Thatcher on Thursday: Syria Spills and Spreads

“It is not a question of if – it’s a question of when. We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders and that means he has already taken the decision himself.”

Those words were spoken by Col Tim Collins in 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. He was speaking at that point in his speech of Saddam Hussein’s authorisation of his generals to use the Weapons of Mass Destruction, those of the dodgy dossier fame. (The rest of the inspirational speech can be found, spoken with appropriate gravitas by Kenneth Brannagh here).

Those words are as relevant now in Syria as they were then in Iraq. GW Bush and the US wanted regime change then in Iraq as much as Obama and the current US administration want regime change in Syria today. We know this, because not only have the Western governments discussed arming the Rebels, but also providing military intervention against Assad’s Government troops. Also, note how Al Qaeda, who play a big role in fighting Assad’s Regime, are referred to not as terrorists or insurgents, but “rebels”.

Oh, and there’s also this little alleged matter of Saudi Arabia, being allegedly backed by the US, allegedly offering Russia optimal oil prices in Europe in return for the fall of the Assad Regime. Amongst other things…

Enough has been written about Syria of late – such as whether we intervene or not; if Britain should have waited for the UN investigation before going to Parliament and so on, it is therefore not my intention to go over old ground. (My personal view is that any military intervention should be an Arab state led sustained strike. Not only do we lack the necessary requirements to have intervened effectively in Syria, it would open an extremist can of worms on Western soil. However, I compliment the PM, or more specifically the Generals behind him, who made such bold and aggressive statements. I believe that they struck while the iron was hot and that itself would have resonated across Syria. Well, for a day or so until Parliament rejected the idea, and substantially weakened the British bold move. But that’s politics and the politics of war for you.)

The current situation regarding Syrian refugees is shown here.

Syrian Refugees Locations

It illustrates quite clearly where people are fleeing to. With Jordan and Turkey, taking in half of the estimated refugees it still leaves nearly 1 million refugees ending up in countries which have high potential for further crisis.

In Lebanon, the Syrian refugees, amounting to 1/7th of the entire population of Lebanon, is placing a great strain on the country. That, coupled with tensions already seen within a year of the start of Syria’s civil war, with clashes between Sunni Muslims and Shia Alawites in Tripoli and Beirut which raised fears that the conflict was beginning to spill over the border and that Lebanon’s already fragile political truce could result in collapse into sectarian violence, means Lebanon is not looking too healthy.

Egypt, with an influx of over 100,000 Syrian refugees, again needs no further discussion here about the current political instability having been extensively covered in recent news reports.

What is more concerning is the arrival of in excess of 150,000 refugees landing in Iraq.

Iraq’s August death toll was slightly lower than July’s, the deadliest month in Iraq since 2007. According to reports up to 1,057 Iraqis were killed and reports of 2,326 people being wounded in terror attacks and other violence in July. It coincided with Ramadan, and the increased social activity around this time allows terrorists, namely Al Qaeda, to plan for maximum destruction of life at this time. Additionally, some argue that Al Qaeda affiliates waging jihad believe that their violence accrues more spiritual benefits during Ramadan than over other times of the year.

Remind me not to die a virgin.

Apart from Al Qaeda, other religious and political groups are being linked to this rise in violence, but it’s Al Qaeda I’m focussing on. This is because it is them who would benefit from Western intervention against Assad’s government, but it also them who are fighting against the legitimate government in Iraq (amongst other countries, of course, but not as geographically, ethnically and politically close as in the Syria/Iraq case)

The spike in terrorist activity in Iraq is not just linked to Ramadan. The outgoing
U.N. envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, warned in July that the violence in Iraq can no longer be separated from the civil war in Syria because “the battlefields are merging.”

Kobler informed the U.N. Security Council that “Iraqi armed groups have an increasingly active presence in Syria.(… ) As a result, the Syrian conflict isn’t just spilling over into Iraq. (…) “Instead, the conflict has spread to Iraq, as Iraqis are reportedly taking arms against each other in Syria, and in Iraq. (…the violence) could easily spiral out of control if not urgently addressed.”

So what is the Iraqi Government doing?

Apart from restricting reporting on the suicide bombers and increasing the number of intelligence officers at checkpoints, nothing. They are being shown to be weak and impotent in the face of this (possible) impending civil war.

In the meantime, thousands continue to pour over the border from Syria to seek sanctuary or to join another group to wage war somewhere else.

Shall we talk about Western intervention here too? Or do the benefits of keeping a region in constant upheaval and turmoil outweigh the benefits of peace. I’m beginning to think someone thinks so.

The Arab Spring put a spring in the step of the Islamic extremists, and the whole region is going to hell in a handcart. Now the Spring has been wound so tight something is going to give in a very bad way.

What should be done? What can be done? Is it too late? What would George do?

One comment on “Thatcher on Thursday: Syria Spills and Spreads

  1. Ballomar
    September 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I agree. You are somewhere in the ball park. What a big park, though.

    I am currently thinking any intervention should be based on what we don’t want, rather than what we do want:

    – we don’t want the war to spill into Lebanon any more than it has.
    – we don’t want the war to spill into Turkey – this would certainly encourage Turkish troops to start action across the border
    – we don’t want Jordan to be destabilised.
    – we don’t really want Israel to have to send troops into Syria.
    – we don’t want Iran to send combat troops to Syria (and therefore making large parts of Iraq its own protectorate)

    Can an intervention be designed to achieve any or all of these?

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