Lebanon and Iraq have been hit by a wave of bombings in recent months as the civil war in Syria increasingly spills over into its neighbors, further stoking sectarian tensions that are already running high because of the war next door.
Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a leading analysts of Syria, says the arrest of a member of Iraq’s parliament for encouraging anti-government demonstrations in Ramadi has enflamed a sense of indignity among Sunnis in the region.
“The reaction to that was that ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], this Pan al-Qaeda-linked militia, [tried to overrun] Ramadi and Fallujah, and made big inroads [into] two major Sunni cities,” Landis says. “We [the United States] had just been proclaiming that we had mostly destroyed al-Qaeda, and here it is back. And it’s back because of this Syrian violence which has really stoked the flames of Sunni/Shi’ite conflict.”
This spillover could affect the so-called “Geneva II” Middle East peace conference aimed to end the Syrian civil war. Landis says invitations to members of the Syrian opposition haven’t even gone out yet ahead of the January 22 talks, because organizers can’t decide who to invite.
“We’re just kicking the ball down the road, and America has less and less influence in Syria,” Landis says. “By not getting us into the situation and not getting his [President Obama] skin in the game, as people in Washington were calling it, we don’t have a lot of leverage. And that’s the price of not sending lots of money and arms.”
Landis says as al-Qaeda and other Islamist jihadist groups grow more powerful in Syria, the United States will rush to try to get any kind of peace agreements.
“But we’re far away from meaningful peace agreements, and that’s going to drag on for a long time,” Landis says.
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