Syria is home to the oldest inhabited city in the world, Damascus. This city was once the seat of power for the Umayyad Caliphate. This caliphate ruled a large part of the eastern world; at its height it covered more than five million square miles. The Umayyad Caliphate is generally known as one of the largest empires in history.
The modern borders of Syria were first drawn after World War One as a French mandate. In the mid 1940’s Syria received their independence and started life as a sovereign state. Although originally created as a parliamentary republic, years of military coups quickly plunged the country in to dictatorial rule. Now in the former city of the famed Umayyad Caliphate a war is raging.
Syria is one of many Arab countries to get in on what we now refer to as the Arab Spring. In a select few countries these uprisings have been more brutal than others but nowhere has the killing been more severe than in Syria. Official body counts place the death toll at between seventeen and twenty thousand since the uprising began in March of 2011.
Reports of mass murders by the military in rebel areas are an almost daily occurrence and with video sneaking out from time to time, these reports appear to be legitimate. As if the regime in Syria wasn’t bad enough, several new trends are beginning to come into focus within the troubled state.
First, the emergence of Al Qaeda inside Syria and their efforts to topple the regime; and second, Syria’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons that could potentially fall into the hands of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah or Hamas within hours of the fall of the Assad Regime.
In recent months and weeks, intelligence and videos coming out of the region are showing an ever-growing Al Qaeda footprint on the conflict. Recently, rebels have started a suicide bombing campaign that has claimed the lives of many top Syrian officials. Reports are showing that Al Qaeda fighters are moving across the Iraqi border in order to now wage war against Assad in the absence of U.S. troops in Iraq. In what could be the clearest evidence, a video has emerged showing Syrian rebels speaking in front of an Al Qaeda flag. According to the New York Times, one of the men on the tape is quoted as saying, “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of God.”
It is clear that the emergence of Al Qaeda in the ranks of the opposition in Syria is far from a welcomed sight. With Al Qaeda now fighting their own war against the Assad Regime it is becoming less likely that a peace agreement can be reached and ultimately it could require intervention by either the United Nations or some coalition of nations.
The second major concern, which has only been made worse by the emergence of groups like Al Qaeda in Syria, is the nation’s chemical and biological weapons stockpile. Syrian President Assad, has called the uprising in his country foreign influenced and a terrorist action and has threatened to use these weapons if the West attempts to intervene in what he feels is an internal matter. Many also believe that recent relocation and movement at his weapons facilities is a threat of sorts aimed at the rebels. It is not a far leap to assume that Assad could and would employ these weapons before losing control of the country. On top of the threats made by Assad, there is a much more likely and dangerous scenario that most of the West and Israel is concerned about.
Al Qaeda is clearly not in Syria to help the people. If the Assad regime collapses it is very likely that his stockpile of these weapons could go to any number of terrorist groups as well as flood the black market. This is of the greatest concern to the United States and Israel, as both countries remain the largest terrorist targets. With Iranian involvement in Syria it is far from unlikely that Hezbollah and Hama are not also inside the country. The results could be catastrophic if these weapons were allowed to fall into the hands of any of these groups. The chemical agents that the Syrian government posses are many, but two of the most dangerous are VX nerve agent and Sarin gas. Both of these are extremely fast acting and very lethal.
When I look at what is happening in Syria I am reminded of the uprising in Libya only a short time ago. Kaddafi was also speaking of intervention by Al Qaeda and no one was listening to him. I am now forced to wonder if he was telling the truth and if we allowed Libya to fall to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
Egypt was sold as a movement of democracy yet somehow after Barack Obama got involved the country fell into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now President Obama is providing aid to the rebels in Syria, rebels that we now know are at least in part affiliated with our enemy, Al Qaeda. I guess what I am left to wonder is: could the West be unwittingly aiding the emergence of the next major caliphate?
(Image courtesy of Michael Thompson from One Love, Earth)