Washington Watch: Didn't Obama say he'd leave Iraq?

With Assad likely to follow Muammar Gaddafi onto history's garbage heap, Iran may look to Iraq as new strategic partner.

August 24, 2011 22:33
4 minute read.
Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki

NOURI AL-MALIKI 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

While President Barack Obama was telling Bashar Assad to take a hike the other day, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who owes his job to the United States, was giving the Syrian dictator undeserved support.

Our ally Maliki told Assad that the ones who would benefit most by his leaving power were not the tens of thousands of Syrian protesters. It’s the Jews.

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“There is no doubt that there is a country waiting for the Arab countries to be ripped, and waiting for internal corrosion,” he said in Baghdad. “Zionists and Israel are the first and biggest beneficiaries of this whole process. We must take notice and be careful not to be the prey of the ambitions of this usurping country.”

Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group told The New York Times: “Maliki is very reliant on Iran for his power, and Iran is backing Syria all the way. The Iranians and Syrians were all critical to bringing him to power a year ago and keeping him in power, so he finds himself in a difficult position.”

American taxpayers are also in a difficult position. We’re spending $46 billion – which we can ill afford – this year alone to protect, defend and rebuild Iraq, and that’s in addition to the thousands of Americans who have died or been severely wounded in that needless war.

It’s another example of the disastrous policies of the George W. Bush administration that installed a pro-Iranian government in a country that had previously been a Sunni barrier between two Shi’ite terrorist regimes.

Yes, the Sunni who was deposed was a true tyrant, but by the time president Bush launched his war of revenge on Saddam Hussein – “He tried to kill my daddy” – the Butcher of Baghdad’s threat to Israel and US interests was largely neutralized, and the focus should have been on further weakening him, not taking over the country.

Instead, Bush chose to ignore the advice of his secretary of state, Colin Powell, who quoted the Crate & Barrel policy: “If you break it, you own it.”

The Bush war to overthrow Saddam was a great victory for Iran because it helped the ayatollahs create a Shi’ite crescent across the Middle East reaching into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, and which now threatens Egypt and Jordan.

Now, with Assad likely to follow Muammar Gaddafi onto the garbage heap of history, Iran may be looking to Iraq as its new partner.

Maliki spent his exile years in Iran, and his support for Assad, Iran’s principle Arab ally, reflects the increasingly pro-Iran tilt of his government. He has been closer to Assad than any Arab leader, with the possible exception of the terrorist chieftains of Hamas and Hezbollah.

He has also read the reports that Iran has cut back or even halted aid to cash-strapped Hamas for failing to organize pro-Assad rallies in Gaza.

“The occupation of Iraq by the US did only good things for Iran,” said Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi this week, Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el reported. “Iran became more influential than it ever dreamed.” Bar’el added that “Iran has diplomatic representatives in Iraq’s largest cities, and funds civilian projects around the country, political involvement aside.”

Growing Iranian influence has some Iraqis – particularly the Sunni population – worried about the impact on their country’s relations with the Arab world. But Iraqi Shi’ites gave the Iranian president an enthusiastic welcome in 2008.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was greeted with red carpets and military bands, chided the Americans by contrasting his very public reception with Bush’s “stealth visits.” Obama similarly arrived shrouded in secrecy as he met briefly with government leaders and American troops.

Iran’s PressTV ran a report that Israeli fighter jets were training at a US airbase in Iraq, unknown to the Maliki government, to prepare for an attack on Iran. There was no truth to that, but a more believable report in Israeli and American media said Israel had asked the Bush administration for permission to fly over Iraq if it decided to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, and had been turned down. The administration said it would not cooperate, and told Israel to go ask the Iraqi government.

Remember when one of the Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq was to spread democracy throughout the Middle East and bring in regimes friendly to Israel?

Maliki never got the memo. He considers Israel an enemy, and when a member of the Iraqi parliament, Mithal al-Alousi, visited Israel in 2008, he faced double punishment on returning home – for going to a counterterrorism conference in the state of the enemy and for criticizing Iran.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just returned from his first visit to Iraq in his new post and is talking about extending the US presence there beyond 2011.

Didn’t President Obama campaign on a promise to get out of Iraq?

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