot because its Shiite-led government has close ties to Iran, Assad's top ally.

Given the divisions, foreign ministers meeting here Wednesday laid out a middle-ground for their leaders to issue at the summit. The draft resolution they put together would reject foreign intervention in Syria while voicing support for the Syrian people's "legitimate aspirations to freedom and democracy." It would call on Assad to implement a cease-fire and let in humanitarian aid, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press.

The leaders also "denounce the acts of violence, killings ... and remain committed to a peaceful settlement and national dialogue," it said.

It also supports the mission of joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has put forward a peace plan to end the regime's crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 9,000 people since the uprising began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari acknowledged to the media that the summit will offer "nothing new" on Syria, but will complement ongoing international diplomacy to settle the crisis.

Damascus has accepted Annan's plan, which includes a cease-fire. Violence has continued, however, with clashes between government forces and armed rebels. Syria's opposition is deeply skeptical that Assad will carry out the terms of Annan's plan.

The plan also calls on Damascus to immediately stop troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas, and to commit to a daily two-hour halt in fighting to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations.

Opposition members accuse Assad of agreeing to Annan's plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent.

"We are not sure if it's political maneuvering or a sincere act," said Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. "We have no trust in the current regime. ... We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians."

The Assad regime has pre-emptively rejected anything coming out of the Arab League summit, a reflection of its refusal to deal with the 22-member body since it suspended Syria's membership last year.

Iraq is hosting the annual summit for the first time in a generation, keen to show it has emerged from years of turmoil and U.S. occupation. But the Syria issue has clouded its attempts to win acceptance by other Arab nations, which are deeply suspicious of its ties with Iran.

In a snub to Baghdad, most — if not all — of the rulers of the six Gulf nations were staying away from the summit, sending lower-level figures instead. League officials said the level of representation was aimed at showing their frustration over the lack of more assertive action on Syria.

Instead of its king, Saudi Arabia was sending its ambassador to the Arab League — a worse slap because the post is even lower than the foreign minister level. The League officials said Saudi Arabia and Qatar had wanted Iraq to invite representatives of the Syrian opposition to the summit. Baghdad declined, much to their dismay, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Offering a glimpse of Qatar's thinking on the Syrian crisis, the prime minister of the tiny, energy-rich nation told Al-Jazeera television that it would be a "disgrace to all of us if the sacrifices of the Syrian people go to waste."

"We are faced with a difficult choice — either we stand by the Syrian people or stand by him (Assad)," said Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.

The Gulf nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been pushing behind the scenes for more assertive action to end the conflict. Privately, they see little benefit in the Arab League's efforts to reach a peaceful settlement and prefer instead to see a small core of nations joining together to act on their own.

Among the options they are considering are arming the Syrian rebels and creating a safe haven for the opposition along the Turkish-Syrian border to serve as a humanitarian sphere or staging ground for anti-regime forces. Such a step would require help from Turkey — the country best positioned to defend such a safe haven — but so far Ankara has seemed reluctant.

For Gulf nations, removing Assad would almost certainly break Syria's alliance with Iran, disrupting the sphere of Tehran's influence that now extends from Iraq and across Syria to the shores of the Mediterranean. Syria's Sunni majority makes up the bulk of the uprising. Assad's regime is dominated by his own Alawite sect, a minority offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, said the summit would not demand that Assad step down. But he later said Iraq "could no longer remain neutral" in the face of the violence in Syria.

He did not elaborate, but added that the Syria crisis was headed toward "internationalization," maintaining that the Arab League already has done all it could to resolve the conflict.

Zebari, however, is a Sunni Kurd and his pronouncements may not accurately reflect the views of the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the all-powerful Shiite political establishment backing him.

In a possible breakthrough in Iraq's relations with Bahrain — one of the Gulf Cooperation Council's six members — al-Maliki met on the sidelines of Wednesday's meeting of Arab foreign ministers with Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. No details emerged from their meeting.

Relations have been tense since Shiite Iraqi politicians publicly criticized last year's crackdown by Bahrain's Sunni-led regime against the nation's Shiite majority. The tension between Iraq and the GCC over Bahrain was among the reasons an Arab summit that had been scheduled to take place in Baghdad last year was abandoned.


