by Jalal Ghazi
(PNS) -- For Arab media commentators across the region, the provocative speeches of Iran's new president merely aim to distract attention from that country's increasingly central role in Washington's emerging exit strategy from Iraq.
"The (American) decision to open direct contacts with Iran means that Iraq will be handed over to Iran," Fadel Al Rabee, a spokesman for the National Iraqi Alliance, told "Behind the News," a daily news program on Al Jazeera. "The U.S. is ignoring the Saudi advice not to do so. Instead, they are allowing the Iranian influence to grow stronger in Iraq," Al Rabee added.
He said the U.S. exit strategy is similar to the one used by the French to drag the Americans into Vietnam before they left. In this way Shiite Iran will become a "partner in the occupation of Iraq" and inevitably find itself head-to-head with the Sunni-led national Iraqi resistance.
"The U.S. is helpless in Iraq and needs Iran in Southern Iraq and to negotiate with the Shiites," Al Watan Al Arabi magazine quotes Ayatollah Mahdi Haeri, a spokesman of the Iranian Muslim Scholars Abroad. "The Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jafari, who keeps saying that the U.S. must speak with Iran to achieve security in Iraq, is trying to mediate a deal between Iran and the U.S.," Maeri adds.
There is already speculation that 50,000 U.S. soldiers will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006 and the rest will be stationed in 12 American bases throughout the country. According to Al Jazeera, Congress has allocated $236 million to build another permanent base in 2005.
Abdel Al Barri Atwan, chief editor of the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper writes that the Americans have realized that their policies toward Iraq have increased Iran's influence in Iraq, and are looking for ways to take advantage of this reality.
At the same time, Atwan says the United States is planning to exploit Arab countries' growing animosity toward Iran by selling them tons of weapons. Atwan adds, "Just like the Gulf countries were fooled into spending their wealth for American weapons to fight Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, they might be fooled again to spend their huge surplus from the increase in oil prices to do the same thing."
A more pronounced role for Iran is agreeable to Iraq's dominant Shiites, who want a no-holds barred fight against the Sunni resistance. An Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper commentator, Huda Al Husseini, quotes Abdel Aziz Al Hakim, the leader of the Higher Council for the Islamic revolution and president of the United Iraqi Alliance (both form the backbone of the Iraqi government) as saying that the United States should let the Iraqi government pursue the Sunni fighters more freely.
Al Husseini also quotes the National Security Consultant for the Iraqi government, Muwafaq Al-Rabie, as saying, "The Sunni fighters are more dangerous than the followers of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi because the Sunni fighters enjoy the support of many Iraqis and receive financial support from Gulf countries."
Meanwhile, the Saudi government is wary of a U.S. pullback from Iraq. A report aired Dec. 20 on Al-Arabiya Television, which is partially financed by Saudi Arabia, said that some 2,500 Saudi nationals have gone to Iraq to fight alongside the Sunni insurgents. If the U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, the Saudis will be compelled to support them, to keep Iraq's Shiites in check. In addition, Saudi Arabia, like the rest of oil-rich Gulf countries, has a significant Shiite population, which could become an internal threat should the Shiites monopolize the Iraqi government.
Like Saudi Arabia, smaller Gulf countries dependent on the United States for protection are also extremely concerned that a new American-Iranian arrangement in Iraq may encourage Iran to be more aggressive in the region. Iran's nuclear ambition was the main concern during the two-day Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, Iran continues to occupy three UAE islands in the Persian Gulf.
Sunni insurgents share with Gulf countries the same concerns about Iran's growing influence in Iraq. The Dec. 16 issue of Alwatan Al Arabi Magazine ran an article titled, "The hidden facts in the secret negotiations between Washington and the Sunni resistance -- Al Zarqawi in exchange for Saddam." The author, Saed Al Qaisi, writes that the Sunni resistance is even willing to turn against Al Zarqawi if the Americans let Saddam Hussein live, set a time table for U.S. withdrawal and strengthen the Sunnis' political position in the new Iraq.
Al Qaisi adds that Iraqi President Jalal Talibani has mediated a series of meetings between the Sunni resistance, the American authorities, the Iraqi government and some Arab leaders. One result of these meetings is that the United States has stopped isolating the Baathists, despite strong Shiite opposition. The Iraqi defense ministry has finally accepted the return of 2,662 Saddam-era Iraqi officers to the new Iraqi army. Al Qaisi explains that the Americans were quick to agree to that because they know that only Sunni forces are capable of eliminating Zarqawi extremists. However, Al Qaisi writes that the Americans refused to commit to saving Saddam from execution.
Al Zarqawi, suspecting that the national resistance might eliminate him, retaliated by killing two prominent Sunni leaders, Iyad Al Azi of the Islamic party of Iraq and Abbas Al Esawi of the Muslim Scholars Association. Sunnis usually blame Iran-backed Shiite groups like the Badr militia for assassinations of prominent Sunni leaders. This time they accused Al Zarqawi of the killings.
December 21, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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