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Dr Musa A Keilani: Differences defy solutions
April 10, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

By virtue of its hosting of the Arab summit in Baghdad last month, Iraq has assumed the chairmanship of the Arab League at a time many internal and external challenges are confronting its member states. The Arab League chairman must have a clear awareness of what is in and what is not in common Arab interests in order to successfully shoulder the mission of guiding Arab affairs.

As far as Iraq was concerned, its hosting of the Arab summit was also a showcase piece. It wanted to send a message that it is in control of the security situation. However, it had to mount an unprecedented security cordon several weeks prior to the summit to ensure that nothing went wrong. Even at that, it would not be much off the mark to imagine at least some of the Arab leaders gathered for the summit looking over their shoulder.

Instead of capitalising on its newfound status as chairman of the Arab League and drawing Arab countries together, Iraq has only exacerbated Arab differences.

Differences among Arab countries are a frequent occurrence and, most of the time, timely and wise intervention by the Arab League chair and other members leads to amicable solutions. Of course, there are some differences which defy solutions, but these have not impeded work on most serious work to serve common Arab interests.

An example was Libya under the reign of Muammar Qadhafi, who was toppled and killed in a popular uprising late last year. Qadhafi tried hard to dominate Arab affairs through various means but other Arab League members saw through his efforts and resisted him. It took Qadhafi some years before he realised the folly of his efforts and shifted his attention to Africa describing himself as more African than Arab.

Despite the Libyan meddling, the Arab League survived and managed to do its work fairly well, although difficult issues continue to confront it.

It is only with scepticism that many Arabs could see how Iraq handles the task facing it as chairman of the Arab League until the next summit is held and Qatar takes over the post. They see post-war Iraq, under Iranian influence and with a sectarian outlook, as having drifted away from the mainstream Arab movement.

The US moves in Iraq after occupying the country in 2003 were also detrimental to Iraq’s Arab interests. The administration of George W Bush tried hard to dilute Iraq’s Arab identity. Silly as it might sound, the redesigning of the Iraqi flag and depriving it of the symbol of the Great Arab Revolt was part of the US effort.

In fact, the new flag somewhat resembled that of Israel in what many saw as a US effort to have post-Saddam Hussein Iraq set up relations with the Jewish state. However, it was not acceptable to the people of Iraq and hence the new flag was thrown on the wayside and along with it the US Israel-specific campaign.

The post-war developments in Iraq have led to a point that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is dependent on Iranian proxy groups for its survival. And it is behaving worse than the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein on the internal front.

By definition, the head of any organisation should not be a source for friction among its members. But in Iraq’s case that is precisely the situation, with Maliki himself adopting positions against other Arab leaders because of his dependence on Tehran and other reasons linked to potential challenges to his regime.

There are many who doubt whether there was any alternative course, given the Iranian back-door entry to the corridors of power in Baghdad despite stiff US resistance when the US military was present in Iraq. Now that the Americans have departed, the ground is open for Iran to try its tricks.

There are serious differences between the Arab World and Iran, which refuses to accept international legitimacy as the basis for settling those differences. Its occupation of three islands belonging to the UAE is an example. Tehran is stonewalling all efforts to find a solution to the problem. It refuses to engage in meaningful bilateral discussions with the UAE on the issue. Nor does it want to take it to international arbitration.

Iran’s meddling in the internal Arab affairs is evident not only in Iraq but also in Lebanon, where it backs the Shiite Hizbollah. Tehran also poses as the strongest supporter of the Palestinian cause by backing both the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip. However, Hamas has shifted away from the Iranian orbit. Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and also denounced the Syrian regime’s crackdown on dissent.

Tehran is not at all pleased with the Hamas moves and this is evident in the Iranian media.

Tehran’s defiance of the US-led West in the dispute over its controversial nuclear programme and refusal to satisfactorily address international concerns has brought the region to the brink of war.

Iraq has reported that Iran wants it to host the new round of talks between Iran and the 5plus-1 group of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on the Iranian nuclear programme. It is not a call likely to be accepted by anyone in the West, not the least because attending such a conference in Iraq will be an open endorsement of the newfound Iranian clout.

The proposal, which has been rejected, was yet another Iranian manoeuvre aimed at highlighting Iraq’s place in the Arab World while also implicitly touting Tehran’s status as the one calling the shots in Baghdad.

Of course, Iraq knows better than trying to dominate Arab affairs. But its close alliance with Iran is worrisome since Tehran is ever alert for any opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab countries. Iraq should not allow itself to be exploited and its chairmanship of the Arab League to be used as a platform for Iran to pursue its agenda.
The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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