Iraq’s Anbar uprising and the Syria nexus

Hazem al-Amin
Hazem al-Amin
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The signal of the Iraqi activists’ move to avoid lifting the flag of the Syrian revolution during Anbar protests in order to prevent connecting what is happening in Iraq’s western, central and northern provinces to what is happening in Syria indicates the presence of this relation although there is a concern to rule it out.

The revolution in Syria gave the starting signal for the citizens in the Iraqi province of Anbar to act. It gave them the feeling that they will be related to the post-Assad Syria more than to Bagdad, which they see as like a capital of another country different from that which the people in Anbar aspire.

The situation is that the relation between the revolution in Syria and Iraq, both the ruling party and the revolting one, is linked to more than one channel. The two countries share more than a 600 kilometer border which has always been used to feed crises and which horizons were drawn by the two countries’ governments during and after the eras of the “Baath” party. The borders separated the relations and societies of two very bloody regimes. The borders, however, also kept many ties among those gathered at them and they were used to feed crises. With a little exaggeration and courage, one can say that borders between Iraq and Syria are Sunni in two countries where one’s government is Shiite and the other’s government is Alawite.

This “mistake” seems fatal on the map. Revolutions which are an innate and unconscious reaction will fall in the trap aiming to correct the maps. The feelings leak through the borders and instead of receiving the starting signal for their revolution from the East, that is Baghdad, Anbar citizens get it from Syria’s Deir az-Zour and Hasaka. As clans in Anbar send their fighters to stand by their beloved ones against the regime forces in the Syrian island, all the way to Aleppo, the “Anbar rebels” adapt in their protests with the rebels of Syrian cities at a time when modern communication means, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, helps clans along both sides of the border communicate, cancels what modern countries’ borders have severed regarding ties and restores wefts to the clan, its sheikh and its values.

Yes. There is a solid relationship between the revolution in Syria and uprising in Anbar even if the pragmatic aspect of this relation is limited to the citizens of Anbar receiving their cousins as refugees from Syria and sending their fighters to join the forces of the Syrian opposition. The emotional non-pragmatic aspect in this relation seems more important because it is linked to some sort of ambitions that stand behind the Syrian revolution (on the Eastern front) and the uprising in Anbar.

The government in Baghdad, and the new Iraq, was not late in joining the train of failed countries and which roamed the entire region. It is a government representing one category of the Iraqis. No matter how much its officials argue, this is what citizens in Anbar and other Sunni provinces feel. The revolution in Syria opened for the people of the western desert a “Sunni” horizon instead of the “Shiite” one from Baghdad. We say horizon and not ambition because we have not yet moved to the dimension of separatist attempts although Sunni federalism in Iraq, if crystallized, is not void of aspirations to join a non-Iraqi depth amid the Iranian influence build-up in Shiite provinces and the Iranian tyrant on lifestyles and practices.

What is strange is that there is a big difference between the protesters’ demands, which are not hard, and the real aspirations that drove citizens in Anbar to go out in protests and block the international road between Iraq and Syria and Jordan. The most prominent of these demands is releasing female prisoners and cancelling the emergency law. The aspiration is to join the revolutions of the majority in the region. However, the Iraqi government’s move not to respond to the humble demands reflects an incapability of another kind. We are not confronting a national crisis here but a regional struggle in which the government in Baghdad sees itself as part of a regional alliance targeted with an archipelago of revolutions. As a response to the demands of the protesters, the government closes the borders with Jordan in order to practice authority on the Anbar clans while residents in Anbar block the road to the border with Syria in order to stop Iranian supplies from reaching the regime.

This equation, even if fragmented, summarizes a deal of ongoing border trades between the two countries (Syria and Iraq.) These trades have always been made based on worries that trespass the interests of the residents. Their task in the past decade was the Syrian regime sending “Arab jihadis” to Anbar. Today, these returned to Syria. But it seems that this issue (fighters returning) is marginal when compared with what the “winds of change” carry regarding change of feelings. The “leaders of Iraqi Resistance Factions” who reside in Syria since the era of “Jihad” have found themselves alone after the transformation of feelings of Anbar regarding the regime in Syria. The Syrian regime, inattentively from the “Resistance in Iraq”, has become, for Anbar citizens, a murderer after it was a supporter of resistance. Many have quietly left Damascus and moved to live in Beirut, Cairo and Sana’a. Although they feel that the Anbar uprising is a continuity of what they began, they suffer from the bitterness of their silent defection from Damascus. In their incipient speeches, they mix Bashar al-Assad’s loyalty to the “Iraqi Resistance” with the regime’s crimes which they think he is innocent of and hope that the Syrian revolution wins and keeps Assad as president.

It is clear that there is a new wind now which is stronger than fragile maps whose lines do not separate among countries and which countries drawn on its pages have not piled up experiences that produced nations. “It is hard for the Sunni Iraqi Resistance [fighters] to stay in Damascus where the regime is killing Sunni Syrians.” This is what an Iraqi politician who lived in Syria said. And this is what Khaled Meshaal, Hamas chief, did not say when he left Damascus.

This article first appeared in al-Hayat on Feb. 3, 2013.

Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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