Last Updated: Thu Oct 18, 2012 07:15 am (KSA) 04:15 am (GMT)

Russian crescent

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed

The visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to Moscow made the distance between Baghdad and Washington, which forms the current political system, significantly greater.

Al-Maliki’s purchase of Russian arms cost him more than $ 4 billion. The purchase of arms besides being a military need also signifies a political identity, and reflects a strategic link especially when the trade-off is between the two rival political systems. Along with the weapons’ contract, there are experts, trainers and network services, as well as a political connection.

One of the problems facing financing rebels in Syria today is the difficulty of obtaining Russian weapons and in large quantities. All dissidents from Assad’s regime had been trained in the use of Russian weaponry, making the task for funding parties difficult to provide arms and ammunition that dissidents have been trained to use for years.

With the approach of the Iraqi camp to Russia, Moscow may be compensated for its big losses in Libya. The Libyan rebels cut ties with Moscow because of its support of Qaddafi’s regime politically and militarily during the revolution, as it does now with the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

And with Al-Maliki’s move against Washington by going to Moscow, we are in front of a new axis. This is represented in what was called the Shiite Crescent, which starts from Iran, Iraq and even Syria and Lebanon. But Syria is a temporary condition, admits Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine “Russia in International Affairs.”

Lukyanov writes, “It’s hard to imagine that Assad enjoys realistic opportunities to stay in power in the long run after all that has happened in his country in the last 20 months.”

Lukyanov is right to celebrate the transition of Iraq to Russia and considers it a political and economic triumph significant to Moscow. But I’m not sure it would be an easy spring on Al-Maliki himself, who is risking a lot with his adherence to the Russians and Iranians. Americans see the enormity of what they had done wrong in supporting Al-Maliki, believing that they were supporting the wishes of the majority of the Iraqi people. Insistence on the interpretation of political events in the region from an ethnic perspective, led them to hand over Iraq to the their foes, Iran and Russia.

It would be wrong to portray Iraq, or even Syria, as sectarian fighting groups, even if the demographic divisions of Sunnis and Shiites demonstrate this. The alliances remain mostly with political interests and dimensions, and may correspond sometimes with religious concepts or may not. Iran, as a theological Shiite state, is the largest ally of Al-Qaeda, and had previously allied with Sunni political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood against major Sunni regimes in the region.

The second mistake is that Washington thought it could run a pragmatic and balanced relationship with Iran and Iraq based on mutual interests to confront Al-Qaeda, Sunni insurgent groups and the remnants of the Baath party because these groups have a common enemy. Washington did not realize until later that Iran was behind the armed Sunni groups, as they were behind some of the Shiite groups as well. Iran has a competitive agenda with the U.S. and has an opposite road map.

Because it would take long to talk about wars and alliances in Iraq during the last 10 years and has become history, the most important matter is to try to understand the future of the new relationships of Iran and Iraq, Al-Maliki and Russia.

Syria is the link between them, where the trio strive to support the Assad regime at a time when Europeans and Americans provide little to support the fighters. Despite the slow victory, the end of the game is known in Syria; the Russian alliance will lose because Assad will fall, and events might move later to Iraq. The reasons are known; in Iraq a volcano is about to erupt because of the persistence of Al-Maliki to dominate all aspects of the state, and his insult to the allies who entered with him in seizing power.

This is why Maliki is spending generously on the Assad regime, and wants to save him. He has undertaken the role of financial sponsor for Iran’s foreign projects, such as support for Hezbollah, after the Iranians got into financial distress that threatens the foundations and survival of the regime.

The Russian alliance, which has formed in the Middle East, means the return of opposing poles, which warns of more problems and not stability as some think.

This article was published in Arab News on Oct. 18, 2012. Abdul Rahman al-Rashed is the general manager of Al Arabiya television.

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