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#372, 1 July 2014

Contemporary Developments in Syria and Iraq: Implications and Policy Options for India

Initial Remarks
 Dr D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

• If the international community had addressed the Syrian insurgency at the right time with the right amount of force, would the current situation in Iraq be taking place?
• Is the situation in Iraq a sudden development or did the international community miss an early warning?
• What does the rise of the ISIS mean for Iraq and international jihad?
• The trend of late is to compare Iraq with Afghanistan. Will Afghanistan go the same way as Iraq?
• What are the policy implications of the current rise of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria for India?

Amb Ranjit Gupta
Distinguished Fellow, IPCS and Former Indian Ambassador to Yemen and Oman

The situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq is very complex but the reasons why this is so are relatively straightforward. Unfortunately however prospects for solutions are not bright as the main actors seem unwilling or unable to move away from their hard-line policy approaches despite all indications that these have proved singularly counter-productive.

Iraqi history affirms the self-belief of the Sunni segment of its population that despite being a minority it is the ‘natural’ ruling element of the country. In the aftermath of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, developments in the country turned this historical reality on its head - for the first time in centuries Iraq has been under Shia rule and that too in an unabashedly sectarian manner. The Shia-Sunni divide was never as poisonous as it has become in the last few years. A Sunni backlash was inevitable. This is what we are witnessing today in Iraq as manifested in the lightening takeover of the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the ISIS, an extremist militant group even more radical and brutal than al Qaeda.

Amb Ranjit Gupta’s complete presentation may be accessed at Developments in Syria and Iraq: Implications & Policy Options for India.

Is it appropriate to describe ISIS as a terrorist group?
The ISIS should not be called a terrorist outfit; it is a very well organised group. It is a mini-state that is very well-run and tightly controlled. They are extremely wealthy as well. Their overall assets today should be somewhere in the range of US$2.4 billion. They collect taxes in the areas they control and also make money via ransom.

If Iraq were to follow the steps suggested in this discussion, would it impact Syria?
What is happening in Syria is autonomous, and will continue to happen regardless of what happens in Iraq.

Is there any role the international community can play in this crisis apart from providing humanitarian assistance only?
The international community should stop interfering and supplying arms to different factions. Bilateral talks should decide solutions to such problems though humanitarian aid needs to continue.

What is the position of the GCC in the current crisis?
The GCC has internal factions that let it perform very little. There are no unified opinions and their statements do not display a common GCC policy towards either Iran or Iraq.

Is anyone, including Turkey, ready to support an independent Kurdistan?
No neighbouring country is going to consciously support an independent Kurdistan in Iraq because it has implications for its own Kurdish territory.

Will the ISIS become like the Taliban?
Yes, although the ISIS will face difficulty in being recognised like the Taliban did by the international community.

What is the role of Russia in Syria?
Russia is the strongest power protecting Syria and as long as it continues, there is nothing the rest of the world can do.

What is the impact of this crisis on the Shias and Sunnis of India?
India has remained particularly immune from what has been happening in the Gulf, and this will continue to be the case.

Rapporteured by Subin Nepal, Research Intern, IPCS


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