Lebanon – Iraq Connection?

Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor of Britain’s The Independent, has written a piece exploring the relationship between the current crisis in the Middle East and Iraq.

But before we look at an extract from her work, allow me this: it seems patently obvious to me that there is a direct connection between the Iraqi invasion and the current Middle East crisis; in fact, a direct cause/effect relationship. In a nutshell here’s my view:

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a bulwark against the expansion of Iran’s Shiite fundamentalist Islam, and against al Qaeda’s Sunni version as well. Saddam ran a thoroughly secular government and prevented inroads by either. By various means he maintained control over three disparate Iraqi groups – the Sunni, the Shiites and the Kurds – and, as a consequence, there was stability in the country and immediate region. Now, the Iraqi Shiites, heavily involved with and supported by Iran, have control over the majority of the country, the Kurds have the next largest piece and the Sunnis fend for themselves. Further, al Qaeda is encamped in the country, the country is in chaos and Iran’s influence in Iraq is palpable. Iran’s influence now extends through Iraq to Lebanon which, for all practical purposes, is controlled by it’s proxy, Shiite Hizbullah.

In effect, Iran has decided to demonstrate its power in the region by launching the Hizbullah attack on Israel. Simply speaking, Iran’s objectives were to demonstrate its influence, extend its influence, and warn the United States that it is to be regarded with something other than contempt.

Now here is an extract from Anne Penketh’s very perceptive study which deals with the question of whether there is to be a wider regional war:

This is the big fear because of the nature of this proxy war, in which Syria and Iran stand behind Hizbollah, and the Americans behind Israel. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was part of a larger war that now pits Britain and America against militant Shia, militant Sunni and Baathist Arab nationalists in Iraq. All three factions are present in Iraq – now ruled by its dominant Shia factions, close to Iran, as an unintended consequence of the Iraq war – and they are also represented in Lebanon, Iran and Syria. Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Monday that Hizbollah would not disarm. The risk of possible escalation is obvious. Iran’s Hizbollah, which claims links to the Lebanese militia of the same name, said yesterday that it stood ready to attack Israeli and US interests worldwide.

Yes, the risk of escalation is apparent.

And, there is this additional development which has received less attention: the Turkish army is moving forward with plans to send forces into northern Iraq to clear out Turkish Kurdish guerrilla bases. Turkey’s threats to send troops into Iraq have been aimed at pressing the United States to take action against guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, whose fighters have killed 15 Turks in the southeast in the past week. This cross-border operation would likely inflame tensions with the United States and destabilize one of the only calm regions of Iraq.

Then there’s the Taliban dramatically escalating its activities in Afghanistan and, lest we forget, North Korea. Madelaine Albright might refer to this confluence of problems as the “perfect storm”.

At any rate, click the headline for Anne Penketh’s Iraq-Lebanon analysis.

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