Bowing before Crescent


The influlence of the Shia Cresent in the Middle East reached extraordinary proportions.
Power of the Cresent was visible during the height of the Syrian rebellion.
United States and Europe tried to silence the government of Syria.
When US and EU failed in Syria, they turned to prayed for Crescent's help.


Matt Blake - Daily Mail, 11 April 2012

UN begs Iran for help with Syria crisis as bombs continue to fall

The UN begged Iran for help in solving the deepening crisis in Syria today as bombs continued to fall across the war-torn nation.


Fleeing for their lives: The the true scale of Syria's humanitarian crisis is revealed as UN begs Iran for help amid fears of all-out civil war

* Bombs continue to fall on cities across Syria as hopes for tomorrow's planned ceasefire fade
* Iran foreign minister: 'Change in Syria should come under leadership of Assad'
* Hillary Clinton blames Russia for keeping Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in power
* China reiterates calls for all sides in Syria to respect a ceasefire, due to begin tomorrow

By Matt Blake - DAILY MAIL - 11 April 2012

These are the makeshift cities that reveal for the first time the true scale of the humanitarian crisis sweeping across conflict-ravaged Syria. Refugees have flocked in their thousands to camps like this in Kilis, just across the Syrian border in Turkey.
And as these dramatic aerial photographs show, life is a squeeze for the forgotten victims of a conflict that has already claimed countless lives. Gunfire can be clearly heard as pitch battles continue between government troops and rebel fighters.
And their new homes, cramped and made from carbon fibre crating, provide little protection from stray bullets that may fall at any time.

On Tuesday UN Middle East envoy visited another camp in nearby in Hatay before flying to Iran to beg for in solving the deepening crisis as bombs continued to fall across the war-torn nation. In a desperate friend-finding mission to Tehran, special envoy Kofi Annan said Iran could play a vital role in halting Syria from slipping into all-out civil war. His plea came as activists reported fresh violence a day before an international cease-fire is supposed to take effect. Iran is one of Syria's strongest allies, and former U.N. chief Annan went there to bolster support for his faltering plan to stop the country's slide toward civil war. "Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution," Annan said during a news conference with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. "The geopolitical location of Syria is such that any miscalculation and error can have unimaginable consequences." However, Iran has always opposed any foreign intervention in the crisis and Salehi insisted that 'change in Syria' should come under the leadership of Assad. "Any change in Syria should be made by the Syrian government under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad who promised to achieve these changes to meet the aspirations of the Syrian people," Salehi added.

Annan visited Iran a day after US Senator John McCain said ground troops are now the only way of ousting defiant Syrian president Bashar al Assad and ending the violence.
During a visit to Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay,on the Turkish-Syrian border with fellow senator Joe Lieberman yesterday, he said: 'I think it was a failure from the start. Most of us knew because there was no pressure for Bashar Assad to actually stop the killing. We think it's going to require military action on the ground to get him to leave.' The conflict in Syria is among the most explosive of the Arab Spring, in part because of the country's allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran. Hundreds of refugees have fled the country, filling camps in neighbouring Turkey. The uprising that began more than a year ago seeks the ouster of authoritarian President Bashar Assad.
Syria's regime defied the Tuesday deadline to pull out troops from cities and towns that was set in the deal brokered by Annan and launched fresh attacks on rebellious areas. But Annan insists there is still time to salvage the truce by 6 a.m. Thursday, the deadline for government and rebel fighters to cease all hostilities.
There was more violence on Wednesday, putting the chances of a truce even deeper in doubt as Syrian troops took control of large parts of villages and towns near the border with Turkey. The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, reported shelling of several rebel-held neighborhoods in the central city of Homs.
Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Russia's refusal to support constructive action by the U.N. Security Council on the crisis in Syria is keeping its President Bashar al-Assad in power. Clinton said when foreign ministers of the G-8 meet in Washington on Wednesday, the U.S. would again try to persuade Russia, a key Syrian ally, to support action that would at least allow humanitarian access. Clinton warned Tuesday night that the danger was rising of regional conflict and civil war flaring from the violence in Syria. She said Russia's 'refusal to join us in some kind of constructive action is keeping Assad in power, well-armed, able to ignore the demands of his own people, the region and the world.' China also weighed into the crisis today, reiterating calls for all sides in Syria to respect a ceasefire as government forces pressed home a sustained assault on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, ignoring an international peace plan. 'A political solution to the Syrian issue has reached a critical stage, but violence within Syria continues and civilian casualties are rising. China expresses its deep worries,' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters at a daily press briefing. Peace envoy Kofi Annan appealed to the U.N. Security Council to use its leverage to prevent the collapse of his efforts to halt 13 months of conflict and said Assad must make a 'fundamental change of course' and adhere to a ceasefire due to begin on Thursday.
Yesterday, Hezbollah demanded punishment for the killers of Al-Jadeed TV cameraman Ali Shaaban slain by Syrian gunfire near the border with Syria. Shaaban, 30, was killed on Monday when Syrian troops opened fire on the car he was traveling in with two Al-Jadeed colleagues, reporter Hussein Khreiss and cameraman Abed al-Azim Khayya in the northern area of Wadi Khaled, near the border with Syria.


