A Widening War: Iraq intervenes in Syria with Helicopter Gunships

(By Juan Cole)

For the first time, Iraqi helicopter gunships have crossed the border to hit a target inside Syria. They destroyed 8 fuel tankers transporting gasoline to forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has begun holding territory both in northern Syria and in al-Anbar Province in Iraq. Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said, “Army helicopters yesterday morning struck eight fuel trucks in Wadi al-Sawab at Al-Bu Kamal inside Syria, which were attempting to enter into Iraq.” He added that “eight persons were killed in this operation, i.e. the persons who were trying to transport the fuel” to the organization “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” in al-Anbar Province. The village of Wadi al-Sawab is near the town of Al-Bu Kamal in Syria; the latter shares a border checkpoint with the Iraqi city of al-Qa’im. Al-Bu Kamal is controlled by rebel forces in Syria.

Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been hostile to the Baathist regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, blaming the latter for bombings in Baghdad in the second half of the last decade. The Syrian Baath Party is a branch of the same Baath Party that had ruled Iraq 1968-2003, which in Iraq came to be headed by Saddam Hussein. Al-Maliki is a longtime leader of the Islamic Mission Party (Hizb al-Da`wa al-Islamiya), which was dedicated to overthrowing the Baath.

But by summer of 2012, al-Maliki had begun supporting al-Assad, since the best fighters on the side of the Syrian rebels were increasingly radical Sunni Muslim groups. Al-Maliki also has a feud with Saudi Arabia and its hard line anti-Shiite Wahhabi branch of Islam, which supports the Syrian rebels. Al-Maliki, despite being a religious Shiite, was not initially close to the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the past two years he has gravitated toward Tehran and its client, Damascus. This trajectory of al-Maliki, from anti-Bashar to pro-Bashar, and from lukewarm toward Tehran to pro-Iran, shows that geopolitics is not being dictated by religious identity. Al-Maliki didn’t make his alliances on the basis of Shiite Islam. He didn’t consider Bashar al-Assad a Shiite Muslim, in any case, but a secular Arab nationalist hostile to religion, who happened to be from an unorthodox branch of Shiism. And al-Maliki, despite being a Shiite, did not like the Khomeini theory that ayatollahs should rule, favoring instead “the democratic game” and rule by elected parliamentarians.

This winter, the al-Qaeda affiliates took control of the cities of Ramadi and Falluja in al-Anbar Province, a spill-over onto Iraq of the Syrian civil war, where radical Sunni fighters, some of them from Iraq, had taken territory in northern Syria.

Since the al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq are trying to benefit from their control of oil fields and other resources in Syria for their struggle against al-Maliki, it is natural that the latter would eventually hit them in Syria itself. But this is a dangerous and epochal step. Not since WW II, when Iraq helped the British fight the Vichy French in Syria, has there been this degree of Iraqi military intervention in Syria. It could be a sign that the Syrian Civil War, which has already seen intervention from Lebanon, is becoming a regional conflagration.

Related video:

Press TV: “Iraqi helicopters attack tourist convoy inside Syria”

7 Responses

  1. This changes the whole balance. With a U.S. general going to Israel and Obama going to Riyadh, all in the one week, the U.S. thought they had Iran in a pincer and covered, while they concentrated on the Ukraine and the South China Sea.

    This changes all of that, and with North Korea’s current attitude, it’s obvious they don’t intend to be left out of anything, either.

    It’s begining to look as though it might be hungry times ahead for the U.S. They already are, for the ones on the bottom of the pile that have been funding the rabid expansionist policy, but finally the ones that need to feel and understand regret will be reached, and America can start making it’s way back towards what it once was, with all Americans making the decisions. You know, the way it was when it was a democracy.

    It’s looking pretty ugly at present.

  2. Clearly, Dubya and Darth Vader never considered the Scottish bard’s words when they planned the invasion of Iraq: “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.” On the other hand the Bush-Cheney scheme was far from being “best laid.”

