The Baghdad cocktail

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has openly accused Saudis of fomenting genocide in Iraq by arming ISIL

Are we about to witness another Karbala moment in Islamic history? On 10 October, 680 A.D., Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and leader of the Shia faction met with martyrdom on the desolate plains of Karbala at the hands of Yazid, ruler of the Omayyad dynasty, regarded as the usurper by the Shias. The battle of Karbala forever put the two sects of Islam in opposite camps; the rivalry never ended.

The US-led intervention in Iraq in 2003 unleashed a bitter and bloody revival of the Shi’a-Sunni tensions. The civil war in Syria, in which external powers are fighting proxy sectarian armed struggle, has fuelled this tension and carried it to unprecedented levels. It is, as of now, certain that this sectarian war will last decades.

Syria and Iraq constitute one single theatre of battlefield, somewhat like the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the terrorists move freely along national boundary lines. The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) has occupied large area in both countries and is likely to proclaim an Islamic Emirate.

It is unlikely that ISIL will succeed in establishing the capital of the Emirate in Baghdad; Iran will make sure of that, whether or not it agrees to respond to America’s as yet not official request for help in repelling the ISIL onslaught.

Iraq has effectively been partitioned into three entities — Kurdistan, Sunni, Shia mainly in the south. Kurdistan and Shiastan are more or less well-defined; the Sunnistan is likely to remain unsettled for quite some time. Regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Iran will be heavily engaged in support of their respective ‘stans’.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has openly accused Saudis of fomenting genocide in Iraq by arming ISIL.

There is little doubt that Maliki is largely responsible for the present chaos. He has determinedly marginalised the Sunni population and kept them out of governance. He is regarded as Tehran’s man in Baghdad. Iraqi Sunnis have been seething with frustration and anger. ISIL has succeeded so far because it has exploited the Sunni rage against the Maliki regime.

Iraqi and Iranian Shias, as well as the Hezbollah Shias, are fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, while the Sunnis from Syria, as also from Saudi Arabia, are helping their fellow Sunnis in Iraq. It is the most explosive sectarian cocktail.

If Maliki has the interests of Iraq in mind, and if he genuinely wishes to preserve the unity of his country, he must immediately step down; Iran and US can perhaps cooperate in putting together an interim new administration.

Everything that the US has done over the past decade has made Iran the strongest power in the region. What an irony! If the US asks Iran for help in salvaging the Maliki regime, something that Iran will do anyhow, Iran will demand a price, perhaps in the negotiations regarding its nuclear programme.

Barack Obama has decided to send about 250 marines to protect the embassy in Iraq. Will it be the first step down the slippery slope to yet another involvement in West Asia?

The oil factor, which played a crucial part in the first and second Gulf Wars, is not so compelling for the US in view of the shale gas revolution.

While the US might consider it-self relatively immune from the fall-out of the ISIL factor, the Europeans have every reason to be gravely concerned. Hund-reds of West Europeans have gone to Syria to take part in the jihad. As and when the jihad in the ISIL region concludes, these fighters will return to their countries of origin and carry out acts of sabotage and terror which will be even more spectacular, as they would be better trained, more indoctrinated and determined, and more connected to one another.

And while Russia and other oil producers in Central Asia will benefit from the oil price bonanza, they too will have every reason to worry about the spread of jihadi ideology in their countries, as will China.
The ongoing crisis in Iraq-Syria region has, of course, come as a boon to the oil producers. Russia must be extremely pleased at the developments, as would Iran and even the Saudis, since the price of crude will continue to escalate for some time.

This will have its own geo-political and strategic implications. In the final analysis, it will be the big corporations in the West that will get all the orders for reconstruction.

What about the Palestinian problem? Israel ought to be concerned at the extreme radicalisation of the Islamic sentiment, but it does not seem to be. It feels confident of dealing with any threats from the extremists.
It will be unhappy that US needs Iran to bail itself out of the Iraqi situation, thus making American action against Iran even more remote.

The ISIL successes will have their impact in our part of the world. The Taliban will draw inspiration from them and training manuals and arms will move seamlessly acr-oss regions. The sectarian strife in Pakistan will become even worse.

India has been fortunate of not seeing sectarian clashes, but the Shias in India will not remain quite for long, if their fellow religionists are killed in large numbers in West Asia. Our intel agencies need to step up vigilance to ensure that India’s Muslims do not get caught up in the sectarian tensions escalating elsewhere.

Read: Iraq Crisis: A look back at the events which changed the fate of Iraq

Major Players

Saudi Arabia: The kingdom is one of the key players in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Saudi is reportedly funding and backing the ISIL to oust the Shia government. The kingdom has denied such allegations.

Syria: President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite Shia community, is fighting to remain in power. The ISIL is also trying to overthrow Assad regime.

Iran: According to reports, Iran has already sent its troops to fight the ISIL in Iraq. It also agreed to work with its arch-rival US to drive away the militants from Iraq.

Egypt: The rise of army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, has led to fears that military rule has returned in effect to Egypt.

Libya: It’s a country that remains in turmoil and struggling to have some kind of stability ever since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011.

Qatar: Qatar is active on the regional and world stage, having mediated in disputes in the West Asia and Africa.

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