05.05.2016 Author: Catherine Shakdam

The Kurds, the Turkmen and the Great Middle Eastern unravelling

54654655As Iraq struggles against Daesh, ethno-sectarian tensions in northern Iraq threatens to throw off the country’s tentative national alliance against radicalism. Eaten away by religious bias, and deep-seated ethnic rancour Iraq stands now to lose its very name, should its leadership fail to forge a new sense of national unity, and identity.

While Iraq is not exactly to blame for the many religious and ethnic upsets it has had to face and suffered through – both the British and the French did a smashing job at dividing the Ottoman Empire into sections they felt they would then easily exert control over – Baghdad did not exactly rise to the challenge either.

Divided along tribal, religious, ethnic and political lines, Iraq remains a factional patchwork, and not the nation-state government officials aspire it to be – at least not yet. This is not to say however that Iraq cannot rise a united sovereign nation; especially when just two years ago, its people proved how determined and united they could truly be under the right momentum.

Iraq is far from a lost cause! If anything the country suffers from a lack of leadership, in that its officials have not yet learned to rise above their differences, to find unity in their pluralism. Iraq’s make up does not have to be a hindrance. The pluralism and multi-culturalism which are found within Iraq’s borders do not stand in the way of unity and national sovereignty – quite the contrary. Under the right light, and the right hand, Iraq could draw strength from the many different, and equally worthy voices which inhabit it.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani expressed such reality in June 2014 when he broke his usual silence, and urged all able men to join in the Jihad against Daesh – for the sake not just of Muslims, but the whole of Iraq, all faiths, and ethnicities compounded.

By issuing a fatwa (Islamic ruling) against Daesh, it is really Iraq’s unification Ayatollah Sistani helped promote. Needless to say that Iraq heard its most prominent religious authority … Within days, tens of thousands of men pledged themselves to the defense of Iraq’s sovereignty: Christians, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Turkmen – beyond, and across all denominations Iraqis found themselves breathing in unison against radicalism. Sadly, such unity somehow got lost in translation, pitting against each other those very factions which should have stood united against their one common enemy.

An important point to take away from this sectarian reprieve Ayatollah Sistani offered Iraq, is the power lying within Shia Islam – this ability its clergy has to see beyond differences to promote justice and freedom of choice and an unshakable resolve in the face of oppression. Truth be told, Shiites have suffered oppression more than most, thus offering this one religious community the gift of hindsight.

For all the calls for peace and collaborations Iraq still stands fractured and broken up … many experts, among whom Marwa Osmam, a well-known political analyst for the Middle East and co-founder of Veritas-Consulting argues Iraq was actually set up for failure.

I agree. Too many powers’ interests lie in the unravelling of Iraq. Too many powers have actually worked to unravel Iraq for any of them to permit for one fatwa to disturb such a carefully laid out plan.

And so Iraq today was set on fire … the real question we should all be asking is: to whose benefit?

In late April tensions flared up in between Iraq’s Peshmerga fighters and Iraq’s Shiite Turkmen. Needless to say that any military struggle in between the two would play in favour of Daesh militants – allowing for a potential radical revival in those very areas the Peshmerga and the Turkmen helped free.

The Kurds have accused Baghdad of exploiting terror to infiltrate Kurdistan – via the Shiite Turkmen, to better erode at Kurdistan’s political autonomy. Suspicions have been further fuelled by the fact that Baghdad has subsidized Shiite militias in northern Iraq, while the Peshmerga fighters have been left to fend for themselves.

While there is merit to such argument, it is important to note that while the Turkmen militias operate under the banner of the Iraqi defence ministry, the Peshmergas do not – hence the absence of funding. If Baghdad has entertained a difficult friendship with the Kurds over the group’s call for secession, officials understand how crucial the Kurds have been, and will continue to be against Daesh.

Now, and this is an important point – much of the ethno-sectarian violence which took place over the past weeks has been largely blown out of proportion to fit a very anti-Iranian, anti-Resistance narrative, as per the wishes of Saudi Arabia.

Asharq-al-Awsat, a Pan-Arab newspaper financed by Riyadh wrote the following lines on April 25th: “Kurdish sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Iranian soldiers and militants belonging to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah had been a part of the recent battles, fighting alongside the Mobilization Forces.”

If Riyadh is quiet happy to keep mum as Turkey lays waste to Kurdish villages and Kurdish minorities in Turkey, it is decidedly ringing the alarm bell over fictitious violations and crimes in northern Iraq. I’d say here that the devil is not much in the details but selectivity.

Keen to fan ethnic, and sectarian tensions to forward its own agenda in Iraq, Riyadh is once more playing asymmetrical warfare to covertly promote its Wahhabist takeover. This new logic the kingdom is now fronting – that Iran sits the political anti-Christ par excellence, only proves how determine Saudi Arabia is in cutting Iran off the map.

As Iraq is being pulled, poked and eroded at, it is really the regional geo-political order which stands in the balance. Should Iraq unravel, the region will likely descend in chaos – making a terror takeover a palpable reality.

Catherine Shakdam is the Associate Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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