Foreign Policy Blogs

Iraq's Manama Moment

On April 1, Iraq’s parliament suspended session in solidarity with Bahrain’s peaceful protests. In response to the Kingdom’s crackdown on the Pearl Square demonstrations, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a BBC interview that the disintegration of social cohesion in Bahrain could spark a sectarian war like the one that bloodied Iraq just a few years ago. However, he warned this conflict had the potential to engulf the whole region.

Maliki’s ministers have become increasing outspoken, as well. Foreign Minister Hosehvar Zebari said that while Iraq supports the peoples’ movement across the Middle East and North Africa, his country maintains a special relationship with their neighbors in Bahrain. Ahmed Chalabi, erstwhile American partner and silver-tongued author of the the 2003 invasion, added that Iraq will play a part in the Bahraini revolution. He stated, “Iraq was able to free itself and impose a democratic system…whoever doesn’t think that Iraqis can take a role in this, they are mistaken.” It was not immediately clear from whom Iraq was able to free itself, but given Chalabi’s deepening ties to Tehran, one might not assume Saddam, at this point.

This Spring's Must Have Accessory

Not to be outdone, firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has encouraged his followers to support the demonstrations in Bahrain. Now, members of Iraq’s Najafi marjaiya, the top Shiite leadership, have discarded their trademark passivity in political matters to speak out against the violence done to their fellow Shi’a in the capital city of Manama. All over the Shi’a south there have been calls to boycott goods from Saudi Arabia, where the Sunni monarchy regards Bahrain as its answer to America’s Puerto Rico, in the Persian Gulf.

The confessional divide in Bahrain, between the ruling Sunni monarchy and the majority Shi’a population, is Saudi Arabia’s most pressing regional concern behind Yemen’s imminent collapse. Riyadh believes that any reforms granted the Shi’a protestors would be seen as a “win” for Saudi Arabia’s nemesis, Iran. Moreover, there are concerns that such concession might embolden the increasingly active Shi’a minority living under the House of Saud.

Given their increasingly vocal stance, and the regional issues at hand, perhaps Iraq’s role at the helm of the contested Arab League summit might suit them after all.



Reid Smith
Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.

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