Assad Regime Receives Iranian, Not Iraqi Financial Aid

Article Summary
Many observers of the present crisis in Syria have asserted that the lack of a shared border would prevent Iran from lending assistance to the Assad regime. Iraq, because of its geographical proximity and the perceived shared interests between these countries, had seemed a more likely source of aid. But as Sarkis Naoum explains, it is Iranian funds that have been providing life support to the Syrian government, while the history and present reality of Syrian-Iraqi relations are far more complex than they are often portrayed.

Many of those hostile to the Syrian regime and who support the popular revolt against it - now entering its tenth month - thought that the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Assad regime’s strategic ally, would be incapable of helping it to effectively overcome its isolation in the Arab world and the international sanctions imposed against it. The logic behind this assumption rests on two premises: First, the absence of any geographical border between the two countries which could facilitate the provisioning of the Syrian regime, as needed, with aid to its financial, military, human, economic, and oil sectors. Second, the volatile relationship between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, despite the many things they have in common.

The [Syrian-Iraqi] relationship has been marred by periods of back-and-forth political accusations and criticism. The regime established in Iraq after the fall of Saddam and [under] American occupation held Syria responsible for many of the destructive, terrorist acts that greatly harmed Iraq’s regime and all segments of its population - and therefore also the country’s political stability and security. This [was so] despite periods, albeit rare, of tranquility in the relationship between Baghdad and Damascus, which was in many cases the result of shared interests between the Syrian regime and some factions of the “new” Iraqi regime. [These periods of tranquility] were also imposed by the interests of Iran which, according to Arabs and foreigners “in the know,” possesses a great deal of influence inside Iraq - especially within the country’s Shiite circles.

And yet, none of this refutes a certain fact that experts on the Syrian-Iraqi relationship post-Saddam know very well: that the periods of discord have been fewer than the periods of accord. Nor does it negate another truth: that the relationship between Syria and Iraq during Saddam’s reign was non-existent and generally characterized by animosity, with each country seeking to “harm” the other’s security whenever domestic conditions in either country required it - despite both regimes being Ba’athist. Furthermore, the relationship between these two brotherly and neighboring countries which form the beating heart of the Arab Nation - and whose alliance would give Arabs the strength to confront foreign meddling, whether regional or international - was not a friendly one even before their respective Ba’ath parties came to rule. The reasons for this were varied, and included the competition over which country would lead the Arabs, and the fear that one would come to control the other. This was in addition to a variety of foreign influences that never favored any real, serious, stable and long term accord between them.

In this context, experts with knowledge of Iraqi current affairs point out that the Iraqi people, or some of them (it might be better to describe the components of the Iraqi people as peoples, akin to what is the norm in Lebanon), hold Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria responsible for the deteriorated security situation in their country following Saddam’s fall and the occupation. It is responsible for bringing into their country terrorist elements from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. It also harbored and trained them as it harbored a “leader” of the Iraqi Ba’athists and opponent of the occupation and the regime, Yunis al-Ahmad, helping him and other Ba’athists to continue on with their resistance. Does all of this permit that Iraq and Syria would now suddenly become allies? Of course not; for what is buried in the hearts remains there, only to emerge when intentionally provoked in the interests of regional powers.

In any case, the same experts say that talk about Iraq now helping the Syrian regime is greatly exaggerated, for no monetary aid is being offered, and only Iran is capable of offering such help. This is because Iran possesses capital and accounts that fall outside the jurisdiction of state institutions and therefore can be disposed of by the regime as it sees fit. Iraq has, however, opened its markets to Syrian trade and begun implementing previously agreed-upon economic treaties, which helps to alleviate the effects of the sanctions imposed upon Syria. The credit for this goes to Iran, which wants to maintain an open geographical channel to Syria through Iraq in order to achieve its well-known regional plans, and above all, to prevent the fall of the Syrian regime. Iran cannot or is perhaps unwilling to save the Syrian regime through military force because doing so might jeopardize its own existence - and more specifically, that of the Islamic regime that rules it.

Enough about the relationship between Iraq and Syria; let us turn to developments on Iraq’s domestic political scene. Experts in Iraqi affairs express fear that the security situation there could get worse, sparking a resumption of the civil war. They also say that Supreme Ayatollah Sistani is not pleased with what is happening. He holds all politicians and officials responsible for the current deterioration of affairs, which explains his refusal to meet with any of them for some time now. The same experts further state that Sistani possesses both a vision and expectations for the future of Iraq, which he may soon begin working towards.

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