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Raqqa liberated: Islamic State has gone but the dangers remain

The defeat of Islamic State is good news, but unless statesmanship and benevolence is shown by the victors of the present round of fighting, it won’t be long before West Asia sees another round of militancy

editorials Updated: Oct 18, 2017 16:56 IST
Hindustan Times
Islamic State,Iraq,SDF
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, October 17(REUTERS)

In West Asia, the end of one war paves the way for the next. Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the self-styled Islamic State (IS), has fallen to a coalition of rebels, the Syrian Democratic Forces that is backed by the United States. Mopping up operations can be expected to continue for a few more weeks, but the politics of the region is already shifting to the power struggle between the loose coalition of forces that brought down the IS.

The most obvious evidence of this coming round of manoeuvring and eventually even fighting is the Iraqi army’s capture of Mosul from the Kurdish forces who had, in turn, taken it from the IS. While the Kurds are unlikely to be able to stand up to the Iraqi forces, Baghdad and the Kurdish region will now have to define their relationship either through words or through bullets.

However, it is in Syria where the rewriting of the post-Islamic State phase is most likely to devolve into violence. There are a number of fault lines. One is that Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq are closing ranks to ensure an independent Kurdish state does not appear. But the Sunni Arab states are more sympathetic, as is Israel and the United States. And Turkey is disliked by its other three partners.

The other is the divide between the US and Israel on one side and Iran and Syria on the other. As Iranian-supported forces move across Syria, they have been quietly warned by Israel about not getting too close.

Russia has emerged as the balancing power in the Levant region with relatively good relations with almost all the players in the region. With the US’ influence in the region having been reduced by its ever-changing positions, Russia may be the kingmaker in the Syrian region if it plays its cards right.

On the Iraqi side, it is evident that Iran has emerged as dominant though it must be careful as a reunited Iraq, even if Shia ruled, will not take long in reasserting itself.

Overall, the IS collapse and the return of a strong Iraq are positives for India whose main regional interests revolve around the Persian Gulf. But Shia dominance in Syria and western Iraq, which are Sunni populated, runs the risk of Sunni alienation and eventually another surge of militancy.

What is really hoped for is a degree of statesmanship and benevolence from the victors of the present round of fighting – otherwise the cycle of West Asian violence will begin again in a few years.

First Published: Oct 18, 2017 16:47 IST