Foreign Policy Blogs

Al Qaeda in Iraq… in Syria?

Interesting news from Iraq… the Christian Science Monitor is reporting that violence has dropped precipitously as al-Qaeda affiliates quit the field to battle President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The effects of egress have been most pronounced in Nineveh Province – the Iraqi governate borders Syria and once served as served as home to as many as 800 al-Qaeda operatives.
Violence is down in the capital city of Mosul and the rest of the province. Of course, the same can’t be said for Syria, where artillery bombardment silenced peaceful protest before the advent of armed resistance.

The chief of US national intelligence, James R. Clapper, suggested last week that al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria may have been responsible for two rebel attacks on Syrian military installations – including January’s highly publicized suicide bombings in Damascus and two previous attacks in Aleppo.

The anti-Assad movement has become increasingly violent in recent months as defections from Assad’s military have bolstered the frustrated opposition. We’ve now witnessed assassinations of loyalist officers within the capital, while Syrian government has claimed that some 2,000 security forces and soldiers have been slain since the uprising began last year.

What’s most unfortunate about the [potential] emergence of al-Qaeda in Syria doesn’t relate to the long term calculus of the political landscape. For the time being, questions of democratic development remain distant on the horizon. Rather, these reports give credence to claims made by Assad that Syria’s revolt is the handiwork of violent radicals and “terrorists.” Of course, it’s one thing for a man or woman to defend his or her home from a foreign occupier or an illiberal and illegitimate despot – it’s quite another, when extremist mercenaries hoist their fight from one country to another, while simultaneously exaggerating objections to a broadly shared raison d’etre of revolution.


On the other hand…to paraphrase Mudhir al Janabi – a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s security committee offended by suggestions that Iraqis are among those going to fight in Syria – Iraq had no history of extremism before 2003.

If those who came from other countries and brought the violence want to march on Damascus, perhaps it’s not inconceivable that they’re simply heading home. Reports of sky-rocketing prices for assault rifles and the realities of a 400 mile long common border suggest weapons and combatants could be hot commodities.

An alarming phenomenon to consider before wading into this mess.



Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.