What do Changes in Iraq Mean for Syria
UK plans to slash Iraq force over the next year. Memo gives timetable for pullout of most British and US troops.
Richard Norton-Taylor and Michael Howard in IrbilPrime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said on Tuesday that some Iraqi cities were secure enough so that US and Coalition troops could withdraw from them soon. He defended, however, a US military presence in the short term, and opposed a precise timetable for US withdrawal.
Monday July 11, 2005
Britain and the US are privately planning to withdraw most of their forces from Iraq by early next year, according to a secret memo written by John Reid, the UK defence secretary.
Al-Hayat says that its sources say the US will begin withdrawing troops at the end of 2005 from provinces where the Iraqi military and security forces can keep the peace. The withdrawal is dependent on the Iraqis being able to finalize a constitution and adopt it through a national referendum, however. (Nicked from Informed Comment)
Juan Cole also writes:
Al-Hayat says that the parliamentary committee in Iraq charged with writing a constitution by August 15 is increasingly split. The Sunni Arabs on it are saying they fear a loose federalism will lead to a partition of the country into statelets. The Kurds reply that the Sunni objections are "illegitimate."
The dispute concerns the first sentence in the constitution, a draft of which defines Iraq as "federal."
Over the weekend, a Shiite representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani called for Iraq to be formally termed "the Islamic Republic of Iraq" in the Constitution.
Sunni Arabs are also insisting that Iraq be termed "an indivisible part of the Arab nation," whereas the Kurds object that Iraq is a multicultural society. A special subcommittee has been formed to try to iron out these fundamental differences.
What does this news mean for Syria?
For some time I have written about how America's dual policies: 1. Stabilizing Iraq, and 2. Democratizing the Greater Middle East, are largely contradictory, at least in the short term.
Policy 1 suggests the US must make friends with, or work closely with Iraq's neighboring authoritarian regimes, such as Syria and Iran, in order to stop the flow of insurgents into Iraq. The US seems to be doing just this and has made it clear it no longer seeks regime-change in Syria, if in fact there ever was such a consensus in Washington, which I doubt.
Policy 2 is taking a back seat in Washington right now, which means that democratization, cannot be advanced with vigor, hence the new honeymoon between Bush and Bashar. President Bashar is helping this dialogue along with his recent arrests of foreign militants in Syria. This does not mean that America abandons democracy in the region. It means that it must stabilize Iraq first and help consolidate some semblance of pluralism and a working state in Baghdad before it takes on the whole Middle East. Bush will use his bully-pulpit to cajole and urge Arab government toward Democracy, but he will not threaten to upend them, as he did so blithely several years ago.
The confusion among Iraqis over the nature of its constitution and the identity of its people is not unique to Iraq. Syria suffers the same identity disputes and sectarian intolerance that underpin Iraq's troubles.
Were the constitutional question to be opened up in Syria, as it has been in Iraq, we would see similar disputes over its Islamic-Arab-Syrian identity. This dispute springs from divided nature of Syria's sectarian and ethnic communities. To see evidence of the plentiful misunderstandings, read the comment section on this earlier post "Syria: a Monopoly on Democracy," by Aita from Le Monde Dipl., or the on the two posts that precede it.
Here is the moving note I received Samir Aita, the author of the article I posted, which elicited the sectarian battle among commentators. It reads:
I woke up this morning and found that you have posted the article on your blog. Thank you for that and for your appreciation. I also read the comments, which made me very sad. You can not imagine how sad. The gentlemen making the comments did not discuss the article, they develop hatred between each other. I got so sad reading what they wrote, that I even regretted for a moment why I wrote the whole article.One Syrian commentator wrote: "I always hope to read an intelligent dialoged but after what I have read today I feel Syria is not ready for democracy."
Then I remembered that this article resulted from discussions made with young Syrians in Damascus, Aleppo and Lattakia, looking to know their history and searching to build something different from "the constructive instability" and authoritarianism. They all shared the "Jasmin" hope, as a democratic and secular one. They all refused exactly the type of hatred that are in the comments. They all liked my "I have a dream" (for Syria) published last year.
I hope that your commentators could share their strength, dreams and respect of differences.
Another commentator suggested that agents of the Baath Party were posting the divisive sectarian comments in order to prove that Syria is not ready for democracy and provide an argument for the perpetuation of dictatorship.
I doubt anyone in the government has the creativity, or daring, or even real interest in doing this. Sectarian misunderstanding is real in Syria, as it is in Iraq and Lebanon. Why should we doubt its existence or underestimate it? Better to confront it head on before it rears its ugly head at some future crisis. The policy of taboos about honest airing of sectarian grievances put in place by successive Syrian governments has not worked to produce social harmony or to erase the subnational fault lines that divide Syrians. Only honest dialogue can do that.