Some members of the Syrian opposition claim that recent ISIS victories in Iraq are not what they appear to be.
ISIS troops advance on baghdad after capturing Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and Tikrit
The fall of Iraqi cities to rebel forces believed to be loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is bound to change the shape of military confrontation in neighbouring Syria.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is in a precarious position now. If ISIS stays on a winning path in Iraq, the gains it will make in terms of men and materiel may give it the upper hand in its Syrian operations.
There is also the possibility that ISIS rise may invite Iranian involvement in Iraq, and that too can bode ill for the Syrian opposition, which is largely Sunni.
Recent reports suggest that the commander of the Quds Force, an elite formation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), arrived in Baghdad lately to discuss military options.
Developments in Iraq have put the Syrian opposition on edge. On the one hand, opposition leaders are aware that the course of battle in Syria may undergo a profound change. On the other hand, they feel that it is too early to assess the significance of the recent wins by Iraqi rebels.
Some in the Syrian opposition even questioned the current narrative about events in Iraq. Instead of attributing the recent victories to ISIS, a hard-line group with almost no friends and that even Al-Qaeda regards as too extreme in its methods, Syrian opposition commentators say that the Iraqi government is blaming ISIS for the collapse of its authority in Mosul in order to shore up its position.
According to this interpretation, the government of Nuri Al-Maliki, which has failed to bring unity to Iraq, is whipping up sectarian sentiments to stay in power. And the rebels who overrun Mosul recently are not ISIS fighters, but true revolutionaries who want to unseat the inept authorities in Baghdad.
Those who believe in this theory point to the way the Syrian regime reacted to the recent events in Iraq. Damascus has called the rebels who took Mosul “terrorists” and urged the Iraqi government to “smash” them — quite the same language that Al-Assad’s regime uses at home to discredit his opponents.
In Syria, observers say that it is unclear whether the fall of Iraqi cities is due to action by the largely unpopular ISIS or by a coalition of revolutionaries and tribesmen who cannot stomach the current government of Al-Maliki.
A major concern in Syria is that the recent events in Iraq may lead to the formation of a Shia army, a prospect that has been cemented by Al-Maliki’s recent call for the formation of a paramilitary army, with pro-government Shia clerics calling for a holy war.
Haytham Al-Malih, member of the Legal Committee of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), is concerned about the double standards that the international community seems to apply to both Syria and Iraq.
When ISIS was wreaking havoc on Syria, he said, the US said nothing. But when ISIS started doing the same thing in Iraq, the Americans reacted immediately.
According to Al-Malih, this is further proof that US policy is based more on interests than on principles.
The Association of Syrian Democrats (ASD), which is part of NCSROF, voiced the view that recent developments in Iraq were not the result of ISIS prowess, but an act of rebellion by Iraqi revolutionaries.
According to the ASD, Iraq is following the Syrian example, where a beleaguered government blames any act of opposition on extremist militants in the hope of tarnishing the rebels and steering the conflict into a sectarian course.
The Iraqi regime, ASD officials pointed out, wants to pose as a fighter against global terror, the same thing that the Damascus regime tried earlier.
The ASD called on pro-democracy activists in both Syria and Iraq to take a common stand against both the Damascus and Baghdad regimes.
As the Syrian opposition pondered the situation in Iraq, it followed with concern at the increased involvement of Iran in that country.
In the past few days, Qassem Suleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force, arrived in Baghdad for talks. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Shia cleric Ali Al-Sistani issued an edict urging the Shias to fight ISIS.
Both developments suggest that the conflict in Iraq is likely to take on clear sectarian tones in the coming weeks.
But the reports coming from Iraq may have been manipulated by Baghdad propagandists, according to some Syrian observers.
Amr Abu Leila, a spokesman for the FSA, is in charge of the eastern sections of Syria bordering Iraq. According to Abu Leila, ISIS was about to lose the battle in Syria when Al-Maliki came to its help, allowing it to take Mosul in order to rally the Shia community and pose as a defender of the sect.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Abu Leila said: “The battles with ISIS continue in Syria to this moment. This terrorist outfit is hoping to control the northeast of Syria, but it has failed to do so because of the revolutionaries who keep repulsing it.”
Abu Leila claimed that ISIS received help from Iraq after the “grave losses” it suffered in its recent battles against revolutionaries in Syria.
“We consider what happened in Mosul a result of collusion between the Iraqi government and ISIS,” he said.
Michel Kilo, a prominent opposition member, said that, “the two regimes, the Syrian and the Iraqi, are waging systematic wars against their peoples.”
Bashar Al-Assad is helping Al-Maliki because the latter offered him assistance at a time when the Syrian regime was about to fall three years ago, Kilo said.
“It should come as no surprise that Al-Assad would ally himself with Al-Maliki against what both call terror, but is simply a sign of the resentment against their regimes,” he added.