FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Parallel Disintegrations

by PATRICK COCKBURN

The civil war in Syria is reigniting the sectarian civil war in Iraq. A vast area of eastern Syrian and  western Iraq is turning into a zone of war. Well-armed and well-organised al-Qa’ida-linked movements are launching attacks with  suicide bombers from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Tigris River. They may also be over-playing their hand and risk  provoking a counter-reaction by all those with a reason to fear al-Qa’ida and its fanatical  Sunni fundamentalism.

No doubt groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) are growing stronger by the day. Its advance in Syria has been well publicised and has done enough to frighten the US and its allies into doubting how far they want to see President Bashar al-Assad replaced by Sunni fanatics. Less well publicised is the tightening grip of Isis over great areas of western Iraq where it has not been a power since the confrontation with the Americans and the Sunni tribes six or seven years ago.

This is not a well-reported part of the world because of the growing dangers facing foreign and local journalists. Some 16 foreign  reporters have been kidnapped in northern Syria this year, so even the most intrepid are no longer going there. Syrian rebel  commanders who protected journalists can no longer defend themselves against Isis, the al-Nusra Front or or Ahrar al-Sham. Iraq, which once had hotels filled with foreign journalists, has long fallen off the media map.

Unsurprisingly, important developments such as the weakening government grip on Anbar – the vast Sunni province west of Baghdad centred on the towns and cities of  the Euphrates – have not been properly  reported. Al-Qa’ida is once again making ground attacks on cities like Fallujah from which they were driven by US Marines in 2004. The same is true of the city of Mosul in  northern Iraq, where Isis is reported to levy  protection money on everybody from the  local green grocer to satellite phone and  construction companies – bringing in monthly revenue of $8m.

This is happening because al-Qa’ida reinvigorated itself by its gains in Syria, and the Sunni community in Iraq – heavily defeated after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 – could see the regional balance of power changing in its favour.

Dysfunctional and crudely sectarian at the best of times, the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad has progressively alienated the Iraqi-Sunni by discrimination and repression. The result is that al-Qa’ida has gained popular support and has been able to launch a wave of bombings that has been killing up to 1,000 people, mostly Shia civilians, every month.

But the last time al-Qa’ida did this, in 2006, it provoked a savage sectarian counter-attack by the Shia, who make up 60 per cent of the Iraqi population. The outside world never really took on board that an outcome of the Iraqi civil war was that Baghdad moved from being a mixed Shia-Sunni city to one dominated  by the Shia with only a few Sunni enclaves left, mostly in the west of the capital. If al-Qa’ida’s bombings go on, these areas will be at risk  of further sectarian cleansing. There are  detailed reports, denied by the government in Baghdad, that the few remaining Sunni in and around Basra in southern Iraq are being killed or forced to flee.

In a different way in Syria, al-Qa’ida’s ferocity may make it formidable on the battlefield but it creates a counter-reaction among Sunni as well as Alwaites, Christians and the other minorities. Damascus is full of people who do not much  like Assad, but still think Isis or the al-Nusra Front are worse. Much the same thing  happened in Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad in 2006 when al-Qa’ida terrified people by  shooting barbers who gave un-Islamic haircuts or were rumoured to be chopping two  fingers off the right hand of people caught  smoking a cigarette. In the last few weeks there have been signs of the way in which Isis has weakened the loose coalition against Assad, by starting a war in north east Syria with the Kurds, about 10 per cent of the Syrian population.

A motive for the fighting is control of the oil wells that are concentrated in this area. Some 50,000 Kurdish refugees have already fled  but others have been forced to rely on the  disciplined fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party which has been fighting the Turkish  army for years.

The outcome of these struggles is likely to be a divided Iraq and a divided Syria. Where  there are Sunni minorities in Iraq they will be killed or forced to flee. This might well  include Baghdad. In the Sunni heartlands  al-Qa’ida will grow stronger, though in Syria the movement is vulnerable to a backlash. The  governments in Baghdad and Damascus will  be strengthened not because they are well  liked but because people dread the alternative to them.

Is there any way this bloodbath could be ended? The chances of the so-called Geneva 11 peace meeting getting off the ground do not look good with the deeply divided opposition leadership refusing to attend if Assad plays a role. But there is no reason for him to depart since he is militarily and politically stronger than a year ago.

Perhaps, the only way to exercise influence on al-Qa’ida and the 1,200 other rebel groups is to threaten them with closure of the  500-mile long Turkish border which they need to keep open if they are to continue to fight.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Government-Fuelled Conflict & the Need for Unity
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail