Impotent Middle East
‘nation states’ pose
threat of conflagration
The map of the Ottoman Empire before World War I. It’s remnants are imploding. Click image to enlarge.
The world spotlight has again this week turned to the slow-motion implosion of what was once the Ottoman Empire.
It has now become apparent that the ‘border’ between Iraq and Syria has been effectively erased.
Emergent instead is a transnational Sunni-inspired Caliphate that aims to stretch from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
The world is revealed as powerless to intervene in what has become an epochal earthquake with an uncertain but certainly destabilizing outcome.
Anyone calling for outside intervention should realize from the US experience in the region that it would be futile and counterproductive.
All we can do is pray.
With the rapid advance through Iraq of the Al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Thursday’s move by the Kurds to seize control of oil-rich Kirkuk, the fragile nation is ripping apart at the seams.
We first noted this trend almost exactly a year ago in Are Ottoman empire remnants imploding? where we asserted that the artificial nation states created in colonial times are not “countries.”
We further explored the topic in October after a 10-day fact-finding trip to the region in Post-Ottoman map of Middle East must be dumped in the context of the strife in Syria, which even then could no longer be considered a “country.”
The only thing surprising about this week’s events, then, is the speed with which they have unfolded.
The New York Times story on the Kurds’ seizure of oil rich Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Click image to enlarge.
Thursday’s development was reported in The New York Times in the story Iraqi Kurds Take Oil City as Militants Push Forward.
“Iraq’s fracturing deepened on Thursday as Kurdish forces poured into the strategic northern oil city of Kirkuk after government troops fled, while emboldened Sunni militants who seized two other important northern cities this week moved closer to Baghdad and issued threats about advancing into the heavily Shiite south and destroying the shrines there, the holiest in Shiism,” The Times reported.
Note the second word: “fracturing.”
This came after the blindingly fast advance of ISIS, which has long been involved in the struggle in Syria where it has carved out control over the entire eastern portion of the territory.
In a few days ISIS seized several vital Iraqi cities, and is reportedly aiming at Baghdad. ISIS has controlled Fallujah – site of the worst US moment in its eight years of involvement in Iraq – and most of western Anbar province for almost six months.
But the turbulence could spread rapidly.
Turkey may be unwillingly dragged into it after almost 50 of its diplomats including its consul were abducted in Mosul. It has promised a vigorous if unspecified response.
On the other hand, Turkey’s enmity with the Kurds is long standing and well documented; its treatment of its own Kurdish minority has often been brutal. The Iraqi Kurds on their southern flank are also getting restive.
On Iraq’s eastern edge, Shiite Iran has reportedly offered aid to the beleaguered government in Baghdad, where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s appeal for emergency powers was stalled by a dysfunctional parliament.
The PBS Newshour featured an alarming analysis of the vital importance of recent developments. Click image to enlarge.
Meanwhile, in a PBS interview on Wednesday, Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War brought home the vital importance of the recent developments:
“This attack that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, or the Levant, has launched on Muslims is incredibly important, because it is the beginning of a campaign and a push beyond Mosul into the areas toward Baghdad that the Islamic State of Iraq wants to govern,” Kagan said.
“It seeks to establish an emirate or a state and govern terrain inside Iraq, as well as governing the terrain inside of Syria, in Raqqa, where it has announced the beginning of its emirate. I believe Mosul will be its new capital.”
Capital of what?
If ISIS is successful in carving out a Sunni-only “state,” how will it defend its borders? Or the people within them?
Will the Kurds stop at Kirkuk? Or even at the border with Turkey? Will Iran watch idly as its ally in Baghdad becomes a mayor rather than prime minister?
Imponderable questions without coherent answers.
What can only be said with confidence is that the region is poised on the edge of conflagration. Almost one hundred year-old nation-states are coming apart, with dangerous global implications.
There are no easy answers, and those who pose them should be regarded as fools who would plunge us all over the abyss.
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