Abu Muqawama: Locating the Real Risk of Syria Spillover in Lebanon, Iraq

Abu Muqawama: Locating the Real Risk of Syria Spillover in Lebanon, Iraq

Over the past week, we have seen the first real case of sectarian violence spilling over from Syria into neighboring Lebanon. In clashes in and around the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, at least five people have been killed in fighting that is, as I write this, winding down following the deployment of the Lebanese army.

This may seem like an odd time, then, to pour cold water on the risks of Syria’s sectarian conflict reigniting dormant civil conflicts in Lebanon and also Iraq. To be sure, there is a real danger the violence in Syria will spill over into neighboring countries, just not in the way that most suppose.

Lebanon and Iraq are both scarred by sectarianism and civil conflict. Lebanon has suffered from periodic outbursts of fighting in its short history, but the civil war of 1975-1990 looms largest in the country’s historical memory. In Iraq, meanwhile, the maelstrom of violence that followed the poorly conceived U.S. invasion in 2003 peaked between 2005 and 2007, when factions of Sunni and Shiite Arabs fought a brutal civil war that ended with entire neighborhoods of Baghdad “cleansed” of one sect or the other -- and with Iraq’s Shiite Arabs ultimately and decisively victorious.

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