As an observer, it seems clear to me that there is a desire among international powers, specifically in the West, to view Iraq under its current leadership as acceptable, led by a tolerable authority in a desirable regional jigsaw.
Such a view may not be readily accepted by some Western analysts, particularly those who criticize the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for being negligent in looking after the government gifted to him and his backers after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The same goes for those who do not hesitate to distinguish between one dictatorship and another and believe that the invasion of Iraq was not a mistake, and thus that its consequences have been worthwhile.
For the past three years, such analysts have been keen to tell us that embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was the “devil we know” in Syria, and that it was better that he stayed in power given the chance he could be replaced by someone worse. Unfortunately, since the emergence of the glut of jihadist groups, notably the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the voices of such analysts have only grown louder, in line with their tireless behind-the-scenes political efforts to undermine any meaningful support for the Syrian people’s uprising. These Western powers relentlessly continue to preserve a regime underpinned by sectarianism and supported by its security services—a regime that has transformed Syria into a clearing house for regional and international powers.
Selective and discriminatory policies
Sure enough, these double standards are nothing new in terms of how the West deals with the Arab world. Bearing this in mind, we are today—regardless of any justifications or excuses—facing another example of selective and discriminatory policies.
Even now, we are not certain what proportion of ISIS militants make up those fighting the Maliki regime in Iraq. What we do know for sure, however, is that over the past eight years the Iraqi prime minister has not acted as a statesman. The clearest evidence that even he does not view himself as a statesman is that when his rule was under threat, he issued sectarian calls. Maliki has been willing to resort to sectarian incitement in the same Iraq whose institutions Washington was so happy with that it took the decision to withdraw.
The jihadist and extremist groups that are now ironically opening the door for Washington to return to Iraq to defend Maliki’s regime were previously present in Iraq, and in those days were indeed confronted and driven out by the Sunni Awakening Movements. Then, when those jihadist groups emerged in Syria, they began fighting the forces of Syria’s rebels: not Assad’s regime.
“The region is moving towards redrawing maps, based on the new demographic realities in the post-1920 political entities that have possibly reached their sell-by date”Eyad Abu Shakra
Today, regardless of the U.S. and the West’s tactical and strategic justifications to rush to defend the de facto authority in Baghdad, the reality remains that they will be defending a regional expansionist project. It is the same expansionist project that Western circles have repeatedly sought to deny tolerating, let alone supporting. This actually remained the official and semi-official Western position until the U.S.–Iranian negotiations were exposed.
The U.S. has turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by the Assad regime in Syria over the past three years, and now appears to pushing for a deal in Lebanon, practically legitimizing Hezbollah’s hold on the reins of power there through not opposing its choice for the presidency. Added to its rush to support Maliki, Washington appears to be in the mood to accept a new regional reality in the Levant and Iraq.
In other words, this policy has given the people of the region two undesirable options: Either bow to Iran’s hegemony or accept partitioning the existing countries, which can only lead to a new “mandate” system along the lines of what happened in the aftermath of the First World War and the end of the Ottoman Empire.
As the situation looks today, the region is moving towards redrawing maps, based on the new demographic realities in the post-1920 political entities that have possibly reached their sell-by date. This is precisely what is happening in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, either through fighting or land purchase or compulsory land sales prompted by forced emigration and displacement.
The next step may soon be to create a new regional “mandate” or “suzerainty.” The West may ask three non-Arab regional powers to participate in managing the newly emerging tributary mini-states. Iran would become the guardian of and spokesman for the Shiites, Turkey the protector of the Sunnis and alleviator of their grievances, and Israel the guarantor of the rights of the minorities, if any minorities are left.
A scene like this may seem a bit surreal, but nobody can say that it is illogical.
During pre-Islamic times, the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanid Empire used the Ghassanids’ state in southern Syria and the Lakhmids’ state in southern Iraq respectively as client states, and as border guards against marauding Arabs from Arabia. From a geopolitical point of view, and based on the ease of communication with strong, centralized powers—as opposed to the chaos of a multiplicity of rulers—the “mandate” scenario sounds pretty logical.
Borders drawn up by others
I believe that when British and U.S. leaderships began to prepare for the invasion of Iraq—having paved the way with an intensive public relations campaign to create a suitable popular climate in both countries—they were well aware of the consequences that toppling the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein would have on an entity made up of different religious, ethnic and sectarian components. In fact, Washington spent billions of dollars to launch a war with the objective of “removing weapons of mass destruction,” dismantling “the world’s fifth-largest army,” and toppling a regime that “killed its own people using chemical weapons” and which threatened “our neighbors.” When the U.S. pursued this course, it was not ignorant of Iraq’s geography, particularly that the country has two large and powerful non-Arab neighbors, Iran and Turkey.
While experts in Britain, the Western mandatory power that drew Iraq’s current borders back in 1920, were also well aware that Baghdad remained under the control of Ottoman Turkey until 1917, and that Iran views Baghdad as a city with a Persian name that has Ctesiphon, the imperial capital of the Parthian and Sassanid empires, within its city limits.
So I fear that we are moving closer to the return of the days when borders in our region are drawn up by others, after our failure to develop our various communities into states. We have remained mere subjects as result of our inability to become free citizens.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat 0n June 26, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.