Alright, folks, since I don’t read other people writing on this subject, I have to raise it myself. Does anyone else see a connection between the war in Syria and the war in Iraq? The Iraqi war started ten years ago, and continues now. The Syrian war started two years ago. Do we not want to think about this question, because of our complicity? What do people in Iraq and Syria think about these two conflicts and their connections?
About three years into the Iraq war, King Abdullah of Jordan expressed his fear that the war across his border with Iraq would cause a breakdown of peace in the region. The sectarian war so close by threatened to spread, with bad consequences for his country and other neighboring regions. Jordan has managed to escape the breakdown he predicted, but Syria has not.
The civil war in Syria started in 2011, about five years after the worst sectarian conflict in Iraq began. What threads connect these conflicts? How will historians connect them? What currents of weapons, refugees, tribes, sects, militias, emotions, leadership, loyalties, rivalries and hatreds have crossed the Iraqi-Syrian border during these years to cause the war we started in 2003 to spread?
I ask these questions without answering them because I don’t know a lot about the history of this region. I had heard of Sunnis and Shiites before we invaded Iraq, but I didn’t know the history of these sects, nor did I understand why, as groups, Sunnis and Shiites hate and fear each other so much. I still don’t. The same goes for the history of other religious, tribal, and military groups in the region. This portion of the world is not an open book to us.
I do know something about the theory of warfare, though, which includes a theory of contagion. It analyzes how wars spread from one territory to another, once they start. The analogy to fire, such as the wildfires we have in the West, is not so far off. Warfare, once underway, is extraordinarily difficult to contain. During the 1930s, military actions in Europe and in the Far East came together in a fire that engulfed almost every continent.
The same contagion affects North Africa and the Middle East now. Journalists looked at the spreading fire two years ago, and optimistically called it the Arab Spring. You don’t hear that term anymore. Now you hear about the latest escalation in Syria, if you hear about anything at all. Egypt, Libya, Chad, Mali, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, even Israel and Iran are largely off our scope unless casualties cross some threshold of notice.
Historians may wonder why we and the rest of the world stumbled into widespread warfare via pathways so well understood, yet so little noticed.