President Barack Obama’s comparison of the Syrian civil war to the Irish Troubles Monday overlooked a crucial fact about the two conflicts: that in less than two years the inter-Islamic war in Syria has already proved many times more violent and vicious than the nearly 30 years of armed conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.
Obama praised Northern Irish citizens while giving a speech at the Group of Eight summit on Monday, comparing the mass killings in Syria under Bashar al-Assad with the Irish Troubles that began in the late 1960s. Northern Ireland, the president said, could serve as a blueprint for the Middle East to follow.
“Beyond these shores right now in scattered corners of the world there are people living in the grip of conflict, ethnic conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflicts,” Obama said. “And they are groping for a way to find a way to discover how to move beyond the heavy hand of history — to put aside the violence…. And they’re wondering perhaps if Northern Ireland can achieve peace we can too. So you’re their blueprint to follow.”
During the Irish Troubles, an average of about 117 people were killed each year, all by nonchemical means. Violence was not nearly as common or widespread as it currently is in Syria. Additionally, no neighborhoods were bombed from the air during the Troubles. According to a UK site on the conflict, some 3,530 people, including British soldiers, local police, civilians and paramilitaries on both sides, were killed in the period from 1969 through 1998.
Over the past two years, an estimated 93,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war. The conflict between Assad’s Alawite regime, with support from Shiite militias and Iran, and the country’s Sunni majority has been marked by widespread atrocities. According to documented reports, Assad has used chemical weapons against the opposition, while the Sunnis have engaged in beheading of civilian prisoners and cannibalism.
Nevertheless, in his speech Obama invoked the example of politicians in Northern Ireland for their “power-sharing” and ability to “compromise.”
“You’re proof of what is possible—because hope is contagious. They’re watching to see what you do next.” Obama said.
The Syrian conflict has become the main focus during the G-8 summit, as the United States and its western allies attempt to find a plan to support the opposition. The Syrian war was discussed during a frosty meeting Monday between Obama, who is moving to help arm the Sunnis, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who backs Assad.
The conference consists of eight of the world’s wealthiest nations, including the United States, Canada, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Russia.
The 39th G8 summit will continue through June 18th.
Charles Rollet contributed to the reporting of this story.