If Iraq is being pulled in …

While the US and the rest of the West remain in a frustrated search mode for a solution on how to deal with the Syrian nightmare, the conflict has now revealed one of its more worrisome aspects. In a well-coordinated ambush, 48 Syrian and 9 Iraqi soldiers were killed by opposition forces in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq. Iraqi officials have blamed the attack on al-Qaida’s Iraqi arm.


This development is the strongest sign yet of a spillover of the Syrian fighting onto Iraqi soil, and a harbinger of what is to come in a meaningful format.

“Shia-ruled Iraq faces an ongoing guerrilla war with radical Sunnis, some of them apparently now fighting in Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. In addition, the Sunni Arab population of the west and the north of the country, about a fifth of the population, has been demonstrating peacefully against the [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki government, with large rallies, for several months. Maliki is afraid that if the Sunni radicals win in Damascus, there will be severe effects in Mosul and Ramadi. Indeed, those effects may already have begun,” wrote Juan Cole, a prominent Middle East analyst.

If Iraq is being slowly pulled in, then Jordan and Turkey followed by Lebanon, could be next. Yet while the US’ moves toward a more resolute approach to deal with an uncontrollable situation on the ground is insufficient, a mood change in Europe that will support supplying the rebels with arms and ammunition is taking far too long.

But because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his delusion — even timidly admitted to by the Russians — continues to be defiant, possibly until the very bitter end, the policy is changing somewhat. An opposition source told the Guardian the other day that the flow of arms to rebel units across the Turkish border took place in a more relaxed format.

“These were not weapons that had been captured from Syrian army bases as before. These were released from Turkish warehouses. These are weapons the opposition had purchased previously but had not been allowed to take across the border. But there is a major shift on the ground now. I think the shift in American attitudes goes far beyond the official reports. I think that Washington knows it can no longer allow the problem to fester,” the source told the Guardian.

There are also indications that there are various, intensified activities to assist the opposition in Jordan’s border region.

From the rational vantage points in the region, be that Erbil, Beirut, Amman, Jerusalem or Ankara, the essence of the calls for action is the same: this is a race against time with far too many unknowns and increasingly higher risks for chaos. Everybody knows at this stage which two countries would prefer the fog of an upward spiraling conflict.

Dialogue with Assad, after all the bloodshed and destruction, should be out of question. “[It] is a waste of time when the conditions for the opposition to join are tantamount to surrender. There is one point of total agreement, in that everyone knows a ‘political solution’ under these conditions isn’t going to work. The regime knows this, as does the opposition and their allies both in Russia and the Western world. The longer the war goes on, the more fertile a place Syria will be for extremism and extremists,” reported the Daily Star in Lebanon.

Almost two years have passed since the atrocities began. Assad, who started it, will be unable to finish it. Some others must. This necessitates a deadline.

In a recent report by the Ankara-based “International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), “Towards a Syrian Nightmare” — its title an understatement — it is emphasized clearly: “Despite all the possible difficulties, if Assad leaves power by the second quarter of 2013 (by negotiations, agreement, flight, coup or assassination), Syria has the ability to return to its pre-revolutionary situation, but it requires serious regional and international support. But, if the regime does not fall, or if Assad manages to stay in power until July 2014 when his tenure will end, the future of Syria will be in grave jeopardy.”

If the latest spillover into Iraq is not enough for all to see the warning light, one wonders what will.

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