Monday, November 2, 2015

Patrick Cockburn on the Sunni-Shia War

After reviewing the American and Russian involvement in Syria, Cockburn writes:
But great power rivalry is only one of the confrontations taking place in Syria, and the fixation on Russian intervention has obscured other important developments. The outside world hasn’t paid much attention, but the regional struggle between Shia and Sunni has intensified in the last few weeks. Shia states across the Middle East, notably Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, have never had much doubt that they are in a fight to the finish with the Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, and their local allies in Syria and Iraq. Shia leaders dismiss the idea, much favoured in Washington, that a sizeable moderate, non-sectarian Sunni opposition exists that would be willing to share power in Damascus and Baghdad: this, they believe, is propaganda pumped out by Saudi and Qatari-backed media. When it comes to keeping Assad in charge in Damascus, the increased involvement of the Shia powers is as important as the Russian air campaign. For the first time units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been deployed in Syria, mostly around Aleppo, and there are reports that a thousand fighters from Iran and Hizbullah are waiting to attack from the north. Several senior Iranian commanders have recently been killed in the fighting. The mobilisation of the Shia axis is significant because, although Sunni outnumber Shia in the Muslim world at large, in the swathe of countries most directly involved in the conflict – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – there are more than a hundred million Shia, who believe their own existence is threatened if Assad goes down, compared to thirty million Sunnis, who are in a majority only in Syria.
I really don't see any way that the ongoing wars in the Middle East can be brought to an end. No faction is powerful enough to dominate the region, and the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen seem headed for stalemate. Because of our fixation with nations and national borders, we and the Europeans will never tolerate the redrawing of the map along religious or other factional lines, and we will never accept an IS state. So conflict will go on until everyone is exhausted, which may take a long time.

1 comment:

David said...

The analogy between this struggle and Europe's religious wars is compelling. Only mutual exhaustion ended those, and it's worth remembering that many were ready to see them continue even longer.

I think eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, we and the Europeans will be brought to accept national breakups, as we have in eastern Europe and in places like Ethiopia and Sudan.