Sunday, June 29, 2014

Iraqi "Nation State" Idiocy

Yisrael Ne'eman

The West is once again playing "make believe" in claiming that Iraq is a secular nation state similar to those in Europe.  The EU and Americans continue in the ridiculous policy of calling for "unity" between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds (who are also Sunnis but not Arabs) in the hope everyone will rally around the Iraqi flag.  Iraq is no more a nation state with a secular Mesopotamian Arab identity as the determining factor any more than the Sykes-Picot Agreement and border demarcations of yesteryear between Syria and Iraq count for anything in today's Arab/Muslim World divided by religious denominations and loyalties.  Secular Arab nationalism is at best a secondary or more likely a tertiary identity.  First there is religious sect, then tribe, clan or family loyalties and only afterwards do we find a loose collective Arab identity.  Even here the original Ba'ath ideal of a unifying Arab ID is as far off the mark as the Bolsheviks were when uniting the USSR and developing a new identity around the "new Soviet man."  Such leaders as Bashar Assad of Syria or the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq were and are about as close to the Ba'ath ideal as Stalin was to building a true equality based communist state.

The West must internalize the fact that Middle Eastern loyalties are religious, ethnic and sectarian.   If not, tried and true failed policies will repeat themselves without end.  The West cannot impose the fictitious Iraqi-Syrian border demarcation as drawn up in London and Paris (known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement) after WWI when those on both sides of the frontier have much more in common with each other than they do with either of the regimes in Baghdad or Damascus.  Today the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) represents not only radical Sunni interests sweeping eastern Syria and western Iraq but also many of the tribes and disillusioned formally Ba'ath Sunni forces supporting Saddam Hussein who find themselves without influence in what is left of the above mentioned entities.  Policy makers need to refrain from defining either Iraq or Syria as "states," they are rather broken down entities reforming themselves into new political frameworks.  The ISIL is assembling a third, radical Sunni entity between Baghdad and Damascus, threatening both with a new hybrid state to include Sunni al-Qaeda theology integrated with a Ba'athist (but in essence Stalinist) praetorian ideal. 

American and western attempts at peace or conflict resolution are useless and just going through the motions.  The Islamist perspective of an ever expanding homeland transcending artificial boundaries is the reality.   The USA/West have no real policy options.  Intervention is of no use and will only result in casualties with no democratic influence or change of lifestyle.  Non-intervention is seen as "accepting defeat" but no one truly believes this is a war that can be won by the secular and/or democratic West harboring ideals so far removed from Jihadi Islam and the Ba'ath leadership of today.  In essence the West (including Israel) must accept this reality.

So what is the solution?  Strange as it may sound the West must let Iran get directly involved on the side of the Iraqi Shiites without easing up on any sanctions or forming an alliance of any sort.  Iran and their Hezbollah proxies are already deeply involved in rescuing the Assad regime from extinction.  It is likewise in their interests to save Shiite eastern Iraq.  Many conservatives demand some form of western intervention to halt the ISIL advance and to keep Iranian influence from dominating eastern Iraq.  Bombings and drone strikes will do little good against the ISIL and even "boots on the ground" may win a temporary victory for al-Maliki but as we have seen, once the Americans/EU are gone it is all back to square one of sectarian and religious slaughter.  Secondly, Iran is the most influential factor in Shiite Iraq, it is about time they paid for it.  Why should the West commit unlimited amounts of men and resources in the name of Iranian influence?  Democratizing Iraq is not about to happen anytime soon.  The Islamic Awakening of 2011 (it was never an "Arab Spring") will continue for at least a generation (and most likely two) before the next step of true democratic ideals will permeate the Middle East and not just appear with a few high profile intellectuals and western educated student leaders who make for wonderful interviewees and photo-ops.

