Islamic Caliphate and Changing Borders in Middle East

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Abbas Maleki
Deputy for International Research at Center for Strategic Research
(CSR) of IRI Expediency Council

Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, fell at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces in cooperation with former Baathist elements, remnants of Saddam’s army and local forces on June 10, 2014. What has been happening in Iraq and Syria since that day will undoubtedly have serious consequences for the Middle East region, the entire West Asia, and the whole world. At present, those forces that were once enemies for one another have become allies. Almost all non-Arab players, including the United States, Russia, Iran, Syria and European countries are unanimous that the Iraqi government should be supported against its opposition, while also calling for reforms inside the Iraqi government. The ISIS is now officially calling itself the “Islamic Caliphate,” and is trying to establish its dominance over the Arab countries, Iran, and North Africa, while also claiming to be bent on liberating Palestine.

The Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has been so far the victorious party in the ongoing crisis of the Middle East. Now, he has been elected through presidential election and is ready to start his third term in office. On the other hand, deep rifts have already appeared within the ranks of Assad’s opponents and this has given him the self-confidence that he needs to rout the rest of the armed opposition that is fighting the Syrian government. The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government is another victorious party, which enjoys its own specific administrative and political infrastructure. Since the fall of [the former Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein] in 2003 up to the present time, this part of Iraq has been moving along the lines of a gradual and calculated road map in order to create various sections that are needed to have an independent government. Also, a proposal for the establishment of an independent state in the Iraqi Kurdistan was officially submitted to the local parliament of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region last Thursday. Another triumphant party is Israel, which had been making plans and adopting strategies to change borders among the Middle Eastern countries since the former Iraqi regime invaded Kuwait in 1990s. This is why Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] moved fast to declare his support for the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

The main loser, in the meantime, is [the current Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri Al-Maliki, whose government is under tremendous pressure. Even if he is not replaced by the Iraqi parliament, there is no doubt that he would have to make radical reforms in his government. Another loser is the opposition of the Syrian government. Perhaps the United States is another major loser because nobody in the Middle East can trust this country anymore. From the viewpoint of Arab leaders, the United States, on the one hand, is making efforts to bring about a thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran, which have been frozen since 1979 up to the present time. On the other hand, the United States has clearly announced a shift in its political focus as well as military deployment from the Middle East to South China Sea.

With regard to Saudi Arabia, as put by Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, who is also very close to Saudi royal court, although this is the first time that a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda (despite serious differences between the ISIS and Al-Qaeda) has approached the borders of Saudi Arabia, it should not be forgotten that the rise of ISIS represents a Sunni revolution which should end in total elimination of Iran's interests in Iraq and Syria.

The Persian Gulf littoral countries have so far shown limited and unremarkable reactions to measures taken by a non-state force. This behavior actually indicates their consent with the advances made by a coalition of Sunni forces in Iraq. There are also frequent reports denoting that these groups are directly or indirectly being assisted by Saudi Arabia as well as certain regional rulers in the Persian Gulf emirates who are inclined to Wahhabism. They have ignored the fact that any change of borders in the three aforesaid countries would pave the way for changes in the southern borders of Saudi Arabia as well.

For many decades, even the mere thought of the creation of an independent Kurdish state would have angered the leaders of Turkey. They were fearful that an independent Kurdistan region in Iraq would provide the Turkish Kurds with enough motivation to engage in full-blown war with the government and secede from Turkey considering that Turkey’s Kurds lived in a region which borders other Kurdish regions in Iraq, Iran, and Syria. However, as time went by, dispersion of Kurds across the country and increasing economic dependence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region on Turkey, reduced resistance against the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan. [The President of Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud] Barzani can now play the role of a useful ally for [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan in his negotiations with [Abdullah] Öcalan and the Kurdistan Workers' Party. The temporal coincidence is of high importance in this region. On the one hand, Erdogan needs support from Kurds in order to continue in power for another decade, while on the other hand, Kurds also need Erdogan to take this opportunity and help their longstanding dream for having an independent Kurdistan come true.

