In the Middle East, it’s difficult to tell the players even when you do have a scorecard — so it’s a good thing Middle East Briefing has a scorecard so good, that it’s today’s Required Reading.
With that in mind, this section of it is a clear and concise outline of the operational-strategic situation in the Levant-Mesopotamia area:
Shia forces in Baghdad, fully backed by the Iranians, are aware of the real nature of the strategic significance of the conflict. They will fiercely resist arming the Anbar tribes and they will do everything possible to derail any attempt to mobilize the East Syrian tribes under an Arab-US flag. Assad, who does not have now sufficient forces to control the East, started already to implement a coordinated plan to divide Syria’s Arab tribes, isolate suspected leaders and manipulate ISIL to fight the emerging potential adversary.
The desert stretching between Syria and Iraq will certainly be a major factor in defining the outcome of the current mess in the two countries, even on political levels. Most probably it will be there that prospect of preserving the unity of the two countries, in a way or another, will be determined. It will be, as well, the battle field where ISIL’s fate will be sealed. Yet, in the grand game to control that vital stretch of sand, the main opposed camps are the Arabs and the Iranians. ISIL comes there in its proper place, as a byproduct of this main battle.
The gradual shift of the center of the Iraq-Syria mess to the Ramadi-Dair Al Zour-Palmyra desert does not mean of course that the significance of West Iraq or Damascus is diminished. We saw for example that the Iraqi Shia forces of Abo Al Fazel Al Abass were pulled out of their posts in the center of Aleppo after the fall of Ramadi to ISIL forces. These forces were directed to defend Baghdad instead of Aleppo. This allowed the forces of Nour Aldin Al Zinki in the Syrian opposition to attack the regime’s area starting from the Research Center posts, where Abass forces were previously centered.
If the Iranians look at this desert battle field as one, they understand that contrary to their adversaries, they must keep Damascus under their control. And that is exactly what they are trying to do, whatever it takes.