4 Apr 2012


Iran v. USA


Iran Has Knack for Humiliating U.S. Presidents

By GEORGE GEDDA - Associated Press - Wednesday June 18, 2003 9:59 AM

In debating what to do about Iran, President Bush might consider the outcome of attempts by two predecessors to deal with that country. For both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the results were, if not ruinous, something close to it.
Iran might seem like a fitting candidate for the administration to apply its doctrine of pre-emptive action: Iran is thought to be developing nuclear weapons, has an advanced missile program, maintains ties to terrorist groups, possibly including al-Qaida, and is run by conservative mullas who are deeply hostile toward the United States.

The Bush administration is banking on diplomatic pressure to encourage Iran to rethink its nuclear program. It is confident the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, meeting this week, will find Iran to be in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a step that could put the issue before the U.N. Security Council. Recent disclosures about the Iranian nuclear program seem to have brought Russia and the European Union closer to Washington's position.

It is not clear what the administration has in mind for Iran beyond providing moral support for its broad-based reform movement, weary of a generation of Islamic fundamentalist rule. As some in the administration see it, a hands-off policy is not feasible because, according to estimates, Iran could have nuclear weapons by 2006. This, in, turn, could induce countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to join the nuclear club.

For its part, Iran denies that it has nuclear weapons ambitions. It maintains that its nuclear program is designed solely to generate electricity, thus freeing its oil and gas reserves for export. Few here buy that explanation.

After a generation as a pro-American bulwark in the Persian Gulf, Iran's shift to enemy status following the 1979 revolution may have been the most serious strategic setback for the United States since World War II.

For Carter, Iran was a nightmarish problem from the time the American hostages were taken in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979, until he left office 14 months later. His inability to bring the hostages home cost him dearly in the November 1980 elections. He won six states.

For Carter the low point occurred in April 1980, barely a year after being praised for bringing Israel and Egypt together in a peace treaty. With the hostage crisis in Iran in its sixth month, Carter ordered a rescue operation to be carried out by Delta Force commandoes.

Bad weather at a rendezvous point in Iran called Desert One forced two helicopters to drop out. A third helicopter collided with a fuel-laden C-130 transport plane, killing eight men. The mission was aborted.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said it was a ``harebrained'' scheme to begin with and resigned, sparing him the need to defend the operation in the aftermath. As superpower misadventures go, this one ranked with the Bay of Pigs.

Reagan had his own Iran-related disaster. During his second term, he approved the sale of arms to Iran in hopes it would lead to the release of seven American hostages held by Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon. Indeed, three hostages were released, only to be replaced by three others.

It was the darkest period of Reagan's presidency. He had violated not only an embargo on arms sales to Iran but also a promise not to negotiate with terrorists.

Public indignation over the fiasco was compounded when it was disclosed that proceeds from the arms sales were diverted to Nicaraguan anti-communist rebels in violation of a law barring such support.

Unlike Carter, Reagan managed to ride out his Iran-induced headaches, his popularity rebounding before his second term ended in 1989. Now, the question arises: Have the mullahs finally met their match in President Bush? Or will they be able to humiliate yet another American president?


Crescent strikes KSA


Shias on war mode against Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


Iranian cleric says Saudi is "centre of sedition"

REUTERS - 6 April 2012

An Iranian cleric accused Saudi Arabia on Friday of giving refuge to terrorists and committing crimes in Arab states including Bahrain and Syria, the Iranian Students' News Agency ISNA reported.

