With the ruling party in Syria dominated by Shi’ites and the nation overwhelmingly Sunni, the pro-democracy protests have inevitably taken on a sectarian flavor and as the violence rises it threatens to drive yet another major wedge between the top parties in neighboring Iraq.
Iraq’s only Sunni minority, which lives mostly along the frontier with Syria, has accused the Shi’ite Iraqi regime of dispatching militiamen to help Assad with his crackdown against dissent. Meanwhile, members of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority say that the Iraqi Sunnis have been joining the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) to shift the fight in favor of that faction.
Analysts fear that Syria is not just an ugly reminder of the unsettled sectarian strife in Iraq, but that it might also be another spark to restart the powder keg that is Iraq. With the current coalition government relying on the Sunni-dominated but secular Iraqiya Party, it could also fuel even more political uncertainty.
It isn’t the first time the Arab Spring has become an issue in Iraq. Indeed, the country has had protests and violent crackdowns of its own, and the violence against the Shi’ite majority on the island nation of Bahrain was a matter of considerable public concern among Iraqi officials. Syria’s proximity and the near civil war associated with the pro-democracy movement threatens to make it a much bigger issue, however.