An ISIS spillover into Jordan? Wikistrat Report

This week, Daesh released a video in which the Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh was burned to death. The images have triggered retaliation by Jordan, including execution of some prisoners and strikes on Daesh targets.

A few weeks ago, Wikistrat conducted a two-day crowdsourced simulation in which its more than 45 analysts (including me) were asked to identify the ways in which the Islamic State could seek to penetrate Jordan.

An-ISIS-Spillover-Into-Jordan-Final-Report

Conquests by ISIS have put the country of Jordan at risk. The group has proclaimed a caliphate that aspires to consolidate political and religious control over the entire region. An attempt by Sunni Islamist militants to infiltrate Jordan would pose a significant challenge to the embattled kingdom. But there are opportunities for the country as well.

Jordan already finds itself under great pressure, hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees — some affiliated with the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups. Originating from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, the country’s diverse population makes it vulnerable to the influence of radical forces. A serious infiltration by ISIS into Jordan would not only pose a threat to the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom but could also drag Israel and the United States into the conflict.

The result of our simulation is this summary report, which highlights four paths the Islamist organization could take to infiltrate Jordan. While none of the scenarios seem promising for the Islamic State, Jordan is under significant pressure from unprecedented numbers of refugees, chaotic civil wars on two borders, turbulent politics and an overall weak economy. Any major misstep could provide the Islamic State with an opening that is not readily apparent. At the same time, recent events may present Jordan with opportunities to improve its security as well.

If you wish to continue reading, the whole report can be accessed here.

Book Review – Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East… and Talking to Terrorists….

I published this book review in 2013 in the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF). Both books are relevant to understand and clarify concepts and processes related to radicalization, extremism, and terrorism. I suggest the lecture of both for those interested in these processes in the wake of the Paris attacks.

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George Joffé, ed., Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East: Reassessing the Causes of Terrorism , London and New York: IB Tauris, 2013.

Anne Speckhard, Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers and “Martyrs” , McLean: Advances Press, 2012.

Why and under what circumstances do individuals, groups or larger parts of societies radicalise? What are the drivers of extremism? Why do some individuals and groups engage in terrorism? Are today’s radicals tomorrow’s terrorists? The two volumes addressed here provide important insights in answer to these questions. Although they have rather different approaches, both share features that make them remarkable within current debates about radicalisation, extremism and terrorism, i.e. (1) a clear understanding of the differences among concepts and how to approach them; (2) a non-deterministic vision of the origins and nature of radicalism that rejects generalisations; and (3) an analysis of radicalisation(s), extremism(s), and terrorism(s) as context-bound processes that are both multiple and diverse, and that rely on a series of interactions of internal and external drivers.

The whole text can be accessed in the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF).

Iraq, again

Barack Obama announced on September 10th the new US counter-terrorism strategy against the Islamic State (IS, ISIS or ISIL), the Sunni radical group that has gained territorial strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

As Talking Points Memo put it, he is the fourth consecutive American president to deliver a prime time speech to the nation about Iraq. All of them, to announce military actions.

The strategy to degrade and “ultimately, defeat” ISIS involves a few critical elements. First, a dramatic expansion of the bombing campaign in northern Iraq to the rest of the country and Syria. Second, the provision of support, training and weapons to local allies (mainly the Iraqi Army, Kurdish troops and selected Syrian rebels). Third, the creation of an international coalition against ISIS to provide legitimacy to the effort. And all this, while avoiding direct US military engagement (no boots on the ground) and alliances with Iran and Syria.

The current US Administration has undergone a rapid evolution in strategic thinking about ISIS, driven by their territorial gains including control of Fallujah and Mosul, and the establishment of a Caliphate on June 29. Violence against civilians and the beheading of American journalists (massively propagated through social media) may have added urgency.

This video by Vox explains ISIS “in Obama’s own words: from a joke to war in 9 months.”

 

This is the territory controlled by –or with substantial presence of- the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by September 10th, according to the Institute for the Study of War:

The discourse might have been carefully calibrated but contradictions emerge as a result.

Spencer Ackerman, of The Guardian, has done an amazing work in his annotated version of the speech. Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan and author of the blog Informed Comment, attributes discourse variation to internal politics: “He went back and forth between trying to reassure the left wing of the Democratic Party that he had not suddenly been possessed by the ghost of Dick Cheney and assuring the skittish American people that he was going to make mincemeat of the terrorist American beheaders.”

