The brutal state-imposed bloodbath in Syria deserves uncompromising reproach. Popular protests calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to relinquish power have continued despite state cruelty. Mr. Assad’s forces have committed egregious crimes against humanity, reportedly even torturing to death several teenagers as young as 13 in an apparent bid to frighten protestors into submission.
At least 53 people are said to have been killed across Syria since last Saturday, bringing the total number of reported fatalities to over 1,600 people, Amnesty International reported on August 9.
On Sunday, Syrian gunboats pounded the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia with heavy machine-gun fire, killing at least 19 people, according to the Associated Press.
The chilling wholesale war against a defenseless population by Mr. Assad’s regime has provoked international outrage. Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Damascus last week in protest to the army’s “killing machine.” Kuwait and Bahrain have followed suit. In fact, most Arab states and the Gulf Cooperation Council have so far condemned the regime, leaving it isolated.
That is with the exception of Iran and Iraq. To no one’s surprise, Assad’s long-time allies in Tehran have rushed to his aid, sending arms, technological equipment and other logistics to Damascus to help repress the mass protests. On Friday, it was even revealed that Iran has agreed to fund a new multi-million-dollar military base on the Syrian coast to make it easier to ship weapons and other military hardware between the two countries.
But much more troublingly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has also joined the Iran-Syria axis by urging Syrian protesters not to “sabotage” the state, the New York Times reported this week. He has also hosted a delegation of Syrian government officials and businessmen to discuss closer economic ties, including the construction of a gas pipeline that would run from Iran through Iraq to Syria.
Maliki, in fact, owes his hold on power to Tehran, and has complied with Iran’s insistence that he should side with Assad. As a sign of just how much Maliki is prepared to do the regime’s bidding, he ordered his troops in April to massacre dozens of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf.
As U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq, Maliki should not be allowed to push Iraq into Iran’s orbit of influence. In that respect, not only should Washington increase pressure on the Syrian government, it should also pressure Maliki to stop committing human rights violations, as is being seen in Camp Ashraf.
An Iranian official visiting Egypt last week was quoted as saying by state-run media that, “Efforts should be made to safeguard Syria as a hub of support for the resistance of the Palestinian people against the Zionist regime.” Syria has indeed a much broader significance for Iran’s rulers.
To ensure a better future for Iraq, Syria and the region as a whole, the United States should remove all obstacles on the path of the Iranian opposition to facilitate democratic change in Iran, which today acts as the main propeller of fundamentalism and dictatorship in the region.