La crisi irachena e le sue conseguenze in Siria

Pubblichiamo qui di seguito una breve analisi scritta da Focus on Syria sulla crisi irachena e le conseguenze per le regioni siriane. L’articolo è apparso in italiano e inglese. 

La presenza dello Stato islamico tra Iraq e Siria

(F.D., Focus on SyriaIraq is on the verge of disintegration. A coalition of Islamic militias and Sunni leaders – spearheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an ultra-radical Jihadist militia – has conquered in June 2014 a series of cities in the north and west of Iraq, during a lightning advance that surprised the whole region. Mosul, the second city of the country with around one and a half million people, fell into Jihadist hands on June 10th.

Tikrit, a regional capital and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, was conquered the following day. Around half a million people have fled their homes and taken refuge in Baghdad or in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, the safest area of the country. The rebels now control almost three governorates and threaten to attack Baghdad. The Iraqi army has collapsed and tens of thousands of soldiers have deserted. In order to organise the defence of the capital, the central government has been forced to launch the recruitment of civilian volunteers and allow the reorganisation of Shia militias.

We are facing a new, terrible crisis. Nobody had predicted its importance and gravity. The situation in the field is constantly changing and there are new developments every day. If the rebels consolidate their control over most of the Sunni areas of Iraq, we will assist to a de facto partition of the country and the ignition of a new civil war on confessional grounds. Without analysing the details of the situation in Iraq and its possible developments in the future, we would like to ask since the beginning a crucial question: what will be the consequences for Syria?

The two crises are closely intertwined for different reasons. First of all, ISIL controls vast stretches of land both in Syria and in Iraq and aims at erasing the current borders and establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Sunni-majority areas of both countries. On the other side, the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria and the government of Nouri al Maliki in Iraq are close allies and are both part of the Iranian sphere of influence. Thousands of Iraqi Shia fighters have fought in Syria during the last two years to defend the Syrian regime. Finally, the efforts of the Kurdish minority for the establishment of an autonomous region in Syria replicate the experience of their Kurdish cousins in Iraqi Kurdistan during the last twenty years.

The new crisis in Iraq will undoubtedly have an influence on the military balance in Syria. For instance, many sources have reported in recent weeks of a decrease in clashes between ISIL and the Kurdish fighters of YPG. Probably ISIL has moved part of its troops from Syria to Iraq to strengthen the current offensive. The Islamic Front, the Free Syrian Army and other Syrian opposition groups could take the occasion to recover some territory from ISIL, particularly in the east of Aleppo governorate. On the other hand, ISIL has seized big quantities of cash, weapons and vehicles during its latest conquests. In the coming weeks, if the military situation in Iraq reached a standstill, ISIL could send part of its troops back to Syria and renew its fight with increased firepower. In this case the Syrian opposition could find itself in a very hard situation.

Secondly, part of the pro-regime Iraqi fighters is already travelling back to Iraq to participate in the defence of Baghdad. This movement will not weaken a lot the Syrian regime, but it could limit its capacity of conquering and holding new territory in the coming period. Furthermore, if the US and other international powers decided to intervene, directly or indirectly, to thwart the military expansion of ISIL, they could decide to act both in Iraq and in Syria. Apart from targeted bombings against Jihadi positions, this intervention could include an increased level of support for the armed groups that are fighting against ISIL, and in particular the mainstream opposition groups and the YPG.

We should also take into consideration that the Syrian regime – even though it declares itself as the only bastion against Islamic terrorism in Syria – has often avoided to fight against ISIL and bomb its positions, preferring instead to concentrate its forces against the mainstream opposition groups. The regime’s political calculus is clear: it aims at crushing the moderate opposition, in order to be left alone face to face against ISIL. At this point it would obtain the recalcitrant support of all the international community. Unfortunately, thanks to this strategy, ISIL and other radical groups have had a golden opportunity to grow and become stronger in Syria during the last two years.

In the mid-term though, the new crisis in Iraq could have a negative impact on the Syrian regime’s position. First of all, it is seriously weakening one of its few allies in the region. Second, it shows clearly the enormous potential of destabilisation of the Syrian conflict and it should push the whole international community to find quick solutions to solve the crisis both in Iraq and in Syria. Third, the revolt against Al Maliki’s government is again the proof that a discriminatory and authoritarian government cannot maintain an oppressed population under control, even with the use of force. If the Iraqi government – which has been enjoying for years the support of both Iran and the US – has not been able to control its country, even more so the Syrian regime will not be able to stabilise Syria, even in case of a military victory. There will not be peace in Syria without a political solution and a real compromise that is acceptable for all its confessional groups and for the regime supporters as well as for its opponents. (Focus on Syria).