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Iraq Warns the US: ‘Don’t Arm the Syrian Rebels’ | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Iraq Warns the US: ‘Don’t Arm the Syrian Rebels’


Devastation in the Salaheddine neighborhood of Aleppo. Photo by James Harkin.

The carnage is mounting in Iraq, with dozens or scores killed nearly every day. Meanwhile, Iraq is critical to both the Syrian civil war and to Iran, with whom Iraq has increasingly close ties. The war in Syria, in particular, has spilled 207,000 refugees into Iraq, and the Syrian rebels—especially the Sunni-led terrorist movement, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al Nusra Front, and other extremists—have essentially become one with Iraq’s bloody oppositionists.

So it’s no surprise that yesterday Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, warned that Iraq opposes arming the Syrian rebels.

Zebari’s warning comes as The New York Times reports that a big chunk of the so-called “moderate” Islamist rebels inside Syria formally broke ties with the phony, US-backed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. That decision vastly complicates President Obama’s ability to lobby on behalf of the Syrian opposition. Recognizing the problem, a US official told the Times, using circular reasoning, that the United States has “extreme concerns about extremists.”

During an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Zebari endorsed the US-Russian effort to reach an accord on Syria’s chemical weapons, and he called for a “peaceful settlement” of the Syrian civil war. There is, he said, “no hope of military victory” for either side. But, in a message clearly aimed not only at the United States but at Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, Zebari said: “We oppose providing military assistance to any [Syrian] rebel groups.”

During the summer, President Obama—after long resisting pressure to do so—announced plans to give lethal aid to Syria’s fighters in the effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad. It isn’t clear yet how much weaponry has reached the rebels, who are increasingly led by Al Qaeda and other radicals, since the delivery is being handled as a covert operation by the CIA. But Zebari was making it clear that aid to the rebels directly destabilizes Iraq.

Iraq is deep in crisis. Terrorist attacks kill people daily, by the dozens, and Americans should remember with some horror that all of this carnage is the direct result of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent destruction of the Iraqi government, army and police. Here’s a brief rundown of terrorist actions there just in the past week or so, not at all comprehensive and just the tip of the iceberg:

September 13: “Attacks across Iraq, including a bombing at a Sunni mosque north of Baghdad, killed 33 people Friday in the latest eruption of violence to rock the country, officials said.”

September 14: “A suicide bomber killed at least 21 people at the funeral of a member of Iraq’s Shabak ethnic minority near the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, security and medical sources said.”

September 17: “A wave of car bombs rocked commercial streets in Baghdad on Tuesday, part of a series of attacks across the country that left 31 victims and 4 attackers dead.”

September 20: “Two bombs hidden inside air-conditioners exploded Friday in a Sunni mosque packed with worshipers north of Baghdad, killing at least 18 people.”

September 21: “A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a funeral tent packed with mourners and another bomber on foot blew himself up nearby in a Shiite part of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 72 people and wounding more than 120, officials said. Other attacks on Saturday claimed at least 24 lives.”

September 22: “A suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt in a funeral tent filled with Sunni mourners in Baghdad on Sunday evening, killing 16 people and wounding 35 others, police officials said. It was the latest episode of near-daily violence in Iraq.”

September 23: “A double bombing at a Sunni funeral in Baghdad killed 14 people on Monday, officials said. It was the third day in a row in which funerals were attacked in the Iraqi capital.”

September 25: “Militants attacked a government building in northern Iraq and carried out other attacks that killed at least 25 people on Wednesday, officials said. Attackers detonated three car bombs on the local council building in Hawija before fighting security forces for an hour, said the commander of the army’s 12th Division, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Khalaf.”

According to The New York Times, in a piece by Tim Arango that ought to be read in full, sectarian violence is spreading across the country, including a small town, Muqdadiya, just northeast of Baghdad in battered Diyala Province. Added the Times report:

Iraqi leaders worry that the violence here may be a sign of what awaits the rest of the country if the government cannot quell the growing mayhem that many trace to the civil war in Syria, which has inflamed sectarian divisions, with Sunnis supporting the rebels and Shiites backing the Assad government. Attacks have become more frequent this year, with major bombings becoming almost a daily occurrence. The violence countrywide has increased to a level not seen in five years, according to the United Nations, reinforcing fears that the type of sectarian warfare that gripped the country in 2006 and 2007 will reignite.

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Is it any wonder that Iraq fears what’s happening in Syria?

Zebari told the CFR that there are at least 10,000 foreign fighters in Syria, including the members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Al Nusra. Iraq’s own terrorists, he said, see “strategic depth in Syria,” using territory there are a safe haven. And he worries about a “heightened danger of sectarian conflict” throughout the region.

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