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Threatening region

May 13,2014 - Last updated at May 13,2014

Unless swift and coordinated action is taken, the region will be overtaken by small but toxic wars that extend from western Iraq to eastern and southern Syria, and from northern Sinai to Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia.

The checkered battlefronts promise to exhaust regime resources and bring instability to the entire region.

The enemy in this case is a combination of radical Islamist jihadists who fight under different banners. In many cases, they also fight among themselves to seize territory and spread terror.

They want to enforce their own brand of Islam in areas under their control. They are behind sectarian conflagration that is sweeping the region.

In Iraq, the army is trying to dislodge fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who occupied the city of Fallujah and extended their influence to the outskirts of Baghdad.

Recently, ISIL has made it clear that it has no association with Al Qaeda, which it accuses of collusion with Iran.

ISIL is waging a vicious sectarian war in Iraq and Syria; unconfirmed reports say that it has established a foothold near Saudi Arabia’s borders with Iraq. 

The group is responsible for countless suicide attacks targeting civilians, police and the army in Iraq.

ISIL has managed to extend its operations to northern and eastern Syria and is behind many atrocities against locals in these regions. 

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat Al Nusra accuse ISIL of fulfilling the regime’s agenda in Syria. Currently the two have joined forces to evict ISIL from Deir Al Zor and areas north of Aleppo. The fight resulted in hundreds of deaths and forced locals to flee from their towns and villages.

This internecine war is unlikely to end any time soon. The fate of ISIL in Syria is linked to the outcome of confrontations in Al Anbar, in Iraq.

Reports speak of an attempt by ISIL to move south to the governorate of Darra, where the FSA and Jabhat Al Nusra are in control, close to the borders with Jordan.

Jordanians are becoming sensitive to developments on the Syrian side of the border.

Twice in the space of a month they deployed the air force to target vehicles trying to cross from Syria into Jordan illegally.

But while the FSA and Jabhat Al Nusra fight together in the north, they are at odds in the south after the latter arrested the commander of the FSA’s southern front and put him on trial before a religious court.

If fighting breaks out between the FSA and Jabhat Al Nusra in Darra, Jordan can expect larger numbers of Syrian refugees fleeing the war.

Many Jordanians, mostly salafists, joined Jabhat Al Nusra, and authorities are wary of some of them returning to the Kingdom to spread their ideology and confront the regime.

Already their presence in the southern Jordanian city of Maan is causing concern.

Maan is close to the Saudi borders and many of the clans there have links with the tribes in Sinai, where the Egyptian army has been engaging extremists for months now.

The main radical group in Egypt, Ansar Bait Al Maqdes, is entrenched in northern Sinai and thought to be associated with Al Qaeda, although the Egyptian authorities accuse Hamas in Gaza of training its members.

They were responsible for lethal attacks against army and police, and for targeting Egyptian officials.

Israeli reports spoke of attempts to link jihadists in Sinai with their counterparts in Syria through Maan. Obviously such links, if they do exist, will be a dangerous development.

Egyptian authorities recently announced that some of the terrorists who were arrested admitted to have been trained in Syria.

In spite of regional and international efforts to destroy or weaken Al Qaeda, the notorious organisation remains active, through affiliates, in many parts of the Arab world.

Yemen has become a major battleground recently, as the Yemeni army wages an unprecedented campaign against Al Qaeda’s presence in Shabwa and Ibyen governorates.

The campaign has been successful so far and many leading terrorists were either killed or arrested.

Yemen called on Saudi Arabia and Jordan to provide military assistance, and Riyadh is now studying ways to upgrade the capabilities of the Yemeni army.

The instability in Somalia has provided a base for Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab Movement, and with close proximity to Yemen, some fighters are able to cross into Yemen to back their comrades.

The threat of jihadists, fighting under various banners, is spreading especially in light of the political instability and weak governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

Many fighters in Syria came from Tunisia, and with huge cache of weapons in post-Qaddafi’s Libya, there is no shortage of arms that are smuggled into Egypt and Sinai.

The war in Syria has changed the reality of confrontations and regional threats.

Regardless of the fate of the Syrian regime, extremists have found a foothold in a region that extends from Al Anbar to Deir Al Zor and Darra, with access to Sinai.

This is a serious challenge to the countries of the region, one that they cannot afford to ignore.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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