But there is more involved than the rhetoric. The references to Yemen and Somalia as successful examples of the kind of campaign coming out are legitimate causes of concern. The use of drones to carry on targeted killings of group leaders “has not defeated Al Qaeda but strengthened it”, says Rosa Meneses in El Mundo.

Absent again is a comprehensive political strategy. Phyllis Bennis suggested this week six steps short of war to address the problem posed by IS. The pre-condition is attention to the political and social factors that enabled the rise of this movement, particularly the fate of the Iraqi Sunnis after the 2003 invasion and the subsequent political turmoil and sectarian violence.

Mariano Aguirre, director of NOREF, stated in El País that a pact among Iraqi actors for decentralization and protection of minorities, negotiated with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US, is as important as difficult to achieve.

This points to another deep problem: the allies. John Kerry has already visited Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in his effort to build support for a coordinated campaign.

Saudi Arabia has allowed the training of Syrian rebel forces opposed to ISIS in its territory. But apart from the democracy and human rights record, this country has had a prominent role in funding jihadist groups for years, if not decades. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in 2009 in a cable released by Wikileaks that “While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

Last March, a resolution of the European Parliament called this country to improve control over funding of radical militant groups abroad (including Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, among others) and reclaimed a halt to any financial, military and political support of extremist groups in Syria.

This is hard language for a strategic ally.

Of course, we could also mention Egypt, or Bahrain.

Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of The Independent and author of The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, points to a non-existent American institutional or national semantic memory when it comes to this region. Remember Lebanon 1983? Remember Gaddafi? “All these forces of evil being vanquished over and over again, and then – bingo – there’s another force of evil to vanquish.” Or, in his words, confronting the greatest crisis in the Middle East since the last greatest crisis in the Middle East.

Will we ever see a US President announcing a truly different strategy?

This is the whole video in case you missed it.

When the Unthinkable Becomes Possible

The deal between Iran and the P5+1 group (the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) would have been unthinkable a few months ago but is a reality now. It is just an interim agreement which may provoke international and domestic opposition (both in the US and Iran), but it is undoubtedly an important first step, not only to deal with the nuclear issue but also to more general normalization. 

This is probably the first positive development in a decade-long crisis that erupted with the revelation of Iran nuclear facilities in 2002. But its importance goes beyond, since it may also be the first approximation to what could be a normalization in relations.

In short, Iran agrees to certain limitations of its nuclear programme while the P5+1 removes certain economic sanctions. During six months, the parties agree to:

Iran

  • Uranium enrichment above 5% halted.
  • Stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to be diluted or converted to a form not suitable for further enrichment (oxide, for fuel fabrication).
  • Stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium to remain untouched (not increased) at the end of six months
  • No more centrifuges installed, centrifuge production just for replacement, and IAEA access to places where they are assembled.
  • No further construction or experimental work at the Arak reactor, and no new locations for enrichment (halting plans for new ten sites).
  • Daily monitoring of enrichment, and more access to uranium mines.

P5+1

  • No new nuclear-related economic sanctions, particularly for oil.
  • Relief of sanctions on Iran exports of gold, some metals, auto sector and petrochemical sectors.
  • Part of $4.2bn frizzed assets from Iran oil sales allowed to be transferred.
  • Part of $400m frizzed Iranian funds allowed to be transferred for educational purposes.
  • More flexibility for non-sanctioned trade with Europe.

The whole amount of Iran assets now available is around $7 billion, according to some analysts. A Joint Commission is also established to monitor implementation and address issues that may arise.

The next phase of negotiations is scheduled in six months (provided that both parts adhere and comply) and expected to seek a more permanent and comprehensive agreement. What the concrete points in the table will be is unknown, but an ambitious attempt would seek to remove all sanctions on Iran in exchange of this country accepting further supervision of nuclear activities that in fact prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

A few topics to be addressed in the final agreement have been laid out in the pact, as well as the goal of reaching it within a year. These elements include:

  • Comprehensive relief for sanctions (multilateral, national and those of the Security Council).
  • Limits established for a fixed term, after which Iran civilian program will be treated such as that of any other country party of the Non Proliferation Treaty.
  • A limited (but continued) enrichment program.
  • Resolve concerns over the Arak reactor.
  • Enhanced monitoring.
  • A step by step approach, and the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

Back to the current situation, progress can be hampered by a great deal of problems. The obvious first case: any of the parts fail to comply. Iran could still try to restrict IAEA supervision. The US Congress could refuse to lift sanctions (in this case, however, it is worth remembering that many sanctions were imposed by Presidential Decree and the president can cancel them without Congress approval. And of course, the European Union can (and should) act independently).

