Analysis: Arab nations expect 'more of the same'

"More of the same" is the Arab world's skeptical response to US President George W. Bush's plan to deploy 21,500 new troops to Iraq in a last-ditch effort to save Iraq from division and total chaos. While Ali Aldabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, was keen to emphasize that Bush's new strategy in Iraq had the full cooperation of the Iraqi government, it seems that various players in Iraq and the region interpreted Bush's message differently. Sources in Baghdad say that, despite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's purported lack of confidence in Bush, Maliki's government has accepted the challenge of curbing violence by Shi'ite and Sunni militias within two months, starting with Baghdad, a task it had previously refused to undertake. This development is significant in light of the fact that Maliki and his Shi'ite fundamentalist Da'awa party are bolstered by the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr's faction. Sadr played a major role in bringing about the execution of Saddam Hussein. Iraq is also witnessing developments outside its borders. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is scheduled to arrive to Damascus on Sunday for the first visit of an Iraqi president to Syria since the 1980's. Talabani's visit follows the renewal of diplomatic ties between Iraq and Syria last month, as well as Bush's accusations that Syria was harboring terrorists and contributing to violence in Iraq. Syria's Vice President Farouk Sharaa, in turn, said that Bush's decision to add troops would not end the war in Iraq, but escalate it. Meanwhile, press in Baghdad mentioned that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to arrive in Baghdad to discuss ways of implementing the security agreement signed by the two nations' interior ministers, an agreement that was perceived as a reaction to the new measures recently adopted by the US military against growing Iranian influence in Iraq. While US regional allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States have taken the position that the key to peace in Iraq is a compromise between competing sectarian groups, coupled with a compromise between Iraq's neighbors, these countries fear that the situation in Iraq is beyond repair. Moreover, they are highly concerned by the fact that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new terror hot spot in the region that could threaten moderate Middle Eastern regimes. Moderate Arab nations viewed Iraqi public reaction to the execution of Saddam with growing concern, and their leaders say they are paying the price for the "mistakes" to which Bush admitted in his Thursday speech. The moderate countries fail to see how they can further assist Bush's policy in Iraq. The moderate Middle East regimes find themselves on the defensive, denying allegations that they asked the Bush administration to bolster its military presence in Iraq, and dismissing reports of an American initiative to establish an axis of anti-Shi'ite countries in the region.