Iraq’s prime minister warned Wednesday that a victory for Syria’s rebels will spark sectarian wars in Lebanon and Iraq and will create a new haven for al-Qaida that would destabilize the region.
The comments by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in an interview with The Associated Press marked one of his strongest warnings yet about the turmoil that toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad could create in the Middle East.
“If the world does not agree to support a peaceful solution through dialogue … then I see no light at the end of the tunnel.
“Neither the opposition nor the regime can finish each other off,” he said. “If the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq.”
Maliki’s warning comes as his government confronts growing tensions of its own between the Shiite majority and an increasingly restive Sunni minority nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Fighting in Syria has sharp sectarian overtones, with predominantly Sunni rebels battling a regime dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Assad’s regional allies are Shiite Iran and Hizbullah.
Al-Maliki too is a Shiite and his sect dominates Iraq’s government.
His comments reflect growing fears by many Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere that Sunnis would come to dominate Syria should Assad be pushed from power.
The toppling of Assad would deal a serious blow to the regional influence of Syria’s patron Iran, which has built increasingly strong relations with Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government.
Iraq has tried to maintain a neutral stance toward the civil war in Syria, saying that the aspirations of the Syrian people should be met through peaceful means.
Speaking from his office in a Saddam Hussein-era palace inside Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone, al-Maliki reiterated his stance that foreign military intervention is not a solution to ending the crisis in Syria.
He called on outside countries to “be more reasonable regarding Syria.”
Al-Maliki, 62, has long been accused by many Sunnis of promoting his Shiite sect at their expense and for being too closely aligned with neighboring Iran.
His government has faced two months of unexpectedly resilient protests from the Sunni minority, whose members held many senior positions in Saddam’s regime and lost their political prominence to the Shiites after he was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.