In times of conflict, religious, ethnic, linguistic traits are accentuated and the sectarian dimension is no exception. With the direct involvement of Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, the Syrian conflict accelerates towards becoming a sectarian one and small skirmishes along the sectarian line have already occurred across the border in Lebanon. The Shia axis of Iran, Hezbollah, and the Alawite regime is balanced by the Sunni dominated rebels, supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and the Gulf states. Assad is no more an Alawite Shia as was Saddam Hussein a devout Sunni, both subscribed to the doctrine of socialist orientated Arab nationalism, devoid of Islam. A dubious ideology when you consider that Arab civilisation began with the birth of Islam.
The US intervention in Iraq and the subsequent altering of the balance of power has resulted in the Shia-Sunni tensions; a dominant Shia-led regime emerged replacing the Sunni denominated Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein bringing a long line of Sunni rule to an end. The end result is seen through the tit for tat bombings between Shia and Sunni killing many innocent civilians. Across the border Iran has been building up its military capability to its credit, increasingly asserting itself as a regional power.
The US stance has shifted from a pro-Sunni position during the heyday of Ayatollah Khomeini, when Shias were the extremists, to a more pro-Shia stance in Iraq, against the militant Sunni inspired Al-Qaeda type movements of the post 9/11 era. It is reminiscent of a former British Prime Minister’s remark - no nation has permanent friends or enemies but only its interests.