While many fellow Arab countries lined up against Assad — suspending, for example, Syria’s membership in the Arab League and demanding his removal from power — Iraq had taken a softer stance. This Summer, Iraqi Prime Minsiter Nouri al Maliki discouraged “sabotage” by Syrian protesters who’ve faced a brutal crackdown by authorities. By Autumn, reports emerged indicating “moral and financial” Iraqi support for Assad. In December, Fayad himself visited Assad as an envoy from Maliki’s government. Many analysts pointed to close ties between Iraq and Assad’s closest ally Iran — both countries dominated by Shia Muslims. In Syria, Assad’s minority Shiite Alawite sect rules over an overwhelmingly Sunni population.
But, as the violence in Syria drags on, those dynamics appear to be shifting one of Iraq’s top security official voiced support for the restive Syrian people. Fayad reportedly told Al-Riyadh:
We do not support the Syrian regime at any cost. We support reform and Syrians must have the political freedom to choose who rules them.
We stand completely with the aspirations of the Syrian people. We cannot hope for freedom and democracy (for ourselves) while denying [Syrians]. But frankly, we have not seen a scenario for resolving [the crisis].
The statements, if reflective of an official government position, would draw Iraq closer to the position of its wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors. The Iraqi statement does not match the aggressiveness of Guld Arab regimes in calling for Assad’s removal from power, nor their sometimes flirtation with military intervention, but nonetheless could signal a shift away from Iraqi support for Assad in the face of Arab initiatives to resolve the crisis.
Last week, Iraqi officials told McClatchy that violence in their country had dropped because Al Qaeda-aligned fighters were moving into Syria to violently oppose the Assad regime. The report tracks with warnings by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper earlier this month that recent dramatic explosions in the Syrian capital Damascus were bombings carried out by migrating Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters.
An Iraqi shift away from supporting Assad would be coming just two days after the militant Islamist movement Hamas, which is considered a terror group by the U.S., voiced its support for Syrian anti-government demonstrators — signaling a possible shift away from the group’s patrons in Iran.