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Sectarian Iraq has helped save tolerant secular Syria

One of the many tragic byproducts of the American and British war of aggression on Iraq has been the development of a deeply sectarian leadership in Baghdad. Between 1968 and 2003, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party of Iraq governed a secular state where Sunni and Shi’a, Orthodox and Catholic held important positions in government and each could and indeed did achieve increasingly good lives.

Even the latent sectarian tensions of Iraq which came to the surface during and just after the Iran-Iraq war, did not result in nationwide sectarian bloodbaths, nor did it change the position of people in the government and civil service which remained multi-faceted in respect of religious denominations up until the first bombs of Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair’s ‘shock and awe’ began falling on a country that never harmed anyone in the United States.

Today’s Iraqi government is a Shi’a government in spite of what the Iraqi Constitution says. This is not to slander many of the decent individuals in that government, it is simply a poor reflection on how once the sectarian devil is let out, it is impossible to fully kill, certainly not straight away.

The fresh animosity between Sunni Iraqis and Shi’a Iraqis has cut deeply into the fabric of Iraqi society. The torture that the Iraqi army has executed in Mosul against many innocent civilians is a legacy of a torturous American occupation for which no Iraqi can be blamed, but for which millions of Iraqis have paid and continue to pay a price.

Syria is a much happier story in this respect. While the Ba’ath party’s Syrian branch is still in power, people in Syria have united behind their government against foreign jihadists mixed with local criminal elements to make a bold statement to the world ‘We are Syrians’. The kind of Islam or the kind of Christianity Syrians use to connect with God in their mosques and churches has not precluded them from fighting with and supporting the Syrian Arab Army in a heroic struggle for survival, a struggle that thanks to the help of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and others, Syria is winning.

But who are these others? Many of them are volunteers from Iraq and the Iraqi government has always stood by Syria in her fight against terrorism, in spite of Iraq still being too weak to tell its American occupiers to fully vacate the country and never return.

Today, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-‘Abadi pledged that his country will work alongside the Syrian Arab Army in helping to secure the Syria-Iraq border. Throughout the struggle in Syria, Iraq has diligently shared intelligence with Syria and continues to support Syria’s efforts using what political influence it has.

Many Iraqi people remain grateful to President al-Assad for helping to shelter Iraqis of all backgrounds who were displaced by the western war of aggression against their country. The tragic 1966 split between Iraqi and Syrian Ba’ath parties is over, it is merely a shame that it happened after the Iraqi party was destroyed by imperialist invaders.

However, the alliance between Baghdad and Damascus has played some small but not insignificant part in helping Syria to fight for and preserve her sovereignty.

If Syria’s largest Arab neighbour became a hostile state at such a time, it could have been pure mayhem for Syria. This has not been the case. Iraq has been beaten but not yet broken. Much damage has been done, but perhaps when Syria is peaceful it will once again be a Ba’ath party whose wisdom can help to mend the wounds in the Iraqi nation. How ironic that this Ba’ath party will be one that the ruling party in Baghdad used to resent and detest?

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