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Only Iraqis can overcome this national catastrophe
Iran and Syria want to be seen as a stabilising force in Iraq, in contrast to the failure of the US, but there is little they can do
Jonathan Steele in Irbil, northern Iraq
Friday November 24, 2006
Never have there been so many competing visions of the Middle East. Viewed from Israel, the central issue is an axis of evil that starts in Iran, passes through Syria (perceived as Tehran's client number one) and moves on to the secondary clients, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. All are bent on destroying the Zionist state. Tuesday's killing in Beirut of the Christian politician Pierre Gemayel, whose family worked with Israel during its 1980s invasion of Lebanon, is touted as new proof of the thesis.
Seen from Baghdad, Iran and Syria assume different roles. They are powerful neighbours who hold the keys to the country's security. They can turn stability on or off, depending on their willingness to control the flow of weapons and money across their borders to local militias and foreign insurgents. This vision requires that Iran and Syria be treated with respect and talked to, not hectored and threatened.
In Kurdistan, Iraq's uniquely stable northern region, the struggle is viewed as one between modernisers who believe in a democratic "new Iraq", and traditionalists who held power and privilege during Saddam Hussein's long regime and want revenge for his ousting. This contest between democratisers and authoritarians is at its starkest in Iraq, say Kurdish leaders, but it is the basic dynamic that runs throughout the Arab world.
Finally there are those, such as King Abdullah of Jordan, who perceive the issue as a battle between a newly awakened Shia minority against centuries of Sunni dominance throughout the region. They fear an arc of Shia militancy stretching from Tehran, through Baghdad, to large parts of Saudi Arabia - a religious tide with huge economic and geopolitical potential since it covers most of the area's sources of oil.