Map created by Haghal Jaghul.(cc) June 14 2014. Grey area controlled by ISIS.
Decisions, by all accounts, including those of the participants, were made with little knowledge of, or concern for, the lands and peoples about which and whom the decisions were being made.
David Fromkin, ’A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East’
Iraq is being dismantled. In order to understand how this sectioning off is taking place it’s fundamental to contextualise this current escalation, it is of utmost importance to look at how Iraq was first assembled. Like the Modern Middle East as an entity, it is largely a fictitious construction put together by the war profiteers.
On November 26th 1917 the Manchester Guardian published what Trotsky (on behalf of the Bolsheviks) had leaked just 3 days earlier: the Sykes and Picot agreement. Mark Sykes and Francoise Picot are two names that will inevitably never be forgotten by all nations with vested interests in the region, and by the peoples of the Middle East. The violence which ensued their map making is constantly being relived and thus never forgotten, it was just a few months ago a PKK mountain guerrilla recently took finding out that I’m from England as a reason to once more curse the legacy of the British empire.
This English and Frenchman by way of their respective nations triumphs on the battlefield carved out from the spoils of a defeated Ottoman Empire what we today called the Middle East. With local collaborators they drew lines and fabricated occidental nation states which include modern day Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Israel.They took homelands from people such as the Kurds and Palestinians, split families apart and made millions landless. These colonial forces then went on to become expert fossil hunters, stealing dinosaur energy to propel their industrial endeavours and to birth the diabolical military-industrial complex.
Well (US President) Wilson has gone home with a bundle of assignats (worthless currency). I have returned with a pocket full of sovereigns in the shape of the German colonies, Mesopatamia, etc.. Everyone to his taste.
UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George, excerpted from ‘Lord Riddells intimate diary of the Peace Conference and after’.
Arthur Balfour, then UK Foreign Secretary, who penned the infamous Balfour Declaration to Baron Rothschild in 1917, which expressed British support for a Jewish state in Palestine had this to say of way in which the UK government went about appropriating these foreign lands, ‘these three, all powerful, all ignorant men, sitting there and carving up continents, with only a child to lead them’, The Levant was carved up according to the shallow understanding of these two aristocrats and what eventually ensued was a fierce nationalism and resistance to the colonial rule.Tribal, ethnic and religious distinctions on the ground were paid no heed in the straight line demarcation undertaken by the European powers: this is where the crux of the issue begins and continues. The establishment of a nation state of Iraq is at the heart of the sectarian conflicts which themselves are at the heart of the dismantling of Iraq.
A strong Sunni and Shia dichotomy has slowly manifested into the modern day theatre where, post 2003 and because of the occupation, sectarianism has become institutionalised. Fear-mongering and the perpetuation of Islamophobia buttresses the sentiment that we should hold the position of the regional police officer, and Obama’s talk of surgical strikes, along with Cameron’s impassioned words on ISIS as ‘the greatest ever security risk’, only serves to prep us for another ramping up in Iraq: for the beginning of our 6th war against Iraqi people. Indigenous resistance to colonial occupations and neocolonialism have been largely stifled by the growing dichotomy of sectarian differences. The deepening politicisation of victimhood based on sectarianism has accentuated the civil strife and consequently Iraq is falling deeper into domestic lines of difference, leaving the situation ripe for insurgencies and foreign ‘humanitarian intervention’, enter ISIL.
Come the 20th century and the nation state, we’re all part of this new “Iraq” entity — you feel a sense of belonging, so it becomes a question of how you divide the national pie. And I think that’s the main driver, the main animator behind sectarian competition in Iraq.
Fanar Haddad, Researcher at University of Singapore Middle East Institute.
The new parties responsible for the dismantling of the old spheres of influence are vastly more diversified when compared to the old masters of France, England, USA and Russia; the newest and perhaps most involved players include Saudi Arabia and Iran. Dick Cheney when asked why he didn’t go full Captain America and oust Saddam when the USA had Iraq by the short and curlies in the first gulf war, he responded that Iraq is a fragile state and if left unchecked a power struggle could emerge with Syria vying for swathes of the west, Iran the East, Kurds the North and an ensuing breach of Turkish sovereignty.
