By Mick Krever, CNN
U.S. President Barack Obama must walk a “very delicate line” of sectarian allegiance as he prepares to send 300 military advisers to Iraq, Former Senior U.S. State Department Adviser Vali Nasr told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, the man who led America’s military surge in Iraq, David Petraeus, said that the U.S. must be careful not to appear like “the air force of Shiite militias.”
But Nasr, a leading authority on these sectarian issues, said that there is fear on all sides.
“This is now being billed as the sharp edge of a Sunni revival in the region, and that’s the way the Shiites are seeing it,” he said. “And the Sunni countries in the region are not separating ISIS from the rest of the Sunni forces, and Iraqi Sunnis have not stood up and for instance condemned massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers in Tikrit.”
“And all of that gives a sense that everybody is accepting ISIS as now the voice of Sunnis. And that’s exactly what will cause the Shiites to be very worried about any kind of concession to the Sunnis.”
“He [Obama] has to also be careful not to be appear to the Shiites of Iraq to be the Sunni’s armed force as well, or the Sunni supporter,” Nasr said. “He has to walk a very delicate line.”
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has come under stark criticism for stoking sectarian tensions in his country, as Sunni extremists take control of large swaths of the country.
As a chorus of voices in the West floats the idea that Prime Minister Maliki must leave office for the crisis to be alleviated, Nasr emphasized that local context be understood.
“We also wanted the Syrians to dump Bashar al-Assad, and he’s still there. I think Maliki’s constituency is worried about its own future. People are worried about being massacred, and people are worried about the threats of ISIS to destroy their shrines. I think they want Maliki to deal with ISIS – not necessarily give the shop away.”
What then of Iran, the regional Shiite superpower that backs Maliki’s government?
“I think Iran will play a constructive role insofar as wanting an inclusive government. But then the question is, ‘What are the terms of that inclusive government?’”
“I don’t think Iran would be willing for the Shiites to give away power to the Sunni and to have a kind of a restoration of Sunni authority in Iraq.”
“I think generally Iran is fearful of ISIS, generally Iran wants this crisis to be resolved – to that extent it’s on the same page with the U.S.. But I don’t think Iran is ready to go as far as the United States want to in including the Sunnis in the power structure.”