After the Syrian government, under the leadership of autocrat Bashar al-Assad, began indiscriminately killing civilians in response to popular anti-government protests, Iraqi leaders publicly condemned the violence. But while the U.S. and other Arab states have called for Assad’s resignation, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks out against regime change and has taken steps to strengthen diplomatic and financial ties with Syria. Despite international outrage, the outcome of protests in Syria remain unclear.
What’s the Big Idea?
Why is Iraq more eager than other Arab states—including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Turkey—to protect the Assad regime? “Middle Eastern experts note that Maliki—a Shiite Muslim who lived in exile in Syria for nearly 15 years—has strategic and sectarian reasons for avoiding a direct confrontation with Assad.” Both states have Shiite majorities and instability in Syria could spill over into Iraq. Others believe Maliki’s support for Syria originates in Iran, which has staked billions of dollars on the success of the Assad regime.