On June 15, 2014, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, denied the accusation that the attack on Iraq in 2003 was the actual factor in taking the country to the current crisis. The current spate of violence, Blair said giving the example of Syria, was inevitable even if they had not attacked Iraq. On the contrary, he asserted that, the West’s “inaction” over Syria and the decision not to intervene militarily have given the militants a chance to extend their operations beyond their previously held zones—hence, the need for military intervention in Syria and to extend it, if needed, to other parts of the Middle East to rid it of militant hideouts.
Notwithstanding this “official” rhetoric, it remains a fact that the underlying cause of socio-political chaos in the Middle East, or more specifically in Iraq, is the West’s “divide and rule” strategy. The division of the Middle East on ethnic and sectarian lines as well as its increased politicization since 2003 have certainly been at the heart of most of the crisis the country is faced with today. According to a UN report, Iraq suffered its bloodiest month this year May, with around 800 people killed in sectarian violence. It clearly reveals the extent to which the country has descended into an abyss from which it appears unlikely to be able to escape anytime soon. The current spate of violence has only added fuel to the fire.
The Western claim that this current of violence has nothing to do with Iraq war itself seems to be a deliberate projection of what may otherwise be a called the popular notion of “success” achieved in the country. Contrary to this “official” projection of “success”, ground realities of Iraq show that the blood that has flowed in every part of Iraq as a direct result of Bush’s and Blair’s military adventure back in 2003 certainly renders any notion of “success” as nothing but a mere farce and falsehood. The extremism that has proliferated across the Arab and Muslim world over the past decade is, in reality, the direct result of the extremism that has emanated from Downing Street and the White House over the same period.
It is now an open secret that the West has been using entities like Al-Qaeda and its numerous supposedly affiliates to fight proxy wars in a number of regions across the whole world. By the same token, the formation of the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its coming into prominence in 2013 are a part of the West’s greater agenda and grand strategy for the Middle East. In response to the strategic and political necessity of withdrawing its own fighting forces from Iraq, the US and its allies had to resort to such militias in order for keeping the region deeply immersed in conflict, and thereby, under the West’s dependency for aid and trade.
The war in Syria and now the crisis in Iraq are both very much interlinked. The West’s design was to use Syria as a gateway to control Iran, and thereby, to the reconstruction of the entire political landscape of the Middle East. However, failure in achieving this objective caused a shift in its strategy, leading to a manifold increase in the so-called Al-Qaeda affiliated “terrorist” outfits. It is not just a coincidence that the re-emergence and expansion of the ISIS and the rapid advances of Syrian army against the Western sponsored rebel forces are happening one at the same time. According to some reports, a number of fighters from Syria have already joined the ISIS and are using the same weapons that they were previously using against Syrian army, and that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are as much as involved in providing unbroken supply of weapons to the ISIS as they were and still are in Syria. This aspect becomes even more strong and credible when we take into account these two facts: the current leader of the ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had long been fighting in Syria and had developed some serious differences, before his arrival in Iraq, with Al-Nusra front over the question of consolidating the areas under their control; and that, there are a number of areas in Syria that are still under ISIS’s complete control. No wonder, the ISIS’s basic objective is to establish Islamic caliphate in both Iraq and Syria.
But the question that arises here is: why the ISIS is targeting only Iraq and Syria? The fact that the West and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing weapons to the ISIS is sufficient to answer this question. A number of newspapers in the West mentioned this fact in their headlines. For the “Sunni” countries (the US allies) of the Middle East, the issue is establishing “Sunni” hegemony by eliminating “Shia” states—and the fact that both Syria and Iraq are Shia dominated states is sufficient to explain the raison d’être of Saudi and Qatari support. For the West, the main issue is not “Sunni-Shia” divide only, for them the main issue is the break-up of this part of the Middle East into smaller states by re-drawing territorial boundaries on sectarian and ethnic lines—hence, equal support for Kurdish militias. Not only are the Kurdish also launching their own campaign and getting help from the ISIS, but also took over Kirkuk on Thursday with little resistance.
The decision to achieve this objective through militant militias was taken by Washington to channel its covert support in favor of terrorist entities which could operate in both Syria and Iraq, having logistical bases in both countries. The agendas of the ISIS and Kurdish militias perfectly ‘coincide’ with those of the US to carve up both Iraq and Syria into three separate territories: A Sunni Islamist Caliphate, an Arab Shia Republic, and a Republic of Kurdistan.
The primary interest of the West in making this division is to maintain its own hegemony over the regional reservoirs of Oil. However, it would be misleading to suggest that the West is supporting, although covertly, only these militias. The fact of the matter is that the West is playing both sides, the government of Iraq and the militants, against each other as part of its strategy to exacerbate the situation of the region. The dark side of the Western politics becomes clear when we take into account the fact that whereas the US sells F-16 jet fighters to the government in Iraq, the ISIS is being covertly supported by the Western intelligence, especially in determining potent targets, and taking over them. According to well documented report of Daily Telegraph of London, the West is providing arms and ammunitions to the ISIS through Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Western intelligence agencies are not only involved in recruitment, but also in training and financing of the ISIS death squads operating both in Iraq and Syria. Supporting both parties and playing them against each other is a convenient way for the West to project this conflict in terms of an extension and an example of the deepening Sunni-Shia” division.
This aspect becomes even more credible when we look at some other examples. This strategy of supporting both sides has been numerously implemented in a number of states. Insurgencies that are projected as terrorist activities are actually fomented by the West to create such an atmosphere as to legitimize subsequent military operations—hence, terrorist outfits in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and frequent Western interventions in the form of drone attacks or sometimes in the form of large scale military intervention. In simple words, the pretext to intervene on ‘humanitarian’ grounds (e.g. in Mali, Nigeria or the Central African Republic) is predicated on the existence of the so-called terrorist forces.
Another aspect of the Western covert involvement becomes evident when we look at the recent takeover by the ISIS of the city of Mosul, and the subsequent inaction of the Iraqi army, which is not only heavily armed and trained by the West, but also has a number of US military advisers to guide its operations. However, instead of containing the militants, the Iraqi army did not fire a single shot and let the “rebels” walk over the city. This aspect becomes further clear when we take into account another fact the Iraqi army out-numbered the militants by 1000 to 30,000 men.
It is for this reason that the US’ plan to launch a “targeted operation” now against the militants is just another way of re-engaging military in the region in order for achieving those objectives which it could not achieve through Syria. To “contain the rebels”, the US has already stationed troops in Baghdad. The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush and five other warships are now in the Persian Gulf, and more than 500 Marines and dozens of helicopters are on standby to tackle any untoward situation. It is obviously an attempt to repeat the bloody story of 2003 when the US attacked Iraq to make the latter its oil colony. Now, the prospects of a US-Iran alliance to contain the militants’ advance is also being perceived as an attempt of the US to deliberately engage Iran in the regional conflict, and thereby, manipulate the entire Middle East militarily and politically—the classic colonial strategy of divide and rule.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.