|Free Syrian Army soldiers.|
We can officially upgrade the Syrian “conflict” from a civil war to a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And we can leave behind the romanticized vision of the Arab Spring; this was never more than an attempt to overthrow an unpopular dictator.
In Syria, popular fury has been warped into a battle between, on the one hand, Sunni Muslim rebels backed by Arab nations, and Iranian backed Shi’ite Muslims fighting alongside President Assad and the Alawite minority.
Iraqi Shi’ites, fresh from the battlefields in Iraq, have been moving into Syria to help defend Shi’ite influence in the region. And they come, presumably, with the backing of the Iranian government.
According to Reuters:
“Among them [the Shi’ite militants] are defectors and former fighters from anti-U.S Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, the Iran-backed Badr group and Asaib al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah, militias who once waged a bloody war on American troops…”
Saudi weapons have been found with the rebels and both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling money and light arms to the front lines.
Syria is merely the most bloody and blatant battle in a Cold War between the Middle Eastern region powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran who both seek control over the resource rich region. Add the religious tensions between the Iranian Shi’ites and Saudi Sunnis and the history of conflict between the Persian Empire and Arab nations and you have a deadly mixture.
So when the Syrian War is used as a political football we should never forget the facts. Yes, terrible atrocities are being committed by both sides and, as always, civilians are taking the brunt of the violence.
But as the conflict threatens to move beyond the borders of Syria and turn into a full scale regional war, the West must tread carefully.
It is not a conflict between democratic revolutionaries on one side and Islamic fundamentalists on the other. This is a battle between two large religious bodies in Islam, akin to the bloodiest battles between Protestants and Catholics in the Middle Ages (and significantly larger than those more recently in Belfast).
America cannot afford another Crusade.