by Jamal Hashim, Liang Youchang
BAGHDAD, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- As the increasing rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic over the past few days raised fears that an attack on Syria is imminent, Iraqi analysts and political leaders warned that military intervention in the country may lead to terrible consequences in the region, particularly in Iraq.
Already mired in sectarian conflicts and worsening violence, Iraq, as one of Syria's neighbors with a long shared border, will be severely affected if some Western countries launch devastating military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's administration, Iraqi observers said.
"The security situation (in Iraq) has repercussions from the developments in Syria and the recent wave of bombings is an extension of the (tense) situation in Syria, as there is active participation by the terrorists from Syria in Iraq," Saied al- Khafaji, a professor of politics at Mustansriyah University in Baghdad, told Xinhua.
"Toppling Assad will have catastrophic consequences on Iraq and on the region as a whole," Khafaji said. "The biggest loser will be Iraq as a result of its long common border with Syria and the incubators of Syrian terrorist groups that exist particularly in ( Iraq's) western desert and other areas."
When meeting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Robert Beecroft here on Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki voiced his opposition to any military actions on Syria that seek to "punish" Damascus' alleged use of chemical weapons.
Maliki has announced the highest level of alert in Iraq to " avoid any possible serious consequences that could result from the Syrian crisis as there is talk about possible strike."
Hassan al-Seneid, head of Iraq's parliamentary security and defense committee, told Iraqi media that "the countries in the region will be affected by the consequences of war on Syria, and Iraq is the first and foremost of them because it is part of the war equation."
The security situation in Iraq is part of the conflict in Syria as long as the country is fighting extremist groups which are active in both countries, al-Seneid said.
Ibrahim al-Ameri, a lecturer of politics in a Baghdad college, said there is a clear division in the attitudes of the Iraqi factions toward the Syrian conflict, as some support the Shiite- led Syrian administration and others are against it, and any Western strike on Syria may confuse and complicate the political and security scenario in Iraq.
"Sectarianism and refugees are destabilizing the region's countries and inflaming sectarian tensions. We can see that violence also is spilling over into Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey," he added.
HESITATION IN WEST
Even as the United States and some of its allies are actively mulling a military intervention in Syria, they have taken a cautious approach so far due to precedented failures and uncertainties, Iraqi analysts said.
"I can tell that major Western countries like the United States and Britain are pursuing a cautious approach in dealing with the idea of military actions in Syria, reflecting their intense fear of repeating their mistakes when they decided to strike Iraq more than ten years ago," al-Ameri said.
"Circumstances are different this time as Syria is not alone like Saddam (former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) in 2003. It is backed by Iran, Russia, Hezbollah in Lebanon and others," al-Ameri said. "They (the Americans) don't want to plunge into a bloody conflict in Syria and repeat the mistake of falling into the Iraqi quagmire when they ousted Saddam in 2003."
Khafaji said the United States may hesitate in making a decision as there will be many consequences, including possible strong reactions from some of Syria's supporters, particularly Iran, whose Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that the Middle East is like a "powder keg" and its future will be unpredictable if something happens.
"Air strikes might not change the regimes without occupation forces on the ground. Iraq had seen many airstrikes (before 2003), but what toppled the regime was the occupation of the ground," Khafaji said.
"But we have to think it over what will happen after the strike? Would Syria, which has a devastating missile force, keep silence? I believe the region will be at stake and I think that Hezbollah and Iran might use force," he warned.
Nevertheless, Washington will have to press ahead with its plans for military moves since it faces some strong internal lobbying for war and also pressure of several countries in the Middle East that aim at toppling Assad after it was accused of using chemical weapons, Khafaji said.
LIMITED MILITARY ACTIONS
Many Iraqi observers believe that even if the United States and some of its allies go ahead with their plans to militarily intervene in Syria, their actions will be limited ones.
"I think the U.S. administration is considering limited military actions to deter the Assad regime and degrade its ability to deploy chemical weapons," Iraqi political analyst Sabah al- Sheikh said.
"It won't be like the military actions that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, let alone risky deployment of U.S. troops into Syria," he said.
Ali al-Allaq, secretary-general of the Iraqi cabinet, told state-run newspaper al-Sabah on Thursday that "the available indicators showed that the strikes against Syria will be limited on certain targets and would not change the situations in Syria and the regime."
"They will attack selected targets to weaken the Assad regime so that he would not be able to use lethal weapons, and to practise pressure on the regime to sit for negotiation to end the conflict in Syria," al-Allaq said.
However, al-Allaq warned that "if the strikes were strong enough to collapse the regime in Syria, there would be a great danger, because the current militant groups will have the chance to play a more dangerous role in Syria and in the whole region."