By re-focusing on Syria, Washington could find Iraq’s remedy

What should Washington do in Iraq? John Kerry is touring the region to figure that out

Abdulaziz Tarabzoni

Published: Updated:

What should Washington do in Iraq? Secretary of State John Kerry is touring the region to figure that out. In Jeddah, he is expected to discuss the situation with the Saudi leadership. He will probably face the same response that General David Petraeus got from King Abdullah in 2008 when discussing Iraq: “cut off the head of the snake.” As time passes and death tolls rise, Iran continues to be at the heart of the issue.

Videos by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria suggest that its motives are based on countering Iranian-sponsored militias that have taken over Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and which have re-introduced sectarianism to the region.

A call by Liwa Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, an Iraqi militia backed by Iran’s Quds Force, to protect the Sayyeda Zainab shrine in Damascus has mobilized dozens of other Iranian-sponsored militias, most notably Hezbollah. This call has led to bloody confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites, and paved the way for Al-Qaeda and ISIS to divert attention from the primary goal of the Syrian people: toppling the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Washington’s delayed response in Syria partially allowed this, but what can the United States do now? Washington should not do anything in Iraq. Instead it should re-focus on Syria, for Iraq is not at the heart of the issue, but rather a symptom of the Syrian crisis, one that could be replicated in other neighboring countries.

Re-focusing on Syria

Re-focusing on Syria means supporting the moderate opposition. The Free Syrian Army has been confronting ISIS and Al-Qaeda long before anyone else. When the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa was immune to Assad’s strikes, the moderate opposition led a fierce campaign against the group, both militarily and politically.

The FSA has the combat techniques to fight extremist sectarian militias, and has succeeded when supported by arms. In some locations, the FSA has had to face two fronts at once: Iranian-sponsored militias on the one hand, and ISIS on the other.

Kerry knows the game Assad is playing. “Assad himself is a magnet for terrorists,” said the secretary of state. “He’s the principal magnet of the region for attracting foreign fighters to Syria.” Kerry should know that the other Iranian-backed regime in Iraq is no different.

For Washington to intervene positively, it should focus on the cause of the issue - which is Syria - by supporting the moderate opposition and limiting Iranian-sponsored militias from promoting sectarianism to keep Assad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in power.

Kerry’s visit to Saudi Arabia is timely. Joint efforts between Washington and Riyadh to support moderate rebels in Syria would allow the Syrian people to topple Assad and fight terrorism. More importantly, it puts an end to the destructive agenda of Iran’s allies that allowed terrorism to take over Syria and Iraq to convince the international community that they are the better option.

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