The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Syrian Civil War: It’s Not Just about Syria Anymore

The Syrian civil war is about a lot more than just what goes on inside Syria’s borders. Syria’s neighbors—Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan—are all feeling the effects of the war in the form of refugees and fighters moving back and forth across the region. Iraq in particular is very worried about spreading violence. Its porous border with Syria is mostly flat desert, and communities that straddle the line get sucked into the political turmoil in both countries.

“We are concerned about spillover of militias, armed groups, of fundamentalism, undermining our political system,” Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters. “There is a Sunni Shi’ite fault in the whole region. We don’t want to be dragged there.”

Iraq’s problems are made worse by its tenuous relationships with countries on both sides of Syria’s war. Baghdad has grown close to Tehran since the fall of Saddam but is also cozying up to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Iraqi officials therefore have avoided publicly calling for Assad to go, angering Iraqis who sympathize with Syria’s rebels.

The Kurds are in a tight position and pose a particularly thorny problem for Iraq and Turkey. There is evidence that Assad has tried to whip up Kurdish anger within Turkey. Iraq can’t stay out of the way either: A Syrian Kurdish opposition figure in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, told Ha’aretz:

“We cannot depend on the fact that the Syrian National Council will be willing or able to ensure Kurdish rights in Syria after the fall of Assad…We will take care of ourselves just as the Kurds in Iraq took care of themselves when they decided to set up an autonomous region, which is independent of the Iraqi government” . . . .

The opposition figure confirmed that his forces were being provided with military and weapons training by the Peshmerga, northern Iraq’s Kurdish military force.

As the fighting continues in Syria, it will get messier and increasingly sectarian. That’s very bad news for the myriad communities along Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey.

Published on September 5, 2012 3:17 pm