Iraq and the Syrian crisis
Iraq and Syria share more than 605 km of border. Both countries are ethnically and religiously mixed, in addition to being the only two countries to have been ruled by the Baath party.
For the last decade, Syria has played a negative role with regard to Iraq's security and stability. Following a string of explosions targeting Iraqi institutions and ministries in 2009, the Iraqi Prime Minister blamed the Syrian government for most of the terrorist attacks taking place in Iraq. In addition, the Prime Minister indicated that there were many terrorist training camps in operation around Syria, going on to accuse Damascus of giving terrorists from different Arab countries access to Iraq.
No matter what the motivation and agenda behind the Syrian regime's position against the Iraqi political process, it certainly played a major role in the violence of 20032011. But now the violence has blown back onto Syria, consuming everything in its path and keeping Damascus busy fighting the domestic fire.
Now that the Syrian conflict has taken a new path with French and US strikes on the horizon, it is worth studying how this might affect the already volatile Iraqi situation.
Here I would like to lay out several scenarios:
- Limited strikes against Syrian chemical and ballistic capabilities, resulting in more aggressive support from Damascus's allies, which could lead to more Iranian overflights through Iraqi skies and more aggressive militia activities in Iraq...
- Widespread war and multiplayer involvement leading to pressure on Iraq from Damascus's allies to rescue the Syrian regime. At the same time, Sunni powers in the region will push Sunni militias in Iraq to act more aggressively in order to keep the Iraqi government wing supporting Syria busy.
- Ongoing conflict and continuing sectarian tension in Iraq, coupled with further support for the militias on both sides from regional players.
The most recent Russian attempt to block any attack against Syria through the new proposal of putting Syria's chemical weapons under UN supervision seems to have slowed the momentum against Syria. But the question, amidst the civil war and chaos, is whether it really is possible or practical to control the weapons? The move certainly served to embarrass the Obama administration and to further complicated the debate in Washington over possible strikes against Syria.
However, a puzzling question remains unanswered: how is the ongoing civil war and bloodshed in Syria to be brought to an end? Is that on anyone's agenda?
Iraq at this stage is in dire need of national unity and consensus. Iraqi leaders must sit down and talk face-to-face to diffuse inflamed tensions. The Iraqi Prime Minister needs to play a more positive role with regard to solving the pending issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government and to dealing with the demands of the Sunni minority in a more positive and efficient way.
Only if the elections law is passed in the council of representatives over the coming weeks can we begin talking about national elections in the spring, which will inevitably exacerbate ongoing sectarian tensions.
Observing the nature of the political debate and systematic violence, I would call it political violence which in some weeks manifests itself more as a sectarian war. Even though it seems that the real sectarian battle in Iraq has been delayed as regional players are preoccupied with the Syrian conflict, any twist in the Syrian situation and dominance of one side over the other will lead to further meddling in Iraqi affairs through more aggressive support for different groups by regional players.
As Iraqis, we are faced with a grave responsibility and a great opportunity. If we fail in making the united Iraqi state and identity a reality, then we must pave the road to a peaceful solution and alternative, which I believe lies in the formation of Sunni and Shiite federal regions. Only then we will be able to deter attempt to push Iraq towards widespread civil war and bloodshed, pave the road to a more successful administration and prevent the country's division.
It is time for the Iraqi political blocks and parties to take a more serious and responsible look at the future and the challenges that lie ahead. What looms on the horizon is dark and depressing. Brave and selfless decisions are required, and the Iraqi people deserve a brighter and more peaceful future.
Last but not least, Iraq must become more active in supporting Syrian refugees as an international and humanitarian duty, while remaining absolutely neutral with regard to the Syrian sectarian conflict.