Claiming they massacred 48 Syrian army troops, Al Qaeda confirmed that it’s heavily involved in toppling he Alawite, Shiite government of 47-year-old Bashar al-Assad. With British Foreign Secretary William Hague and conservatives in the U.S. Congress backing Syrian rebels without any knowledge of the insurgent groups, the latest Al Qaeda incident should give foreign governments opposed to al-Assad’s regime reason to pause. Al Qaeda’s latest incident gives a clearer picture of the sectarian war that seeks to topple al-Assad’s Shiite regime. Backed by Saudi Arabian petro-dollars, various Sunni groups—including al-Qadea—oppose Shitte rule in the Middle East, al-Assad’s enemies come from many places but most importantly extremist Saudi-backed Wahhabi factions. Syiran allies, Russia and China, have opposed any attempts to topple the former opthamologist-turned dictator.
Al-Assad has warned about various terrorist groups joining the shadowy revolt that began March 11, 2001, costing approximately 70,000 civilian lives. “Military detachment succeeded in annihilating an entire column of the Safavid army,” al-Qadea’s Iraqi-wing, Islamic State of Iraq, posted in a statement online. Radical Sunni groups, in no small part led by the Palestinian Gaza-based Hamas, seek al-Assad’s head, not because they despise his fascist Baathist politics but because of his Shiite faith. Newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was greeted March 9 with twin suicide blasts in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hagel was ripped Feb. 3 in his confirmation hearing for not agreeing with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that al-Assad must go. While backed by outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, new information about Syrian insurgents puts regime change on hold.
Toppling al-Assad would open the floodgates to a host of extremist Sunni groups seeking to radicalize the Middle East. Al-Qaeda’s recent massacre of Syrian soldiers proves that they see potential for another Taliban-like state in Syria. “The lions of the desert and the men entrusted with different missions laid ambushes on the road leading to the crossing [with Iraq],” said al-Qaeda, whose ragtag band of mujahedeen fighters are ready to claim Syria for radical Islam. While al-Qaeda’s attack on the Syrian military apparently occurred inside Iraq, al-Qadea fully supports Syrian insurgent attempts to topple al-Assad. Radical Sunni groups oppose Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his close ties with Iran’s Shiite regime. It’s ironic that after losing 4,886, troops and over $1 trillion tax dollars in Iraq, the al-Maliki regime has become close allies with the U.S. enemy in Tehran.
Giving the U.S. and its European allies reason to pause, the Syrian insurgency threatens to destabilize the region. While publicly opposed to al-Assad’s atrocities, the U.S. and EU must heed the wisdom of Russia and China that see nothing good coming from toppling al-Assad. While former President George W. Bush succeeded in one month toppling the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein April 10, 2003, he also opened up the floodgates into Iraq for radical Sunni Islam. Former Bush VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Donald M. Rumsfeld all knew that toppling Saddam would leave a power vacuum for radical Islam. While Saddam was a secular Baathist, al-Maliki’s plays into the sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites that destabilize the region. Al-Qaeda’s recent massacre of Syrian troops shows exactly what’s at stake.
When the U.S. and EU confer on how to proceed in Syria, they need to heed the al-Qaeda massacre as an omen for the future. Radical Sunni groups, fueled by al-Assad’s past but now exiled Palestinian friend Khalid Meshaal, smell blood in Damascus. Today’s unthinkable suicide bombings on Shiite mosques in Iraq all stem from radical Sunni Wahhabi groups As much as the U.S. and EU deplore the violence against civilians in Syria, arming or funding rebel groups could turn Syrian into the next Taliban. If you look at the fallout from Islamic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and now Syria, the regimes that follow are not more stable and friendly to Western interests. Whatever misgivings the U.S. has with al-Assad—especially his backing of Israel’s enemy Hezbollah in Lebanon—sticking with the current Syrian regime offers more hope than the options.
Faced with growing anarchy in the Middle East, it’s now untenable to back the current Syrian revolt that promises to turn Damascus into the next Taliban. Whoever the radical Sunni groups backing the revolt against al-Assad, they promise more violence, chaos and extremism in the region. Whatever the downside of al-Assad’s Baathist regime, a Taliban-like regime would present far greater headaches to the U.S. and EU in the future. Like al-Maliki in Iraq, al-Qaeda and other radical Sunni groups—including Meshaal’s Hamas’ rebels in Syria—promise the same Islamic revolution that’s now failing in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry needs to tweak the U.S. policy to not inadvertently lend too much “humanitarian” relief to radical Sunni groups in Syria. Working with Russia and China should help get U.S and EU policy right.
About The Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.