Syria now hosts 130,000 jihadis from all corners of the globe, a number so large it signals the regeneration of al-Qaida.
The United States is to blame, according to local commentators. They said the CIA armed the Syrian Sunnis in late 2010 on behalf of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, triggering the Syrian civil war that is now spreading like a virus throughout the region.
The U.S. decision last week to pump yet more small arms and anti-tank munitions into the Syrian theatre confirms Washington’s role as midwife to this new and virulent strain of al-Qaida, which is also being blamed for the resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq, while raising serious concern about developments in Egypt.
A new al-Qaida affiliate known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – representing al-Qaida affiliates in Iraq and Syria – claimed responsibility for no fewer than 17 car bombings on Monday that killed 60 Shiites. More than 4,000 Shiite Iraqis have died since the start of the year, with 900 lives lost in July alone, prompting the Iraq government to warn that the violence now rivals the worst months of the U.S. invasion. “The country is currently facing an open war launched by bloodthirsty sectarian forces that aims to plunge the country into chaos,” read a statement by the Iraqi Interior Ministry last week.
Meanwhile the “coup that is not a coup” in Egypt has ignited the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni organization that influences Gaza’s leadership, a development that threatens yet further regional escalation given the massive numbers of jihadists now mobilizing on the ground.
Here is the reality according to Ibrahim Talib, head researcher and deputy director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Damascus, who spoke to Frud Behazan at Radio Free Iraq last week.
“I can say with full confidence that there are more than 130,000 foreign and Arab terrorists who are fighting in Syria – I can fully confirm this number, which is huge and dangerous,” Talib says. “Tunisians come first, with about 15,000 fighters, then Libyans, then Saudis, then Egyptians and Palestinians followed by Lebanese. After that comes the (fighters) from outside the region. There are more than 40 countries that have citizens fighting in Syria.”
His comments were backed up by the Kurds, who have a Syrian affiliate fighting not to topple Assad, but to keep al-Qaida out of the Kurdish border areas. “Extremist Islamist forces like al-Qaida, the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar Al-Sham, and other similar groups can go where they want and they can enter from any country they want,” Salih Muslim told RFE/RL.
“They come from Turkey, Iraq, and other places. They have been there for a long time and make up a large portion of the (main rebel group) the Syrian Free Army. The Syrian Free Army has denied it but the extremist groups fight under their name. These groups are everywhere.”
These developments are raising questions about the CIA’s role in Syria two years ago, and Washington’s intentions, given the near elimination of al-Qaida in Afghanistan following the 2001 destruction of the Twin Towers in New York.
Local observers view the decision to arm the “good” rebels in Syria with contempt, warning that arms and people are flowing among the different opposition groups in a fluid and very unstable pattern.
Meanwhile, Washington successfully pressured the European Union into designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization last week, thus ensuring no communication with perhaps the only group capable of quelling the worst violence now spreading beyond Syrian borders.
The terrorist designation occurred on the very same week that Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline that would relieve Europe of its increasingly worrisome dependence upon Russia’s Gazprom, which is now effectively Europe’s sole provider of natural gas.
Gazprom’s determination to monopolize the lighting of Europe through its own export routes is one explanation, according to many clued-in observers, for Russia’s relentless support for Bashar Al Assad.
The stunning incompetence of it all bathes the halcyon days of Saddam Hussein in a nostalgic glow, for that was when the United States was ascendant, the Middle East stable, and even the idea of a George W. Bush presidency a bad joke.
Maybe it’s time to revisit the relationship between the House of Bush, and the House of Saud – perhaps there we’ll find the spark that set alight not just Iraq and Syria, but the weaknesses within the U.S. political system that allowed vested interests to grab the levers of power at the expense of literally everybody else.
Rome wasn’t built in a day but it sure burned down overnight. Within a decade it had disappeared altogether. (Remember the Berlin Wall?) Who will impose discipline on elected representatives who refuse to represent our best interests? Only us.
Sarah Davison is a former Yukon journalist who attended the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.