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Sectarian Agenda Seeks 'Sunni Restoration' in Syria, Iraq

Geoffrey Aronson writes that the sectarian agenda of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in Syria is really about a "'Sunni restoration" in Iraq.
Iraqi Sunni Muslims wave an Iraqi national flag during an anti-government demonstration at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque in Baghdad's Adhamiya district, January 25, 2013.  At least three people were killed on Friday when Iraqi troops opened fire during clashes in Falluja city with Sunni protesters rallying against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, officials and witnesses said.  REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION) - RTR3CXNM

For many of those battling to determine Syria's future, the real prize to be won is not Syria, but Iraq. For foreigners of all persuasions — Arabs who have descended upon Bilad al-Sham from all corners, jihadis and Salifis aplenty, Iranians, Turks and assorted querulous Westerners — it is the sectarian identity of Baghdad rather than Damascus that hangs in the balance. Syria today is not a war by proxy, but something far more complex. The struggle for Syria is a way station rather than a destination, signifying the undoing of the largely successful effort by Hafez al Assad to re-establish Damascus as a strong, independent actor rather than as an object in the schemes and dreams of others.

Foremost among these dreams is the restoration of Sunni supremacy in Iraq. Turks, among others, lament that for “the first time in a thousand years,” Persians rule in Baghdad. It is no secret that Saudis blame Washington for Iran's empowerment in Baghdad — a once-in-a millennium event. They recall only too well their unprecedented warning to the Bush administration to put aside any plans for a military campaign against Iraq. In 2002, a year before the US invasion, The New York Times reported that “at nearly every stop in the Arab world, [US Vice President] Richard Cheney has been cautioned against US military action to topple Hussein. The warnings were made in news conferences, press statements or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, in several television interviews that were broadcast on the eve of Cheney's visit.”

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