Last Updated: Sun Apr 08, 2012 16:31 pm (KSA) 13:31 pm (GMT)

Aware of Iran’s designs

Musa Keilani

By virtue of hosting the Arab summit in Baghdad last month, Iraq has assumed the chairmanship of the Arab League at a time many internal and external challenges are confronting its member states.

The Arab League chair must have a clear awareness of what the common Arab interests are in order to successfully shoulder the mission of guiding Arab affairs.

Iraq’s hosting of the Arab summit was also a showcase piece. It wanted to send the message that it is in control of the security situation. However, it had to mount an unprecedented security cordon several weeks prior to the summit to ensure that nothing went wrong.

Instead of capitalising on its newfound status as chair of the Arab League and drawing Arab countries together, Iraq has only exacerbated Arab differences, admittedly frequent. Most of the time, however, timely and wise intervention by the Arab League chair and other members leads to amicable solutions. Of course, there are some differences which defy solutions, but these have not impeded work to serve common Arab interests.

An example was Libya under the reign of Muammar Qaddafi, who was toppled and killed in a popular uprising late last year. Qaddafi tried hard to dominate Arab affairs through various means, but other Arab League members saw through his efforts and resisted him. It took Qaddafi some years before he realised the folly of his efforts and shifted his attention to Africa, describing himself as more African than Arab.

Despite the Libyan meddling, the Arab League survived and managed to do its work fairly well, although difficult issues continue to confront it.

It is with scepticism that many Arabs observe how Iraq handles the task facing it as chair of the Arab League until the next summit is held and Qatar takes over the post. They see post-war Iraq, under Iranian influence and with a sectarian outlook, as having drifted away from the mainstream Arab movement.

The US moves in Iraq, after it occupied the country in 2003, were detrimental to Iraq’s Arab interests. The administration of George W. Bush tried hard to dilute Iraq’s Arab identity.

Silly as it may seem, the redesign of the Iraqi flag, which deprived it of the symbol of the Great Arab Revolt, was part of just such an US effort. In fact, the new flag somewhat resembled that of Israel, in what many saw as a US effort to have post-Saddam Hussein Iraq establish relations with Tel Aviv. However, it was not acceptable to the people of Iraq, and the new flag was discarded, along with it the US’ Israel-specific campaign.

The post-war developments in Iraq have led to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki becoming dependent on Iranian proxy groups for its survival. And it is behaving worse than the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein on the internal front.

By definition, the head of any organisation should not be a source of friction among its members. But in Iraq’s case, that is precisely the situation: Maliki adopts positions against other Arab leaders because of his dependence on Tehran and other reasons linked to potential challenges to his regime.

There are many who doubt there was any alternative course, given the Iranian back-door entry to the corridors of power in Baghdad despite stiff US resistance when its military was present in Iraq. Now that the Americans have departed, the ground is open for Iran to try its tricks.

There are serious differences between the Arab world and Iran, which refuses to accept international legitimacy as the basis for settling those differences. Its occupation of three islands belonging to the UAE is an example. Tehran is stonewalling all efforts to find a solution to the problem. It refuses to engage in meaningful discussions with the UAE on the issue. Nor does it want to take it to international arbitration.

Iran’s meddling in internal Arab affairs is evident not only in Iraq but also in Lebanon where it backs the Shiite Hizbollah. Tehran also poses as the strongest supporter of the Palestinian cause by backing both the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip. However, Hamas has shifted away from the Iranian orbit. Hamas has strengthened its relations with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and also denounced the Syrian regime’s crackdown on dissent.

Tehran is not at all pleased with the Hamas moves and this is evident in the Iranian media.

Tehran’s defiance of the U.S-led West in the dispute over its controversial nuclear programme and refusal to satisfactorily address international concerns has brought the region to the brink of war.

Iraq has reported that Iran wants it to host the new round of talks between Iran and the 5-plus-1 group of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on the Iranian nuclear programme. It is not a call likely to be accepted by anyone in the West, not the least because attending such a conference in Iraq will be an open endorsement of the newfound Iranian clout.

The proposal, which was rejected, was yet another Iranian manoeuvre aimed at highlighting Iraq’s place in the Arab world, while also implicitly touting Tehran’s status as the one calling the shots in Baghdad.

Of course, Iraq knows better than trying to dominate Arab affairs. But its close alliance with Iran is worrisome since Tehran is alert for any opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Arab countries. Iraq should not allow itself to be exploited or its chairing of the Arab League to be used as a platform for Iran to pursue its agenda.

One of the five reasons that forced Jordan not consider Arab requests to interfere in the Syrian quagmire is the uncertainty about what would follow in the aftermath of a Syrian debacle. One of the worries facing Jordan is this Iranian hegemony in Baghdad to the east, Damascus to the north, and Tehran’s manipulation of the political card of fundamentalist Islamic Jihad, with its pervasive influence among 13 refugee camps in Jordan accommodating 1,987,000 Palestinians.

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Jordan Times on April. 7, 2012

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