Predictions that Syria’s civil war could explode into a regional conflagration and could degenerate into multiple battlefronts are coming true. Our region and the world received with shock the news that Al Qaeda-linked militants have taken over parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, the strategic Iraqi cities on the Euphrates river. There has been news of Al Qaeda gaining strength in Iraq and on a daily basis Iraqis have been waking up to news of deadly attacks by these militants, but the news of their near-capture of cities is shocking and sends a message to all those who have been underestimating the influence of the militant group in our region. In another development, the opposition rebels in Syria are joining hands to expel jihadists from their midst. Scores of people have been killed in fighting between the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the nascent Army of Mujahedeen, on the one side, the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), on the other side. The focus of combat has been in opposition areas in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, but spread to Hama and Raqa provinces. Scores of fighters have been killed on both sides in battle as well as in ambushes, car bomb attacks and summary executions by ISIL.
The emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a direct result of the failure of the Nouri Al Maliki government. Al Qaida’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been steadily tightening its grip in the vast Sunni-dominated Anbar province in recent months in a bid to create a Sunni Muslim state straddling the frontier with Syria. This has been a direct result of the rise of sectarianism in the country. The prime minister failed to bring together Sunnis and Shias in the country, and Maliki himself was accused of favouring one side against the other.
Across the region, Al Qaida is surging. When the US withdrew from Iraq, the Sunni jihadist movement had been all but extinguished, thanks to the intense cooperation between US and Iraqi forces. Also, Qaeda militants control a wide swath of territory in eastern Syria that adjoins Iraq’s Anbar province, where Fallujah and Ramadi are located. In Lebanon, too, an Al Qaeda-linked force called the Abdullah Azzam Brigades is believed responsible for multiple attacks, including twin bombings outside the Iranian embassy in November.
The rise of Al Qaeda in Syria and the fighting between jihadists and opposition rebels will only help strengthen the hands of Bashar Al Assad, who has always claimed that those fighting against him are terrorists. And the fall of Fallujah or any other city will weaken Nouri Al Maliki. Countries in the region need to act in unison to exterminate this terrorist scourge•