In December 2012, I warned against the U.S. intervening in Syria, stating: "... aiding the rebels does not advance U.S. interests. Assisting the rebels in Syria will only guarantee the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Al Queda [sic]."
Whether it was because of our meddling or not, Assad was not able to put down the rebellion, and Al Qaeda--in the form of ISIS--has grown exponentially in power, to the point it may be able to create its own state and threaten the fragile stability of the region.
Iraq is breaking up. The Kurds have taken the northern oil city of Kirkuk that they have long claimed as their capital. Sunni fundamentalist fighters vow to capture Baghdad and the Shia holy cities further south.
Government rule over the Sunni Arab heartlands of north and central Iraq is evaporating as its 900,000-strong army disintegrates. Government aircraft have fired missiles at insurgent targets in Mosul, captured by Isis on Monday, but the Iraqi army has otherwise shown no sign of launching a counter-attack.
The nine-year Shia dominance over Iraq, established after the US, Britain and other allies overthrew Saddam Hussein, may be coming to an end. The Shia may continue to hold the capital and the Shia-majority provinces further south, but they will have great difficulty in re-establishing their authority over Sunni provinces from which their army has fled.
It is unlikely that the Kurds will give up Kirkuk. “The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga [Kurdish soldiers],” said the peshmerga spokesman Jabbar Yawar. “No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk.”The article goes on to describe the basic conflict in terms of Shiite versus Sunni.
The Daily Mail makes similar observations, devoting an entire article on the Shiite and Sunni conflicts and tensions throughout the Middle-East. It observes:
Its [ISIS'] extraordinary success could not have been achieved without the tacit support of ordinary Sunni people in the areas it has conquered.
The Sunnis in Mosul regarded the Shia-dominated army from the south of the country as an occupying force and were only too pleased to see the back of them.
True, these people are terrified of the brutal ideology of ISIS, which specialises in amputations and crucifixions for those who do not subscribe to its fundamentalist creed.It goes on to mention:
But for now, their hatred of al-Maliki’s authoritarian government, which treats them as a lower caste, outweighs those fears.
Meanwhile, across the Middle East, Sunni and Shia rivalries are festering like open sores. Of the world’s 1.6billion Muslims, the vast majority are Sunnis; Shias comprise 10 to 15 per cent - two hundred million people.
Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Sunni. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the ruling Sunni treat Shia as second-class citizens.
The Shia are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and Lebanon. And despite being in the minority in Syria, they are powerful there, too: President Bashar Assad’s ruling party belong to a Shia sect called the Alawites.
Once you understand the Sunni/Shia divide, you can make sense of the rivalries in the Middle East. It explains why Sunni rebels - backed by the predominantly Sunni powers, ranging from Turkey to Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states - are determined to fight Assad’s Shia-dominated army to the death.
And why Lebanese Hizbollah militias (Shia) are fighting for Assad, under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers from Iran (also Shia).ISIS, true to their nature, is already initiating a bloody reign of terror. The Daily Mail reports:
The full horror of the jihadists’ savage victories in Iraq emerged yesterday as witnesses told of streets lined with decapitated soldiers and policemen.
Blood-soaked bodies and blazing vehicles were left in the wake of the Al Qaeda-inspired ISIS fanatics as they pushed the frontline towards Baghdad.
They boasted about their triumphs in a propaganda video depicting appalling scenes including a businessman being dragged from his car and executed at the roadside with a pistol to the back of his head.
... In the swathe of captured territory across northern Iraq, ISIS declared hardline Sharia law, publishing rules ordering women not to go outside ‘unless strictly necessary’, banning alcohol and smoking, and forcing all residents to attend mosques five times a day. BBC correspondent Paul Wood said one woman from Mosul, Iraq’s second city, had spoken of seeing a ‘row of decapitated soldiers and policemen’.
The refugee woman told how the victims’ heads were placed in rows – a trademark, trophy-style execution favoured by ISIS militants.Michael Totten writes:
Al Qaeda splinter group ISIS has taken the Iraqi city of Tikrit and the Kurdish Peshmerga has taken the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Iraq's army fled both and hardly fired a shot.
God only knows what happens next, but this much is clear—the Syrian war is no longer the Syrian war. It’s a regional war. It spilled into Lebanon at a low level some time ago. It sucked in Iran and Hezbollah some time ago. Now it is spreading with full force at blitzkrieg speed into Iraq and has even drawn in the Kurdistan Regional Government which managed to sit out the entire Iraq war.
This could easily suck in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel before it’s over.
... Arab governments complain when we intervene and they complain when we don't intervene. Basically, they complain no matter what. So asking what they want is pointless. It takes a while to notice this trend over time, but there it is. They have not stopped to consider the consequences of this behavior, but those consequences are about to become apocalyptic for Nouri al-Maliki.
“We’ll kill you if you mess with us, but otherwise go die” is not even close to my preferred foreign policy, but it’s what President Barack Obama prefers (phrased much more nicely, of course) and it’s what the overwhelming majority of Americans prefer, including most liberals as well as conservatives.
Still, it’s only a matter of time before we get sucked in kicking and screaming one way or another. Because the Middle East isn’t Las Vegas. What happens there doesn’t stay there.