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Redrawing of The Borders in Greater Middle East

By Shams uz Zaman

25 July, 2014

The speed, with which ISIL (or ISIS) conquered northern territory of Iraq, came as a surprise to everyone. It still remains unclear that for how long the organization would be able to control this newly established Islamic Emirate, as it may gradually fizzle out like of the Arab Spring which although had promised a lot but fell much short of expectations just adding more to the chaos. Whatever the case, first, the blame of this bloodshed and chaos stretching across the Greater Middle East rests primarily on the shoulders of the neo-cons at the Capitol Hill who crafted reckless plans to invade Iraq on false pretext and that too without a comprehensive plan.

Prior to 9/11, except for intelligence community, very few had heard of Al-Qaeda which was confined to few narrow geographical regions. Islamic militancy and terrorism was mainly restricted to Palestine and Kashmir where state oppression forced the masses to rise against tyranny. Other forms of Islamic militancy/terrorism, see as of today from Africa to Asia, was unheard of.

The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to secure Pax-Americana for the next century completely changed the perceptions amongst Muslims societies who were already troubled by the U.S. unqualified support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

These sentiments were effectively used by Al-Qaeda to recruit dissatisfied youth living under political oppression often supported by the U.S. thus expanding its base from few hundred to several thousand in just few years efficiently co-relating the Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis with the U.S. policies in Middle East.

Within years due to the neo-cons’ imprudent invasions, old Al-Qaeda has dissipated into now stands of eve more dangerous ideologies. The Taliban affiliates in Pakistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab and other splinter groups in African heartland and Arabian Peninsula, ISIL/ISIS and Al-Nusra front in Syria and Iraq are all some of these groups which although are not controlled by the traditional Al-Qaeda hierarchy but have gradually merged into the the ideological paradigm of its predecessor. Ideological and territorial influence of these groups is spreading across the continents, even holding on to territories in a spectacular display of power and resilience.

These groups and affiliates mostly don’t follow a unified chain of command and at times have even clashed with each other, but with a varying degree of intensity, they are unified on three fundamental principles which includes; militarily fighting the West, establishing a Sharia based Caliphate and outlawing the Shiite sect.

After fighting for over 13 long years NATO, ISAF and the U.S. forces have lost their appetite to fight in the Greater Middle East. This was illustrated in 2011 by former US defence secretary Robert Gates at the West Point, who said, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” President Obama delivered almost the same message in 2014 while defining the main contours of his foreign policy.

But while the U.S. braces to end wars initiated in the backdrop of 9/11, for new Al-Qaeda affiliate groups, the war has actually just started. They enjoy several secure bases across Middle East and Africa with no dearth of recruits.

Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq, along with its proxy Hezbollah’s, has just worsened the situation thus providing new stream of Sunni fighters for these militant groups from across the region. The U.S. in a hope to defeat Al-Qaeda has instead exposed the limits of its military prowess. Rising influence of these militants across Africa and Middle East illustrates how grossly the U.S. underestimated the costs of large scale invasions after 9/11.

Amid the deteriorating situation in Iraq other regional states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan could preempt due to fear of a future spillover. Iranian backed militias are already holding the frontlines against ISIL invasion.

Two predictable scenarios are postulated in the Middle East. Regional fragmentation on sectarian and ethnic lines, or emergence of a larger Sunni Caliphate as announced recently by the ISIS. The fallout of the creation of this so called “Islamic Emirate” is already visible in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria where dozens of soldiers have been killed by the militants. The conflict is likely to spill over to Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where one or several of these could be annexed in the newly established emirate. Either way, the new Islamic State would be bounded by two Shiite states on its fringes, Iran and Syria and Kurdistan in the North, which plausibly would result in a regional war on sectarian and ethnic fault lines.

The rising power and influence of these militant organizations across the Eurasian Rimland and Africa and the relative decline in the U.S. influence that the model of U.S. imperialism crafted by the neo-cons is falling apart.

At the same time, policies pursued by the Netanyahu’s government of annexing Palestinian lands and killing innocent civilians would remain a continuous source of motivation for foreign fighters to heed the calls of jihad in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt which ultimately would reach Israeli borders. The relentless march of the militants in the Greater Middle East and refugee crisis exhibits fall of the state boundaries drawn by the Colonial Empires.

Before the Caliphate emerges on the horizon or the Clash of Civilization becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a clash with in civilization is appearing at the horizon in Middle East. Borders drawn by the Colonial Empires after the Sykes-Picot Agreement are gradually falling apart paving the way for the bloody sectarian and ethnic conflict. The cost of supporting the dictators, like of Egyptian self-proclaimed ruler Abdul Fetah Al-Sisi, by some of the western states in the cause of national interest is becoming apparent. The consequences of this clash would risks spilling beyond the region, possibly up to Europe and South Asia.

Regardless of the success stories which have been told by the US Presidents to their people, of world becoming a better place or mission accomplished in the war on terror, once the historians would sit in future to write the history on the formation of Islamic Caliphate from the ruins of fragmented Middle East along the sectarian and ethnic lines, its origins would be traced back to the imprudent policies adopted by the US after the 9/11, especially the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which changed the map of Middle East.

Author holds M.Phil degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies and frequently writes on nuclear, strategic and international issues in research journals, magazines and newspapers. He is a co-author of Iran and the Bomb: Nuclear Club Busted and can be reached at smszmn72@yahoo.com.



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