“Arab leaders on Thursday urged a swift and peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria at a landmark summit in Baghdad, with Iraq’s premier warning that arming rival camps there would lead to a “proxy war.” Nuri al-Maliki’s remarks highlighted the split in the Arab League, with hardliners Qatar and Saudi Arabia calling for Assad to step down and for rebels opposing his regime to be supplied with weapons, while others including Iraq are pushing for political reconciliation. Qatar and Saudi Arabia were among Gulf countries that largely snubbed the summit, with the two countries only sending envoys to the first Arab meet to be held in the Iraqi capital in more than 20 years. Doha said its decision was a “message” to Iraq………..”
Possibly the Iraqis and the real situation on the ground in Syria may have pushed the Arab League to come out against foreign intervention. The Syrian opposition, no matter how much of the population it represents, seems unable to coordinate let alone unify. The nominal leaders of the SNC are now purely symbolic ambassadors of anti-regime forces. It is the various armed groups that call the shots inside Syria and they are even more divided than ever.
Baghdad also represented its own message to the summit: where else are the consequences of Western intervention and liberation more dramatic than in Iraq? Then the leaders meeting in Western-liberated Iraq also had “Western-liberated” Libya in mind, where small battles rage every day between militias in different cities of the country. They know that Libya was liberated by NATO, not by the rebels nor by Qatar or the UAE who between them don’t have enough citizens to from a medium-sized army.
As for Qatar sending a “message to Iraq”: with all respect, some of our GCC regimes are silly, nearly absurd, in fact ridiculous (and I am not talking about Bahrain only although that regime is the mot ridiculous). Qatar probably has a couple of hundred thousand citizens (and a lot more temporary foreign laborers), and yet it is sending ‘messages’ right and left. The only country that the Qatar potentates have to truly fear is Saudi Arabia which tried at least once (late 1990s) to overthrow its current emir through yet another coup. Qatar probably needs to send a “message” toward Riyadh, if anywhere. Brotherly, or is it sisterly, Saudi Wahhabi tanks are as close to Doha as they were to Manama a year ago. They may have been defeated by the Huthis in Yemen, but the road to Doha is smooth with no ragtag Huthis to stop them.
This week, the only interesting news in Baghdad will be unwelcome type: it will most likely come in the form of terrorist bombings by foreign Salafis from across the sisterly Arab borders.
The Arab summit in Baghdad is hardly worthy of its name. Most top Arab leaders are either staying away or haven’t taken office in their own countries yet. Others like Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are still trying to put down popular uprisings. In fact most Arab summits in recent decades have been frustrating affairs. The only redeeming value used to be the entertainment provided by the predictably unpredictable speeches of the late Mu’ammar Qaddafi and occasional reactions to them. With Qaddafi gone, Arab summits will now probably become as boring as GCC summits (can’t get more boring than that now that the Brezhnev Politbureau is gone). I hope I am wrong, but early signs are not encouraging.
This editor of Asharq Alawsat
(Saudi semi-official daily) ties the success of the summit with internal Iraqi politics, with how the al-Maliki government deals with pro-Saudi elements inside Iraq. This is not to say that al-Maliki is right: nobody in Iraq is right these days and corruption is as rife there as in Saudi Arabia, except it is not as organized and with less decorum. Besides, the new Iraqi potentates had been in exile for years and need to make up or lost time: that may explain the quick spread of corruption and at different strata of society. I imagine spending decades in exile in Tehran or Damascus wasn’t much fun (these cities are not at the top of my list even for someone who is not in exile).
Under the Baath regime corruption was confined to Saddam Hussein’s family and friends and upper party leaders. Sort like it is in Saudi Arabia now where major corruption is confined to princes and potentates and their retainers and agents. The new Iraqi corruption is more in the open and more “egalitarian”, it has seeped to the lower levels of society. In Reagan-esque terms; it has trickled down to the middle classes. What is dangerous about that is that it is becoming a sort of entitlement for a wider swath of society and harder to get rid of.
