As I mentioned yesterday, with the Shia-led government in Iraq now taking control of the Sunni Awakening Forces, the security gains in Anbar province are in jeopardy. High five to Abu Aardvark for flagging this MUST-READ interview with the leader of the Resistance in Baghdad. Yesterday, I wondered whether this development would give Al-Qaeda a second chance in Iraq. The Resistance leader (and also Adrian) does not think so- but it could be a good opportunity for Russia.
We are waging a battle of destiny against the Islamic Party. Al Qaeda does not pose any danger to Iraq anymore, and it is finished. The real danger are those that fight us in the name of legitimacy and religion–I mean the Islamic Party. Had it not been for the intervention of the government and the US forces, this party would not have lasted for two days in Al-Anbar.
So might they turn to Russia?
Many Iraq experts in Washington discount the possibility that the Russians would lend their support to a new resistance force in Iraq, but they do not entirely rule it out.
Earlier this month, a former top Baathist official openly called on Moscow for help. Salah Mukhtar, who was an aide to Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi foreign minister under Saddam, and who was Iraq’s ambassador to India and Vietnam, said that Russia’s “pre-emptive step in Georgia is a formidable act from the strategic point of view in its timing, aims and tactics,” and he called on Russia to direct its attention to Iraq:
The United States’ Achilles’ heel is Iraq…. The US colonialist project to have absolute control over our planet can be buried in Iraq.
Only through backing the patriotic Iraqi resistance and strengthening its military capabilities can we accelerate the end of US colonialism all over the world…. The key to defeat the United States in the world and to corner it into isolation is Russia providing support to the Iraqi resistance directly or indirectly.
The key to freeing the world by muzzling the United States requires Russian involvement in the Iraq battle.
Despite the bravado in that statement, it’s not impossible that Russia might be toying with the idea of engaging the United States in the Middle East more directly. In all likelihood, it would depend on a significant further deterioration of US-Russian relations over Georgia, Iran and other points of contention. In the meantime, though, it is likely that Russian intelligence agents are quietly connecting with Iraqis.
Middle Eastern media is full of pro-Russia sentiment and many people, probably a majority, want to see an expanded Russian presence in the region as a counter-balance to the US. Fahmy Huwedi, the super influential Egyptian commentator, recently criticized the Arab governments for not doing enough to exploit Russia anger with the US and Israel over the war in Georgia. Moscow’s return was the subject of a recent episode of Al-Jazeera’s Al-Itijah Al-Muakis where 90% of the viewers said they saw it as a good thing. See a recent post at the Egypt Blog for more on these points. The oppurtinity is there for Russia to take a more active role in the region at the expense of the US if it wants and many Middle Easterners would see this as a good thing.