Iraq Helping to Shape Syria or Syria Helping to Shape Iraq?

Iraqi Kurd’s stand guard near the Syrian Border (Credit: MSNBC News)

Much has been made of the regional affect of the Syrian conflict, it spilling over into Lebanon, the threat of chemical weapons on Israel and the influence of Iraqi elements in Syria.  As far back as February 2012, US counter terrorism experts confirmed publically that Al Qaeda affiliated elements had infiltrated the unrest, though this was occurring probably as far back as the summer of 2011. By March, at a number of varying radical Islamic groups had become established, many of them claiming links to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) probably though Syrian members who had been fighting in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq style tactics then began to be increasingly seen by rebel forces in Syria against Assad’s army to great effect, including suicide car bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Iraq had come to Syria.

But little has been reported about the influence of Syria in Iraq. At least 15,000 refugees have fled Syria into Iraq (as of 23 Aug 2012), at various points artillery rounds have been fired into Iraq, at least twice a Syrian fighter jet has strayed into Iraqi territory and the issue of arms smuggling from Central and Southern Iraq is becoming an increasing problem to name a few incidents.

More significantly has been the fallout between from the Kurds gaining strength in Syria. In late July the Iraqi Army attempted to move into the fringes of sensitive semi autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq near the border with Syria at Al Qaim, presumably to limit Iraqi Kurdish involvement in Syria as Baghdad does not want to see a united Kurdistan. This resulted in a tense stand off between the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces that lasted for nearly a week. The situation was only resolved after negotiations that included American help.

Then a week later, also being worried about the Kurdish ‘issue’ in Syria was Turkey quickly sent its Foreign Minister for a surprise visit to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, to gain assurances that Iraqi Kurds would not help their counterparts in Syria. This in turn created major friction between the governments of Iraq and Turkey, with Baghdad summoning Turkey’s envoy in Baghdad to receive a formal protest over the matter (Baghdad does not like people doing things in the semi autonomous region without it knowledge as it worried it would loose grip on the oil rich region). So you see, Iraq should not get all the bad press when it comes to the Syrian situation.

J Robinsons – Twitter: @jprobinsons

This post first appeared on “The Old UAR” a political blog that focuses on events in the Middle East that is run by Jonathan Bertman. 

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