As for corruption at the top: that can be stopped by an order from the king or dictator. Unless he is overthrown first.
“Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, an ethnic Kurd and the chief architect of the Baghdad summit, beamed Monday as he counted down the hours to what he bills as a historic moment: Iraq reclaiming its place in the Arab world after years of isolation during the U.S.-led military occupation and its spinoff sectarian war. For the past several summits, Zebari weathered the snubs and slights of Arab rulers, who openly questioned the legitimacy and sovereignty of the Iraqi government because it’s dominated by Iranian-backed Shiite Muslims and Kurds, and was formed in the shadow of Western occupiers. Now, however, the U.S. military is gone, and many of those skeptical Arab leaders have either been overthrown or forced into humbling reforms after the Arab Spring uprisings of last year. With the Arab League so heavily invested in the outcomes of revolts in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia and — most urgently — Syria, member countries are expected to use the conference to discuss their limited options for containing the regional crises now spilling across borders………”
Iraq has always been a dilemma for the al-Saud, an unwelcome presence in the Arab fold. The Baathist regime under Saddam Hussein flirted with the Saudis for eight years as it fended off Iranian counterattacks. The Saudis and the GCC financed and armed Saddam’s regime for eight years of war, as did the West. Yet the Saudis have always been wary of Iraq since before the Republic was established in 1958, actually since long before then. There are several reasons why the al-Saud do not welcome return of Iraq to the Arab fold:
Iraq is (potentially) a powerful rival for regional political dominance between the Jordan River and the Iranian border and southward. It is the most populous and potentially richest country in the Arab east. The total Saudi population is less than one half that of Iraq (taking into account that more than one third of the Saudi population are temporary foreign laborers and housemaids). For almost thirty years Iraq was preoccupied with Baathist-provoked wars. The Saudis have had unrivaled domination of the lower tier of the eastern Arab world during that time. That period might also be coming to an end, if the Iraqis can liquidate their Arab al-Qaeda terrorist guests and reconcile with each other politically. Reports indicate that Salafi terrorists are still infiltrating into Iraq from the Gulf GCC states and possibly Jordan, intent on murder. The Salafi terrorists’ assigned role is partly to keep Iraq off balance and too preoccupied with internal security to be involved in the region.
- Iraq’s petroleum sector has been neglected for thirty years. It is beginning to revive, but will take some time to reach its potential. Iraqi reports now claim they are the second largest producers, overtaking Iran. Other reports also indicate that Iraqi reserves may have exceeded what Iran has. There is some speculation that eventually Iraqi reserves may exceed those of Saudi Arabia. Remember, Saudi output has been going full blast at 8-11 mb/d for decades, while Iraqi and Iranian output (and exploration) were hampered by wars and Western economic blockades. It is hard to give up the position of the biggest fish in the smaller Gulf pond.
- Politically the al-Saud never liked Iraq, but they like that country much less now that it has a Shi’a-dominated government. The Shi’a religious monuments and shrines in southern (and other parts of) Iraq have been targets of Saudi Wahhabi raiders since Ottoman days. The Wahhabi rulers of the Saudi Salafi theocracy may have distrusted and hated the previous Baathist rulers of Iraq, but they have nothing but ill will for the new ruling classes of Iraq. They, and some other GCC Gulf potentates, have behaved as if an entitlement was taken away from them, the entitlement that a Sunni Arab elite should continue to rule over 80+% of the rest of Iraqis (mainly Shi’a Arabs and Kurds and Turkmans). In other word, they would like Iraq to be like Bahrain.
The Saudis have don’t yet have a full ambassador in Baghdad, although last year they accredited their Amman ambassador to also cover Iraq. He will lead the Saudi delegation instead of the king or one of the princes. Syria also got the same treatment whey it hosted the Arab summit three or so years ago. The Arab League is a toothless mechanism, has been so since 1970. Its only relevance is when Western powers dust it off and show that the Arab League supports their actions in the MENA region (as in Libya, and almost in Syria).