Only one day after Russian deputy foreign minister announced that Moscow will not just stand by and watch the situation in Iraq, Kremlin delivered the first batch of Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters to Iraq. The rapid delivery of Sukhoi aircraft was meant to show Moscow’s high speed in helping the Iraqi government fight against the ISIS. Any future government that would come to power in Iraq would be dependent on Russian military equipment. The intervention of [the Russian President] Vladimir Putin in Iraqi crisis has two reasons: firstly, to protect his country’s energy interests, and secondly, to restore Russia’s influence in Iraq and Syria, both of which have been among strategic allies of the Soviet Union and then Russia during the past 50 years.

Although the ISIS forces have retreated from [the northern Iraqi city of] Tikrit, their propaganda campaign still goes on and they have been also drawing new borders for their group in a symbolic way and in order to recruit new members from various countries. From the viewpoint of the ISIS members, broadcasting a footage showing the destruction of a border post between Iraq and Syria was aimed to mean that the Islamic caliphate will transcend all borders and is bent on erasing borders in the region where it has decided to establish its rule. Taking part in a televised interview, an ISIS member referred to the issue of borders between Iraq and Syria, noting that “These borders are based on the Sykes–Picot Agreement, which we do not recognize. This is not the last border that we are going to destroy.”

The main question is will the ISIS’ activities lead to annulment of the Sykes–Picot Agreement? It seems that despite all the ongoing developments, any change in borders needs two more powerful factors. The first factor is presence of united popular, tribal or ethnic forces with a motivation powerful enough to make three countries give in to their demands. Apart from the Iraqi Kurdish regions, such a motivation does not exist in other places on a long-term basis. The second factor is the decision by one of the governments in regional countries to seriously follow the goal of border changes. This is also unlikely in view of the fact that at present, the political and military power of governments of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is not high enough to enable them to realize such changes. The issue of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, however, is quite serious. Since 1991 and following the US attack aimed at pushing Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, the leaders of the Iraqi Kurdistan have been busy building institutions necessary to have an independent country. When chasing the Iraqi army, the allied forces led by the US military forces did not go beyond the city of Nasiriyah on the Euphrates. This issue provided Saddam Hussein with an opportunity to suppress the intifada (uprising) of the Iraqi Shias in 1992. On the opposite, enforcing a no-fly zone in the north of Iraq, which was not done in the south, along with various resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council as well as political, economic, educational and social aid from the Western countries, helped the Iraqi Kurds to make a serious move to build an independent society needless of Baghdad in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Now, following the capture of the city of Kirkuk and Massoud Barzani’s submission of a bill on the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan, which envisages independent military forces and active foreign policy approaches for Kurds, it seems that borders in this part of the Middle East are really going to change. This, however, is not the whole story. Let’s not forget that other countries will not easily recognize border changes and creation of new countries, just in the same way that no country has been ready to recognize the Iraqi Kurdistan Region as an independent entity separate from the government in Baghdad.

The issue which seems somehow strange is lack of attention by the UN Security Council to developments in Iraq and the Levant; as if a new plan like the Sykes-Picot Agreement is in gears for this region. As long as that plan has not been implemented in full, nobody among big powers will be concerned about the killing of civilians in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and there will be no call for a Security Council session on fighting terrorism.

Last but not least, it seems that Iran has been taking correct steps so far. While declaring its support for the legal government in Iraq, the Islamic Republic has avoided direct involvement in the country’s conflict. Iraq is neighboring both Iran and Syria. The governments of Iraq, Iran and Syria signed a contract worth 10 billion dollars in 2010 according to which a natural gas transfer pipeline, known as the Islamic gas pipeline, will connect Europe to the South Pars gas field in southern Iran. According to media reports, this pipeline will be inaugurated between 2016 and 2018. It goes without saying that energy diplomacy will be more constructive for Iran.

Key Words: Islamic Caliphate,  Middle East Borders, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Victorious and Loser, Al-Qaeda, Persian Gulf Littoral Countries, Independent Kurdistan Region, Turkey, Russia, Sykes–Picot Agreement, Energy Diplomacy, Maleki

Source: Hamshahri Online
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Abbas Maleki:

*U.S.-Iran Misperceptions A Dialogue:

*Seven Points of Importance in the Wake of Geneva Nuclear Deal:

*Iran, US, and the MEK:

*Photo Credit: Bizmology, The Irish Times