2. The Regime Has Exported Syria’s Crisis
The borders that distinguish Syria from all of its neighbors are, in the grand historical scheme, somewhat arbitrary: They were drawn by France and Britain at the end of World War I as they exercised the victor’s prerogative of carving up the defeated Ottoman Empire, and they bear little relation to the region’s historical ethnic and sectarian fault lines. As a result, Western powers have been concerned that an escalation of Syria’s civil war will inevitably jump its borders, with consequences across the region. And it appears that the Syrian regime and rebels between them, have made it so. The Sunni rebels fighting the Assad regime in Syria’s southeast are intimately connected with the Sunni tribes in Western Iraq that have long opposed the Shi’ite dominated government in Baghdad — and the level of insurgent violence in Iraq is steadily escalating, although that may have as much or more to do with the authoritarian governance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as with dynamics in Syria. The connection has been more direct in Lebanon, where the city of Tripoli has seen 17 people killed and more than 120 wounded in fierce clashes between local Sunni supporters of the Syrian rebellion and local Alawite supporters of Assad. While the Lebanese military has imposed a tenuous truce, fears are widespread that the conflict next door could rekindle Lebanon’s generational civil war that ended in 1992.
By shrewdly ceding control of towns in the Syrian northeast to Kurdish forces, Assad has created a problem for Turkey, which remains locked in an ongoing bloody cycle of insurgency and counterinsurgency with its domestic Kurdish challengers, the militant separatist PKK. Indeed, Assad’s forces handed over a number of towns to the Syrian ally of the PKK, known by its local acronym PYD, prompting alarm in Ankara and an uptick of attacks on Turkish soil. Turkey now finds itself having to navigate an increasingly complex reality in Syria which has uncomfortable resonance with its domestic political situation. Indeed, besides the Kurdish issue, Ankara also finds its support for the Syrian rebellion challenged by Turkey’s half-million strong Alawite community, and also among the Alevi sect whose members comprise some 25% of Turkey’s population.