The toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime was supposed to usher in
a new era for the Middle East, according to the architects of the
invasion, one in which Islamic extremism would be rooted out and
budding democracies would replace stifling dictatorships.
Yet the region three years on is experiencing heightened
sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, expanding
Islamic militancy, high levels of anti-Western hostility, and
authoritarian regimes still clinging to power, analysts say.
"The balance sheet on Iraq since the US invasion has some
positive aspects, but in most respects it is negative," says David
Mack, vice president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
While the invasion ousted Mr. Hussein's brutal regime, the
subsequent turmoil "has probably strengthened the ability of
autocratic regimes to resist evolutionary political change," Mr.
The Iraq invasion jolted complacent regimes, especially as it
coincided with nascent attempts by Arab democracy campaigners to
push for reform. But, says Jordanian political commentator Rami
Khouri, "the way the American adventure in Iraq has gone has
emboldened many Arab [regimes] to defy the US because they feel that
it has gone badly in Iraq and the Americans are not likely to do
Take Syria, which has been in the gun sights of Bush
administration hard-liners for years. The regime of President Bashar
al-Assad has antagonized Washington since 2003 by its sluggish
response to US demands such as curbing support for militant anti-
Israel groups and, until recently at least, securing the border with
Iraq. The ace up President Assad's sleeve, which has persuaded most
Syrians to continue supporting the government and is making Western
advocates of regime change hesitate, is concern over Iraq-style
violence coming to Syria.
"The ethnic and religious composition of Syria is roughly similar
to the divisions found in Iraq and Lebanon and no less explosive,"
says Theodore Kattouf, president of Amideast, an educational
organization in Washington, and a former US ambassador to Damascus.
"It seems that the bloodshed, chaos, and uncertainty of Iraq have
led most Syrians to the default position that even a bad regime is
preferable to the risks of instability."
The turmoil in Iraq is not solely to blame for the ills in the
region, but it represents a powerful dynamic that has rippled across
the Middle East feeding into other conflicts. "The situation in the
broader Middle East is more complex, fragile, and dangerous today
than it has been for a long time. Several of the multiple conflicts
in the region are reaching a boiling point," UN special envoy Terje
Roed-Larsen said last week.
Some analysts argue, however, that the political, economic, and
social situation in the Arab world is so poor as to warrant shock
"Societies that have failed to tackle their serious developmental
needs for so many decades ... eventually have to deal with one form
of chaotic transition or another," says Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian
social analyst and dissident. …