Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 16th, 2006
As Syria challenges the United States and its March 14 allies in Lebanon through continuing support of Hizbullah, Washington will refuse to reward it with dialogue on Iraq or the Golan. It is hard to see how the US is going to make substantial headway in Iraq. General Abizaid gives the US a window of 3 to 6 months to stabilize Iraq, beef up the Iraqi Army, and help PM Malki destroy the competing militias that threaten to drag it into civil war. If something is not done within six months, America's top commander in the field suggests, all out civil war will be unstoppable.
Robin Wright of the Washington Post spells out the dilemma for the US in her article "As Pressure for Talks Grows, Iran and Syria Gain Leverage" She quotes a number of experts, including yours truly, to explain how the Bush administration's political woes give the negotiating edge to Tehran and Damascus and complicate any U.S. outreach.
"Neither Iran nor Syria will do a favor for the U.S. without wanting something back — and what both countries want are things that the U.S. is not willing to give them," said Shaul Bakhash, a George Mason University expert on Iran.
Cooperating with the United States also carries dangers. "Syria and Iran both believe that the U.S. is tilting at windmills and will not lend their leverage to a venture which they see as doomed," said Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma specialist who recently spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Damascus.
David Ignatius writes "that Iran will demand a price for any help it offers in Iraq. So will Syria, which is already positioning its proxies for restoration of Syrian influence in Lebanon. There will be a temptation to overreach, as the Syrians clearly are doing, and the prices demanded may be too steep for America to pay. But the essence of a negotiation is that, in the pursuit of mutual interest, the parties narrow their demands to ones that are achievable."
Some analysts, according to Knickmeyer in the Washington Post, believe it may already be too late for Iraq. They paint a bleak picture of neighboring states getting sucked into sectarian strife.
"When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Germany's Der Spiegel newsweekly recently. "It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars — no one will be able to get a grip on the consequences."
In Damascus, a Syrian analyst close to the Assad government warned that other countries would intervene if Iraq descended into full-scale civil war. "Iran will get involved, Turkey will get involved, Saudi Arabia, Syria," said the analyst, who spoke on condition he not be identified further.
Between 2 percent and 5 percent of Iraq's 27 million people have been killed, wounded or uprooted since the Americans invaded in 2003, calculates Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies. "This is civil war," he said.
Syria ruled out of Iraq solution as State Department looks to Iran: Julian Borger in The Guardian, Nov. 16
The US state department's top official on Iraq policy said yesterday that America had ruled out negotiations with Syria on curbing the violence in Iraq, but was considering talks with Iran. David Satterfield was giving testimony to the Senate armed services committee, which was reviewing Iraq policy for the first time since the Democrats' election victory and the resignation of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. With respect to Syria, we do not believe that the issue involving Syria's negative behaviours toward Iraq, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Iran or Palestinian radical groups is a question of lack of dialogue or lack of engagement," Mr Satterfield said.
"With respect to Iran, we are prepared, in principle, to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq. The timing of such a direct dialogue is one we still have under review. His remarks appeared to conflict with the position taken by President George Bush – that the Iranians would have to bring a verifiable halt to the enrichment of uranium before talks could occur.
Syria’s official paper reported that the government is open to talks with the United States on stabilizing Iraq and the region, according to Agence France-Presse.
But the article questioned whether the position of the Bush administration had changed “to correct the errors committed” in the past.
“American, European, Japanese and Russian delegations have all said that Washington’s attitude of not talking to Syria was a mistake,” the article said.
On Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for talks with Iran and Syria to find ways to ease the conflict within Iraq and prevent it from spreading through the region, if they adopted a constructive approach. President Bush later reiterated his position that talks with those countries could only come after they give up what Washington sees as their support of terrorism.
Rice cool to talks with Iran, Syria
Reuters, Nov. 15
US Secretary of State Condoloeeza Rice was sceptical on Tuesday about British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plea for US talks with Iran and Syria, saying that neither appeared interested in helping stabilise Iraq or the Middle East.
"There is no lack of opportunity to talk to the Iranians. I think the question is: is there anything about Iranian behaviour that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq and I have to say that at this point, I don't see it," Rice told reporters as she flew to Hanoi for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation regional summit.
Blair and former US Secretary of State James Baker have suggested that talks with both nations may be a way to curb violence in neighbouring Iraq.
The United States has accused Iran and Syria of helping to fuel the Iraqi insurgency. Both have denied doing this.
However, Rice did not rule out talks with Iran about Iraq, noting there is a channel between the US and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq "that, at some point, it could make sense to activate." But she made clear she saw little profit in such discussions.
"I will talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime, under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress," she said.
"But we have had, over the course of this administration, discussions with the Syrians, talks with the Syrians, envoys to the Syrians, and nothing has ever changed in their behaviour."
Syria Stops Taking in Palestinian Refugees
With the exception of Syria, Arab countries have now closed their borders to Iraqi refugees. Despite Syria's policy of giving Iraqis safe haven, it has started refusing entry to Palestinians from Iraq. With an estimated 700,000 Iraqi refugees (and 2,000 to 3,000 more arriving every day) adding to the 450,000 Palestinian refugees already living in Syria, the country is quickly reaching its limits.
