Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hinted today that Syria was responsible for last week’s bombings in Baghdad. In an unusually belligerent tone Maliki added that Iraq could respond in kind but refrains from doing so because of “our values and keen interest to reach an agreement with this country to get rid of those elements they host”.
This is the first time the Prime Minister points at a particular state for involvement in violence in Iraq. Previous statements usually used the loose “neighboring countrie(s)” term. Although he only spoke about Syria, he also hinted that Syria might have a partner in the crime. He explained that “the confessions of the criminals revealed that this operation was not locally planned; it was the work of states”.
Almost immediately Baghdad recalled its ambassadors from Damascus. The decision was coupled with a demand that Syria hands over two senior members of the Ba’ath Party, “The cabinet requests (that Syria) hand over Mohammad Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan for their direct role in Wednesday's terrorist act," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The Syrian government reportedly rejected the Iraqi accusation of involvement in the attacks, which Damascus said it condemns as a terrorist act. According to the BBC, Damascus informed Baghdad that it is “willing to have an Iraqi delegation come and present the evidence Iraq has obtained about the bombers. Otherwise it will consider anything the Iraqi media presents as fabricated evidence made for domestic consumptions, or maybe to serve foreign agendas”.
Meanwhile the Iraqi foreign ministry was told to send a petition to the UN Security Council to form a criminal court to try "war criminals who planned and executed war crimes and crimes against humanity" in Iraq.
This last part is an interesting development. For the first time the Iraqi government to internationalize the issue of violence in the country. This was avoided for several years although there have always been ample evidence for the involvement of some countries in the violence.
When American officials went to Syria some time ago to discuss the infiltration of foreign militants, the Iraqi government said it Iraq did not need others to do this on its behalf. This attitude ignored the fact that the problem is not Iraq’s alone. There’s an ongoing struggle that involves the United States, Iran and Syria. The Syrian negotiator knows that a deal with America would be better than one with a government most people consider weak.
Why now and why Syria? It is perhaps that while Baghdad knows that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria have been all involved in the violence in one way or another, Syria represents the weakest link among the three. This makes it the point from which Baghdad can start. In this context, the message to Syria is also a message to Iran, who has strategic relations with Syria and uses it as a forward base to support extremists in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territory.
At the moment it is difficult to gauge how serious the Iraqi government is about going with this claim to the end. The whole thing could be an attempt to absorb popular demands for justice and for ending foreign interference.
In general, the decision to recall Baghdad’s ambassador seems to have been made in a rush. Maliki is clearly anxious and under pressure to do something. This sense of urgency could put him in trouble later. He must have an appropriate exit strategy should Damascus choose not to cooperate.