Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Rebuilding Iraq and Syria

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Rebuilding Iraq and Syria

Article excerpt

The Middle East Policy Council welcomed a distinguished panel of speakers to its 89th Capitol Hill conference on July 14. Hosted by the council's chairman, Richard J. Schmierer, and executive director Thomas R. Mattair, the conference touched on the impending effort to rebuild Iraq and Syria, especially following the liberation of Mosul from ISIS and the Syrian cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia.

James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, warned of the dangers of oversimplifying solutions, and inevitable failure if policymakers do not have a clear strategy for the region. Citing the Cold War, when the U.S. reflexively intervened in the region in order to impede the Soviet Union, he said Washington must now have an actual philosophy and objective guiding its regional policy. In Jeffrey's opinion, the U.S. approach to Syria and Iraq should be to assist with rebuilding and to stave offIranian attempts to expand their presence in these countries.

Denise Natali, distinguished research fellow at the National Defense University, said it is crucial to understand the disparity between the reality of the conflicts and the U.S. perception of the conflicts, as they are very different based on her experience on the ground. Nationalism is very much alive in Iraq, Natali said, arguing that trying to explain the conflict through the lens of ethno-sectarianism will not help Iraq or Syria move forward.

Responding to the common belief that sectarianism is the problem, she advised "look[ing] at Iraq and Syria as hyper-fragmented states, not regions." Natali favored addressing the dynamics that instead should concern Washington: that people are fighting for territories, political relevance, resources, oil, and territorial borders.

Despite what many may say, Natali continued, the issue of disputed territories is not over in Iraq. The main question she believes will become relevant is "Who is going to get what? …

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