Hardliners, both in Iran and in the US, may attempt to boycott any development, or be ready to take advantage of any problem to derail the whole process.

Any international diplomatic effort involves a degree of intangible –but key- issues. One of them is trust. A long problematic relationship such as the US-Iran one creates distrust and suspicion, issues that are difficult to overcome.

The main advantage of this deal is that it relies on a series of specific, measurable and verifiable actions by each part, leaving less space for those matters to play a role. In this sense, the agreement is ground-breaking in that it has created a concrete agenda for cooperative action.

In this regard, former Iranian president Rafsanjani has argued in an interview with the Financial Times that a comprehensive deal will be easier after the taboo (of talking to each other) has been broken. While the interim deal required “breaking the ice, the second stage will be more routine. Part of it was because talking to the US was a taboo. That taboo could not be easily broken.”

The reactions, and what they mean

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been the harshest critics of the agreement (although there are more, of course). Israel has called it a ‘historical mistake’ while Saudi Arabia had repeatedly threatened before with developing its own nuclear programme in case a nuclear Iran was tolerated.

What both countries have in common is that they have been the closest US allies in the region for decades. Both have been dependent on the US for matters of national security (including at times direct military involvement). And the US has intervened in whatever problem in the region in order to protect them.

Instances of US support for Israel are widely known. But the same plays for Saudi Arabia. Only US protection provided this kingdom with the kind of security needed to transform oil revenues into political power and influence throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Israel and Saudi Arabia have also enjoyed for a long time the greatest levels of influence in Washington. This could no longer be the case.

For the US, a new situation is emerging in the region after Afghanistan and Iraq, the Syrian and Libyan wars, and the Arab spring. Turmoil has increased, autocratic regimes have proven to be unreliable partners and there is a rise in radical Sunni forces. Iran, with all its Shia agenda, can be a counter balance to those forces.

Other members of the P5+1 are also adapting their strategies. France challenged previous attempts to reach an agreement, probably with an eye on its own defence and energy companies and the market possibilities of the Persian Gulf regimes. Meanwhile, Germany and the UK have taken into account the opportunities that Iran provides for their energy firms.

Whatever the rhetoric, Israel is clearly benefited with the deal. It may have to get used to the new Iran regional status, although it could benefit from it provided that it weakens other Arab states. Prominent members of the security forces have taken views that are significantly different from those of Netanyahu maximalist instance (maybe because they are conscious of this reality).

Saudi Arabia and Gulf monarchies are those who should feel more endangered, given that their concern goes beyond nuclear issues. A US- Iran normalized relationship is a nightmare for Riyadh, given their concerns over Iranian rise and the fact that they still face potential domestic consequences of the Arab turmoil. It also goes against their positions in the Syrian conflict. In short, the changing geopolitical trends in the Middle East are aligning against them in terms of foreign and domestic policy.

To conclude this long entry. One point for the critics: Yes, it is only a partial agreement with a six-month duration; it will face huge obstacles; and a final comprehensive deal may be much more difficult. And one point for the defenders. The deal has the advantage of being action-based, with verifiable and measurable indicators of compliance. It may create room for trust and constructive relations. And is an example of how diplomacy may achieve more than hostility (and of course war).

Let’s see what happens. 

Syria (3 of 3): Geopolitical Games

The Syrian uprising started in spring 2011 with peaceful anti-government demonstrations claiming for legal, economic and political reforms. Influenced by similar events in other Arab countries at the time, it was met with violence and repression by the Army and pro-government militias. President Assad announced limited steps towards reform but violence grew, and has done steadily up to now. 

There is no possible understanding of the events in Syria without having in mind the myriad of regional and international interests and agendas being played here and strongly influencing the course of events.

