The Syrian civil conflict is both a proxy war and a combustion point for spreading waves of violence. This didn’t start out as a religious war. But both Sunni and Shiite power players are seizing on religious symbols and sowing sectarian passions that are rippling across the region. The Saudi and Iranian powers hover in the background fueling each side.
As the death toll in Syria rises to Rwanda-like proportions, images of mass killings draw holy warriors from countries near and far. The radical groups are the most effective fighters and control the tempo of events. The Syrian opposition groups are themselves split violently along sectarian lines so that the country seems to face a choice between anarchy and atrocity.
Meanwhile, the strife appears to be spreading. Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq is spiking upward. Reports in The New York Times and elsewhere have said that many Iraqis fear their country is sliding back to the worst of the chaos experienced in the past decade. Even Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain and Kuwait could be infected.