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Iraq and Syria: One country, one war

Current events in Iraq are an indispensable part of developments in Syria and their borders are now worn-out old lines

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

A year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama tried to justify why his country dealt with the Iraqi and Syrian crises differently after sending drones, consultants and arms to Iraq and just humanitarian aid- such as like blankets and medicine - to Syria. He said his administration was committed to Iraq’s security because the country represents a strategic value to the U.S. and that dealing with Syria will remain limited to political and humanitarian levels as there were no plans for America to become further involved.

Most governments speak about an Iraq and a Syria; however this divide is merely based on old maps and it’s no longer tangible on the ground. There are no borders, border guards, passports and armies separating Iraq and Syria from each other. Many checkpoints have merely become stops to fund ISIS militants and other fighters crossing into and out of Anbar province. War and terrorism have united both countries. And so, ISIS proves to be accurate in calling itself the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”


Double trouble

Back when Iraq and Syria’s borders first ceased to exist, I wrote how one would fail to understand the depth of the crisis if viewed according to traditional rules, incorporating border markers, flags, countries and religions. But the picture is now clearer. Current events in Iraq are an indispensable part of developments in Syria and their borders are now worn-out old lines jotted on paper in foreign affairs ministries. We are currently witnessing a crisis that unites the two countries all the way from Syria’s Bab al-Hawa border crossing, north of Turkey, to Saudi Arabia’s Arar crossing, south of Iraq, where there’s the Jordanian post of Trebil. ISIS militants are situated in the surroundings of the Syrian capital, Damascus, just like they are situated in the surroundings of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Current events in Iraq are an indispensable part of developments in Syria and their borders are now worn-out old lines

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

If concerned countries want to confront this double trouble and stop ISIS’s expansion, it must deal with Iraq and Syria as one country because success and failure is interconnected. It’s no longer proper that the world, and particularly the United States, categorizes Iraq as an oil-rich country with strategic importance while categorizing Syria as a mere radish farm! We are before a Siamese twin and the war has become almost one.

This double trouble means that the idea of depending on the weak government of Baghdad will not achieve much. It also means that supporting Shiite militias in Iraq through supporting Popular Mobilization forces will deepen wounds and increase collective Sunni mobilization against the Iraqi government as well increase hostility against the U.S. In the end, such a policy will really make ISIS a state that represents the majority of Sunnis in the two countries!

The remaining reasonable option, after the failure of the alternatives, is to support oppositional Sunni forces in Syria and oppositional Sunni tribes in Iraq to help them fight the Sunni ISIS and to stop using the Popular Mobilization forces and its Shiite militias in Iraq - as long as they are maneuvered by the Iranians because they serve the aims of the ISIS. It’s also a must to correct the ongoing tragedy for the people. Syrian Sunnis, who make up around 80% of the population, cannot remain silent towards Assad’s regime after his forces killed more than a quarter of a million of their people. Iran and its ally, Assad, will not begin to accept a political solution that leads to healing the Sunni majority, unless an aerial plan is developed to confront and prevent the Syrian regime’s daily murders. Assad’s air force is currently allowed to fly and drop barrel bombs on civilians as it resumes its ethnic cleansing operation. Meanwhile the Syrian opposition is prohibited from attaining advanced weapons that can help them defend their areas against Assad’s air force. To rub salt in the wound, the international community refuses to impose a no-fly zone that puts an end to this tragedy.

Without comprehending and resolving this tragic situation, ISIS will expand and find itself more fighter supporters – more than the current 100,000 militants fighting alongside it in Iraq and Syria.


This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 14, 2015.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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