Nov 27, 2006
Iraq has been the center of some “shuttle diplomacy” in recent days. Last week, the Syrian foreign minister visited Iraq and signed an accord which formally started diplomatic relations between the two countries after a 24-year break. This meeting was followed by a meeting of the presidents of Iraq and Iran in Tehran, the Iranian capital.
Officially, these meetings were initiated by Syria and Iran. Commentators in the U.S. explained this as an attempt by these governments to increase their influence in the region. Certainly, these governments would welcome any opportunity to do that. But it is equally clear that the Iraqi government could not hold these meetings without the approval of the U.S.
In other words, at this point the U.S. is interested in closer relations between Iraq and its neighbors, Syria and Iran. No doubt, the recent meetings between these governments will be on the top of the agenda on Wednesday, November 29, when George Bush himself gets together with the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan.
With a large military force bogged down in Iraq in an unwinnable war and opposition to the war growing domestically, the U.S. is now looking for a way to reduce its troops in Iraq. But the problem for the U.S. is that Iraq doesn’t have a government and army unified enough to control the population. So, the U.S. wants to establish the largest of the existing militias, the Shiite Badr militia, as the new army, and it is seeking the help of Syria and Iran in propping up this new regime in Iraq. Of course, Bush doesn’t issue this appeal to Syria and Iran openly, since he has, for years, called both of these regimes “terrorist.”
Like every other U.S. move in Iraq, however, these plans have only led to a worsening of the situation for the population. Setting up the Badr militia as the Iraqi army requires the elimination of other militias, both Shiite and Sunni. So these militias, fighting for survival, have stepped up their attacks, killing more civilians in the process. Last Thursday alone, a series of bombings in crowded areas of Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad killed at least 215 people. Shiite militias retaliated by firing mortar rounds at Sunni mosques. In one of the more gruesome incidents, Shiite militiamen doused with kerosene and burned alive six Sunnis coming out of a mosque.
On its part, the U.S. military has put Sadr City, the vast working-class neighborhood of Baghdad and the base of the Shiite Mahdi militia, under siege. But this has resulted only in more civilian casualties and turned the population even more against the U.S. (The place of the Bush-Maliki meeting – Jordan – is in itself an admission by the U.S. that Baghdad, including its heavily fortified “Green Zone” where government and U.S. installations are located, is too dangerous for Bush to visit.)
If Syria and Iran, repressive dictatorships themselves, do end up playing a role in the future of Iraq, it will be one to help set up another dictatorship there. They will help the U.S. to more effectively control the Iraqi population and pump the Iraqi oil for the benefit of U.S. corporations.
This change will not necessarily mean that U.S. troops come home soon, either. Recent statements by U.S. military brass, for example about either enlarging the Marine Corps or extending tours of duty to “adequately train Iraqi forces,” prove this. And U.S. officials don’t hide the fact that one reason they want to reduce the number of troops in Iraq is so that they can engage them in possible wars elsewhere in the future!
No, this new “shuttle diplomacy” is not about ending U.S. involvement in Iraq, or the Middle East in general. Nor will it change the horrible conditions imposed on the population of Iraq – because, even if the U.S. succeeds in eliminating some of the militia leaders, it will have done so only to consolidate the power of other, equally brutal ones.