2014 has taken Cheneys predictions to task and the emergence of the newly formed Islamic State has seen his bets emerge almost spot on. Shiite influence is clashing against Gulf sponsored radical Sunni fighters, ISIS. Shiite Militia’s such as the Badr brigade are emerging on top in the East and Baghdad will not be taken, but ISIS fighters have established their base and become de facto rulers of land stretching from Raqqa, Syria to the western Iraqi Anbar province. Finally the Kurdish Peshmerga have practically seized the power vacuum as an opportunity for full autonomy in Northern Iraq alongside their PYD compatriots doing the same in Northern Syria, right up to the Turkish border where the internationally watched fierce battle for Kobane rages on.
Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.
Dick Cheney, 1994 interview on CNN.
This is not the 3rd but the 6th time we find ourselves warring in Iraq against Iraqi’s, it’s like a song stuck on repeat: in 2007 there was a surge in western troops to fight back the Islamic State, in 2014 there is a surge in western troops to fight back the Islamic State. The roots of this conflict can be traced directly back to when the British installed Sunni authorities in a predominately Shia region creating a charged politicised consciousness of victimhood: something with no real history since the two offshoots of Islam largely lived cooperatively through most of the 20th Century.
This cementing of identifications has come about in the period, and as a consequence of, the war on terror and its incessant need to formulate governance based on sectarian lines, or it’s careless moves such as dissolving the Baath party and leaving a power vacuum for regional actors to step in. Now the continued beheadings of journalists and aid workers serve as waymarkers for British and US foreign policy decisions in this battle for the hearts and minds of the people. .This newest intervention, the third in my short lifetime, is less mission creep and more like mission crept, got up and never stopped running.
It’s simply the case that the problems Iraq faces today were created right at the beginning of the occupation, they were created by the provisional coalition authority when it decided in its first two orders to dissolve the Baath and party and to dissolve the Iraqi national army. Yes I do (believe that the US and its allies institutionalised sectarianism in the Iraqi political system).
Professor George Joffe, Al Jazeera ‘Head to Head’ interview.
Stability in the region is not a far off dream but as it stands the rapid and proficient rise of ISIL threatens any hopes of a brighter future in the region. There success is underpinned by their strategy which I previously documented here. When I passed through the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil in mid 2014, the reach of ISIL was yet to be felt, however by the time I write this article it seems that it to has been breached by ISIL’s signature VBIED attacks. The rapid perpetuation of a politic of marginalisation by Shia authorities coupled with a dogmatically enforced rhetoric of Sunni victimhood (and necessity to eliminate all Shia) are the nucleus from which the dismantling of Iraq is birthed. Washington, Brussels, Riyadh and Tehran are the joint culprits in using Iraq as a playground of a power struggle, proliferating the myth of a historic sectarian war.
The spread and success of ISIL is primarily down to the ease with which Sunni oppression can be outlined and seized upon (such as the political/social ostracisation of the sons of Iraq) and the relative effortlessness with which they access arms and finances. Explicitly, this means the irresponsible funnelling of resources to a hodgepodge Syrian opposition by the USA, the fierce anti-Sunni policies enacted by a Tehran Backed Iraqi government and the covert support of ISIL both theologically and financially by Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia.
We can trace the birthing of this politicisation of identity back to the colonial escapades of the West and we can quite clearly see there is a unwillingness to put an end to radical insurgencies, such as ISIL. Unless victimhood becomes a national grievance and the sectarian perspectives are ditched, unless international support is aimed at backing military engagements only where communities are immediately threatened and finally unless States vested in a Shia/Sunni cold war drop their agenda, we will inevitably see the disintegration and collapse into Chaos of the failed Iraqi state.