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Battle entrenches Iraq's role in Middle East

The Syrian people will be denied a say in their own future as Iran and Hizbollah exert their influence, an Arabic-language writer says. Other topics: Palestine and Iran.

The battle of Al Qusair, which has been raging for weeks in Syria between Hizbollah militants and Syrian opposition forces, evokes images of Mohamed Bouazizi's torched body in Tunisia, which was the first spark of the Arab revolutions, observed columnist Mamoun Fandi in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

"Al Qusair mirrors the town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, in that it signals the start of a new conflict in the Arab region in light of the new strategic direction that Hassan Nasrallah has dictated clearly in his last speech," the columnist said.

The chief of Hizbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon, gave a televised address on Saturday vowing to fight alongside Syrian president Bashar Al Assad until the bitter end, and promising victory over the rebels.

The strategic implications of his attitude may be the most substantial in the last two years in the changing Arab world, according to the writer.

"Despite his persistent denials of allegations of sectarian alignment, Mr Nasrallah's speech outlines the nature of the next conflict in the region: a Sunni-Shiite conflict par excellence, and its first combat skirmishes on the ground have begun in Al Qusair," the writer said.

It is a new manifestation of the Arab Spring where the usual protagonists - autocratic regimes versus pro-democracy oppositions - have taken on a sectarian aspect with the Sunni-Shiite conflicts.

"The Arab region would fall hostage to a religious ideological clash that pits the Shiite camp sponsored by Iran against a Sunni axis of power that is taking shape between Turkey and influential Gulf states," the writer suggested.

But Hizbollah's deep involvement in the Syrian war isn't rooted in ideology alone. It is a real involvement with serious military and operational aspects.

The two-year fight has revealed some real gaps in the Syrian army's capabilities. It isn't the fine-tuned combat machine that Iran and Hizbollah thought they could depend on for support.

Hizbollah and Iran's direct interference in the war is aimed at bridging the gaps of the regular army and reorganising it while also testing the compatibility and the potential for interoperability in their alliance.

Such an advanced level of coordination between the three military forces - Syria, Iran and Hizbollah - creates the exemplary Shiite army that would be tasked with implementing and protecting the new strategic map for the region, the columnist remarked.

"Mr Nasrallah's speech means that the Shiite chair, represented by Iran, has been reserved at any negotiations table over the fate of the Syrian regime," the writer added.

"However, the Syrians themselves, on both sides of the conflict, will have no leverage at the second Geneva conference."

Iraq needs a new and unifying constitution

The present Iraqi uprising is at risk of slipping into the quagmire of sectarianism, observed the columnist Abdulhalim Qandil in the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi.

"The uprising's objective isn't to destroy what is left of Iraq, but to reclaim its standing and its Arab face. It aims to dismantle the existing sectarian quota system in government promoted and supported by the little dictator Nouri Al Maliki," he said.

However, the atmosphere in Iraq is at its most critical point. A reshuffling of cards is easily possible with the intense foreign interference. Violence is ready for deployment at a moment's notice. Prime minister Al Maliki's autocratic rule and practices coupled with the omnipresent danger of Al Qaeda-affiliated organisations are among the main threats to the concept of national state.

Uprisings and revolutions are often derailed and de-energised when they give in to reactions rather than actions. Counter-violence isn't the answer to Mr Al Maliki's violence, he noted.

The answer is in reverse plans that foil the dictator's sectarian schemes. The solution is to emphasise the peaceful aspect of the ever-widening movement against injustice and not against the Shiite sect in particular.

"The sectarian quotas constitution that the US occupation drew up for Iraq must be done with. The Iraqi state needs to be rebuilt on bases of competence and not religious beliefs," the writer said.

One last chance for peace in Palestine

President Mahmoud Abbas is known for his penchant for optimism in general. He never tires of talking about an opportunity for peace and establishing the Palestinian state along 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, observed the Palestinian daily Al Quds in its editorial on Monday.

This was the idea that he reiterated before the World Economic Forum at a Dead Sea resort in Jordan on Sunday.

Despite general pessimism and fears that the two-state solution may have been lost forever due to Israel's obstinate settlement ambitions, the president of the Palestinian Authority still sees a glimmer of hope, especially with renewed US diplomatic vigour in this regard.

"A chance for peace still exists indeed, but it may be the last," observed the paper. "Efforts and pressures should be focused on shifting the Israeli attitude that has been the main hindrance before any solution."

"We, the Palestinians, continue to hold on to negotiations as a medium for a solution as long as they don't become a waste of time and a cover for Israeli practices," the paper added.

The delay in achieving peace would eventually yield more violence, extremism and hostility for Palestinians and Israelis, it concluded.


* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem


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