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US backs Iraq, committed to overthrow the Syrian regime

Sep 10,2014 - Last updated at Sep 10,2014

US President Barack Obama has opted for a faulty, contradictory policy in the fight against the Islamic State.

On the one hand, his administration hailed the formation of the new Iraqi government, meant to be his chief tool in this effort, as a “major milestone”, while on the other hand, he intends to follow his failed anti-Assad strategies in Syria, IS’ main base.

The new Iraqi government was supposed to be an “inclusive” body that brings into the circle of decision makers Sunni politicians capable of convincing alienated members of their community to stand against IS.

However, the over-large 37-member Cabinet announced by Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi is simply a reshuffle of the same collection of former ministers who have been in all the governments since the 2003 occupation.

The only difference is that former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki is not at the helm.

He is widely blamed for Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian divisions and disputes, the collapse of the army when confronted by the IS, and rampant corruption.

He was replaced by Abadi, who joined Maliki’s fundamentalist Shiite Dawa movement at the age of 15, remains committed to its cause and served in previous governments as communications minister.

The theory is that “anyone is better than Maliki”. But Maliki remains a player, a member of the team he led since 2006.

He has been appointed co-vice president, along with former parliamentary speaker Osama Nujeifi and opposition leader Iyad Allawi.

Maliki insisted that he be included in the lineup in exchange for stepping down as prime minister.

His new job gives him immunity from prosecution, bodyguards and a fat salary at a time many Iraqis insist he should be facing prosecution.

Among the host of “formers” Abadi recruited for his non-inclusive Cabinet are his deputy, former foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd; former legislator Baha Arraji, a Shiite fundamentalist from the rival faction loyal to Muqtada Sadr; and Saleh Mutlaq, a Sunni who has held this post since 2010.

Former prime minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari, of Dawa, is foreign minister, a former finance minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi from the Iranian-founded Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), is oil minister; and deputy premier Rowsch Shaways, a Kurd, is finance minister.

Six ministers have yet to be appointed, including to the key ministries of defence and interior, which Maliki appropriated during his second term. Abadi says he will fill these posts by next week.

Abadi’s sectarian mindset was exposed when he proposed the appointment of Hadi Al Amiri, head of the Badr Corps, formerly the military wing of SIIC, to the post of interior minister.

The corps fought alongside Iranian forces in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), and during the US occupation, its members joined the Iraqi army’s counter-insurgency brigades responsible for sectarian killings and torture.

Amiri was rejected as too controversial.

Although Iran and, apparently, Saudi Arabia were consulted, an Iraqi source with connections to the ruling establishment said: “This is an American government” without it being the promised “inclusive” Cabinet.

In this “American government”, the key ministers are close to Tehran, which provided a safe haven for Dawa and its offshoots during the reign of the secular Baathist government under Saddam Hussein.

These ministers constitute major Iranian political assets in Baghdad.

In the struggle against IS, Iran also has crucial military assets: the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army, Shiite militias and volunteers, and Kurdish peshmerga forces — all of which have Iranian advisers.

Since IS forces swept into northern Iraq in June, Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Republican Guards Quds Force, has been in Baghdad organising the government’s efforts to meet the IS threat.

Furthermore, Iranian troops crossed into Iraq at least once to counter IS fighters seeking to enter Iranian territory.

The US has 1,200 special forces advisers deployed with the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces in Iraq, and has mounted dozens of air strikes in support of Kurdish, Iraqi army and Shiite militia units fighting IS cadres, convoys and positions in the north and centre of the country.

The cooperation between the US air force and the various ground forces has turned the tide of battle at the Mosul and Haditha dams, in the Turkmen villages of the Amerli area, and for Yezidis trapped on Mount Sinjar.

In spite of this all-too clear coordination, Washington and Tehran have not only denied it is happening but also said there will be no coordination in the future.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that coordination is authorised by both US president and commander-in-chief Obama and by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate decision maker.

Neither side dares admit coordination due to vehement opposition from hardliners in Washington and Tehran.

Committed to dishonest policies in Iraq, the Obama administration is certain to make an even greater mess of strategies for Syria, the main base of IS, Al Qaeda’s official offshoot Jabhat Al Nusra and a host of equally radical jihadist groups.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Jeddah today still arguing for air strikes on IS targets in Syria — which Damascus signalled it might agree to — along with the failed policy of arming “authorised” insurgent groups fighting the Damascus government.

This failed policy has been responsible for the rise of IS and radical jihadists, as US-trained fighters have defected from “authorised” factions to the more successful IS, taking with them US arms provided by Washington and its allies.

IS has also captured and looted Syrian army depots and, since June, Iraqi army arsenals, boosting its capacities on the ground.

Furthermore, US trained fighters are in IS’ ranks because they have been put in charge of operating complicated US equipment, as they possess skills beyond the capabilities of ordinary recruits.

Obama intends to operate on the theory that once strengthened insurgents defeat IS, they will be in a better position to combat government forces and oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.

However, the brief history of the Syrian conflict has shown it is more likely that these insurgents will turn against each other in a struggle for power, pillage and divide territory rather  than unite against Damascus.

If the insurgents do unite temporarily, the result would be the collapse of Syria into IS-type fundamentalist emirates ruled by warring emirs.

It is ironic that the US continues to back the still dysfunctional sectarian Iraqi regime while remaining committed to the overthrow of the functioning secular Syrian regime, although both are supported by Iran.

The only explanation for this foolish and dangerous policy is Israel — which stands against Damascus for its patronage of Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and of Lebanon’s Hizbollah.

The Netanyahu government has not yet seen that the US and Iran are on the same side in Iraq and should be on the same side in Syria as well, and that IS and jihadists pose a far greater danger to Israel than the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements.

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