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Syria and Iraq Are Disintegrating, US Defense Intel Chief Says

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart is pessimistic about the future of the two countries as violent sectarian conflicts rage within their borders.
Photo by Tom Williams/AP

The head of America's Defense Intelligence Agency said Friday that under the shadow of longstanding and deadly sectarian wars with multiple, conflicting actors, the nation states of Syria and Iraq as we known them may be irreparably fractured.

"I'm having a tough time seeing it come back together," Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart said at a conference Thursday, in a statement inconsistent with the official White House line, which holds that both Iraq and Syria should remain as nation states in the eyes of the international community.


Stewart said he is "wrestling with the idea that the Kurds will come back to a central government of Iraq." He also predicted that in the future, Syria will be "fractured into two or three parts," the Associated Press reported.

At the same conference, CIA Director John Brennan said that many Iraqis and Syrians are increasingly self-identifying along religious or ethnic lines, as opposed to their nationality.

"I think the Middle East is going to be seeing change over the coming decade or two that is going to make it look unlike it did," Brennan said.

Related: Obama Announces Plans for the US to Take in 10,000 Syrian Refugees Next Year

Iraq and Syria were shaped when the British and French Empire partitioned the Ottoman Empire following its defeat in World War I. Iraq's central government is currently Shiite dominated, while the Kurdish population has chiseled out a significant semi-autonomous region for itself in the north. Both are fighting IS, which is Sunni.

Syria is effectively split into three pieces: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and military controls about a third of the country: Syria's capital, the country's border region with Lebanon, including the important towns of Hama and Homs, and the country's western coastal region.  Islamic State controls another third of Syria, and a variety of rebel groups — ranging from moderate and pro-democracy to the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front — control the other third.


Assad is being helped out by Shiite Iran and their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, and his security forces are dominated by his Allawite co-religionists. He can count among his supporters some of the country's middle class and upper middle class Sunnis and other minorities, including Christians and Druze, although the latter have attempted to take a position of neutrality due to their geographic proximity to rebel-dominated areas in southern Syria.

The Kurds in the Syria's north and northeast also effectively control their own territory.

Brennan noted that while the borders of the countries are still drawn, warring factions within them are wresting control from the central governments. Last summer, the so-called Islamic State began its incursion over vast swathes of land in both Iraq and Syria and declared a self-proclaimed caliphate straddling the two countries.

Though the US-led coalition has called on the help of "moderate" rebels in both countries to fight IS on the ground, its provision of arms and training for Kurds in Iraq has been consigned through the Iraqi government, under which the Kurdish militia technically fall. The US does not directly deal with Assad. Instead, it has trained rebels in Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to battle both the Syrian regime and IS.

Watch the VICE News' documentary Jihadists vs. the Assad Regime: Syria's Rebel Advance: