As the United States weighs its options in Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, the violence in Iraq is flaring up into what increasingly looks like open warfare. Iraqi soldiers backed by tanks retook Suleiman Beg, a Sunni town north of Baghdad earlier today, after being driven out of town by gunmen yesterday, the AP reports. The fiercest clashes happened four days ago in the town of Hawija, where 42 people were killed and more than a hundred were wounded. More than 150 people in total have died across Iraq this week, fresh on the heels of the country’s first elections independent of security assistance from the US.The NY Times explains how the fighting in Iraq is tightly linked to what is going on across the Middle East:
The fiercest fighting group in Syria, Jabhet al-Nusra, has been fostered by Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group. Iraq’s government has lined up on the side of the Syrian government, allowing its territory to be a transit corridor for the supply of weapons—mainly from Iran—to the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.As the war in Syria grinds on, analysts and American officials are increasingly worried about its spreading into Iraq. Barham Salih, the former prime minister of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday after the violence in Hawija that “Iraq, Syria dynamics” could merge into one fight with “dire consequences.”
Not considering the broader Sunni-Shiite war when thinking about strategy in the Middle East is to miss the proverbial forest for the trees. What we do in Syria has broad implications for a country America has invested much blood and treasure trying to stabilize after Saddam. This doesn’t make the Syria decision any easier or straightforward. But it should shake Obama administration policymakers out of their complacency about doing little to nothing at all. Sitting on our hands as Syria burns means that the conflagration could spread across a region vital to the world.