Posts Tagged ‘Shiites and Sunnis’

Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia

May 24, 2017

I came across this picture a couple of days ago and wondered what it was.

It is a ceremony conducted Monday in honor of the opening of the Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia.

The participants touching the glowing orb are Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and President Donald Trump.

The name of the center is ironic, because Saudi Arabia is the center for extremist ideology in the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia pays for missionaries to spread Wahabism (or Salafism), a highly intolerant version of Islam.  Wahabists believe that Shiites and other Sunnis are not true Muslims.

Hassan Rouhani

King Salman and his son, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, are  waging a bombing campaign against Shiite villagers in Yemen, is stepping up aid to rebels in Syria and is trying to organize a Sunni Arab military alliance against Iran.

Voters in Iran, meanwhile, have re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate reformer who negotiated the nuclear deal with the USA.

Rouhani is more democratic and peaceable than the hereditary Saudi rulers.  He has won honest and contested elections.  The range of choices in Iranian elections is limited because the ayatollahs vet candidates.  But you could say the same about U.S. elections, except that our candidates are vetted by big-money donors.

The Saudis seek regime change in Syria and Yemen; Rouhani seeks increased trade and investment.   In Middle East geopolitics, the Saudi monarchy is the aggressor, the Iranian clerical regime is the one on the defensive.

(more…)

Can the Saudis lure the US into a war with Iran?

May 19, 2017

Prince Salman meets with President Trump in March

The young new ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Mohammad, is trying to organize an alliance of Sunni Muslim nations against Shiite Iran.

And President Donald Trump is expected to endorse an anti-Iranian “Arab NATO” during his forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is a terrible idea.   It doesn’t benefit Americans and it risks a war that would be disastrous for both Americans and people in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is an enormously wealthy nation, but it is thinly populated and militarily weak.  It depends on the United States for its defense.  In return, the Saudis buy billions of dollars in armaments from American companies and pump oil in sufficient quantities to keep world oil prices low.

So the United States since the 1970s has sided with Saudi Arabia and also Israel against their geopolitical rivals in the region.   Once Saudi Arabia’s chief rival and threat was Iraq.  Now it is Iran.

This has nothing to do with making Americans safe from terrorism, and everything to do with promoting the strategic and economic interests of Saudi Arabia.

(more…)

Saudi leaders heat up Sunni-Shiite conflict.

January 7, 2016

Saudi Arabia is heating up the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East.  I think the U.S. government should think long and hard about letting the Saudis draw Americans further into it.

The Saudi Arabian government recently executed 47 opponents of the regime, including radical Sunni jihadists and the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

I think this means that the Saudi government feels threatened by the radical Sunni jihadist movements, and wants to redirect their rage outward by stepping up the conflict with Iran and with Shiites generally.

Either Sunni jihadists are killed fighting in Syria and other places, or Saudi Arabia’s enemies—Iran and its ally Syria—are weakened.

Green indicates Shia predominance

Dark green indicates Shia predominance

The Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East involved families who’ve lived side-by-side in peace for decades.  Why are they at each others’ throats now?

I thinks that it is because the Sunnis and Shiites are used as proxies in a struggle for political power among Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Iran, Turkey and Israel.

And this is overlaid by an economic struggle for control of oil and gas resources and pipeline routes.   It so happens that Shiites, although a minority in the Muslim world as a whole, are a majority in the oil and gas regions.

And all this has been made worse by the murderous and ineffective intervention of my own country, the United States.

But the tragic conflict also is kept going by the need of the Saudi royal family to appease Wahhabi jihadist clerics.

(more…)

Putin’s Russia is playing defense, not offense

December 23, 2015

vladimir-putin-riding-bearI don’t see Russia’s Vladimir Putin as a threat.  He has been backed into a difficult corner.

Russia’s economy suffers under economic sanctions, the Russian intervention in Syria isn’t going as well as hoped, and the Russian governmental structure is riddled with corruption.

But Russia has a nuclear force second only to the USA.  Russia is the only national in the world with the power to bring about the mutual destruction of itself and the USA.

It is a bad idea to back Vladimir Putin into a corner in which he thinks Russia is threatened, over matters in which the United States has no vital interests.

President Obama says Putin is an aggressor.   If so, he is a highly unsuccessful aggressor.

Russia’s position is much weaker than it was five years ago.  Back then, Russia had good relations with Ukraine and it was integrated into Russia’s economy.  Now the best Putin can hope for is continued Russian occupation of Crimea, a devastated eastern Ukraine friendly to Russia and a hostile western Ukraine.

(more…)

Now Russia is drawn into the Sunni-Shiite conflict

December 15, 2015

ISIS, al Qaeda and the other violent jihadist fighters are not from any one country.  They are part of an international movement, so there are Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and Chechens fighting in Syria.  In a sinister way, they resemble the international brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

ISIS, al Qaeda and their supporters are inspired by teachings of the Wahhabis (or Salafis), an extremely harsh theocratic sect with roots in Saudi Arabia and a strong following in Pakistan.

But a report by Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online indicates there is a parallel movement among the Shiite Muslims, whose strength is in Iran:

151007165249-putin-assad-syria-large-169Assad’s army isn’t just vulnerable, it also isn’t strictly a Syrian force anymore. For the last two years, the forces on his side have increasingly been made up of foreigners, including Revolutionary Guards from Iran, members of Iraqi militias and Hezbollah units from Lebanon.

They are joined at the front by Shiite Afghans from the Hazara people, up to 2 million of whom live in Iran, mostly as illegal immigrants. They are forcibly conscripted in Iranian prisons and sent to Syria — according to internal Iranian estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 of them fighting in the country.

The situation leads to absurd scenes: In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, rebels began desperately searching for Persian interpreters after an offensive of 2,500 Afghans suddenly began approaching.

It is the first international Shiite jihad in history, one which has been compensating for the demographic inferiority of Assad’s troops since 2012. The alliance has prevented Assad’s defeat, but it hasn’t been enough for victory either.

Furthermore, the orders are no longer coming exclusively from the Syrian officer corps.  Iranian officers control their own troops in addition to the Afghan units, and they plan offensives that also involve Syrian soldiers. Hezbollah commanders coordinate small elite units under their control.  Iraqis give orders to Iraqi and Pakistani militia groups.  And the Russians don’t let anyone tell them what to do.

Source: SPIEGEL ONLINE

There is no inherent reason why Sunnis and Shiites should be at war.  They have lived side by side in peace for more centuries than they have been in conflict.

The main reason they are in conflict now is that it is in the interest of governments such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to use armed religious militias to advance their own political and economic objectives.  Another reason is the destruction of civil order as a result of U.S. invasions, so that the religious militias are the only source of protection.

There is a great danger to the world if the USA and Russia allow themselves to be drawn further into this conflict, the USA on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Sunni fighters and Russia on the side of Iran, Syria and the Shiite fighters.

A confrontation between the world’s two main nuclear powers would mean that the killing and destruction now going on in the Middle East could spread over the whole world.

(more…)

Who will fight for the U.S. against ISIS?

December 15, 2015

The Syrian situation reminds me of a remark by Adam Smith in (I think) The Wealth of Nations — about how masterminds who think of themselves as master chess players, using other people like pieces on a chessboard, will find the people they think they are manipulating are actually playing their own game.

image-931841-panoV9free-whwk-931841The aims of the U.S. government in the Middle East are, in no particular order, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to counter the growing power of Iran and to destroy the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

The bitter experience of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions means that the American people will not tolerate a large-scale intervention with ground troops, so American leaders, including the principal Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, look for pawns to carry out U.S. purposes.

Here is a rundown on these pawns and the games they are playing.

  • Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate governments, all predominantly Sunni Arab nations, fear the rise of Shiite Iran and Shiite power in Iraq much more than they do Sunni Arab ISIS or al Qaeda.   To the extent they fear ISIS and al Qaeda, it is more as an internal threat, and they are happy to see their local rebels go off to fight and maybe die for ISIS.   The Saudi government doesn’t crack down on individuals who contribute to ISIS because they reflect the beliefs of Wahabism (aks Salafism), the harsh version of Sunni Islam that rules Saudi Arabia.
  • The Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq are fighting ISIS effectively, but they are fighting to defend themselves and their goal of an independent Kurdistan, to be carved out of the existing territory of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not as part of any overall “war on terror”.  They aren’t going to give up that goal just because it is inconvenient to the USA.
  • The Turkish government desires the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria and the suppression of Kurdish nationalism more than suppression of ISIS.  Oil from ISIS-controlled territory enters Turkey, and money and arms go from Turkey to ISIS.  Turkish politicians talk of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and of the unity of ethnic Turks across Asia.
  • The Iraqi government desires to prevent breakaway movements, whether ISIS, other Sunni Arab fighters or Kurds.
  • CQfwkI2WwAALwwnThe Sunni Arab militias and tribal leaders in Iraq blame the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and setting up an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Arabs, so they’re not willing to be U.S. proxies in a campaign against ISIS.
  • The Shiite Arab militias in Iraq hate ISIS, but their leaders distrust the United States and won’t work with Americans.
  • The “moderate Arab” rebels in Syria primarily desire to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and talk about fighting ISIS primarily to obtain U.S. weapons – many of which wind up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra and like groups.
  • The Iranian government desires to support Shiite Muslims against all enemies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey or ISIS, and to defend Syria and also Hezbollah, which represents the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
  • The Syrian government is an enemy of ISIS because ISIS is an existential threat to its existence.  But the Assad regime regards the other Syrian rebels and the Kurdish separatists as equally threatening

