Thursday 26 July 2012

Is This What British Soldiers Died For ?
The modern-day states of Iraq and Syria once formed the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia. They share the same tribal culture, heritage and a lengthy border. It is hardly surprising, then, that they still have much in common.
Having both been ruled by Hashemite kings following their creation as independent states in the aftermath of the First World War, they became the only Arab states to adopt the Ba’ath party’s revolutionary ideology and were renowned for their hostility to the West.
While on occasion this relationship has become somewhat frayed, not least when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein declared his desire to unite both regimes under his barbaric rule in the Seventies, the ties that exist between Baghdad and Damascus have ensured that such unpleasant memories are soon overcome.
Now these two Arab states can boast yet another, less welcome, characteristic that binds them together: they have both become targets for al-Qaeda’s new generation of Islamist jihadists.
At first glance, it appears that the bombers responsible for the recent attacks in Damascus and Baghdad were motivated by very different objectives. Related Articles
In Syria, last week’s carefully executed bombing of the National Security headquarters, which killed President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, as well as the country’s defence minister, was in all probability the act of groups working for the Free Syrian Army, a mainly Sunni Muslim force that is seeking to overthrow Assad’s minority Allawite regime, which has ruled the country for more than four decades.
In Baghdad, on the other hand, the recent well-coordinated series of bombings and shootings against a number of government targets in 15 different cities and towns was carried out by Iraqi Sunni extremists. Many of them are disaffected members of Saddam’s Ba’athist tyranny who are trying to force the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim prime minister, to establish a more inclusive regime, one that represents the interests of the Sunni and Kurdish minorities, rather than simply feathering the nests of the majority Shi’ite Muslim population.
But while the objectives of these anti-government activists may differ, there is a chilling similarity in the tactics they employ in their respective quarrels with the ruling cliques in Iraq and Syria.
In both countries, the recent wave of bombings bears all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda terror cells, both in terms of their planning and the execution. Indeed, the group responsible for the Iraqi bombings, al-Qaeda in Iraq, makes no secret of its allegiance to the organisation originally founded by Osama bin Laden.
In a statement issued shortly after the attacks, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to be the leader of the Iraqi cell, deliberately sought to link the violence in Iraq to the Sunni revolt in neighbouring Syria. According to al-Baghdadi, al-Qaeda has launched a campaign it calls “Breaking Down the Walls”, whereby it aims to overthrow the established governments in Baghdad and Damascus and replace them with regimes more in tune with the group’s strict Islamist agenda.
This might seem far-fetched, particularly as al-Qaeda has already suffered one humiliating defeat in Iraq: moderate Sunni tribal leaders refused to support the terrorist group’s extremist agenda and helped US forces to defeat it by forming the “Anbar Awakening” in 2006. Iraqi Sunnis might want to see a more representative government running Baghdad, but most of them have no desire for a return of the appalling scenes of sectarian violence that devastated the country from 2006 to 2007.
And yet the fact that al-Qaeda, which was effectively destroyed as an organisation in Iraq by the end of 2007, is back with a vengeance is a direct result of the violence taking place in neighbouring Syria. Even before last week’s attack on the National Security building, senior Iraqi officials had expressed concern about the existence of a number of al-Qaeda cells in the eastern city of Fallujah, which were travelling freely across the Syrian border to support the rebel cause. Now it appears that these cells are travelling in the opposite direction from Syria to Iraq, with all the potentially disastrous implications that could have for regional stability.
Until now the priority of Western policy-makers has been to stop the fighting in Syria on humanitarian grounds. But a conflict that has so far claimed more than 17,000 Syrian lives could easily reach levels not seen since the worst days of Iraq’s sectarian violence – if, as now seems possible, the turbulence spreads beyond Syria’s borders. Rather than treating Syria as a humanitarian crisis, the West should see its troubles as a threat to the stability of the entire region, and act accordingly.
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