MANAMA: Iraq’s top diplomat has warned that the “toxic” proliferation of extremist groups among Syria’s rebels raises the prospect of a jihadist-ruled territory at the heart of the region.
The comments by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reflect Iraq’s fears that the Syrian conflict is imperiling its fragile domestic security, as well as growing international alarm about the risk posed by foreign fighters bolstering the ranks of armed groups fighting to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Zebari told attendees at a security conference in Bahrain that the increase in radical fighters among the Syrian rebels was leading toward the creation of an ungovernable “Islamic emirate” that the world would have to deal with down the road.
“The most important danger coming out of the Syria conflict for Iraq ... and for the region is the mushrooming of terrorist groups and fronts in Syria,” Zebari said.
“These are armies of recruits,” he continued. “They’re not all Syrians. There are European nationals. Some of them have come as far as from Australia, from Canada and from many other countries. This is really toxic.”
Zebari warned that extremist groups could eventually consolidate areas under their control inside Syria.
“The day will come, God forbid, when they will have another Islamic emirate” outside the effective control of the government. “Then we have to deal with that threat later on. These are facts. We are not creating stories.”
Zebari sought to make clear that this should not be interpreted as Iraqi support for the Syrian leader.
“The Iraqi government is no fan of Bashar Assad. I will not shed any tears if the Syrian people” remove him from power, he said.
In addition to the extremist Sunnis that have crossed into Syria to help the rebels, Iraqi Shiite militants have taken up arms on the side of Assad’s forces. Baghdad insists it has no official role in deploying fighters across the border.