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Opinion: The Iraqization of Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Rebels from Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front waving their brigade flag on the top of a captured Syrian air force helicopter in Idlib province, northern Syria (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN, File)

The disregard shown by the international community towards Syria, particularly by “mastermind” the US, continues to cast its shadow over the developments in the region. Unfortunately, not only is the Obama administration floundering in its attempts to establish a mechanism and limits for intervention, there is also what might be called a “campaign” being launched by some US politicians to fuel fear of repeating the Iraqi scenario in Syria. The campaign is not limited to bashful statements by US foreign policy officials; rather, in the last few weeks many articles have appeared in the US press expressing fears of Syria sinking in the Iraqi swamp. Despite the many ideal “models” provided for post-Saddam Iraq, they were disrupted by the prejudiced performance of the Al-Maliki’s government, rekindling the sectarian ball of flame which has yet to die down. Perhaps, the recent events that took place during Sunni protests in Kirkuk—killing more than 50 people—are a good example of what has been going on over the last 10 years.

The “Iraqization” of Syria is not out of the question, not because of Al-Qaeda—which is an effect rather than a cause—but because of the continuing survival of the Assad regime which, through repression and oppression, managed to deviate the Syrian uprising from its course, turning it into a sectarian and regional conflict. This is the crux of the matter which US politicians have failed to realize. Al-Qaeda and sectarianism, which are foreign to the Syrian revolution, came as a result of the regime’s repressive policies; the peaceful nature of the uprising during its early months are proof of this. Besides this, until now no single Al-Qaeda-linked group can rival the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on the ground. Describing the situation in Syria as a new Afghanistan is not just an exaggeration, it is ironic, particularly given that Al-Qaeda (prior to the 2001 invasion) had the upper hand there. Moreover, Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan had its own independent sources of supply and fighters, unlike the Jabhat Al-Nusra groups in Syria which are comprised of fighters from neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, as well as militants from Europe and some Arab countries. There are not enough such groups [in Syria] to replicate the Afghan scenario. On returning home, these groups, however, will cause an aftershock, particularly if the crisis in Syria remains unsolved.

Back to Iraq, the increase in the frustratingly sectarian performance of Al-Maliki’s government will produce uncontrollable results. The unjust representation of Sunnis in Iraq’s political process, along with the blockade that the Assad regime, Iran, and Hezbollah have imposed on the Syrian people, create a snowball-effect in Iraq. The lack of Sunni representation—which could have been easily solved by finding a consensual formula for all Iraqi people—has created regional alignments that are damaging to national interests, particularly given that sectarianism is on the rise today.

One question remains unanswered, why Al-Qaeda and its allies are always pushed into the spotlight in the Syrian crisis although their initial participation was because this situation remained unresolved and escalated. Why does the media—even when criticizing Iran and Hezbollah’s direct intervention in Syria— avoid mentioning the Assad-affiliated armed groups? It is no secret that there are several pro-Assad armed groups in Syria, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, which is one of the most important forces on the ground, not to mention the increasing numbers of Hezbollah’s fighters in Al-Qusayr and the villages surrounding Homs.

Certainly, the Syrian regime has benefited from the militarization of the uprising in Syria, using it as a scarecrow to remain in power and to deviate the uprising from its peaceful course into a state of armed chaos. This is something which has mobilized public opinion against the revolution, particularly in Russia, China and some Latin American countries which see the situation as an armed conflict violating the sovereignty of a civil and secular regime. Despite its naïveté, this myth has been easily established among countries that expressed reservation about direct intervention in the name of democracy; a sin the US has bitterly repented.

However the militarization of the situation in Syria was among the regime’s major goals. The regime is also aiming at destroying the country via stirring up sectarian tensions. This is something which was considered a joke, given how the sectarian rhetoric, adopted by some Syrian preachers, was met with strong disapproval by the rebels. However, the regime’s sectarian game, which ensures the influx of Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters, provides an easy justification for Hezbollah fighters and Tehran on the pretext of ‘rescuing’ the Shi’ite and Christian minorities. This fallacy has even been spread in the West by the Assad-affiliated politicians and journalists who constantly remind the West of the Lebanese civil war.

The Assad’s regime keeps repeating that we have to choose either “sectarianism,” “Al-Qaeda,” “Iranian Influence” or “civil war” in an attempt to ensure its survival, or perhaps to help end the crisis before it turns into a regional conflict, particularly after the recent developments on the borders with Turkey and Iraq. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg.