Syria and Iraq



More from Strategy Page on the situation in Iraq and how it relates to the winding down of the revolt in Syria:


Currently ISIL is trying to gain complete control over eastern Syria and western Iraq. That is proving difficult because of continued resistance in Syria by government forces and Kurds as well as some rival Islamic terrorist groups (mainly al Nusra). In Iraq the Shia controlled government sent so many of their best units to Anbar that the security forces in Mosul collapsed and handed ISIL an unexpected victory. That appears to be backfiring because now the Shia government of Iraq has given in to years of Kurd demands that the autonomous Kurds of northern Iraq be allowed to take control of Mosul and Kirkuk and nearby oil fields. At this point the Iraqi government doesn’t have much choice. The Kurds will have to fight hard for Mosul and Kirkuk, but the Kurdish army (the Peshmerga) have been defeating Sunni Islamic terrorists for a long time. In this fight, the ISIL is the underdog. ISIL can afford to give up Mosul and Kirkuk because these are not historically Bedouin lands but rather Kurdish. The Kurds will be fighting harder for them. Ultimately ISIL wants to control their own homeland to the south. Once that is done ISIL believes their Holy Warriors can gain control of all of Syria and Iraq and then the world. This has never worked, in large part because of the extreme brutality these Holy Warriors use against their opponents. ISIL has been deliberately murdering Shia, Christian and Kurdish civilians in an effort to terrorize their groups into surrender. That is not working and rarely has in the last few centuries. All these groups have powerful foreign allies who work hard to help their kinsmen fight back.   

Despite these problems ISIL is real and dangerous. There’s a reason for that. Islamic terrorists have long been depicted in Arab culture as noble and pure warriors fighting to protect Islam. This is partly religion and partly culture but the reality is no Islamic radicals have ever managed to do any permanent good for the Moslem world. This truth gets realized and accepted eventually and then forgotten again. For example after the 2008 defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, and the 90 percent decline in al Qaeda attacks there it was believed that Islamic terrorism was on the ropes once more and many Arabs were visibly relieved. But the Arab Spring changed all that. Terrorist attacks worldwide, most of them by Moslem religious radicals, more than doubled from 7,200 in 2009 to 18,500 in 2013.    

There have been many outbreaks of Islamic terrorism in the past but his time around the chief cause was state sponsored Islamic terrorism by Pakistan and a recent boost by the Arab Spring uprisings and continued financial support by wealthy Arabs in the Persian Gulf and fanatic young men throughout Arabia. The Pakistani policy of covertly supporting and encouraging Islamic terrorist groups began in the late 1970s and after September 11, 2001 there Islamic terrorists were increasingly out of Pakistani control. Thus Pakistan found itself in the position of continuing to support Islamic terrorists who attacked India and Afghanistan while fighting a growing number of disaffected terrorist groups at home that had declared war on Pakistan. The result was a huge spike in Islamic terrorist violence. For the Arab Spring countries it meant prolonged unrest and more Islamic terrorist deaths. Worse, it isn’t over, especially in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria. Over 200,000 have died so far in the Arab Spring countries, and millions more wounded, imprisoned or driven from their homes.

Go here to read the rest.  I think the Iraqi government will be able to beat off the ISIL attempt to establish permanent control in any part of Iraq.  ISIL simply does not have more than a few thousand troops and the Iraqi government can call on endless manpower from the Shia of the south, along with support from Iran.  The long term problems in Iraq are an ongoing low level, at best, civil war between Sunnis and the Shia dominated government of Iraq, growing Iranian influence and a Kurdish state in the north.  From the perspective of the US, the Kurds are pro-American, growing Iranian influence in Iraq is worrisome so long as the current regime in Iran is in power and continued Sunni-Shia strife is tragic but inevitable.  Whoever wins in all this, I can guarantee that it will not be ISIL, the terrorist group grabbing all the largely clueless headlines in the West.

More to explorer


  1. Iran has deep-seated problems of its own. Because of its collapsing birth-rate (from a TFR of 7 in the 1980s to 1.6 today), by 2050 about one-third of its population will consist of the dependent elderly, as compared to about one-twelfth today, while its oil exports, which currently account for about one-fifth of per capita GDP will have virtually dried up by 2020. Indeed, Iran is already a net importer of refined products.

    Moreover, there are unresolved disputes over Caspian oil with both Russia and Azerbaijan (and a large part of the population of Northern Iran is Azeri.)

    It would not be surprising, if Iran sought a solution to this impending disaster by trying to gain control of the oil-fields in the majority Shia areas of Iraq and Western Arabia. Any Iranian government will, in any event, be obliged to present itself as the champions of Shia Islam. Iran is a confessional state, with religion the bond of unity between the different races that compose it. Persians make up only 60-65% of the population.

    If that is the plan, they had better do so before their dwindling financial resources and the decline in the number of men of military age renders it impossible.

  2. Throughout the Muslim world, the lowest rates of adult literacy correspond to the highest population growth rate.
    Even allowing for other factors, like urbanization, altered patterns of living, of housing, of the human relation with space and land, of marketing, employment, and consumption, and the very structure of family and social hierarchy, UN figures for the 34 largest Muslim countries suggest literacy alone accounts for 58% of the variation in birth-rates.
    What happened over three generations in the Maghreb has taken place over a single generation in Iran.
    In the Middle East, Israel presents a curious contrast with its neighbours. Although it has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, its Jewish population has one of the highest fertility rates (2.8%) and one of the lowest suicide rates (5-6 per 100,000) of any industrialised country. Amongst Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish settlers, mostly from Muslim countries, the birth-rate is even higher.

  3. Thank you, Donald. So the Iranian govt encouraged birth control and look what happened!

  4. The liberal main stream media rarely reports the real story–on anything–they are too busy pushing their agenda and manipulating public opinion to complete any real investigative, accurate reporting.

    A lot of the “Christian” media follow suit in the same manner–as has been discussed regularly on this blog. I was sickened to hear a fluffy, feel good, give each other big hugs & smiles to make the world a better place, kumbaya report on K-Love radio this past week re: Iran. Apparently some poor Iranian government approved artist has painted several government approved murals in government approved spots. K-Love radio hosts just thought that was the sweetest thing & commented that the artist was making the world a more beautiful place. I could have vomited while listening to the report. Mean while, as these murals are being painted, Iranian citizens are being imprisoned, raped, tortured, murdered, & denied every basic God given freedom known to man. At least we may take comfort that there is a pretty mural for Iranians to view on their way to being decapitated. *sarcasm*

    If it were not for alternative media & the internet, I would never know what was really going on in the world.

  5. I would dearly love to help the Kurds in anyway possible. I know at one point Samaritan’s purse was assisting Kurdish widows & orphans.

    I have no doubt that the Kurds will fight harder for their home land than any intruders. I know I would fight with every ounce of strength in me for my family and homeland.

    Does anyone know if America still keeps a no fly zone over the Kurdish region of Iraq as we did in order to save their lives after Sadam Hussein gassed an entire town of Kurds to death. I will never forget the raw video I saw of the aftermath of that ethnic cleansing episode.

  6. 2 of my very best friends in college were young Syrian Christians from their Capitol city. They lived under the dictatorship of Assad. They could only discuss their faith inside the walls of their church, their mail came to them opened (all of it,) they were followed by a government agent every where they went in public, told stories of people simply disappearing to never be seen again after an accusation of that individual criticizing the Syrian government, even in college in a foreign land my friends, women, were in fear of the government and still shuddered when thinking about having to wear Muslim head garb in their schools. Their father was working in a refrigeration plant in Saudi Arabia at the time I was in college with them. The women showed me pictures of the Christians worshipping in secret in Saudi Arabia. They said if the Saudis ever found out that their father was a Christian that he would be given 3 days to leave the country or be decapitated. Being young and niave in the ways of dictatorships at the time, I did not fully believe that the Saudis would kill another nation’s citizens for being a Christian. Then not long after hearing the threat against their father, I saw pictures of 3 Christian men who were indeed found out by the Saudis & were decapitated. The information re: those martyrdoms was received through an organization that reports on the underground/persecuted church world wide. Apparently the men who were martyred were either unable to get out of Saudi Arabia in the allotted time or simply were never given the chance.

  7. Donald & MPS: To my knowledge, Islam strictly teaches against abortion as such. I have had something explained to me about Islam requiring a type of respect for unborn children. Do you know if Iran has instituted use of any form of abortion since they have introduced birth control?

  8. Ms Barbara were your Syrian friends followed because they were Christians or because they were going to college and thus likely to get some new-fangled ideas about freedom? One has to distinguish between the two. At the end of the day, it is for the people there to make their adjustments. There is no need to spell out, in light of what is happening to the Iraqi Shiites right now, what the fate of the Syrian Christians would be, had the same ‘freedom fighters’ overcome the Syrian Army. No thanks surely to the US and other heralds of freedom.

  9. Ivan,

    As I understand it, at that time which was in the mid to late 1980s, it was strictly because my friends were of a Christian faith thatctheyvreceived such intimidation & harrassment at the hands of the Syrian dictatorship. My friends were members of an evangelical Alliance church in the capitol of Syria. All of their church members & famiky mrmbers were followed by Syrian government agents everywhere they went in public in Syria, all mail going to households in which church members lived was opened & read by government agents, their homes & cars were bugged, they were only able to practice and/or discuss their faith inside of the walls of the physical Alliance Church, & they were not even allowed to invite someone to their church while in Syria. My understanding is that the Syrian dictator allowed the Christians to have a public presence only as a political tool to keep the majority Muslim faith from over throwing his government. The dictator was a member of a minority Muslim group & needed the Christisns to help him maintain power. Otherwise the Alliance Churches would not have been allowed to exist within Syria at the given time. My understanding was that Assad was doing all he could to keep both the majority Muslims & the minority Christians in his country under his thumb for the purposes of maintaining control & the power of his dictatorship. These young women attended a Christian college with me in Arkansas for 2 years after leaving Syria & making a treck through Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to see their family and then coming to the East coast of the US for a few months of training in the English language. Only then did they start college–far away from the dictator’s goons & his influence.

  10. Barbara Gordon asked, “Do you know if Iran has instituted use of any form of abortion since they have introduced birth control? “

    No. The Shia jurists are unanimous that abortion is haram (forbidden). If a child is aborted, the diya (blood money) is payable to the heir, those heirs who connived at the abortion being excluded, which is the ordinary rule for homicide. Similarly, if a pregnant woman is injured and suffers a miscarriage, diya is payable to the child’s heirs, including the mother.

    An exception is permitted to preserve the life of the mother, relying on Surah Baqarah, 2:233: “A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child.”

  11. Paul W Primavera wrote, “So the Iranian govt encouraged birth control and look what happened!”

    Of course the government policies had some impact, but comparative figures from 34 other Muslim majority countries suggest that, at most, they exacerbated a trend. As I noted above, increased literacy rates alone appear to account for 58% of the decline in the birth-rate.

    It is noticeable that, when women from Muslim countries move to a country with a vigorously pro-natalist policy, like France, their total fertility rate rises, in comparison to that in their home countries, but, in most cases, only marginally.

    Turkey 3.21 against 2.16 an increase of 1.05
    Algeria 2.57 against 1.78 an increase of 0.79
    Tunisia 2.90 against 2.73 an increase of 0.17
    Morocco 2.97 against 3.28 a decrease of 0.31

    This suggests the impact of government policies is limited, one way or the other

  12. Ms Barbara, it is possible that it met with the approval of the other Christians. There was little love lost between the Evangelicals who are largely perceived to be beneficiaries of American largesse and even their agents, and the other Christians. When I was in India the Roman Catholic Church went so far as to deny Evangelical converts extreme unction and burial on church grounds, which makes sense, but was lost on the dying who needed the comfort.

  13. President Taliban got in two rounds of golf (if you call what he does “golf”) this weekend. PS: Hasn’t the US and et al aided and abetted Syrian anti-government terrorists? Now the guys (we aided) are undoing the mission for which over 4,000 US GI’s died?

    Killing prisoners stiffens the enemy who quickly learns that surrender is not an option.

    That being said, What is not to like? Muslims killing muslims; and fewer spawns of filthy pagans – sounds like a win-win situation.

    In conclusion, all this proves that Washington, DC is not the only place on the planet with one, collective lump of $#!+ for brains.

  14. T Shaw

    Unfortunately, about 10% of the population of Syria is Christian and the only power likely to protect them from the Jihadists is the Assad régime. They include several high-ranking officials.

    As in Iraq, the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party has always been a secular party and, unlike many countries in the region, under President Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad, the government has allowed Christians to allows churches to preach, teach, evangelize, publish religious materials, and build churches and Christians have enjoyed access to education and employment.

  15. T Shaw

    I fancy Obama’s real reason is that there has long been a strategic alliance between Syria under the Assads, father and son and Iran.

    Ideologically, they are poles apart; a secular Arab nationalist regime on the one hand and a pan-Islamic, Persian Islamic republic on the other. No one in the upper échelons of either government cares twopence about that. They share a common hatred for Israel and Syria has always allowed Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, to operate freely in its territory and given it a measure of logistical and intelligence support.

    By the by, they also shared a common hatred for Saddam Hussein, despite his being a secular Arab nationalist and, like the Assads, a Ba’athist. In line with his secularist beliefs, Saddam, too, favoured the Christian minority in Iraq and his Foreign Minister and deputy Premier, Tariq Aziz was an Assyrian Chaldean (Catholic) Christian.

    Syria destabilised poses no existential threat to Israel and weakens Hezbollah in the process.

  16. Ivan,

    Let me point out that I entered the Catholic Church 2 Easters ago.

    I, having spent time in Central American countries as a missionary for Protestant churches in the 1990s, am very aware of the type of conflicts you describe between Catholics and Evangelicals taking place around the world although I was not aware that there was any presence of the Catholic Church within the borders of Syria at the time I was in college with my dear Syrian friends. There may have been a public Catholic presence or underground Catholic presence in Syria in the ’90s, I just basically was a foreigner to the Catholic Church in the ’90s and was told by my Syrian friends that the Alliance Church of which they were members was the only church allowed to exist at that time. My Syrian friends may have meant that the Alliance Church was the only Protestant Church–I simply am not sure on that point. As my friends could not discuss Christianity outside of their church building, they would not have been able to talk with other Christian faiths unless someone of that separate Christian faith attended an Alliance church service with my friends local congregation.

    There obviously is a Catholic presence in Syria now as I have read in alternative media re: the persecution taking place against Catholics in Syria.

    I, personally as a Protestant Evangelical, visited a very isolated mountain village near the Southern border of Mexico in the late 1990s under the explicit threat of physical harm from local Catholics who did not want a Protestant presence in their village. We literally risked our lives to drive to the mountain village and back.

    I, my sister, & her husband visited an isolated Honduran mountain village with Protestant Evangelical ministers to take needed medical supplies and carry the first ever medical doctor to the Catholics & few Protestants in the villages. Protestant missionaries did not care what the religious faith of those needing medical care might be. All were treated until we ran out of supplies. Again, the trips themselves were a real risk of our lives. It was common knowledge that our vehicle breaking down on one of such trips, apart from a miracle of God, meant we would never be seen alive again–if our body was found at all. My sister, her husband who is a Protestant minister, another male Protestant missionary, & an American medical doctor had to lock themselves into a sealed building in one such village over night with a rifle for protection. Without taking such extreme steps for saftey, they were not certain that they would be alive to see the morning sun rise due to threats from local Catholics–even after having provided free medical care to an entire Catholic Mountain village.

    A Protestant Evangelical medical doctor with whom I worked in Sula, Honduras had bullets, rocks, & other items s.a. Rotten food shot/thrown through the windows of the church building while he was preaching to some locals. After a few years ministry to these Catholics through a hospital the doctor built in this area, this same Protestant Evangelical doctor/preacher had delivered so many Catholic babies, sewn up so many machete fight wounds, & performed so many surgeries on the local population that when the doctor himself became seriously ill–the Catholic Church in the area said a mass for this Protestant Evangelical doctor/preacher to get well. Lol

    The Catholic powers that existed at that time in Mexico had become so concerned about the influence of the Protestant Evangelical schools that attempts were being made to outlaw their very existence.

    I look back on such risks of our lives now and know that it must have seemed crazy and foolish for us to risk our lives in such manners to some. My only explanation is that I & the others were willing to do what we felt God was calling us to do at the time to meet the needs of those to whom we felt He had sent us and trust Him for the outcome. I, literally, almost died three times during a simple 4 month visit to Honduras. I have permanent physical repercussions from my time spent in Central America. And I would do it all over again should God ask it of me. I & my sister were taught growing up that the safest place to be is in God’s will–hence our willingness to go to other continents & take such risks.

    I saw many literal, physical miracles take place during my time in Central America.

    The governing bodies of most Protestant Evangelical individual churches & entire denominations are built and operate entirely on the same Democratic Republican form of government that our founders created for us here in the US–so where ever most Protestant Evangelicals are–the American philosophy of one man/one vote, God given human rights, limited government, and self government are being taught. There are also often American federally funded feeding/health programs being administered through ministries of such churches. In more than one sense, most Evangelical Protestants can be viewed as “American agents.”

  17. Barbara Gordon

    The largest Christian church in Syria is the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, followed by the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

    Then there is the Assyrian Church of the East, which separated from the rest of Christendom in protest at the Council of Ephesus in 431. They are sometimes referred to as Nestorians, but the Common Christological Declaration of 1994, subscribed by the Pope and Catholicos-Patriarch suggests this may have been more about formulae than actual belief. There is also the Chaldean Catholic Church, a branch of the Assyrians in union with Rome.

    There is also the Oriental Syriac Orthodox Church, which separated from the rest of Christendom in protest at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and who are traditionally considered Monophysites (the opposite heresy to the Nestorians). Again, this may have been more a question of words, than of belief and the Pope and the Oriental Patriarch signed common declarations in 1984. They are in communion with the Armenians and the Copts.

    All these churches and their Patriarchs enjoyed good relation with the Ba’athist Arab Socialist Party, both in Syria, under the Assads and under Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

    They all view Protestantism, in any form, as an alien and Western thing, but especially those not ruled by a hierarch, who takes responsibility for his subordinates’ actions.

  18. MPS: Great info about the Catholic Church in Syria. Until about 1.5 yrs ago during RICA classes & reading a book, Catholicism For Dummies (LOL,) I did not understand the connection between the Greek Orthodox churches & the Catholic Church. I know I still don’t understand the connections fully!

    I sure had no idea about such connections as a college sophomore at a Fundamentalist Baptist College where the focus was on learning our own history/theology/philosophy, etc. My Protestant Syrian friends whom I referenced had not the least interest in Catholicism or closely related faiths to my knowledge.

    In one of your posts you referenced the ability of Protestants under Assad having the ability to proselytize. In the mid to late 1980s, my Protestant Syrian friends had no such freedoms in Damascus. It was strictly forbidden to discuss their faith outside of the walls of their church–they could not even invite someone to their church nor sing Christian songs outside the walls of their church. Once they were inside of their church, they could speak freely about their faith to those present I still remember the overwhelming joy the youngest sister expressed in my presence when she figured out that she could sing songs about her faith at full volume anywhere she wished here in Arkansas. She literally experienced some type of spiritual revival in her life, and against all denominational rules/regs one of our Baptist pastors re-baptized her–at her request. I was wondering what you meant exactly when you said that Syrian Protestants could proselytize freely and if you were referencing a given period of time?

    It is a misrepresentation of Protestant churches/denominations to think that there does not exist a hierarchy among them where people, in the church hiearchy, are seen as not having responsibility for those beneath them in a hierarchy. For instance, the Assembly of God has a presbytery that has local pastors, state, regional, & then national levels. When a Southern Baptist Convention pastor resigns, his entire staff of ministers including the ministers of music & education resign as well with the local church making the determination which staff ministers who resigned will stay if any wish to do so. There are independent (meaning not associated with a given formal association, cooperative, or denominational religious hierarchy) churches called “Bible” churches which are lead completely by “elders” who function as minsters and a ministerial board for the church with full responsibility for every facet of church life.

    I wish some of the hierarchy in the Catholic Church took their leadership capacity more seriously and practically dealt with things like pro-abortion politicians here in America.

    Also, I am wondering what you mean when you say that these Greek Orthodox and other Catholicly affiliated/connected churches have a good relationship with the ruling dictatorial powers in Syria. Do such faiths have the freedoms we have here in America regarding their faith & practice? Are such churches licensed/approved by the dictatorial government?

  19. MPS: Also, I can see from a Syrian Catholic frame of reference WHY they would view Protestant churches as a weird Western thing. To them it IS a weird Western thing that occur from its beginning completely outside their frame of reference, geographical region, experience, or ability to influence.

  20. Barbara Gordon

    There is a very long tradition, going back at least to Ottoman times, to regard religious communities as semi-autonomous and to let them follow their own laws in such things as marriage, inheritance, settling disputes between their own members. The Patriarch of Constantinople was the Rum Millet Bashi or Ethnarch, the civil, as well as the religious head of the Greek Orthodox throughout the Empire. Thus, when the Greek War of Independence broke out in 1821, the Patriarch was taken from his church – it was Easter Sunday – and hanged from the archway of his Phanar palace.

    The fact that religion and ethnicity tend to go together in the Middle East helped to reinforce this attitude. Syrians who speak Syriac, rather than Arabic, also tend to be Christians and whole villages tend to be of one faith. Even in towns, they gather in their own quarters Protestants do not fit this pattern.

    Now, in theory, Syria is a secular state: the government neither recognises, salaries or subsidises any religion – in theory. In practice, religious leaders are important channels of information, communicating the desires and grievances of their communities to government and communicating government policies back to their communities; they are, in effect, an informal but important part of the administration of a country that is a complex network of communal and tribal groups. Hafez al-Assad was brilliant at this, his son, not so much.

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