Will Syrian Sectarianism Spill Over Internationally?

The Syrian Civil War, triggered ostensibly with the calls for sweeping constitutional reforms and to end the authoritarian regime of Bashar al Assad, is in effect more of a sectarian war from the domestic fronts to the international level.

syrian-civil-war-sectarianismThe Chinese-Russian proposal to probe into Syria’s chemical weapons under UN auspices and to block any debate on Syria opened the latest chapter of conflicting interests among the major powers. For a moment, this averted a possible America-led intervention in the Syrian Civil War, but it escalated the conflict. The immediate byproduct of the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of at least 100,000 Syrians, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The civil war was triggered ostensibly with the calls for sweeping constitutional reforms and to end the authoritarian regime of Bashar al Assad, but in effect it was more like a physical transformation of sectarian war from the domestic fronts to the international level.

True, identified dead bodies of soldiers belonging to a number of regional countries and militant organizations bear concrete testimony to the fact that Syria is now nothing less than an arena serving the clash between Shias and Sunnis. The deaths of Iranian, Hezbollah and Sunni fighters from some Arab countries and militant outfits tells the exact same story.

Target killing and political-religious persecution of the rival sects was previously a matter of domestic hostility where the politically installed or backed sects exercised a systematic denial of rights and privileges to the enemy sect. This practice could be seen in Bahrain and Iran whereas, in countries like Pakistan, the sectarian violence was undertaken by militant, but independent organizations.

Taking the fight to the international level is a new episode which, in broader terms, embodies with it unprecedented challenges and opportunities for both Sunni and Shia majority states who aim to drive out influence of the hostile sect and inflict their own hegemony.

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One of the core reasons behind Saudi push to convince the West to end the Iranian nuclear program was the feeling that Iran was promoting a greater Shia region to unite all Shia supporting states against Saudi Arabia. When public protests flared up in Syria for greater rights, the event was capitalized by Saudi Arabia with the connivance of her allies to overthrow the pro-Iran regime of Assad, thus, the rebels were installed.

Seeking the help of Iran and Hezbollah, Damascus thought otherwise. The strategic significance of the country invited involvement of countries beyond the region making it a ground for international plots. Foreign politics is divided on the issue. The US pursues to overthrow the Assad regime to satisfy Saudi Arabia and to strengthen her own hold in Middle East by isolating Iran, while Iran with the support of Russia wants to counter Sunni forces.

The ambitions are visible. Sectarianism is taking roots throughout the region and it’s appearing as an international crisis with potential threats to destabilize the Middle East’s already staggering peace.

Jameel-ur-Rehman Zaib has a masters in International Relations from National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. Read other articles by Jameel.