Relations between Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained over Iran's nuclear programme and what Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf Arab states say is Iran's meddling in Arab affairs.

Tehran denies the charge and has condemned what it calls foreign interference in the affairs of its closest Arab ally, Syria, and Saudi Arabia's deployment of foreign troops in Bahrain last year.

"The Saudi government has become the centre of sedition in the region and a safe haven for terrorists such as (Tunisia's former president Zine al-Abidine) Ben Ali and (Iraq's fugitive Vice President) Tareq al-Hashemi," hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said during a sermon at Friday prayers.

"They are also committing crimes in Bahrain and taking seditionist acts in Syria ... I warn them that if they do not stop such actions, they will be burned with the fire they have created themselves," Khatami said, according to ISNA.

Shi'ite Muslim Iran backed popular uprisings which have removed leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen but has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Backed by Western countries, Riyadh has spearheaded Arab efforts to counter Assad's suppression of a year-old uprising and to demand that he step down.

In October, the United States said it had uncovered an Iranian-backed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. Iran denied any involvement.

Riyadh suspects Tehran of backing unrest led by neighbouring Bahrain's Shi'ite majority against the island state's Sunni monarchy, supporting Shi'ite rebels in northern Yemen and fomenting unrest among Saudi Arabia's own Shi'ite minority.

Saudi Arabia has indicated it could increase oil output to make up for Iranian crude in the event of a European Union embargo against Iranian oil, a stance criticised by Iranian officials.


Crescent not monster


Iran is not the monster it's made out to be – yet

By blaming the street protests at home on their Shia neighbour, Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are playing with fire

Patrick Cockburn - Sunday 27 November 2011

Iran has long been denounced in Washington as the source of much of the evil in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies genuinely see the dark hand of Tehran behind protests in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province. As the last US forces leave Iraq by the end of the year, there are dire warnings of Iraq becoming an Iranian pawn.

This demonisation of Iran at times seems to set the stage for a military attack on Iran by the US and Israel. The propaganda build-up is very similar to that directed against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2002. In both cases, an isolated state with limited resources is presented as a real danger to the region and the world. Unlikely and sometimes comical conspiracy theories are given official credence, such as the supposed plot of an Iranian-American used-car dealer in Texas teaming up with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Iran's nuclear programme is identified as a threat in much the same way as Saddam Hussein's non-existent WMD.

It therefore came as a shock when the distinguished Egyptian-American lawyer Cherif Bassiouni, who led the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry into this year's unrest, said flatly in his 500-page report last week that there is no evidence of Iranian involvement in events in Bahrain. This had been a core belief of Bahrain's royal family and the monarchs of the Gulf. Fear of Iranian armed intervention was Bahrain's justification for calling in a 1,500-strong Saudi-led military force on 14 March before it drove demonstrators from the streets. Bahrain even got Kuwaiti naval vessels to patrol the coast of the island in case Iran should try to deliver weapons to the Shia pro-democracy protesters.

No doubt the kings and emirs of the Gulf sincerely believe their own conspiracy theories. Many of those tortured during the brutal repression in Bahrain have since given evidence that their torturers repeatedly asked them about their links to Iran. Middle-aged hospital consultants were forced to sign confessions admitting that they were members of an Iranian revolutionary plot. After accepting the Bassiouni report, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said that, though his government could not produce clear evidence, Tehran's role was evident to "all who have eyes and ears".

The same paranoia about Iran runs deep among Sunnis across the Middle East. One Bahrain dissident, who fled to Qatar earlier this year, told me that "people in Qatar kept asking me if there was a tunnel leading from Pearl Square [the rallying point for the demonstrators] to Iran. They were only half-joking."

The identification of Shia political activism with Iran in the minds of the Sunni has gone too deep to be erased. Last week saw a resurgence of protests among the two million Shia in Saudi Arabia, mostly in Eastern Province. The riots began when a 19-year-old man called Nasser al-Mheishi was killed at one of the many checkpoints in Qatif, according to Hamza al-Hassan, an opposition activist. He says that popular anger was fuelled by the refusal for several hours of the authorities to allow his body to be taken away by his family. As in the past, the Saudi Interior Ministry claimed that confrontations between the police and protesters were "ordered by masters abroad" – which is invariably the Saudi state's way of referring to Iran.

