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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What is India's Strategy in Post-American Iraq?

For India, beyound Iran's LNG and nuclear weapons questions, the current battle between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq that is pulling all the neighbouring countries into its vortex is something to think about. Iran is already present with full might, albeit covertly, in Iraq. The Sunni countries are sitting on the sidelines because of friendly American presence and because of the hope that the Sunnis and al Qaida combination can push back Shiites. It is becoming increasing difficult to stop Shiite death-squads as we saw during Saddam's hanging.

The Americans do not want to get involved in the battle between the two groups nor want to leave behind a lawless mess for al Qaida to take over. The Saudis explicitly, but latter retracted, stated that they would join al Qaida to protect Sunnis - i.e. fight Shiites - in Iraq if Americans pack up and leave. Egypt and King Abdullah already expressed dismay - talking of Shiite crescent - at Iran's take over of Iraq, which acted as a buffer between Iran Shiites and the rest of Arab Sunnis until now. Surely Pak will join the fight, supporting Saudis, Egypt, and Jordan to product the Iraqi Sunni minority and push back Iran, its nemesis on its west border.

It’s likely that the current American presence is reducing an all out bloodshed in the region. It is also likely that if the Americans leave Iraq - declaring victory - after the failure of current surge and not wanting to get involved in Iraqi civil war, the Sunnis and Shiites, with al Qaida mixed in, will go at each other in Iraq and across its eastern and western borders. But it’s also entirely possible, after initial bloodshed and a possible stalemate in Iraq, the two groups will work out a deal among themselves - an extremely difficult proposition in Iraq - and put al Qaida on tight leash as long as it does not attack their interests - attacks on western and eastern countries shouldn't bother them too much.

An all out battle in Islamic world to the immediate west would surely impact India. What would India do? India could sit on the sidelines watching, but with a large Muslim population with majority Sunnis it has to make up its mind quickly. Its likely to talk of about peace between the two groups instead of taking sides – taking sides would be a disaster. But a potentially messy and bloody fight from Rajasthan border to European border can't be ignored easily.

Because Middle East is the energy spigot to the world, it is unlikely the rest of the world will let the bloodshed continue for too long. But it’s hard to imagine non-Islamic countries influencing age-old Islamic divide, especially if it comes to full boil. Obviously, it will also impact the economies of these oil-exporting nations. That, along with open blood on the streets, could be starting point for comprise between the groups.

Cross-posted on INI-Signal