New Europe spoke with Dr. Carlo Facci, an expert on the Middle East, about the crisis in Syria and Iraq. Facci is a political scientist based in Brussels and a senior lecturer at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon.
Can you tell us about the current situation if Iraq and the possible support of the Kurdish and Iraqi Army?
The US State Department has been very clear about Iraq. The United States’ support only goes to the regular Iraqi army, but they face a dilemma on whether they should also support the Kurdish army. We know that the Kurdish army is very effective, but the risk according the United States, is the consequences that could come out of the coalition supplying them with weapons. If the Kurds succeeded, or possibly even if they didn’t, they are going to ask for compensation such as the creation of a free Kurdish state. Neither the US or Turkey are, in principle, keen on giving them a free Kurdish state.
On the other side, the Iraqi government looks interested, now more than ever, in strengthening its relations with other allies like Russia, which is a huge concern for the United States. Just a few weeks ago, the Iraqi foreign minister was sent to Moscow to discuss the supply of weapons from Russia. Another important issue for the US is their diminishing military force in Iraq, which is quite different from the past situation. Subsequently, it could also prove to be a problem if the US chose to arm the Shiite militias of the Iraqi army. An action such as this could provoke communitarian problems on the ground that are linked to Iran’s role in the region. The US does not want to deploy these Shiite militias, but the Iraqi army had already allowed it following their defeat in [the central Iraqi city of] Ramadi two weeks ago.
You have to understand that [US President Barack] Obama’s policy in the Middle East is very different than the “Great Middle East” policy that was pursued by [former US President George W.] Bush. Obama would like to support allies like Iraq but does not want to get involved militarily. For this reason, the United States is not in the position to impose its decisions regarding alliances and other important military issues as it was in the past.
What about the European Union’s role in this conflict?
Regarding EU support, I think that up until now, the EU has not deployed force in the region and will not do so in the future. The EU has structural difficulties that prevent it from acting on foreign affairs issues. The EU does not have the resources to act from a defense standpoint; instead it is only able to manage peacekeeping and peace-building operations.
Also, I do not see a consensus in the EU regarding a common intervention. The only possible action I see, even though possibly far way, is a joint intervention between the US and some EU member states. But nothing exclusively “Made in Europe.” I believe France would be among the possible countries involved in a intervention with the US for various historical reasons.
Syria is a former French Mandate after the WWI agreements. Nevertheless, it is important to note that four years of war, the balance of power is very different so Western countries would be in dire straits in the event of a new coalition against Assad. A difficulty for the Western powers and a weakness in their diplomacies is the inability to consider Syria and Iraq as a whole and adopting a holistic action for the region.
What about Russia’s role in the region?
Russia is increasingly becoming an important player in the region due to its support of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. Russia has also been searching for support from Christian Orthodox minorities through its Orthodox diplomacy. Russia wants the support from the Greek Orthodox and Christian Greek Orthodox minorities located in Syria and Lebanon.
Do you think Islamic State is becoming more and more like a “state” structure? Does IS enjoy the support of the Sunnis?
Yes, IS is trying to stage a Sunni Islamic revolution and they require a state structure to complete that. At the moment, IS exercises all of the state prerogatives in a very arbitrary manner. They control all sectors of the state from defense to social services.
Regarding Sunni support for IS, I think the tribe leaders can play a significant role in this. In 2007, they support the Americans but now the situation is very different as it is not clear whether tribe leaders will support the “hated” West or the Islamic extremists. This uncertain panorama is due to the once heavy engagement of the US in the country in 2007. Now, however, the United States is only involved in police training and basic defense operations. So, probably a group of these important leaders will support and join Islamic State. The West’s diplomatic effort must now be focused on convincing the tribe leaders to abandon Islamic State. However, this is not something on which I have concrete information.
Can you tell us about the situation in Syria?
The Assad regime has held its positions well in what is defined “useful Syria,” which is the north-south axis beginning at Aleppo and ending at Homs, Hama, Sidnaya and Damas. There are now discussions within the Syrian government about the possible creation of a new state centered on this “useful Syria” zone and leave IS with the desert area from Palmira to Iraq. This is only a thought as Assad is becoming convinced of his strength and international support.
The information and views set out in this article are those of the person interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies, nor any person acting on their behalf may be help responsible for the use, which may be made of the information contained in this article.