In a move to shore up support for a resolution to the on-going and bloody Syrian uprising, The United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan visited both Iran and Iraq, two countries seen as pivotal in negotiating an end to the violence.
In back to back meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, Annan held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki in order to discuss the escalating violence in neighbouring Syria.
Annan has been seeking Iranian help in mediating the conflict, which the United States has been opposed to due to tensions with Iran. The visits underscore Annan’s attempts at finding a resolution through direct talks with both the Shia-led government of Iraq and Iran.
While Iran is suspected of supporting the Bashar Al-Assad regime with weapons to continue his ongoing crackdown, Iraq’s porous border with Syria is seen as an entry point for Sunni insurgents to join the fight against the Syrian regime, and similarly Iranian weapon caches to aid the regime.
Annan is attempting to contain the violence, which has drawn in neighbours such as Lebanon and Turkey, who have both placed troops on the border of Syria after confrontations with the Syrian military.
However, Syria’s conflict has long been lacking Iraq’s involvement, a matter which has made Iraq nonetheless feel alienated. Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, addressed the press last month, voicing concerns over counting his country out of the negotiations to solve the Syrian crisis.
“We don’t want to see chaos reign, you see, in the region, in the neighbourhood, and that’s why Iraq should have a say, a role in what is going to (happen) in Syria. No country can ignore or bypass Iraq in this regard,” Zebari said.
Like other neighbouring countries, Iraq has had its share of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence for safer climes. The number of refugees in Iraq is smaller than those hosted by other countries such Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Iraq’s influence has waned in the wake of sanctions, the first Gulf War, the subsequent Iraq War, and years of sectarian strife following the removal of Saddam Hussein, but the country’s geopolitical importance and its resource wealth has allowed it to keep its regional importance.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his part, sent a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, during the latter’s visit to Tehran last week, where he stressed on the importance of promoting friendship between the two neighbouring states, according to state-run Fars News Agency.
The warm calls for friendship, however, do not cancel out the rising tensions in the region, fueled partially by Iraqi ambitions for extended influence.
Annan has been frequently calling for the involvement of Iran in the UN Security Council talks regarding the Syria crisis, pushing for inviting the Islamic republic to the latest Geneva talks, which took place on June 30.