It’s not pretty when Mideast dominos fall

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Last week, the escalating conflict in the Middle East took yet another dramatic turn when al-Qaida militants seized control of two key cities in Iraq. 

Ramadi and Fallujah became known as ferocious hot spots of resistance during the United States’ nine-year occupation of Iraq.

It was in these two cities that Sunni Arab insurgents, still loyal to deposed president Saddam Hussein, had first begun their armed resistance against the American troops in 2003.

The following year, Fallujah was the site of numerous American military offensives to drive out al-Qaida militants and their Sunni tribal allies.

Unable to completely extinguish the fierce resistance, the U.S. switched tactics during its 2007 troop surge.

In order to divide and conquer, the U.S. negotiated a deal with non-al-Qaida Sunni militants, which allowed them greater autonomy in exchange for expelling the al-Qaida operatives from their midst.

Since the U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011, the Sunni minority have felt increasingly marginalized by the Shiite majority government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

No doubt fuelled and inspired by the Sunni majority’s uprising against the Shiite Alawite minority government of Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria, al-Qaida militants have been welcomed back into their Iraqi stronghold.

For the moment, the U.S. government has promised to back the Iraqi government troops to help restore authority in Ramadi and Fallujah, but this will not include the direct use of American combat forces.

The U.S. has instead promised to furnish the Iraqis with missiles and rockets, but it could take weeks before these are delivered.

In the meantime, in a strange twist of conflict creating unlikely bedfellows, Iran has also promised to assist Maliki’s Iraqi forces to dispel the al-Qaida threat. For those who are trying to follow the bouncing ball, it admittedly has gotten a bit tricky.

To recap: In February 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq to topple the Sunni Arab, secular government of Hussein. After nine years of violent occupation and sectarian violence, the U.S. left Iraq under the shaky control of Maliki’s democratically elected Shiite majority.

By the time the American troops left Iraq, armed rebellion in neighbouring Syria had been raging for nine months. In this instance, the balance was reversed, as the Sunni majority was attempting to overthrow the Alawite Shiite minority.

Heavily demonized initially by the U.S., Canada and other Western governments, embattled Syrian President Assad has been able to cling to power with the help of his allies — Russia, Iran, and a strange mix of volunteer fighters that include Chaldean Christians, Armenians and Hezbollah mujahedeen.

It has now become clear that the most effective fighting force battling to oust Assad is the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front. This group is, of course, completely simpatico with the al-Qaida gang that captured Ramadi and Fallujah last week.

Assad in Syria and Maliki in Iraq have strong ties to Iran, and both are battling to contain al-Qaida-led Sunni militants. Iran supports Hezbollah Palestinians fighting for Assad and, of course, Hezbollah is a major threat to Israel.

On the flip side, a Syria controlled by al-Qaida would be an even worse case scenario for Israel. Likewise, increased Iranian influence and military presence in Iraq could never have been part of George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion plan. However, the alternative is to either redeploy American troops to the region or allow al-Qaida influence to grow unchecked.

To make matters even more complicated, Sunni-versus-Shiite violence erupted last December in Lebanon with a series of deadly car bombings.

Not to be forgotten is the northern Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq. Fully supported by Iraqi Kurds, Syrian Kurdish rebels are openly fighting against Assad with the objective of creating a greater Kurdistan, which could, in turn, reignite the Kurdish separatist insurrection in eastern Turkey.

Despite U.S. media attempts to spin these conflagrations into isolated incidents, it must be remembered that the lid on this Pandora’s box was ripped off by Bush’s false pretext that Iraq possessed non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.