Syria is the scenery of a geopolitical game that has transformed this country in a proxy war similar to those of the Cold War. Foreign agendas have transformed Syria in a zero-sum game in which each actor fights fiercely for strategic interests and contribute with diplomatic, financial and even military support to exacerbate the conflict and to polarization of all sides on the ground. 

graphic_1378382738Map of the conflict, June 2013. Source: Syrian Needs Analysis Project

Given the complexity of the interests at stake, I don’t pretend to cover the whole range here. This is just a brief approximation that hopefully serves to have a first insight into internal and external players and their agendas. At the end of this post you fill find a list of official documents about this conflict.

LOCAL ACTORS

The regime and the President, Bashar al-Assad

Following his father 30 years term, Bashar al-Assad assumed power in 2000. Commander of the Syrian Army and president of the Ba’ath Party, he was expected by some as a reformer who would undertake political reforms towards more rights and freedom. The Assad rule in Syria is secular and autocratic, maintaining the country strategic role in the Middle East through regional alliances with Iran, Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The regime has been politically repressive but religiously tolerant in a traditionally secular country. Holding power for the Alawite Muslim minority, it is largely supported by other religious minorities and by large parts of urban middle classes. Other supporters of the regime include the Army, public sector, some business constituencies and professional unions.

What is appalling for many Syrians is the need to choose between the regime and a divided and polarized opposition, while facing a humanitarian crisis and a disastrous economic situation. Religious factors have come to play a role as seculars and some minorities fear the political intentions (and potential retaliation) of some rebel groups.

The opposition

Opposition groups (armed and not) are far from sharing opinions with regards to the political future. Rivalries have soared among those who oppose the government:  local leaders and exiles, militia commanders on the ground, and between those who seek accommodation with elements of the current structures and those who seek to bring down the entire regime. Islamist and secular activists at odds, while Kurd groups seek autonomy and armed extremist groups gain military strength on the ground.

Although even the main groups are far from unified, there have been attempts to create a united opposition front. The Syrian National Council (SNC) was formed in 2011 in Turkey and included a variety of groups, mainly with ideological ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. In November 2012, the US and other countries facilitated the creation of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, an umbrella of groups seeking to overthrow the regime through political means and armed struggle and to become a transitional governing body after the regime’s collapse. Recognized by the Cooperation Council of the Gulf, the Arab League (except for Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon) and NATO countries such as France, UK, the US, and Turkey.

The Free Syrian Army is the main armed group, born in June 2011. Formed by Army defectors it was later joined by local militias and civilians, but apparently remains a loosely collection of scattered militias lacking unified structure and a coherent ideology. It is thought to have around 100,000 troops.

The Al Nusra Front emerged at the beginning of 2012. Still a minority among the opposition, it includes religious militant groups and foreign jihadist fighters. It has links with Al Qaeda in Iraq and recruits at home and abroad to fight for an Islamic State. Blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the US State Department in late 2012, their ruthlessness and brutal tactics have raised the stakes in the Syrian groups. Other Salafist groups have emerged later in this complex landscape.

Finally, a number of Kurdish militias joined the Democratic Union Party in mid-2012 and began taking over majority Kurdish towns in the north and east of the country, raising tensions with the Turkey government. Recently they have rallied against armed Islamist groups.

EXTERNAL ACTORS

The US, UK and France

Syria has been seen as a danger for US interests since its independence. Syria supported the Palestinian cause, fought three wars with Israel and have kept tensions open for the Golan Heights. The alliance with the Soviet Union added to this rivalry that has expressed more recently by affairs in Lebanon (with Syrian support for Hezbollah) and Palestine (with support for Hamas). Political circles have long considered Syria a main rival for the US interests in a key political region as the Middle East. The Economist takes position here in an illustrative way. Even clearer this analysis of the Hoover Institution.

Current geopolitical interest and historical reasons merge even more in the UK and France cases (both were at any time colonial rulers over Syrian territory”. The UK and France share with the US the Western interest over the Middle East and geopolitical competition with Russia and China, and seek to replace the Assad regime with a pro-Western one (a movement that would also serve to weaken Iran). For the UK there is also the “strategic alliance” with the US. And France seeks long-term interests and a need to boost its international image. In May 2013 France and the UK successfully lobbied for the EU’s arms embargo to be lifted (so as to allow further supplies to the rebels).

