Abu Ghraib breakout is a warning
The bold jihadist assault that freed over 500 convicts from Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons, including al Qaeda terrorists, today is a warning that the proxy Sunni-Shia war in Syria is spilling across borders.
Another sign is today’s European Union decision to blacklist Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, despite pleas from Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman who called it “an essential component of Lebanese society.”
In Iraq, suicide bombers linked to al Qaeda attacked the high security compounds of Abu Ghraib and Taji with cars packed with explosives. Experienced fighters armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades gave them support, demonstrating their now efficient military-style tactics.
Many of the freed convicts are likely to melt into local al Qaeda groups to keep Iraq’s Shiite dominated government off balance. They may reinforce Sunni attacks against Shiite targets, which have risen in recent months causing fears of a new slide into religious wars.
Sunni militants see this as an opportune time to violently destabilize Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because Iran is too preoccupied to sustain another proxy war to help its Shiite protégés in Iraq, since it is already giving support to Syria’s Bashar al Assad and the Hezbollah. More so, because the newly elected government in Teheran faces internal weakness because of factional rivalries, social unrest and economic slump caused by the severe US and European sanctions.
The jailbreak coincides with the most dangerous time in Iraq since the 2011 US withdrawal. The United Nations and other investigators estimate that 2,500 Iraqis were killed during the three months from April to June 2013 and another 600 were killed so far in July. The plight of innocent Iraqi civilians does not seem to matter to any of the local combatants.
The Hezbollah blacklisting pleased the White House and Israel who have already branded it a terrorist organization and have long sought a ban on the use of European banks and territory to transfer funds to it. But the decision creates major problems for Lebanon’s coalition government, of which Hezbollah is a significant component. (The other main components are Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims.)
The EU ministers said they were influenced by new evidence of Hezbollah involvement in an attack that killed five Israelis in Bulgaria last year and a guilty verdict in Cyprus this year against an alleged Hezbollah member for helping to plan attacks on Israelis.
Of course, Hezbollah is livid, calling the decision “aggressive and unjust” and “not based of any justifications or evidence.” In contrast, the White House said Hezbollah could no longer operate with impunity because of the EU move.
US Secretary of State John Kerry went beyond European ministers, insisting that Syria was a key consideration underlying their unanimous vote. “A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” he said.
The decision’s supporters hope Hezbollah will be starved of funds and materials over time, making it a less capable enemy of Israel.
Whatever the minister’s reasons, Hezbollah may fall deeper into Teheran’s hands for money if Europe cuts off its financial conduits. That would prevent it from saying “no” if Teheran wants more fighters sent to help Bashar al Assad in Syria. Its participation has already helped Assad to turn the current war’s tide in his favor.
It may also have to obey if Teheran wants it to needle Israel again. In the past, Israel has punished Lebanon severely, in part to force the Christians and Sunnis to moderate Hezbollah’s extremists. But that works only when Hezbollah has a political stake in the system. If Europeans join Washington and Israel in isolating and weakening Hezbollah, it might make Lebanon ungovernable.
Currently, very few in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq trust the US, Britain or France. Historical grievances are being excavated. France and Britain created modern Syria, Lebanon and Iraq after the Turkish Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I.
France installed political systems that put its favored minority Christians in control of Lebanon. In Syria, it gave charge to the persecuted Alawite, who were utterly grateful.
Britain put its favored Sunni’s in charge of the new Iraq, adding the persecuted non-Arab Kurds to keep the pot simmering. Those Iraqi Kurds seem to be moving towards undeclared independence, including for their kin in Syria.
Now, the 100 years of building patchwork quilts to protect Western interests in the region are working their way through the current conflicts.