Palestinians in Iraq are perceived by many Iraqis to have been favored by the Saddam Hussein regime. As a result, they have been and continue to be major victims of the war. Iraqi Palestinians are recipients of a collective "fatwa" (or death sentence) issued by several militia or sectarian groups, and their ethnicity – displayed on all their identification papers – is tantamount to committing a capital crime. Many have been kidnapped, tortured and killed.
Of the approximately 30,000 Palestinians in Iraq registered in 2003 by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency mandated to respond to the needs of Palestinian refugees, the UN and other organizations now estimate that there are only 5-6,000 left in Iraq. The remaining Palestinians have either been killed or fled the country. With all borders now closed to them, Palestinians forced back to Iraq will face an almost certain death.
372 Palestinians from Iraq are now living near the Al Tanf border crossing between Iraq and Syria in a makeshift refugee camp located in the no man's land in between both borders. They have been denied entry by the Syrian government and they refuse to return to Iraq. As a result, they have been living in increasingly desperate circumstances and uncertainty for the past six months.
Refugees International visited the Palestinian camp at the Al Tanf border crossing on November 8th and interviewed many of the families who lived there. All have stories of extreme violence and terror to share. "I left Iraq because I was so scared for my 18-year-old daughter," one mother told RI. "We decided to leave after one of her friends was kidnapped, gang-raped by 13 men, and killed. The killers then sent the video of the entire thing to her family. They told them all Palestinians would suffer the same fate."
This analysis is stollen from a fellow blogger:
Nasrallah seems confident that he will get what he wants soon – one way or another:
"This government will go and nothing associates us with it (government) after the resignations," Nasrallah late Monday told a crowd of about 6,000 residents who lost their homes in Beirut’s southern suburbs during the destructive Israeli war on Lebanon over the summer.
He was referring to the resignation of the six ministers, five of them from Hizbullah and Amal, hours after the national dialogue collapsed on Saturday.
"This country is ours. We sacrificed tens of thousands of martyrs, wounded, prisoners and disabled for the sake of safeguarding it
(Lebanon) as well as protecting its dignity and glory; and we will not give up (these sacrifices)," the daily As Safir quoted Nasrallah as saying.
A key figure emerging in the crisis is Speaker Nabih Berri. Surprising some observers, Berri has called the cabinet’s approval of the Tribunal "constitutional as long as more than two thirds (of the ministers) remain in the government." Whether this leaves the door open for genuine compromise could become clearer once Nasrallah makes his next move.
Speculation on what that might be has centered on the Parliament where Nasrallah controls around 60 of the 128 member body. If, as some speculate, the next act in the crisis would be for Shia, Amal, and Free Patriotic Movement MP’s to resign from Parliament, the country would almost certainly be thrown into chaos. This would make it impossible for Siniora’s cabinet to maintain any semblance of legitimacy and calls for new elections would almost certainly be in the offing.
Mid-East expert Walid Phares plays out this scenario:
The next move is to have Hezbollah, Amal, and their allies in the Parliament also resign, thus creating "conditions" for what they will coin as new elections and a collapse of the cabinet. Most of these moves have already been accomplished or are on the eve of being implemented.
The pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will declare the Government and the Parliament as "illegitimate," and call for early legislative elections. The latter, if they take place will be under the smashing influence of Hezbollah’s weapons (a show of force was performed in the summer) and of the cohorts of militias and security agencies. Result: a pro-Syrian-Iranian majority in parliament
- An Intricate Web of Ties
- Diminished Syrian Hegemony
- Evolving Alliance with Hezbollah
- Cross-border Cronyism
- Future Implications
Seth Wikas of WINEP has a new report: "The Golan Heights and Syrian-Israeli Relations: What Does Asad Want?
Conclusion: Asad is a careful leader, and it would be out of character for him to embark on any armed conflict with Israel unprovoked. Having seen the ravages of Israel Defense Forces bombardments during the summer war and the subsequent flow of refugees to Syria, Asad should be well aware of the price of a war with Israel. With Iran and Hizballah's fortunes on the rise, Syria is benefiting greatly. Asad has much reason to wait and see how Hizballah fares in Lebanon's internal power struggle. At the same time, he has emphasized in the past few months that the entire Golan Heights is a precondition for any peace agreement with Israel, and he has stated that Syria is giving its options for peace and war equal consideration.
Farid Ghadry, writing in the Israeli press asks for Israel's help in stopping dialogue with Syria and imposing a democracy on the country he was born in. (A number of readers have commented on this article two posts ago.)
George Ajjan has a fascinating and uproarious appreciation of Ghadry's (Reform Party of Syria's) strategy. He also gives his two cents on Ammar Abdulhamid's efforts to get Khaddam a fair hearing in Washington. He warns Ammar to expect a smear campaign from Frank Ghadry.