Russia

One of the most important international backers of the government, it has extensive trade and strategic interests many of which go back to the Soviet Union era. Syria, at odds with the West since independence in 1946 and feeling vulnerable in face of some neighbors (the US backed Israel, among others) got Moscow support.

Russia exports large amounts of weapons to Syria and increasing amounts of small arms. Trade ties are linked to oil, grains and technological equipment, among other supplies. The Syria port of Tartous is the only Russia navy outpost in the Mediterranean, now a permanent base. Defending Syria is also part of a general principle of non-interference in internal affairs that also serves Russian internal interests.

Russia supported the peace plan presented by the joint UN-Arab League envoy KofiAnnan as a way to reach a political solution, has explored other options, and has finally reached an agreement with the US about the Syrian chemical arsenal.

China

China has joined Russia in blocking resolutions critical of Syria at the UN Security Council. It was also critic of the prospect of military strikes. Although it has no strategic interests in Syria, it may have taken a stand for a mix of reasons, including a more assertive foreign policy; concern over the Islamist component among the rebel groups; outrage about past events in Syria (were NATO intervention went far beyond what the UN had authorized) and a shared concern with Russia about Western interference in Middle East affairs.

Turkey

Turkey had peaceful but distant relations with the Syrian government for years and attempted to convince al-Assad of the need to initiate reforms. Since the beginning of the conflict it has been one of the most prominent critics of the government. Heavily affected by violence at the border, the Parliament authorized cross-border action as a response at the end of 2012. It hosts political refugees and some of the political and armed opposition groups (especially those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood). Developments associated with the situation of Kurdish minorities in Syria are another fact in this equation. Public opinion is reluctant to openly intervene in Syrian affairs.

Saudi Arabia

For years, one of the main rivals of the Syrian government with regards to regional preeminence. Very active in pursuing and advocating military action against the regime it supports armed opposition groups, mainly the Salafist ones. Being Iran its main rival in the fight for geopolitical hegemony in the Gulf and the Middle East, the Saudi objective is breaking up the Syria-Iran alliance. They also compete in support for opposing groups (with Syria supporting Hezbollah) and Palestine (where Syria supports Hamas while Saudis hold those groups, like Fatah, in favor of a negotiated peace deal with Israel). Finally, the Saudi regime sees itself as a defender of Sunnis in the Muslim world against Shia (ruling Syria and Iran and also an important internal minority in Saudi Arabia).

Qatar

Main supplier of weapons to Syrian rebels, it is thought to have provided them around 1-3 billion dollars in aid. The Qatari single-minded support to anyone with a possibility to bring down the House of Assad has negatively impacted the legitimacy of opposition groups. Saudi-Qatari rivalries, rooted in the their different experiences with the Muslim Brotherhood and their different reactions to the 2011 pro democracy uprisings across the Arab world, have further helped to fragment the Syrian opposition coalition. Opportunistic Jihadist groups have exploited this access to arms and money.

Israel

Hostility with Syria goes back to the creation of both countries in late 1940s due to Syrian support for the Palestinian resistance and subsequent wars (1948, 1967 and 1973). Israel holds control of Syrian Golan Heights. Over years Syria has maintained pressure over Israel not by direct confrontation but by supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.

Israel was expected to be a beneficiary of the fall of Assad but the current composition and ideological orientation of some opposition groups makes the future look uncertain. It is no good news for Israel if Syria becomes a safe haven for extremist and Islamist militant groups.

The Army considers limited cross-border incursions to secure a buffer zone and prevent the shelling of Israeli territory from Syria. By early 2013, clashes between Syrian rebels and government troops spread to the Israeli border, with artillery shells frequently falling on the Israeli territory. Israel retaliated with an air strike.

Lebanon

There is deep division in the country between supporters and opponents of President Assad. The Syrian war has potentially deep impact here. The Shiite majority, mostly represented by Hezbollah, has in Assad its closest ally, while many Sunnis sympathize with the rebels and Christian population is divided. Due to the power system in Lebanon that holds posts shared by the three main religious groups, the Syrian situation impacts in Lebanese political balances.

The north of the country is a host for Syrian refugees, deserters and rebel groups, mostly welcomed by the Sunni population. At times tensions rise as in the city of Tripoli, between Sunnis and the Alawite (pro-Assad) minority that also resonate in the south. But the majority of Lebanese Sunnis are secular and only some Islamists have joined the fight in Syria. The Lebanese Army remains neutral.

