Far from the world’s top headlines, Iraq is being sucked relentlessly into the Syrian war – while itself embroiled in a vicious sectarian conflict.
Late Friday, May 24, US Vice-President Joe Biden called Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki to voice Washington’s deep concerns about the security situation in Iraq. “He pledged continued US support for Iraq in its fight against terrorism,” said a statement from Biden’s office.
Just this week, a wave of bombings and attacks across Iraq claimed more than 500 lives – 125 in one day, Tuesday, May 28. Biden urged Maliki to reach out to leaders across Iraq’s political spectrum to defuse the galloping violence.
At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report that their conversation was in fact dominated by the Syrian issue.
Biden referred to intelligence obtained by Washington from sources in Baghdad that Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister was on the point of placing his armed forces at the disposal of Bashar Assad’s war on the Syrian rebellion on orders from Tehran.
His first instruction from Iran was to hunt down and destroy the al Qaeda-in-Iraq command center at its secret location in the Anbar province of western Iraq. This center serves the units which recently joined the the Syrian rebel movement under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 588 of May 24: Al Qaeda's Entire Iraqi Fighting Strength Migrates to Syria.)
Maliki promises Biden to keep Iraqi troops out of Syrian war
Tehran gave Maliki the coordinates of the targeted strategic and logistical command center. Another Iranian order was for the Iraq army to range along the 600-kilometer Iraqi-Syrian frontier to seal it against any further Iraqi al Qaeda ingress into Syria. The Iraqi units must be ready to conduct raids deep inside Syria in pursuit of rebels, he was told.
The last attempt by a military force to seal the Iraqi-Syrian border was conducted seven years ago by US units assigned to obstructing the flow of Al Qaeda fighters and arms in the opposite direction – from Syria into Iraq.
Tehran now warned Maliki that, just as Al-Baghdadi had led his jihadis across into Syria, he might well lead them back – only then, they would be reinforced by the Syrian al Qaeda branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, and bent on bolstering Sunni resistance to the Shiite prime minister’s rule in Baghdad. So the Iraqi prime minister would be acting in his own interests by crushing them before this happened.
Biden asked Malliki if he could confirm this intelligence. And if it was correct, what were his intentions.
The US Vice President did not expect much in the light of his long experience of dealing with Nuri al-Maliki – none of it productive.
Iraqi troops on “big operation” to combat al Qaeda inside Syria
For instance, Biden has been nudging him for months to stop – or at least inspect – the frequent Iranian flights bound for Syria over Iraqi skies. The Iraqi prime minister kept on promising to stop them, but then sat on his hands.
Secretary of State John Kerry publicly accused Maliki of turning a blind eye to what Washington is certain are Iranian military shipments of supplies for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The same thing happened to Biden’s latest approach last Friday.
Once again, the Iraqi leader solemnly assured the American vice president that he did not intend involving the Iraqi armed forces in Syria warfare and that Iraqi military movements were wholly directed toward putting down armed Sunni aggression in central and western Iraq. He accused the Sunni militias of a bloody campaign of terror in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities.
The next day, May 25, sure enough, Maliki was at it again. Regardless of his promise to Biden, 20,000 Iraqi troops were strung out along the 600-kilometer Iraqi-Syrian border under the command of the Ground Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Ali Ghaidan Majieed.
”This is a big operation,” said Gen. Majeed. "It has resulted in the arrest of several Al Qaeda members and the destruction of some of their strongholds. The target of the operation is also to clean the desert of the terrorist elements that exist there."
Maliki opts for obeying Tehran instead of combating terror in Iraq
“The [Iraqi military] cleansing operation is being pursued in parts of the border provinces of Anbar and Nineveh, where we are concerned that Sunni militant groups opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to Iraq's Shiite-led government have set up camp," said the Iraqi general.
In short, our military and intelligence sources report that Iraq’s Shiite prime minister has opted for deferring to Iran’s interests and bolstering the Assad regime in Damascus rather than grappling with the deadly terrorism devastating his own country.
His next step will be to send Iraqi troops on military operations against Syrian rebels in eastern Syria, at Iran’s behest.
Tehran is showing off its wide-ranging clout for hitching multiple Middle East military resources to its strategic bandwagon. Both the Lebanese Hizballah army (see the next item in this issue) and the Iraqi national army have now been harnessed to the war in Syria.
Israel and Jordan are deeply worried by Iraq’s military intervention in Syria on orders from Tehran. No less concerned are Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which share common borders with Iraq.