- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Regional calls for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad reached new heights Wednesday, with Turkey describing the Assad regime as “one of state terrorism” and Egypt asserting that Mr. Assad should learn from the “recent history” of deposed Arab dictators and step down.

“It’s too late to talk about reform; this is the time for change,” Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi told Arab leaders Wednesday in Cairo. “There is no room for further delaying a decision that will stop the bloodshed.”

Mr. Morsi’s remarks dovetailed with assertions made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told an audience in Istanbul that Mr. Assad’s government had devolved into “one of state terrorism.” Meanwhile, U.S. officials announced an uptick in American aid for Syrian refugees.

The apparent stiffening in the regional posture against Mr. Assad coincided with a visit to Iraq by a group of U.S. senators who warned the government in Baghdad that it risked damaging relations with the United States if it allowed Iranian planes to fly across Iraqi airspace with weapon shipments for Syria.

According to a report Tuesday in the New York Times, senior U.S. officials said they think such shipments are part of a renewed Iranian effort to bolster the Syrian military’s 17-month-old crackdown on opposition groups.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was in Baghdad on Wednesday, said Iraqi officials’ failure to stop the Iranian flights might jeopardize aid that Iraq could receive from the United States as part of a 2008 strategic pact between the nations.

“Bottom line, this kind of problem with these Iranian overflights can make it more difficult to proceed with the Strategic Framework Agreement in the manner that the prime minster and we would like to see happen,” said Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent. “So I hope this is cleared up quickly.”

Coordinating a response

In response, an Iraqi government spokesman told the Associated Press that Iran had told Baghdad that the flights are delivering only humanitarian aid to Syria and that the onus is on the U.S. to present proof that Tehran is shipping weapons.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who appeared in Baghdad with Mr. Lieberman and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the situation in Syria has put the Iraqis “in a pickle.”

“The reason they’re probably not pushing back on Iran is because they don’t see how this ends,” Mr. Graham told reporters in Baghdad.

“This region is about [to] explode,” he said in an apparent reference to the specter that Iraq might be coordinating with Iran to bolster the Syrian military’s war against factions that have taken up arms against Mr. Assad.

Such coordination may signal a regional squaring-off of nation-states along sectarian and religious lines with respect to the Syrian war — with Shiite-dominated governments in Baghdad and Tehran siding with Mr. Assad and Sunni-dominated governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey backing the rebels.

The extent to which such regional divisions might develop remains to be seen.

Mr. Morsi, whose Sunni-dominated Muslim Brotherhood has gained unprecedented influence in Egypt since the ouster last year of strongman Hosni Mubarak, has called for Iran to be part of the solution in Syria.

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