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Iraq Antsy as Syria Boils Over

Protestors Rally Outside UN General Assembly

One of the reasons we favored faster action on Syria in the past two years is that a sectarian war across the Fertile Crescent, perhaps pouring into Iran itself, would advance no US interests that we can think of, quite apart from the considerable costs in human life. Well, it looks like we’re on the verge of reaping just such rewards of our hands-off policy:

Iraqi officials have expressed alarm in recent weeks as fighting between troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the armed opposition has spilled across the border. After staying on the sidelines for more than a year, Sunni tribes in Iraq that straddle the frontier have decisively joined the effort to topple the Alawite Shia-led government in Damascus.

Many officials in Iraq fear that a growing Sunni protest movement that has found inspiration from the neighbouring uprising could quickly turn into all-out revolt in regions that formed the heart of the Sunni insurgency over the past decade.

“We will be the most affected if violence spreads in a way that cannot be controlled,” Ali al-Moussawi, spokesman for Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister, said in an interview. “What worries us is that there is no plan to control things in Syria, to find a peaceful political solution or a type of change that can be controlled.”

The Obama administration has had serial policy failures in Syria. Torn between a desire to stay out and a desire to impact events, it has dabbled and dribbled but hasn’t had the courage either to put real chips on the table or to stand aside and, as Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, “Let the black flower blossom as it may.” The result: a situation that is still spinning out of control with massive civilian casualties and serious political risks and costs. The US is at this point less well placed to have an impact than it was a year ago, or even six months ago, while the dangers to important US interests have grown.

The alternatives are so ugly that we sympathize with the administration’s disinclination to act, but sometimes an excess of caution turns out to be the riskiest choice of all.

[A woman protests Assad outside the UN Headquarters on September 26, 2012. Getty Images.]

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  • ojfl

    Also, the failure to negotiate an SFA with Iraq may have left them unprepared to deal with an insurgency-like spillover. Let us hope I am wrong.

  • John Burke

    I can claim exactly zero expertise in this matter, but increasingly it seems to me that the borders drawn by the victorious Western powers after the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in 1918 and parcelled out to post-colonial regimes after 1945 are going to have to change at some point. The frontiers separating Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and for that matter, the smaller Gulf states, Yemen and Egypt are entirely arbitrary. It’s easy to see why the division of “Palestine” into Jordan, Israel and a rump Palestinian territory is a source of relentless conflict. It should be easy, though it’s not, to admit that Kurds should have a state, and Arab Christians should have someplace to go besides Michigan. While we’re at it, why not further divide Iraq or Syria? I’m encouraged by the recent independence of South Sudan. Perhaps it breaks the logjam keeping colonial borders sacrosanct (while Europe’s borders were redrawn both peacefully and by force of arms since the Soviet collaose).

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