Russia has launched airstrikes in Syria for a second day, becoming the latest foreign government to intervene in a war that has already killed over 240,000 people and displaced millions. The move sparked concern from U.S. officials, who say the Russian attacks did not hit ISIL targets but instead struck rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including at least one group trained by the CIA. The United States and Russia have long disagreed about strategy in Syria, with Washington calling for Assad’s departure and Moscow backing the Syrian president. Earlier today, the Kremlin said Russia is coordinating with the Syrian military to hit ISIL targets as well as other militant organizations. Russia is at least the 10th foreign government to launch airstrikes in Syria this year. Other countries include the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Turkey, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. We speak to Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi.
I think that the beginning of the story has to be the destruction of the government in Iraq and its replacement by the United States occupation—not just taking the top of the pyramid off, but completely removing everybody who had any knowledge of how to govern in Iraq. Anyone who was connected to the Baath Party was, in the de-Baathification process, removed. In doing that, the state, that had been built up over more than a century, was basically removed. And the people who came in were almost entirely sectarian themselves, the people who came in with the occupation forces. And so, a Shia-dominated government, which basically did not know how to run the country and which has proven to be endlessly corrupt, was put in place. And that triggered a sectarian reaction among the Sunnis of Iraq. And that’s where the Islamic State started. And that then spread to Syria, where a similar analogous sectarian process has developed against the Alawi-dominated regime of Bashar al-Assad. So, part of this is the ripples from the Iraqi invasion. Nobody in this country seems to want to talk about that. This really is the beginning of this mess, is 2003, 12 years ago.Rashid Khalidi