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Security concerns in the Gulf (part 2): Iraq spars with neighbours, Bahrain seethes

Security concerns in the Gulf (part 2): Iraq spars with neighbours, Bahrain seethes
Published 13 Mar 2014   Follow @RodgerShanahan

Part 1 here.

Two events last week added to rising temperatures between governments in the Gulf region.

The first was another Gulf Arab diplomatic spat, this time involving Iraqi claims about un-neighbourly interference in its internal security affairs. Prime Minister Maliki took the rather undiplomatic step of accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar of waging war on Iraq through their support of terrorist groups in Syria and western Iraq. Riyadh returned serve, placing the fault for Iraq's ongoing security dilemma on Maliki's own exclusionary policies and on his subordination to Iran (or 'regional parties', in polite language).

Claims that Iraq has begun buying weapons from Iran have done little to assuage fears that Maliki is too beholden to Iranian interests. Of course, Saudi Arabia's unwillingness to appoint a resident ambassador to Baghdad or undertake significant financial investments in Iraq gives them little sway in that country and opens the door for its rivals.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Gulf, the single deadliest incident for security forces in Bahrain since the latest round of anti-government protests began in 2011 resulted in the deaths of three police officers in a bomb blast. The attack came after demonstrations arising from the funeral procession for a detainee who had died in hospital. Two more police officers were wounded in a separate incident earlier this week.

Adding to the significance of the deadly blast: one of the dead was a UAE police officer. The UAE and Saudi Arabia sent military and police to Bahrain in 2011, allegedly to help protect public buildings and infrastructure. They were not sent there to take an active part against protests, which raises the question of what the UAE officer was doing at the protest site.

Amid all of this strife and accusations of internal interference, the thousand-pound gorilla is Iran. There is a fear in the Gulf that Iran may inch its way into the international community and dominate its increasingly fractious Gulf neighbours economically, diplomatically and militarily. More on that in the next post.

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