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Syrian Mess Getting Messier

In September we saw warnings that Syria’s Kurds could be drawn into the civil war if the conflict continued to drag on. These warnings are now coming true, as the New York Times reports that Kurds are getting more directly involved in fighting on the ground in Syria:

Like the sectarian battles in Iraq after the American invasion, the recent violence between Arabs and Kurds in Syria indicates the further unraveling of a society whose mix of sects, identities and traditions were held together by the yoke of a dictator.

With Assad’s grip on the country loosening, Kurds in the Northeast see an opportunity to carve out some sort of autonomy for themselves, either as an independent enclave within Syria, or, more recently, as a fully independent nation-state. Clashes, then, between Kurds and Syrian rebels like the one described here may be a taste of things to come:

In plain view of the patrons at an outdoor cafe here in this border town, the convoy of gun trucks waving the flag of the Syrian rebels whizzed through the Syrian village of Ras al-Ain. They had not come to fight their primary enemy, the soldiers of Bashar al-Assad’s government. They had rushed in to battle the ethnic Kurds.

The confrontation spoke not only to the violence that has enveloped Syria, but also to what awaits if the government falls. The fear — already materializing in these hills — is that Syria’s ethnic groups will take up arms against one another in a bloody, post-Assad contest for power.

The longer this conflict persists, the more chaotic the situation becomes. The Kurdish involvement in the struggle will have repercussions far beyond Syria’s borders, inflaming tensions between ethnic Kurds and their neighbors in Iraq and Turkey as well. The quicker this conflict is over, the better. But don’t expect a peaceful or pleasant post-war transition; sectarian violence has a nasty habit of persisting long after a truce is signed.

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