Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria is not Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Since the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Spring” in our region, we have always said that Tunisia is not Egypt, which in turn is not Yemen, which itself is different to Libya. Likewise, Bahrain is different to all of the above, and Syria also cannot be compared to any other case. Some Westerners and Arabs objected, but this was proven completely true.

Today, some are saying that Syria will be like Iraq. Most of those putting forth this assertion are Americans, including the writers Thomas Friedman and David Ignatius, in their respective articles published in Asharq al-Awsat yesterday. But the facts based on current realities, and likewise history, say that Syria is not Iraq. In his article Friedman says he hopes to be mistaken, and indeed he is. Iraq was not a “minority-ruled dictatorship” [under Saddam Hussein] as Friedman says, the Sunnis in Iraq are not a minority and Saddam Hussein’s rule was not sectarian, although it was characterized by political recklessness. Sectarianism is the product of Iran and al-Assad, which reached new heights in the region following the US occupation of Iraq, and exploded further when Tehran’s allies arrived to govern the country, and with the assassination of the Sunni leader Rafik Hariri at the hands of the al-Assad regime.

Likewise, to say that Syria is like Iraq with similar fears of the spread of terrorism and al-Qaeda, this is an exaggeration and distortion of the facts. Extremism spread in Iraq for two reasons; the first was the presence of Shiite extremist groups affiliated to Iran, such as the Sadrists and so on, and the second was due to Tehran and al-Assad facilitating the entry of al-Qaeda elements into Iraq in order to fight the Americans by proxy. We must remember that those who finally managed to curb al-Qaeda were Iraq’s Sunni Awakening Councils, liaising with General David Petraeus. Remember how the Iraqi tribal leader Abu Risha was assassinated after his famous meeting with former US President George W. Bush! While we are on the subject of al-Qaeda, it is worth mentioning that Mohammed Saeed al-Issa, an advisor in the Syrian People’s Assembly, defected yesterday. He said he had compelling evidence that the recent spate of car bombings in Syria was carried out by the al-Assad regime itself, and not by al-Qaeda or extremists!

Such talk of course will continue, but it is certain that Syria is not Iraq as Friedman says, who is clearly mistaken. Furthermore, the situation in Syria does not require an Iranian-Israeli-Gulf-Turkish alliance as Ignatius says, because this is a pipe dream. What is required today is to protect the Syrians from al-Assad’s crimes, especially as the regime resorted to weapons first, before the rebels, and so protecting the Syrians is the priority. The way to do this is through arming the revolutionaries, and not through US military intervention as Friedman suggests, believing the Americans could serve as a guarantor as they did in Iraq, but this is not true. America is the one that handed Iraq over to the Iranians. Similarly, US fears of the spread of al-Qaeda are also untrue, just like they proved to be unfounded in Libya, where the elections results surprised the entire region. The Islamists, for example, did not win in Libya like they did in Egypt, where Washington was particularly keen to overthrow Mubarak!

In conclusion, the Americans are seeking to address their mistakes in Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere by making another mistake in Syria. As the proverb goes, two wrongs do not make a right. What we need now is to protect the Syrians from the criminal al-Assad, through safe areas, arming the rebels, and supervising the situation. We must stick by the opposition to ensure that there is indeed a “day after”, and not allow al-Assad to wreak havoc, for this is an unforgivable crime.