At present everyone needs Iran including Israel, but only temporarily.  And let it be repeated - there should be no deals and no lessening of sanctions.  What we have is a confluence of interests which may last a few years and maybe even a decade or two.  Iran already has advisors and some troops in Iraq but is not seeking a full-fledged conflict and most likely ISIL will not be able to overcome the Iraqi Shiite defense of Baghdad.  But should they have no choice, the Iranians will be forced to fight rather than allow Baghdad to fall to ISIL with the resulting expulsions, Shiite flight, massive refugee problems and massacres.  Iran will be involved in a two-front war (Syria and Iraq) with its resources stretched to the maximum.  Such economic weakening may cause more instability in Tehran and the accompanying demands for reforms.  Without a credible liberalization process the ayatollahs may face a rebellion.

The West cannot halt ISIL or Iranian influence in Shiite Iraq, yet it will still be able to pressure Tehran into freezing its nuclear program.  The Iranians will certainly choose a free hand to help the Iraqi Shiites and secure their western front while avoiding new clashes and sanctions from the West over nuclear development.

As for ISIL in alliance with its Ba'athist and tribal allies, they will have the Tigris and Euphrates River water resources in the mid-stream region they control.  So far oil installations are being retained in eastern Syria while the Mosul and Baiji refineries in Iraq are the scenes of intense battle.  The developing Jihadi state has no port.  Certain analysts believe this to be the ISIL Achilles heel.  But who seriously believes that Kuwait and/or northern Saudi Arabia are not endangered?  ISIL does not recognize state boundaries.  There is no reason for this three way alliance not to seek more oil and a port on the Persian Gulf.  We are not in 1991 anymore, one cannot expect Barak Obama to send troops.  Would the US/EU intervene to halt an ISIL takeover of Kuwait in the northwest Persian Gulf?  For sure there will be air and drone strikes, but a commitment of hundreds of thousands of American and NATO troops seems unlikely.

Has anyone considered an ISIL link-up with the Saudi Wahhabists?  Remember them?  Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden found their roots and inspiration from the Wahhabists.  ISIL is the more extreme break off from Wahhabism and al-Qaeda.  But the newly developing Islamic State is being "moderated" (as far as Islamic law and identity are concerned) by their Sunni tribal allies and former Ba'ath army officers in their ranks.

The Wahhabists, who control religious law and behavior in Saudi Arabia, might be convinced to ditch their alliance to the House of Saud and join ISIL in the ultimate Jihad.  Sounds crazy – right?  Such a shift in allegiance makes much more sense than the continuing Wahhabist loyalties to what they consider to be a very corrupt western influenced Saudi regime.  Overrunning Kuwait and expelling the Arab Shiite minority from northeastern Saudi Arabia while capturing the main oil facilities in these regions would place the new Islamic State firmly on the map.  Is this an overly pessimistic analysis?  Maybe, but how many expected an ISIL alliance and such a successful offensive?

The Middle East looks to be on the verge of a total Shiite-Sunni clash and ensuing slaughter crossing European imposed state borders some one hundred years ago.  The Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) might be considered the beginning but it was contained to two countries and had Persian-Arab nationalist overtones.  The Shiites led by Iran are stretched thin in Syria and Lebanon but have no choice but to fight in Iraq where one can expect the ISIL advance on Baghdad will be halted.

Tehran's over investment militarily and financially may well lead to internal instability.  The Iranians cannot win an overall war against the Sunnis but they can hold them off.  We may be witness to demands for more reforms and social unrest.  If nothing else Iran will suffer further economic weakening.

So what's the bottom line?  We can all expect an intensified Jihadi extremism to sweep the Arab/Muslim Middle East and Islamic World (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan).  Such extremism will continue spilling over state boundaries or arise from fanatical movements within those countries.  Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen may all be on the brink due to outside pressures and those from within.  Only the non-Arab Kurds, who control no recognized state, exhibit political unity and command and control of their army in the field.  The West faces the dilemma of defending its own interests while not being sucked into an unwinnable war where one is never sure which side to support.  In other words there do not seem to be any "good guys," only unsavory characters who may turn on you at any moment.

A policy of "minimalism" may be the order of the day whereby the West only gets involved in a pinpoint fashion to protect strategic interests and/or when the opportunity arises to bring stability.  Otherwise there is little incentive for intervention.

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