Tensions between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and its Sunni Arab minority are nothing new, but after a previous sectarian civil war broke out during the US occupation, many believed the Sunnis had been beating into virtually submission.
The ongoing Syrian Civil War may be doing a lot to change that, as the prospect of Western-backed regime change putting a Sunni, likely Islamist, government in charge in Syria has many in Iraq’s border provinces, themselves Sunni Arabs, seeing a key new ally emerge.
For peaceful protesters in Iraq’s west, there is a sense that the Maliki government is going to have a hard time violently crushing their rallies, and many Shi’ites in the government are conceding that efforts to do in late April so were a strategic blunder.
That’s only one part of the equation, however, and while protests against discrimination and authoritarianism may be irksome to Maliki, the much more dangerous effect of Syria is that the jihadists on both sides of the border are increasingly allied.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra are so joined at the hip the US State Department has concluded that they’re basically the same group. As Nusra takes more and more territory around the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, spillover violence and arms transfers back and forth are only going to grow, and if the war in Syria does get resolved with a regime change, it may effectively give AQI a state sponsor right along the Iraqi border.
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