Saturday, November 8, 2008

U.S. Pushes In Their Excellencies

By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

"CAIRO, Nov 7 (IPS) - More than five years after the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Arab capitals are beginning to send ambassadors to Baghdad. But some Egyptian commentators question the timing of the move, which they attribute to pressure from Washington.

"Arab governments originally wanted a full withdrawal of foreign forces and a stable security environment before sending ambassadors," Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo University, told IPS. "Yet the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement promises to turn the current military occupation of Iraq into a constitutionally sanctioned one." ......

Ever since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Washington has urged Sunni-Arab states to normalise diplomatic relations with the government in Baghdad. Until recently, however, Arab capitals -- distrustful of the Shia-led, Iran-friendly Iraqi government -- have been reluctant to comply.....

In mid-October, even Syria -- frequently accused by Washington of not doing enough to curb the flow of anti-occupation fighters into Iraq from its territory -- sent its first ambassador to Baghdad in decades. Diplomatic relations between Syria and Iraq, long ruled by rival factions of the pan-Arab Ba'ath Party, had been frozen for the most part since Saddam Hussein assumed presidency in 1979.

According to some Egyptian commentators, the newfound Arab enthusiasm for establishing embassies in Iraq can be attributed mainly to pressure from Washington.

"The rush to send ambassadors comes as a result of U.S. dictates," Abdel-Halim Kandil, political analyst and editor-in-chief of independent weekly Sout Al-Umma told IPS. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he added, "has consistently pushed Washington's Arab allies in the region -- Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States -- to establish embassies in Baghdad with the stated aim of 'countering Iranian influence' in Iraq."

Iran -- a Shia-Persian power as opposed to a Sunni-Arab one -- boasts strong ties with post-war Iraq, including a large and fully operational embassy in Baghdad. "Unlike the Arab states, Iran already has tremendous assets in Iraq, including allied political and religious movements, armed groups, enormous bilateral trade and a shared border," said Kandil. "Since the U.S. invasion, Iraq has turned from a competitor of Iran to an Iranian sphere of influence."

Kandil went on to question official claims that the Arab diplomatic drive towards Baghdad was intended to preserve Iraq's 'Arab identity'. "I'm afraid it's too late for that," he said. "The post-occupation constitution states that Iraq is a Muslim country, but not an Arab one. It also refers to Iraq's Sunni-Muslim population -- not Iraq itself -- as part of the wider Arab world. "What's more," added Kandil, "the Arab League opened a representative office in Baghdad, which, notably, it only does in non-Arab countries."......."

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