Aikins: How should Canada respond to the rising violence in Syria?

By: /
February 27, 2012

Syria is more like Iraq than Libya. It has a large population that is riven by sectarian divisions between Sunni, Shia, and Alawi Muslims—20 million, compared to around 32 million in Iraq and 6 million in monolithically Sunni Libya. A full-blown civil war in Syria could quickly escalate into a proxy war between Iran and Hezbollah on one side and a Western-backed bloc on the other, which would in turn threaten to spread into a regional conflagration.

A Western military intervention would delegitimize the Syrian resistance, which enjoys widening support in the Arab world—the most surprising windfall of this has been Hamas’ break with the Assad regime. If the conflict escalates to intolerable levels, military intervention should only be attempted with the full backing of the UN and regional bodies, and only when the prospects of negotiated settlement have utterly faded.

The UN estimates that up to 8,000 people have died in Syria, two-thirds of them noncombatants—but over 150,000 died as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Canada, while continuing to condemn the Assad regime's violence against its people, should press for a multilateral, peaceful end to the conflict.