WASHINGTON – The unrest in Syria is spilling over borders, infecting the region and inflaming the clash between Islamist factions, according to report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
One of the developments is that, with the Sunni uprising in Syria against the Iranian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Sunnis and Salafist militants at the behest of Saudi Arabia now are putting pressure on the Shi’ite government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
He has had increased support from Tehran ever since the Americans departed in December 2011.
Part of the problem stems from al-Maliki’s efforts to consolidate his own power, which prompted a serious reaction from the Sunni minority in the country, and potentially could cause a breakup of the country into sectarian portions such as the northern Kurdish region.
Analysts say that al-Maliki’s efforts are having the effect of disrupting Iran’s own strategy for maintaining its own influence over Iraq.
The Sunni minority in Iraq has begun to rise up, somewhat prodded by Turkey and Qatar, which similarly are Sunni countries, even though Shi’ite Iran continues to have the dominant influence over Iraq and despite efforts by Ankara and Washington to shift that emphasis.
Behind the scenes, however, Tehran reportedly is seeking to reconcile the Sunni-Shi’ite rift without creating further chaos, while continuing to play each side off against the other – a delicate balancing act that apparently is failing.
The result is that Iran has, in effect, alienated the Sunnis, which have risen up against Iran’s continued support for neighboring Syria’s Shi’ite al-Assad regime in the face of the Sunni uprising in that country
The rift in Iraq, which has been simmering since the days of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, came to a head when al-Maliki sought to have arrested his Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, following U.S. troop withdrawal in December 2011.
Al-Hashimi evaded arrest, however, and first fled to northern Iraq’s Kurdish region and then went into total exile in Turkey to lead a Sunni opposition against al-Maliki.
One problem for Tehran in Iraq is that its Shi’ite proxies in Iraq tend to want to be independent of Iran, since they are Shi’ite Arabs and not of the Iranian variety.
At the same time, however, Tehran has a fairly good relationship with the Sunni Kurds and may attempt to play off some of the opposition it is seeing among its Shi’ite proxies. As of now, the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd.
Given Iran’s backing of al-Assad and the concern over its survival, regional analysts say that Tehran has few options against the rising Sunni threat and is struggling to maintain the influence it has achieved over the past decade.
Sources add that al-Maliki isn’t helping his own situation with his fellow Shi’ite factions because of his efforts to consolidate his own power, even though he continues to need these various factions to remain in power.
“Al-Maliki’s moves to institutionalize an independent power base has made it difficult for Iran to control him,” according to a report by the open intelligence group Stratfor.
“When the Iraqi government’s tensions with the Kurds and the Sunnis were under control, this was not a problem,” the report said. “But with the events in Syria, and with regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Turkey working to loosen Iran’s grip in Iraq, Iran can no longer ignore al-Maliki’s unilateralism. At the same time, al-Maliki is not easily replaceable.”
As a result, Tehran may be in the market for a suitable Shi’ite replacement of al-Maliki to create a new power-sharing mechanism that can somehow satisfy the Sunnis without giving them greater power.
Given al-Maliki’s entrenchment, however, suitable alternatives will depend on getting a united consensus among the various Iraqi Shi’ite factions without causing serious infighting and losing the current dominance among the Shi’ites.
Sources say, however, that this prospect may be slim and could result in further sectarian conflict, resulting in a further weakening of Iran’s position in Iraq.
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