Ukraine war highlights internal divisions in Mideast countries

A huge poster featuring Vladimir Putin and the words "We support Russia" was displayed in a neighbourhood of Baghdad's capital.

Ukraine war highlights internal divisions in Mideast countries

It was there for a few hours until a security team arrived and quickly took it down. The security directive was issued: All public displays of Putin’s photographs shall be prohibited.

The powerful Hezbollah militia in Lebanon reacted against the government's condemnation for Russia's attack upon Ukraine and demanded neutrality.

This wrangling reveals the deep divisions surrounding the Ukraine war in Middle East. Moscow has been a key player in recent decades, making strong friends among non-state actors and state actors, while America's influence waned.

The West is closely allied to the West's political elites, who are cautious about alienating Russia and the U.S. Other forces, however -- including the Shiite militia groups in Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah organization in Lebanon, as well as Houthi rebels from Yemen -- support Russia against Ukraine.

These groups are Iran's boots on ground in the anti-U.S. resistance "axis of Resistance." Putin's close ties to Tehran and his military intervention during Syria's civil war for President Bashar al-Assad's support led to their backing.

They regard Putin as a reliable, steady partner who does not abandon his friends like the Americans. They even have a nickname for Putin: "Abu Ali", which is a popular name among Shiite Muslims. It's meant to convey a sense of comradery and stability.

In the meantime, governments are on a tightrope.

According to Ihsan Alshamary (political analyst and head of the Political Thought Think Tank, Baghdad), "Iraq opposes the war but hasn't condemned it nor taken sides." He said that Iraq must remain neutral as it shares interests with Russia and the West.

He stated that Iran's regional allies are openly hostile to Russia "because they believe Russia is their ally and are anti-American and anti West."

Russia has spent up to $14 billion on Iraq and the northern Kurdish region. This investment mainly focuses on the energy sector, Elbrus Kutrashev, Russia's ambassador, told Rudaw, the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw, in a recent interview.

Russia's Lukoil and Gazprom Neft are some of the largest oil companies in Russia.

The U.S. maintains close ties to Iraq, but Western companies have been planning to leave Iraq's oil industry.

The prime minister of Iraq made the strongest decision so far after his central bank warned him against signing any new contracts with Russian companies. Officials from Russian industry said that the decision will have little impact on new Russian investments in Iraq.

Iraq was one of the 35 countries who abstained last week from a U.N. General Assembly vote demanding that Russia cease its offensive against Ukraine and withdraw troops. Syria voted against, with Russia's deep ties to Lebanon voting in favor. Iran abstained as well.

Unusually blunt Foreign Ministry statements condemning Russia's invasion in Ukraine caused a stir in Lebanon. This upset the Russians and forced the minister to clarify that Lebanon was not taking sides and would remain neutral.

Ibrahim Moussawi, a Hezbollah lawmaker, wrote that they "distancing themselves and claim neutrality wherever they want, and they interfere, condemn, and condemn wherever they want", tweeting at the Foreign Ministry. "What foreign policy does Lebanon pursue, and what is Lebanon’s interest in it?" We need clarifications, foreign minister.

Hezbollah also sent thousands to Syria to support Assad's forces. Hezbollah has used Russia's invasion to paint it as a result of U.S. provocations and another act of betrayal by its allies - this time, Ukraine.

Russia has thousands of troops in Syria and billboards proclaiming victory for Russia were seen this week in Damascus. Residents in opposition-held areas still suffer from Russian airstrikes. They hope that Russia will reduce their pressure if they get involved in fighting in Ukraine.

Five months after the elections in parliament, the Ukraine war has highlighted divisions in Iraq's already fractured landscape.

A huge billboard supporting Putin was temporarily put up in Baghdad's Baghdad neighborhood. It is considered to be a stronghold for powerful Iranian-backed militias. The Russian Embassy in Baghdad tweeted a picture of the billboard after it was taken down.

Athir Ghorayeb who works in a coffee shop nearby said, "The poster was provocative. I am against it." He said that Iraq is just beginning to emerge from decades of conflict and war. "Why are they insisting on including us in new issues?"

Many Iraqis see in Russia’s invasion Ukraine echoing Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent years of economic sanctions against Iraq. Only a few days ago, Iraq paid more than $52 million in reparations to Kuwait.

Social media has seen millions of people following Iraqi Facebook pages sharing news about what's happening in Ukraine. Zahra Obaidi, a user, posted that "our hearts are with civilians as those who have experienced war know its disasters."

Hafidh Salih wrote, "We have tents to accommodate refugees and internally displaced persons. You're welcome come use them."

Toby Dodge, professor of International Relations at London School of Economics, stated that Iraq's actions -- abstaining in the U.N. election while limiting economic activity - were prudent and managed the short-term risk without taking an ideology.

However, it is more difficult to keep this strategy in place if the war drags on.

"Iraq is deeply divided between pro-Iran players and those who are anti-Iran trying assert their autonomy. He said that the Ukraine was another performance and another example where one side can show their credentials."

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