THE sudden move by Bashar Assad’s regime in the city of Al-Hassakah, north eastern Syria, was really interesting both in terms of the target chosen and the timing. The regime has launched air raids against Kurdish militias inside the city and its environs while there are increasing signs of a scaling down of tension between Turkey and Iran, specifically after the visit of Mohammad Jawad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister to Turkey.
Contrary to Washington’s silent approval of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’, it is obvious that neither Ankara nor Tehran accept such a project; indeed, it is where their interests converge. In the meantime, since the failed coup attempts Turkish leaders have been sending ambiguous signs regarding Ankara’s current views on the Assad regime which may be construed as indirect messages to influential regional players.
This has been taking place while preparations gather pace in Iraq for the “liberation of Mosul”, against continued confusion surrounding the roles of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi’ite ‘People’s Mobilization’ militias in the expected battle for Mosul, the Arab Sunnis’ largest city in Iraq. As Prime Minister Haider Abadi insists on what he regards as the “right’ of the Shi’ite militia to take part in the fighting despite its blatantly sectarian crimes in several locations, Kurdish leaders still insist that it is within the “right” of their militia to keep every territory it liberates regardless of its ethnic composition!
In spite of the much touted ‘Neo-cons’’ plan of “Organized Chaos”, there is no firm proof that George W. Bush was aware of the ‘domino effect’ in the Middle East when he ordered the war to topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq. The same applies to the “de-Ba’thification” policies of Paul Bremer, head of Iraq’s ‘Occupation Authority’ and the ‘recipe’ prepared by several ‘lobbies’ whose diverse aims intersected temporarily to bring down Saddam and destroy the ‘1920-2003 Iraq’.
However, what we are witnessing now in Syria and Iraq rules out any excuse based on ignorance or miscalculations. Strategic politics of superpowers toward one of the world’s most dangerous and sensitive regions, may sometimes suffer from passing misunderstanding here or bad execution there, but it is impossible that such an ‘erroneous’ course continues without change or reappraisal for 13 years.
Today, with what is left of Barack Obama’s presidency we see an Iraq that is totally different from the pre–2003 Iraq. We see two almost fully-fledged Shi’ite and Kurdish entities, the first part and parcel of Iran’s strategy of hegemony in the Middle East, and the second has become the nucleus of a de facto independent ‘national state’. On the other side, the rest of Iraq’s ethno-religious components, led by Sunni Arabs, are losing out. The Sunni Arabs who were the country’s ruling elite between 1920 and 2003 have been marginalized, demonized and persecuted beginning with Bremer’s laws of “de-Ba’thification” and ending with Iranian-inspired accusations of harboring and collaborating with Al-Qaeda, and later Daesh.
Religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities, sure enough — like all minorities — suffer most from lengthy instability and civil wars. Thus, the ongoing struggle between the tools of Iran’s sectarian hegemony and nationalist secessionist Kurds is more than just a ferocious fight over the remains of the Sunni Arab prey, but rather the coup de grace for Iraq as a country. Furthermore, even if some ultra-zealot Arab nationalist had for a while — intentionally or unintentionally — the civilized and tolerant idea of Arabism, what Iraq is sliding to in the age of the two sectarian and ethnic ‘alternatives’, during the countdown to the “liberation of Mosul”, is much more dangerous, extremist and aggressive.
In Syria too we find ourselves staring at a “scenario” that has surely not materialized by accident. It is impossible that it has been unintentionally emerged with all the carnage and destruction we see. For those blessed with good memory, it is worth recalling how the Syrian regime since the reign of Hafez Assad at the helm of his non-Sunni Ba’th was one of the main beneficiaries of the attacks targeting Saddam Hussein and his Sunni Ba’th. Hafez Assad was also an ally of Iran during the Iran–Iraq War (1980-1988), and his participation in the war to expel Saddam from Kuwait rewarded him generously by giving him a free hand in Lebanon, where his regime was the ‘nursery’ of Hezbollah, Iran’s sectarian plant in the region.
Following the occupation of Iraq in 2003, the Syrian regime played a pivotal role in the Iranian plot to unsettle the Americans, and push them to leave Iraq to Iran after Washington’s valuable gift of bringing down its bitterest enemy in the region, i.e. Saddam’s regime.
Damascus’ role, under Assad Jr, was to facilitate the influx of Al-Qaeda’s and other extremist fighters across the Syria–Iraq borders to engage American troops with the intention of pressurising Washington to withdraw them and hand the then occupied country to Iran. The plot succeeded, and Tehran through Nuri Maliki, its ‘Man in Baghdad’ took over the affairs of Iraq. As a result, the weakened Sunnis were left to choose between two evils: either Iran’s sectarianism and hegemony, or Al Qaeda’s, and later Daesh’s extremism with all the resulting suffering and uprooting.
Eventually, in March 2011, when the Syrian people rose against the regime and its police state, it was expected Iran would rush to rescue Assad. What was ironic, however, was that Barack Obama’s Washington refused to support the people’s uprising against a regime it has always accused of being a “backer and sponsor of terrorism” citing its unwillingness to repeat the mistake of intervention in Iraq. The fact of the matter, however, is this refusal to interfere on the side of the Syrian people only consolidated the results of the “mistake” of Bush Jr’s policy in Iraq not the contrary.
Subsequently, as if this was not enough, Washington went further in destroying and burying the Syrian uprising, by encouraging secessionist Kurds, and letting down Turkey to the extent of forcing it to give in to the vision of Tehran–Moscow axis, ostensibly because President Obama wants to save and cement the JCPOA with Iran.
Today, everybody in the Middle East is monitoring what the Kurds are up to. They are now seeking a unity culminating in a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ that will only be created if the region’s current entities are undermined and partitioned.
Given such a ‘scenario’ Washington can either act to stop this … or wait for the big explosion.