Iraq warns of unrest if Syria falls to war
IRAQ has raised renewed fears that the Middle East will be engulfed by sectarian bloodshed if Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is deposed and the country falls into civil war.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave his most unequivocal support yet to the Assad regime, and even hinted that its downfall could force Iraq into an Iranian-led alliance against the Arab world's Sunni states.
"The killing or removal of President Bashar in any way will explode into an internal struggle between two groups and this will have an impact on the region," said Mr Maliki, referring to predictions of region-wide conflict between Sunni Muslims and the Shia sect.
"It will end with civil war, and this civil war will lead to alliances in the region.
"Because we are a country that suffered from the civil war of a sectarian background, we fear for the future of Syria and the whole region."
Although Mr Maliki's relations with Mr Assad, once a strong supporter of Saddam Hussein despite being a member of the Alawite Shia sect, were initially strained, Syria has collaborated with Baghdad to stop militant groups linked to al-Qa'ida operating along the border between the countries.
Many in Mr Maliki's coalition fear that if Syria's Sunni majority were to come to power, it could revitalise Sunni militants in Iraq's Anbar province who fought a long and bloody insurgency in the aftermath of the US invasion and who may harbour secessionist intentions.
Mr Maliki has refused to align Iraq with a growing Arab consensus to ostracise the Syrian regime for its repression of the uprising. Iraq was also one of only three states in the 22-member Arab League that declined to support Syria's suspension from the bloc.
More than 4,000 civilians have died in Syria since the uprising began in March, according to the UN.
Aware that many of his people still view Iran with distrust, Mr Maliki has insisted he is trying to steer a neutral course between the growing rivalry for Middle East hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
"Iraq is not a follower of any country," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)