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The great unraveling of Middle East nation-states Comment on this post ↓
January 6th, 2014 by Warren Swil

National governments

are becoming

increasingly irrelevant

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki effectively governs less and less of his “country’s” territory.

Blog note: Due to recent relevant events, this post has temporarily been rescued from the archives.

RECENT EVENTS in Iraq and its neighbors have once again put the focus on the diminishing role of nation states in the turbulent region.
Sunni rebels said to be supported by Al Qaida have all but taken control of Iraq’s western Anbar province, with sectarian strife now spreading eastwards from Syria across the two countries’ long, porous border.
The same organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (the Levant), keeps appearing in reports of clashes in both countries and in Lebanon, already reeling from a massive influx of Syrian refugees.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now effectively governs only a tiny sliver of territory. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to be heading in the same direction – with diminishing amounts of territory under his government’s control.
What role – if any – is left for these central governments?

WE HAVE reflected on numerous occasions how the current configuration of nation states in the Middle East is obsolete.
After a fact-finding trip to the region in September, we wrote that the Map must be redrawn to reflect ethno-religious realities on the ground.
In the September post we noted that for Syria in particular, attempts to hold together the modern-era nation would prove futile.
The same seems to be coming to pass in Iraq, despite the billions of dollars and thousands of lives spent by the US on nation building between 2003 and 2009.
The advocacy group Iraq Body Count issued an alarming report about the country on Jan. 1 titled The Trenching of Faults: Iraq 2013

The story in The Guardian about Iraqi violence in 2008. Click image to enlarge.

“Overall, nearly 9,500 civilians died in violence in Iraq this year, which is almost equal to the 2008 figure, when 10,000 were killed,” the group reported.
“Back in 2008, however, that figure represented a decline in violent deaths (down from 25,800), whereas now it represents an increase; it has more than doubled since last year, when the recorded civilians deaths were 4,500.”
This is an ominous sign fed by sectarian strife.
“As the Sunnis protest and feel their government has failed them, so the Shia protest and they too feel their government has failed them, by failing to protect them,” the group reported.
The situation has not been helped by regional powers jockeying for influence, leading to this alarming conclusion.
“[The] competing interests (of the US, UK Iran and Syria) led to the internal collapse of Iraqi society and remain the sad legacy of the [2003] invasion,” the report said.
Few others have so bluntly said that Iraq has “collapsed.”
Some of the background, however, was explained in a report in The Guardian in the UK also on Jan. 1 headlined Iraq suffers its deadliest year since 2008
“Amid discontent from Iraq’s Sunni minority and Shia majority, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has in effect given up on cross-sectarian politics. He imprisoned high-profile Sunni politicians and forced others into exile,” The Guardian reported.
If the prime minister has indeed given up on the Sunnis, he is ceding perhaps half the territory his government is supposedly “governing” – excluding the Kurdish enclave in the north which is semi-autonomous and may be heading towards independence itself.
“At the same time, al-Qaida in Iraq has spectacularly rebuilt itself,” The Guardian reported. “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), a radical Sunni militia, has taken advantage of worsening sectarian tensions as well as the war in Syria. The group is highly active in Iraq’s western and northern provinces. It is believed to be behind a wave of coordinated bomb attacks in Shia areas of the Iraqi capital.”

The New York Times story about the rise of militant Islamists in Iraq and Syria. Click image to enlarge.

The different threads seemingly connected by ISIS were woven together in a front-page story Sunday in The New York Times headlined Power Vacuum in Middle East Lifts Militants
Robert F. Worth and Michael R. Gordon report:
“[T]he bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds.
“Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries’ conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism.”
Indeed, the power of ISIS seems to rise in proportion to the demise of the national governments in both countries.
“Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers — claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively — cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy,” The Times concludes.
It is a frightening scenario.
The two regional hegemons are fighting a proxy war that has now engulfed two nations (three if one includes Lebanon) making their nominal rulers increasingly irrelevant.
With diminishing influence, the center will not hold.
The world is witnessing the disintegration of the nation-states born out of the remnants of Ottoman Empire a century ago.
Nowhere is there the political will to intervene. It is a calamity of gargantuan proportions, but the west is just an observer. Until, of course, we are drawn into the conflagration because of the inevitable global fallout.
The day of reckoning is coming.

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One Response  
  • Pierre Garenne writes:
    January 6th, 2014

    The IBC article is an essential and understandably brief reading of the recent history of East Asia. However it appears to overestimate the relevance and present-day capacity of the states that have been the prime movers in recent years: the USA, Iran, Russia…

    During WWI the British Army in India conquered what is now known as Iraq leading to the formation to today’s Hashemite political entities, while France was allowed oversight over what is now known as Lebanon and Syria but which was then part of the disintegratiing Ottoman Empire. The Armenians were decimated and the Kurdish clans split amongst a newly created entity, Turkey, what became Iran, and British-ruled Iraq.

    At the time this military-backed dominance represented a series of balance-of-power arrangements between the Imperial powers and the clans and emir-led alliances in broader Arabia. The rapid world-wide expansion in the use of petrol and the vast reserves in erstwhile Arabia led to the new world power, the US, largely replacing Britain in the area. The post WWII Cold War led to the USSR playing a smaller but significant defensive role in the region. However the clan-based alliances have by-and-large persisted up to the present day.

    The decline in the relative importance of oil raises the question of the nature of future alliances between the US and its Arabian and Israeli “satellites” in the area. This, coupled with the relative decline in the US as world power following the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan debacles, and notwithstanding the economic and political activities of oil-based industries and interest groups in the US and the growing economic importance of the Arabian sovereign funds, will be played out as an overlay over the continuing clan interests throughout erstwhile Arabia.
    As a wild card, Saudi Arabia’s support for Al-Qaeda-linked Sunni terrorist groups may give it a short-term advantage, but this could well backfire as the Salafist-inspired terror group is as opposed to the Saudi and other Arabian emirs as it is to the Shia nation states. The large Shia minorities, and even a majority in some sheikdoms, will further complicate any tentative political analysis of likely changes in the short to medium term.

    It remains to be seen whether the US’s technical and electronic superiority can have a significant impact on the relative balance of power at local and regional levels.

    À suivre


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