The Saudi opposition says that comments by non-Shia Saudis on Twitter and the internet show that the government policy of blaming everything on Iran may not quite carry the conviction it once did. "We stand on the edge of the halls of fire," commented one woman graphically.

The protests in Eastern Province are likely to intensify. As elsewhere in the Arab world, youth no longer obeys traditional leaders. The Saudi and Bahraini monarchs may blame Iranian television for inflaming the situation, but what really fuels Shia anger is what they see on YouTube or read on Twitter or the internet. What influences protesters is less Iran and more the example of young demonstrators similar to themselves demanding political and civil rights in Cairo and Syria.

In the year of the Arab Awakening the traditional Saudi way of getting local notables to quiet things down no longer works. Last week these complained to the governor of Eastern Province, Prince Mohammad bin Fahd, who had asked them to come to a meeting in the provincial capital, Dammam, that they could no longer persuade their people to end the protests because their calls for moderation earlier this year had produced no concessions from the Saudi government with regard to discrimination against Shia. Shia prisoners held without trial since 1996 have not been released.

In Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, belief in the hidden hand of Iran behind the protests has led to both governments making a serious mistake. They have come to believe they are facing a revolutionary threat, when the Bahraini and Saudi Shia would be satisfied with a fair share of jobs, official positions and business. The Shia want to join the club, not blow it up. By refusing to see this, the Saudi and Bahraini monarchs destabilise their own states.

Iran has never been as strong as its enemies portray it or as it would like to be. In many ways the demonisation of Iran's leadership as a regional menace fulfils Iran's ambition to present itself as a regional power. In practice, its bloodthirsty rhetoric has always been combined with a cautious and carefully calculated foreign policy.

President George W Bush and Tony Blair always spoke of Iran as if it was aiming to destabilise the Iraqi government. This was nonsense since Tehran was delighted to see the end of its old enemy Saddam Hussein and his replacement by an elected Iraqi government dominated by Shia religious parties. The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, used to say that it was amusing at conferences, where both the US and Iran were represented, to see the Americans and the Iranians furiously denounce each other's evil actions in Iraq – and then make very similar speeches supporting the Iraqi government.

Will the Iranians now move in to fill the vacuum left by departing US troops? Certainly, American importance in Iraq will fall because its soldiers have gone and because it is spending less money in the country. At one time, for instance, the financing of the Iraqi mukhabarat did not appear in the Iraqi budget because it was entirely paid for by the CIA.

Belief in inevitable Iranian dominance in Iraq is naive: there are too many other powerful players, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi Shia differ markedly in tradition and belief from their Iranian co-religionists. And the Kurds and Sunni will object. If Iran overplays its hand, as did the US after 2003, it will become the target of a horde of different enemies.

In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iraq the Iranian role in provoking unrest has been invented or exaggerated. But treating peaceful protesters as revolutionaries acting on behalf of Iran is self-fulfilling. The next time round, frustrated reformers may well look for outside help.


Iraq under Shias


After ten years of brutal occupation, and many failed attempts to quell Iran-backed insurgency, the U.S. withdrew its military forces from Iraq in December 2011.
Sunni leaders across Middle East were alarmed to see an Arab nation come under the control of Shia Crescent.


Shias keep down Sunnis in post-US Iraq‎

April 3, 2012.

Now that U.S. forces are gone, Iraq's ruling Shiites are moving quickly to keep the two Muslim sects separate — and unequal.

Sunnis are locked out of key jobs at universities and in government, their leaders banned from Cabinet meetings or even marked as fugitives. Sunnis cannot get help finding the body of loved ones killed in the war. And Shiite banners are everywhere in Baghdad.

With the Americans no longer here to play peacemakers and Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab nations moving to isolate Iraq, it's a development that could lead to an effective breakup of the country.

"The sectarian war has moved away from violence to a soft conflict fought in the state institutions, government ministries and on the street," said political analyst Hadi Jalo. "What was once an armed conflict has turned into territorial, institutionalized and psychological segregation."

Despite occasional large-scale bombings, March recorded the lowest monthly toll for violent deaths since the 2003 U.S.-invasion. A total of 112 Iraqis were killed last month, compared to 122 in November 2009, the previous lowest.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite hard-liner in office for nearly six years, does not tire from telling anyone who cares to listen that it was he who defeated "terrorism," the word he uses to refer to the Sunni insurgency.

Critics charge that al-Maliki is suspicious of all Sunnis, even those who never joined the insurgency or later abandoned it, and is punishing a community that lost its protectors when the Americans left Iraq in December, ending eight years of occupation.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama called al-Maliki to express Washington's "firm commitment to a unified, democratic Iraq as defined by Iraq's constitution." A White House statement also said that Obama stated his support for the prime minister's participation in a national dialogue hosted by President Jalal Talabani to reconcile Iraqi political blocs. The dialogue formally opens Thursday.

Al-Maliki has denied allegations that his government is harassing or discriminating against Sunnis. He even bragged to Arab leaders gathered for a summit meeting in Baghdad last week that "it is not an exaggeration to say that our success in national reconciliation can be an example to follow in Arab nations suffering from acts of violence and conflict."

But Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the administration's top Sunni official, is a fugitive wanted by prosecutors on terror charges. He fled to the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq to escape what he said would certainly be a politically motivated trial and left this week for Qatar, which has publicly criticized what the Gulf nation's prime minister called the marginalization of Sunnis.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni, has been banned from attending Cabinet meetings because he called al-Maliki a dictator.

Ordinary Sunnis complain of discrimination in almost all aspects of life, including housing, education, employment and security.

Formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, such as Hurriyah, are now predominantly Shiite and protected by concrete barrier walls and checkpoints; with Shiite militias effectively policing many areas, hardly any Sunnis dare to return.

Baghdad now has the appearance of an exclusively Shiite city, with streets and bridges renamed after Shiite saints, Shiite green, black and red banners flying almost everywhere and giant posters of Shiite saints towering over all else on major squares.

Flaunting Shiite strength in Baghdad, a city of some seven million, is apparently a priority for the sect's clerical leadership.

"I always say that one Shiite from Baghdad is worth five Shiites like me from Najaf," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation's most revered Shiite cleric, was quoted as telling Shiites who visited him at his home in Najaf, a city south of Baghdad.

"You are the majority and your enemies are trying to reduce your numbers," al-Sistani said, according to one of the 30 men who attended the seven-minute meeting last November. "Go out and perform your rituals."

The men took al-Sistani's words to heart and swung into action when the next religious occasion arrived in January — the Arbaeen, which marks the passing of 40 days after the seventh century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a much revered saint.

The district known for its well-to-do professionals and businessmen took on a religious ambiance of the kind found in Baghdad's poor Shiite areas or those hosting religious shrines.

Residents practiced the ritual of self-flagellation on the streets, hoisted hundreds of Shiite banners on trees and lamp posts and served meat and rice from tents pitched on street corners.

In the Baghdad district of Azamiyah, for years a bastion of Sunni resistance to Shiite domination, the government is ignoring repeated demands by Sunni residents to remove Ali al-Saadi, a Shiite who heads the local council. They also want to replace Hadi al-Jubouri, another Shiite who is the district's mayor. Both men were appointed by the U.S. military authorities in July 2003, when the Sunni insurgency against the American occupation was starting.

Among other perceived injustices, the Sunnis say Health Ministry officials stonewall them when they seek help locating the remains of loved ones killed during the sectarian violence of the last decade and that, unlike Shiites living in the district, they are not allowed to keep a firearm at home for self-defense.

Sunnis who apply for government jobs also complain of stalling tactics.

A young university graduate from Azamiyah who wanted to be identified as Umm Omar, or the mother of Omar, said she was among 150 candidates selected last year for jobs in the public affairs departments in Cabinet ministries. When she goes to the ministry to find out when she can start work, she is told to come back another time for an update.

"All the Shiites I know who applied with me started work," said Umm Omar, who did not want to identify herself or the ministry because she feared reprisals. "I think it is because I am a Sunni from Azamiyah, but I will not give up. Jobs must never be given based on sect."

Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb, a close al-Maliki ally, is accused of implementing sectarian policies thinly concealed behind his goal of purging members of Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Baath Party from academic institutions.

