DENVER – Anyone who doubts that the wars in Iraq and Syria are closely connected need look no further than the role of Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose fighters have been pouring over the Syrian border into Iraq’s Anbar Province. If not handled carefully, developments in Iraq and Syria could transform the map of the Middle East and incite further conflict in the coming years.
What is happening in Anbar is nothing less than a fight for the existence of Iraq in its current borders. As much as Iraq’s Sunnis fear for their future, the Shia majority, now overseeing the untested proposition of a Shia-led Arab state, also have reasons to be fearful.
Even paranoids have enemies. While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should devote more effort to negotiating and compromising with the Sunni community than he has to cracking down on its leaders and activists, he nonetheless has before him the daunting task of consolidating a Shia-led Iraqi state with no natural allies in the rest of the Arab world. And the Sunni community, now buffeted by Al Qaeda on one side and the Shia state on the other, has never had much interest in helping Maliki stabilize Iraq’s new political order.
Al Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq is to deal harshly with those they consider to be Sunni collaborators with the Shia-led central government in Baghdad, and then to deal with the government itself. It is a brutal strategy, but it seems to be effective.