Jordan

Jordan has received half a million Syrian refugees. The government has called for a political solution but is also believed to have provided weapons to rebel groups in early 2013. Fear for spillover of the Syrian conflict and internal destabilization domains. When international intervention was in sight, the government backed a limited military action if the use of chemical weapons was proved, although limited to the arsenals.

Iran

Iran has been for a long time the main regional Syrian ally. Both countries share a wide range of interests: support for Palestinian group Hamas; support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel as a common enemy, as well as geopolitical preeminence in the Middle East. More recently, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, both countries wanted to avoid the establishment of an US dependent regime in Baghdad. Iran developed a close relationship with Shiite political parties (and later with the government) in Iraq.

Egypt

The changing and unstable internal political situation in Egypt has a deep impact in regional alliances. The now overthrown government of Mohammed Morsi stood against the Syrian regime, cut off relations with the country and called for a no-fly zone (remember the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syrian rebel groups). But after the coup, the military-backed current government seems very wary of any to rebel groups and has rejected intervention without UN authorization. The changing Egyptian position mirrors changes in internal politics.

The United Nations 

The UN monitors the situation in Syria with the deployment of peace envoys and inspectors of disarmament. The Security Council has been unable to agree on how to stop violence for the different interests held by its five permanent members (UK, France and the US on one side, and China and Russia on the other).

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed as the UN-Arab League Peace Envoy and presented a peace plan in May 2012. The proposal included a Syrian-led political process; UN supervision of the cessation of armed violence by all parties; allow the provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas; intensify the release of persons arbitrarily detained; access to the whole country for journalists and respect for the rights of association and demonstration. The document was presented in March 2012 and by April there was a ceasefire. The UN Mission on Syria was deployed then, but it lacked leverage over the parties and the agreement was soon broken.

The plan was a political compromise that seek to stabilize the situation to allow Syrians to advance political negotiations. But 2012 was probably too late for Syrian parties to agree on anything, as polarization had soared (and has not stopped up to now).

Annan resigned in August 2012 and was followed in this position by the Algerian diplomat LakhdarBrahimi. Neither of them have succeeded, although both have probably offered the most realistic and comprehensive analysis of the situation and of the possible solution (recognized as a necessarily regional political process and agreement).

One additional reflection: Is this a religious conflict?

According to experts, the answer is no… at the beginning. The question at stake was the continuity of the regime. But some minorities were more supportive of it than others and this factor influenced political alignments. The religious factor coupled with those political positions has been used to fuel intolerance in some parts of this (formerly secular) country. The emergence among the rebel groups of Islamist and Salafist militias (both Syrian born and foreign fighters), and even Al Qaeda linked groups, that fight for an Islamic state, have further polarized positions. The roles of Saudi Arabia and Iran in the regional setting, exploiting the Sunni-Shia factor, only added complexity. Nowadays, the religious element must not be discarded.

It is well explained here: “This is not a fight purely or even primarily about Islam; it is a war about the future of the Middle East. Unfortunately, however, all the talk about sectarian war is fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.” 

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It may seem a hopeless conclusion for this post series but, after reviewing the Syrian humanitarian situation, the possibilities of (and some reasons behind) a military attack, and the complex game of interests that are at stake in Syria, one main question comes to mind. Who cares for the Syrian people?

A few official documents 

U.S. Government: Assessment of Syria’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013, The White House

Statement by Secretary of State Kerry on Syria, August 30, 2013

Statement by President Obama on Syria, August 31, 2013

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: “Hearing: The Authorization of Use of Force in Syria,” September 3, 2013

Draft Senate Resolution Authorizing Syria Strike, September 4, 2013

House Committee of Foreign Affairs: “Hearing: Syria: Weighing the Obama Administration’s Response,” September 4, 2013

Letter from the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) about reported chemical weapons use in Syria, Cabinet Office, United Kingdom, August 29, 2013

French National Executive Summary of Declassified Intelligence, September 2, 2013

France: Synthesis of declassified national intelligence on Syrian chemical program, past uses and 21 August attack

UK: Position on the legality of military action

UK: Joint Intelligence Organization’s assessment of allegations