  3. And which set of Players is happiest about things trending toward a regional conflagration, again? Follow the money, follow the idiocy…

  4. Could it also be due to the agreement that was reached between the US and Saudi Arabia during President Obama’s recent visit to the Kingdom to supply some antitank missiles to the rebels in Syria? They could be a game-changer if enough of them are supplied to the Syrian opposition. The Saudis also wanted to supply the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons but apparently the United States did not agree due to the fear that they might be used against US allies. link to online.wsj.com

  5. Article is spot on and highlights the growing regional entanglement by this new state action example, though its past the point where the spillover has already been felt.

    I slightly disagree on how the religious identity statement is phrased. True there is no Shia religious belief or motivation behind Maliki’s shift, but religious identity plays a part, due to Sunni extremist militants, who hold monopoly in the armed opposition, dictating the situation by pitting their religious ideology against others, who most non-Sunnis, particularly Shias, fear and see as a greater threat if they come to power.

    Unless there’s a regional Sunni state that strongly opposes the similar sect background militants and empathizes with the fears or concerns of the newly Shia-dominated Iraq, which has experienced intense extremist and sectarian terrorist backlash for over a decade mostly from local and foreign Sunni radicals, then this very well is an issue of religious identity, just not of Maliki’s own making or choice, who is reacting and forced to retreat to the political powers that he earlier had issues with, all due to a shared religious background and opposition to those who ideologically and violently hate what they are rather than just keeping it about deposing off the Baath regime.

  6. It’s just anecdotal bits of video, but if one goes through the stuff at syriavideo.net you will see a lot of anti-tank missiles, both guided and ballistic, being blasted at Syrian army tanks. Using the guided ones requires some training, a calm mind while lining up the target while you are line-of-sight to the tank and its amped-up crew and their own death-dealing devices, and some luck — both with weather conditions and with the reliability of the devices themselves. Check youtube for videos under “military fails,” sometime… The un-actively-guided RPGs and such also require the operator to put himself in an exposed position, vulnerable to snipers as well as tank fire. Google “Syria headshot videos” some time to see what I mean.

    Then, you have to hit the tank in a vulnerable spot, which the tankers and war materiel profiteer idiots are constantly making harder to find. And of course you have to also use “diplomacy” or something to cut off the delivery of more tanks, improved tanks, of course, in the interminable game of Armor versus Projectile, into The Enemy’s Table of Organization and Equipment. How about a post-phecy about tanks and simple anti-tankery? link to atwar.blogs.nytimes.com

    I would be careful about using the “game changer” phrase without many qualifications. No single weapon or weapon type (other than maybe nuclear, chemical and biological) is really a game changer in this version of 4th generation, outside-player violence. The USNATO warmakers and their suppliers bruited all kinds of “game changers” in our last two BIG imperial conflicts — and the example is always out there at the BIG scale of the 5th Fleet and a lot of USNATO walking- and driving-around assets being sunk and blasted by the inventive stratagies of a retired Marine general. What the machinery seems to me to be producing is a “consumer war,” posited on a balance of violence, with lots of sales opportunities and interstices where schmucks (albeit competent, in their trade) from the CIA and similar organisms can ply their skills and keep everything at a high simmer and low boil — that keeps the Marches of the Empire from doing what the Germanic tribes did to Rome… spyguy points to a perceptive book, “The Gun,” link to nytimes.com , about the simple and formidable engine of evil known as the AK-47 and its derivatives, called rightly in my mind the REAL weapon of mass destruction, link to nytimes.com People from cultures with pride and revenge and possessory attachment to their landscape will demonstrably kick the asses of, or wear down, Imperial troops who don’t resort to a Death Star-type weapon.

    One wonders if ordinary people have a snowball’s chance that these effing Game of Risk players will leave off weaponizing everything and turning the whole planet into just a series of Grand Globular Network-Centric Interopababble Battlespace Commands… Oh, wait, that’s already happened, hasn’t it? What your tax dollars and debt are buying: link to google.com

  7. So Donald Rumsfeld’s splendid little war has ended up creating a military ally of Syria and Iran?

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