He has ordered candidates for senior positions in universities and the ministry to submit declarations on their possible links with the Baath Party or security agencies.

Those found out to have withheld such information are banned from assuming the positions for which they applied, according to an aide to the minister who agreed to talk about the subject only on condition of anonymity.

Sunnis have long maintained that Shiite authorities use Baath ties as an excuse to purge the civil service and academic institutions of members of their community.

Al-Adeeb has fired nearly 200 academic and administrative staff from the state university in the mainly Sunni Salaheddin province north of Baghdad, according to local tribal leaders and officials. The campus is in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.

Most if not all university directors in Baghdad are Shiites, according to staff members.

"Sectarian discrimination has become more manifest since al-Adeeb took over the ministry. Several deans and heads of departments have been removed because they belong to the other sect," said university lecturer Ali Abu-Zeid, himself a Shiite. "Even enrollment for postgraduate studies is subtly decided on sectarian basis. We all know that," said Abu-Zeid, who declined to name the university that employs him because he feared reprisals.

Fed up with Shiite domination, the mainly Sunni provinces of Diyala, Salaheddin and al-Anbar have recently announced their intention to become semiautonomous regions, a move provided for by the constitution. Their plans have been stymied by al-Maliki, who argues that granting them autonomy would break up Iraq.

In Diyala, the provincial council voted Dec. 12 to establish a self-ruled region, with 18 members in favor and five against. The next day, protesters widely suspected to be Shiite militiamen loyal to al-Maliki attacked the offices of the provincial government as well as the home of Sunni governor Abdul-Naser al-Mahdawi, as police and army troops stood by and watched.

Fearing for their lives, al-Mahdawi and several council members fled the provincial capital, Baqouba, and found sanctuary in the mainly Kurdish town of Khanaqin to the north.

Last month, al-Maliki gave al-Mahdawi 72 hours to return to Baqouba or resign. He resigned.


Qatar refuses to hand over Iraq's fugitive Vice President

AP - 3 April 2012

Qatar on Tuesday rejected Iraq's request to hand over the nation's fugitive Sunni vice president to face terror charges in Baghdad, a decision that will likely further strain ties between Shiite-led Iraq and Sunni Gulf Arab states.

On Monday, Iraq asked Qatar to extradite Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government. Iraqi authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in December, triggering a political crisis in Baghdad and deepening the country's sectarian divide just days after the U.S. military withdrawal.

Khaled al-Attiyah, Qatar's minister of state for international cooperation, told reporters in Qatar that the Gulf nation will not hand al-Hashemi over to Baghdad because such a move would be contrary to diplomatic protocol.

"There is no court verdict against him," al-Attiyah told reporters in the Qatari capital, Doha. "He came to Qatar from Iraq as the vice president of Iraq and he still holds the title and has (diplomatic) immunity that prevents us from doing such a thing."

Al-Hashemi arrived in Qatar on Sunday. It's his first foreign trip since he fled to Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region in December to avoid arrest by Baghdad authorities who accused him of running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces.

He denies the charges, which he says are politically motivated.

Iraq's deputy prime minister Hussain al-Shahristani called on Qatar on Monday to hand over al-Hashemi to stand trial in Baghdad, and criticized the Gulf nation's Sunni rulers' for hosting al-Hashemi.

Qatar has criticized what it calls the marginalization of Iraqi Sunnis. The strained relations are also linked to Baghdad's close ties with Iran and its ambivalent stand on Syria's yearlong conflict.

The frosty relations were on display at an Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last week. The rulers of Sunni-led Gulf states, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, snubbed Iraq by sending lower-level officials in their place.

Iraq has been at loggerheads with Qatar and Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia over the crisis in Syria. Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, launched a thinly veiled attack on both nations during a news conference on Sunday in Baghdad, saying their desire to arm Syrian rebels would deepen the conflict there.

In a column published in Tuesday's Saudi-owned, pan-Arab Al-Sharq al-Awsat, editor-in chief Tariq al-Hamid criticized al-Maliki's comments, saying that the prime minister's "behavior on Syria shows that there is no way that we can trust the current government in Baghdad."

"Only three days after the end of Baghdad summit, al-Maliki is turning now against Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This is a clear act of deception," al-Hamid said.