This leaves Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin justifiably fears the influence of ISIS and other jihadist terrorists on the large Muslim population in the Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation.  He also wants to defend Russia’s Syrian ally and keep Russia’s naval station in Syria.  But for him, the war against ISIS is a war of self-defense, not merely a means of extending Russian influence.

If fighting ISIS is the top U.S. priority, then the U.S. government should find a way to cooperate with Russia against ISIS.  If the U.S. government is unwilling to cooperate with Russia against ISIS, then fighting ISIS is not the top U.S. priority.

(more…)

Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The Sunni-Shiite war is a tragedy, but it would burn itself out if Saudi Arabia and Iran were not using the two Islamic factions are proxies in their struggle for power in the Middle East.

The lineup is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and the Sunni militias on the other.

The U.S. government has inflamed the conflict further by taking the side of Saudi Arabia.  This has undermined our “war on terror,” because Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the Saudi-backed Sunni militias warring against Syria.

Now Russia is befriending Iran and giving military assistance to Syria, and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is thinking of calling in Russian help.  All this is in the name of fighting ISIS, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But if Russia is lining up permanently with Iran’s proxies against the U.S.-backed Saudi proxies, this is quite another thing.

A U.S.-Russian proxy conflict would increase human suffering in the Middle East, and be of no benefit to the American or Russian peoples  It would be dangerous for the world..  Washington should open negotiations with Moscow to keep the conflict from escalating further.

LINKS

Isis in Iraq: Shia leaders want Russian air strikes against militant threat by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

The Return of the Syrian Army by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Putin Forces Obama to Capitulate on Syria by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Seymour Hersh Report of False Flag Syrian Gas Attack by Peter Lee for China Matters.

(more…)

Sunni-Shiite couples form ‘Sushi’ families

July 18, 2014

BqfEw5cIUAEB8myThis origin of this photo is unclear, but it is being widely circulated over Twitter and other social media, and it illustrates an important point—that not all Muslims are caught up in “age old” hatreds. The Iraqi government estimates that 2 million of Iraq’s 6.5 million families are mixed Sunni-Shiite marriages.

Click on Raw Story: Sunni-Shia Family Photo Wins Twitter But Not the War by Jorge Ramos and Colin MacDonald of Fusion TV for background on the photo.  Hat tip for the link to Jack Clontz.

There’s nothing the U.S. can do to save Iraq

June 20, 2014

Here’s the lineup of forces in Iraq:

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600

ISIS militia.  Photo credit: Christian Science Monitor

 A  jihadist force known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  is conducting a successful rebellion against the Al-Maliki government in Iraq.

The Al-Maliki government is supported by the United States and the ayatollahs of Iran, and is hated by Sunni Arab Muslims in Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was supported by the United States and the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait when it was fighting the government of Syria, and is hated by the ayatollahs of Iran and by Shiite Arab Muslims in Iraq.

So the choices for President Obama are to align with a despised, corrupt (though legally elected) government under the influence of Iran, or to stand aside and do nothing to stand in the way of a murderous jihadist group sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

He either alienates the Shiite Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in Iraq, or he alienates the Sunni Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in the world.

And the only means he has to influence the situation are to provide military equipment to one side or the other or to wage war by means of killer drones.  We know how that has worked out.

I sympathize with President Obama in this situation.   He inherited the Iraq conflict, just as President Nixon inherited the Vietnam conflict.   Everything that has happened is a playing out of decisions made during the George W. Bush administration.  Even the timetable for withdrawal of American troops was set during the last days of the Bush administration.

