As civil war in Syria with the Shia minority government of Assad ramps up so does conflict in Iraq against the Shia majority government. Violence and Sunni Shia conflict is on the increase including attacks by Al Qaeda linked groups.
Al Qaeda is making a comeback in Iraq while it also sends fighters into neighboring Syria. In Iraq on Tuesday two bomb explosions distracted police while a group of suicide attackers blasted their way into a Baghdad police station attempting to release jailed insurgents. The group calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and is affiliated with Al Qaeda. While the attack ultimately failed to release the prisoners it gave notice that Al Qaeda was back at work in Iraq.
Reports indicate that Al Qaeda is being better funded, has more recruits, and improved morale in both Iraq and Syria. Al Qaeda suffered heavy losses and dwindling power in years of fighting in Iraq with U.S. and Iraqi forces. However, Sunni fighters who had joined the Awakening Movement have not been well integrated into the Shia majority government of Nouri al-Maliki. Many of these Sunnis helped destroy the influence of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Some may now be more sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
Many Iraqi Sunnis hate the Shia minority Alawite sect that dominates within the Syrian government. However, they also dislike the Shia dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al Qaeda militants are trying to increase Sunni Shia tensions and take advantage of the fact that Sunnis are seen as losing any share of power in Iraq. Under Saddam Sunnis were dominant in the government.
Ramzi Mardini of the Washington-based Instute for the Study of War said:"The Syrian crisis is a venue in which an Iraqi-dominated al Qaeda branch is better able to attract fighters and resources to its cause.. This may be a revival of confidence on the part of Sunni extremists."
Iraql Shi'ite leaders worry that if a hard line Sunni government takes power in Syria then Sunni militants in Iraq would ramp up attacks and increase their power. In areas bordering Syria there is often great sympathy with Sunnis in Syria. Iraqi forces engage in regular skirmishes with smugglers and also insurgents who move weapons, supplies, and fighters into Syria.
Seth Jones, a counter-terrorism expert at RAND corporation said:
"The religious legitimacy of the Syria war and the increase of funding and fighters almost unquestionably benefits Al Qaeda in Iraq..It is heavily involved in overseeing the war in Syria."
Western media often downplay the role of Islamic militants in the Syrian civil war and Assad blames terrorists as a whole for the conflict.
July was the bloodiest month in Iraq in two years with 325 people killed in attacks. While Al Qaeda may play an increasing role in violence against the Iraqi government, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself is also to blame. Al-Maliki strives to take more and more power to himself and his close followers while attacking any opposition. He even has ordered the arrest of his Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi on terrorism charges. Even Moqtada al-Sadr the fiery Shi'ite anti-American cleric has come to oppose al-Maliki. Al--Maliki's continued rule will no doubt exacerbate Sunni Shia tensions rather than creating a unified Iraq.
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