Many observers have underestimated the worth of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, due to a fundamental misunderstanding of its role. The conference which begins on the 29th of January in the Russia city of Sochi, looks to bring representatives of the Syrian Government together with so-called “opposition” factions in the Astana Format. After intensive dialogue, the governments of Russia, Iran and Turkey will act as guarantors of a final agreement, when eventually reached.
While the meeting is designed to bring an end to violence in Syria through reaching mutual understandings, in reality it is about something even more profound. Countries throughout the Arab world from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, Libya and Egypt have been destabilised due to the foreign backing of sectarian political, ethno-linguistic and religious groups. The sectarian menace has seen success in dividing an Arab world that seemed set on increasing unity in the aftermath of the Second World War and the subsequent decline of European empires.
President Bashar al-Assad has stated on numerous occasions that Arabism/Arab Nationalism is the solution to quelling the violence caused through the formation of sectarian terror groups and Zionist imperialism in the Arab world.
One of the few positive developments in the Middle East over the last several years has been the formation of an Iraq-Syria alliance. As Iraq struggles against the continued and largely disliked presence of US troops in the country, Iraqi politicians have gradually begun asserting their independence and in so doing, have signed accords with both Iran and Russia. Furthermore, the newly found fraternal relations between the Iraqi and Syrian governments have restored ties that became extinguished during the Ba’ath Party Split of 1966.
Syria and Iraq shared intelligence throughout the mutual conflict against Takfiri terrorism and likewise, Iraqi volunteers came to the aid of the Syrian Arab Army during the late stages of the battle against Daesh in eastern Syria. For these reasons alone, it is wholly appropriate and advisable for Iraq to attend the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.
What’s more however, is that Iraq’s attendance highlights a deeply important element of the pan-regional conflicts in the Middle East. In particular, the Syrian conflict is not a “civil war” between supporters of the Syrian government and Syrians who support other factions. In reality, the Syrian conflict is but one theatre in a wider war whereby stable governments, those that are secular or pluralistic in nature, are coming under attack from sectarian groups, particularly Takfiri terrorists but in the cases of Syria and Iraq, also ethno-nationalist Kurdish extremists.
In this sense, the conflicts throughout the Middle East are wider conflicts between central governments and the forces of anarchy which sometimes cause mayhem and carnage while flying a multitude of Takfiri flags and at other times an ethno-nationalist/secessionist flag.
Ultimately, peace will only prevail in Syria and Iraq when all unwelcome foreign militias and occupying armies exit from the territory as well as when all mercenaries/soldiers of fortune, religious extremists and sectarian nationalists and western “volunteers” do the same.
While Iraq’s current constitution is not strictly an Arabist one as Syria’s is, Iraq’s struggle against sectarian groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda, in addition to the pan-Iraqi struggle against Kurdish secessionists, has helped to recast the mould of progressive, inclusive, anti-racist and anti-sectarian Arab Nationalism in the heart of Iraq. When Iraq and Syria come together, it is therefore an alliance based on these inclusive, modern and civilised Arab values that strikes at the heart of those who seek to foment terror, devastation and division in the heart of the Arab world. In this sense, Iraq along with Syria form the most important core of the Dialogue Congress in Sochi.