Way back in February I expanded on a report in the Christian Science Monitor that suggested al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had set up shop against the Assad regime, in Syria. Writing both here, and for the Foreign Policy Association, I joined the chorus of analysts, academics, and pundits who urged caution against arming Syrian rebels — precisely because it’s unthinkable to equip battle-hardened veterans of an Iraqi insurgency who cut their teeth fighting American servicemen in the street of Fallujah, Tikrit, et al.
These initial warnings surfaced around the time al Qaeda’s de facto leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, urged Levatine Islamists of all shapes and sizes to take the fight to Damascus. In essence, he was appealing to members of the most-radicalized membership of the Ikhwan movement and violent Salafists, many of whom live on the eastern side of the shared, 600 mile border between Syria and Iraq.
Needless to say, rank-and-file types serving in such organizations as AQI, the United Jihad Factions, Jaish al-Rashidun, and the Islamic Army in Iraq weren’t necessarily produced by a monolithic, indigenous militant Islamist movement in Iraq. They came from other countries. Many of them came from Syria. And now they’ve returned home.
This latter statement was confirmed by Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, on Thursday. AP reports suggested leadership in Baghdad feared an extremist toehold in Syria — Zebari elaborated cautiously, but did state his main concern is “extremist, terrorist groups taking root in neighboring countries.”
An understandable concern, given the current state of Iraq — a country so fragile, it exists in a perpetual state of simmering self-implosion. A famous German proverb states that a long war leaves a country with three armies — an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves. While the latter force occupies the parliament in Baghdad, one might argue a fourth army manifested itself in the Iraq war, and it’s now pitched camp in Syria.
Lest we make the same mistakes again… let us recognize the latest confirmation of collateral damage wrought by war in Iraq — when first we beheaded (if not quite literally) our unlikely Iranian counterbalance and ally in the war on radical Islam, Mssr. Saddam Hussein. The Butcher of Baghdad was a vile despot. His tyranny represented the petty archaism of socialist Pan-Arabism, and his iron fist throttled the lifeblood of his countrymen. But coalition war on Iraqi Arabs cultivated popular protest — the sort of social upheaval that resulted in the ouster of two of America’s most unpopular proxies, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Of course this was before the NATO bombing campaign over Libya created a migration crisis that ultimately destabilized Mali.
Before the next Turkish plane gets shot down, I’d expect Ankara to demand a contingency plan from fellow NATO members. Well, it’s time to “just say no,” and tone down our insatiable instinct to intervene.
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