I don’t know what the President thinks he can accomplish at this point, besides “security theater”—creating the impression he is doing something even though the actions are futile.  Whatever he does or doesn’t do, he will be blamed for “losing” Iraq.   Whatever he does or doesn’t do, the poor Iraqi people will suffer.

That’s how it seems to me.  What do you think?

LINKS

Why America Can Never Win in Iraq by Peter Van Buren for The Dissenter.

Who finances ISIS? by Andreas Becker for Deutsche Welle.   ISIS gets its money from bank robbery, extortion and sale of oil from wells in the regions it controls, but also reportedly from Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states.

The Gall of Dick Cheney by Charles M. Blow for The New York Times.  Hat tip to Hal Bauer for this link.

There Are No Good Guys in Iraq by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  Well, there are good people in Iraq, as anywhere else, but none of them are in charge of the factions contending for power.

The Guns of Folly by Tom Engelhardt for TomDispatch.

ISIS Iraq Offense: Can the Empire Reassert Control of the Jihadists? by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report.

Iraq heading for Yugoslavia-type breakup

June 18, 2014

iraq_religious-ethnic-map3_600px_01Iraq appears to be headed for a breakup, like Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  I don’t see any way the U.S. government can prevent this.

Iraq unity can only be preserved by a strong, effective central government that treats treats all ethnic groups the same, and this is not within the power of Washington to provide.

There are three main ethnic groups in Iraq—Shiite Arabs, who control the government; Sunni Arabs, who are in revolt, and Kurds, who already are independent in all but name.

The reason for the success of the Sunni I.S.I.S. revolt is the corruption and incompetence of the Maliki government.  As Andrew Cockburn pointed out:

By 2014, the going price for command of an Iraqi army division was reported to be around $1 million, payable over two years as the purchaser recouped his investment via fees levied at roadblocks and other revenue streams.  Little wonder that when called on to fight the disciplined and ruthless ISIS, the Iraqi army has melted away.

via Harper’s Magazine.

A breakup of Iraq would be a very bad thing.  It would be as bloody as the breakup of Yugoslavia, or maybe worse.

But I don’t think the U.S. government can keep Iraq together by giving weapons to the Maliki government, or by bombing I.S.I.S.-held areas, or by keeping a “residual force” in Iraq, or joining forces with Shiite Iran, or by any other means.

LINKS

The War Nerd: Here’s everything you need to know about “too extreme for Al Qaeda” I.S.I.S. by Gary Brechter for PandoDaily.

Who are Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and what did we do to them? by Prof. Juan Cole.

Iraq’s tragedy of errors: Why the Sunnis are revolting by Ahmed Meiloud for Middle East Eye.

The Syrian conflict and gas pipeline routes

July 26, 2013

crescent

Is the revolt in Syria part of an age-old conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims?  Iran and Iraq have Shiite majorities, Hezbollah represents the Shiites in Lebanon and Syria’s government has long cultivated the Shiites.  The rebels in Syria are Salafi Sunni Muslims supported by the Sunni Muslims of Saudia Arabia, the Gulf oil sheikdoms and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But if it is part of an age-old conflict, why does this conflict lie dormant for generations and then suddenly flare up?  Pepe Escobar of Asia Times has an explanation.  He wrote that the religious conflict is being instigated to block plans by the governments Iran, Iraq and Syria to build a pipeline from the Mediterranean to the rich Persian Gulf natural gas field lying between Iran and Qatar.

Yellow lines show proposed pipeline route.

Yellow lines show proposed pipeline routes.  Dark lines are existing pipelines.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline is an economic threat to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms, who are the main financiers of the Syrian revolt.  It would enable Iran to export oil even if the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf were closed.

The proposed pipeline also is contrary to the economic interests of Turkey, whose government supports the Syrian revolt.  Turkey has access to the natural gas of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.  The Turkish government’s goal is to extend a pipeline to the heart of Europe and offer an alternative to Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.  The Nabucco pipeline could serve Iran, but the Turkish government for now has decided to deny access for now.

nabucco

What is the national interest of the United States in this?  An Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would not necessarily compete with U.S. companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  The gas would only be available to customers that could be reached by the pipeline.  But there would be no detriment that I could see to U.S. consumers.

The U.S. objection is that it would hamper the U.S. not-so-cold war against Iran, which is being waged largely in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia and partly in revenge for the U.S. national humiliation in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.  I don’t think economic warfare against Iran is in the interest of the American people.  I think the policy of the United States should be to wind down that war rather than extend it.

(more…)